… to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive…



PKP Intercity train from Zakopane to Cracow (Michael Dembinski)

My old friend Mike, who occasionally posts on rail topics on Wwa Jeziorki, takes PKP to task for its Cracow – Zakopane service, ‘147 km in 3 hrs 45 min’. His post leaves me in something of a dilemma.

I could adopt a contrarywise position and defend PKP, pointing out that that: most fast trains take about 3 hrs 30 min to do the 150 km journey; the fastest journey of the day (by a slow osobowy service) takes only 3 hrs 15 min; 10 minutes is a reasonable time for a driver to stop at a station, uncouple all his connections between his engine and the train, run round his train, recouple the engine to the train, check the braking system, establish that it’s safe to do so and then start off again; a thirty minute wait at Plaszow (a combination of 20 minutes recovery time for the train coming in from the Ukraine plus 10 minutes additional waiting that day to hold the connection) is quite reasonable; and that if he was in such a flaming hurry why didn’t he hop out at Plaszow and take the next train to Krakow Glowny?

But to do so, so my conscience tells me, would be skipping over everything that is wrong with PKP. And there is much that needs to be put right. Should I then agree with Michael, adding for good measure that PKP management culture is Neanderthal and that the customer feedback mechanism dates back from when the Polish railways were an extension of the Soviet military control system that held half of Europe in its grip – freight trains had priority and long distance passenger trains travelled at night.

But either approach would be nerdish and miss the whole point of traveling by train. Travelling by train across Poland is an experience to be savoured. Like a good wine or a good woman, Polish trains are not to be hurried. Polish express trains have compartments which once upon a time all proper trains used to have. The PKP Intercity restaurant cars have helpful attendants who make smashing scrambled eggs and always have some illicit bottles of beer or ‘something stronger’ for their special customers. Guards will, if there not to busy, happily talk to you and pour out their hearts on what is wrong with the Polish railway system. So, if you want to relax, forget any question of ‘How long does it take?’ Take a good book, be prepared to talk to learn about Poland from some interesting companions, and enjoy the Polish countryside rolling past your window.

On the other hand if you like being stressed, you could do your long distance travel across Poland by bus or car, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

‘The destination may be the goal, but the journey is the reward’

W-wa Jeziorki

Monday, 19 May 200

Also, it takes much longer to get up north, the slow way*

Zakopane to Krakow. By road or by rail? By road, traffic jams. The road between the two, the Zakopianka, where 100 km can take 10 hours on a Sunday evening, is one alternative. The other is the railway. The romantic in me quite fancies a picturesque railway journey. Surely the train must be the better bet?

As it happens – no. The train winds its way, without undue hurry, taking three hours and 45 minutes to cover 147 km. Average speed less than 25 mph. Three times along the way (at Chabowka, Sucha Beskidska and Krakow Plaszow), the engine uncouples from the front of the train, attaches to the rear of the train, and proceeds out of the station the same way it came in.

The train leaves Zakopane at 12:00 and arrives, on schedule, at Krakow Glowny, at 15:45. At least it was cheap – the ticket cost me 13 zlotys (three quid). Five zlotys less than the bus, which, on the way out on Friday lunchtime cost 18 zlotys (just over four quid) and took two and half hours.

State railway PKP is its own worse enemy. It does not know how to communicate with passengers and potential passengers. Everyone knows the bus is better, even though the Zakopianka is one of Poland’s most notorious roads. The train was running nearly empty – I had an eight-seat carriage to myself all the way. Why isn’t the service scheduled better? 10 minute wait at Chabówka to put the engine at the other end, a similar wait at Sucha Beskidska – then half an hour (!) at Krakow Płaszow to attach the train to another, coming from Przemysl… and Kiev (!!). The journey would have been better had someone told me to jump off the train at Krakow Lagiewniki station, 10km/6miles from Krakow Glowny, and taken a taxi or public transport. The last 10km took 50 minutes (!!!).

Much of PKP will disappear because of the uselessness of its management. Here’s a transport problem (getting tens of thousands of people out of Zakopane, through Krakow and onto the outside world) waiting to be solved. And PKP management is asleep at the wheel.

Original post on W-wa Jeziorki blog.

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One Response to “… to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive…”

  1. Michael Dembinski Says:

    PKP really needs to decide whether it wishes to continue to serve passengers or not on this line. Here’s my suggestion. Put on some EMUs (EN57s will do) to run a semi-fast service stopping at Chabówka, Sucha Beskidska and Kraków Płaszów. Run them once an hour from Zakopane. Advertise the fact. Arrange the timetable so the journey takes two hours and twenty minutes, put the ticket price up to 16 zlotys (still two zlotys cheaper and 20 minutes faster than the bus). AND THEY WILL COME.

    If some ticket seller, conductor, notice, announcement, had bothered to INFORM me that I’d be better served alighting at Kraków Łagiewniki and proceding to Kraków Główny by other means – I’d have done just that.

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