Poland’s secret steam railway

by

Hot work in the cab of Ty2-953
photo Michael Dembinski, W-wa Jeziorki blog

We really should have written about the Chabowka-Nowy Sacz line before, as PKP Cargo have been using it this summer to run ‘regular’ steam trains. Usually hauled by a Ty2, the trains run from Chabowka to Dobra-Kolo-Limanowej and back. Two trains ran in June, two in July and five are running in August. Chabowka publish an English language timetable giving details of all of this year’s regular steam workings. Fortunately, our memory was jogged by reading about a journey on the line on W-wa Jeziorki blog.

The place we stayed, an agroturystyka in a large village/small town called Dobra (between Nowy Sacz and Wadowice) was run by really lovely people, great cooking, flexibility at meal times and – at 50 zlotys (around 11 quid) for bed, breakfast, lunch and supper (40 zlotys for children) – a snip. Eddie noted that there was a railway station in Dobra, and given that the weather on Saturday morning was dismal, we thought it would be a good idea to stroll down there to take a look.

The walk through the village (small town really) was long; we got lost, had to ask the way, neared the station (up the hill) and as we neared it… the sound of a steam whistle! Eddie and I simultaneously broke into a jog (I’m delighted to say that this 50 year-old burdened with camera bag can still out-run his 12 year-old son up a steep hill). The whistling continued. Would we catch the train? We made it up to the station – and there it was – a 2-10-0 Kriegslok steam locomotive, manoeuvring around a rake of five two-axle coaches.

To our delight, it transpired that we were in good time for a steam train excursion from Dobra to Chabowka railway museum. A quick glance at the timetable showed that we were up for a three-hour steam-hauled trip with an hour’s museum visit all for the equivalent of ten quid! The line is spectacular (by Polish standards) for its mountain scenery. It was here that scenes from Schindler’s List were shot – both engine and coaches are 100% authentic for the period.

Chabowka itself for me was a sorry sight – lots of interesting exhibits resting and rusting, the owners (PKP Cargo) treating the whole thing as a bit of an embarrassment rather than a potential tourist goldmine (as heritage railways are run in the UK). I did not feel disposed to spend twice the price of adult museum admission to buy a film-and-photography ticket, so put my camera away during the hour’s (rainy) visit at Chabowka

Clicking on the photo on the top of this post will take you straight to the original article with all five of Michael Dembinski’s superb photographs accompanied by some well-researched captions. The extract is just a taster. I enjoyed reading this account of his steam trip, but we feel that his last paragraph (too many beers? too late at night?) lacks the accuracy and fair play that I have grown accustomed to on Michael’s blog. So, without any further ado, here is our redress.

Chabowka’s engines are looked after better than most of Poland’s steam engines. The steam centre carries out its own overhauls and boiler repairs, and Grazyna Sysiak, the General Manager, is justifiably proud of the standard of work achieved. Of course, the engines and rolling stock would be much better of under cover, but the lack of covered accommodation is a problem all over Poland, not just in Chabowka. In the meantime, the engines are protected as far as is possible with paint and thick grease. The ‘rusting’ exhibits are not Chabowka’s own, but are National Railway Museum engines, that have been recently towed to Chabowka from the infamous ‘skansen’ at Kreszowice. Until ownership or licensing issues are sorted out there is not much that Chabowka can do with them.

UK heritage railway volunteers will pull a wry smile at Michael’s comment that their lines are “tourist goldmines”. Yes, the biggest UK heritage lines have a £ million annual turnover from ticket sales and the all important ancillaries, but they also have a £ million annual expenditure and, if it wasn’t for a massive input of volunteer labour and donations from the members of their support societies, very few of them would last long. To put things in perspective, there are something like 2 million railway enthusiasts in the UK and around a hundred thousand are members of railway societies. In Poland there are a few thousand railway enthusiasts and only 200 or so are actively involved with any heritage railway.

Last of all, Michael jibes at having ‘to spend twice the price of adult museum admission to buy a film-and-photography ticket’ and decides to put his camera away while he visits the steam centre. I looked up Chabowka’s charges and compared them to those at Didcot, the nearest similar location to London.

Admission charges
Didcot Railway Centre Chabowka Skansen
Adult non-steam day
£5-00
Adult ordinary day
4 PLN (£1-00)
Adult special event
£8-50
Adult Parowozjazda
FREE!
Child non-steam day
£5-00
Child ordinary day
2 PLN (£0-50)
Child special event
£7-00
Child Parowozjazda
FREE!
Photography non-steam day
FREE
Photography ordinary day
10 PLN (£2-50)
Videoing non-steam day
FREE
Videoing ordinary day
25 PLN (£6-25)
Videoing & Photography
special event
FREE
Videoing & Photography
Parowozjazda
FREE

I have no doubt whatsoever that, even with the extra charges mentioned by Michael, the Chabowka Skansen offers excellent value for money. It does rather seem that Chabowka’s charging policy is aimed at making the steam centre as accessible as possible for Poles, while trying to get Western railway enthusiasts to pay a little bit more through the videoing and photography charges.

Incidentally, although no charges at all are made during the Parowozjazda steam gala, I have over the last two years always left a donation of several hundred zloty in return for the excellent hospitality received at Chabowka by members of UK heritage railways that I have taken to the event.

This year, I am guiding another trip organised under the aegis of the British-Polish Railway and Industrial Heritage Partnership. We meet at Cracow airport on Friday afternoon 5 September, spend two days riding trains and photographing engines at Parowozjazda, visit a couple of narrow gauge railways and the steam centres at Jaworzyna Slask and Pyskowice and say our fond farewells at Cracow airport on the afternoon of Thursday 11 September. There are a couple of places spare, if you would like to join us do contact me at:

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9 Responses to “Poland’s secret steam railway”

  1. Michael Dembinski Says:

    Inflation has caught up with Chabówka’s admission prices, which are now 5 PLN adult, 2.50 PLN child. My gripe is not comparing Chabówka’s prices with Didcot’s, rather the chuzpah of demanding what at Didcot would be the equivalent of a tenner (twice adult admission) for the right to wield a camera. For most visitors, the arcana of Italian railcars or Henschel snowploughs is not that interesting, they really only want a pic of Junior in front of a chuff-chuff.

  2. dyspozytor Says:

    I’m sure most Poles wouldn’t dream of paying to photograph junior. The photography and video charges are aimed fairly and squarely at Germans and Brits. Let me know next time you go to Chabowka and I’ll see if I can’t arrange for you and Eddie to have a short footplate ride. But you’d have to make a donation to Grazyna’s contingencies fund.

  3. Michael Dembinski Says:

    I’m off tomorrow for another ride on Saturday. But will not return to Chabowka – rather to capture the majesty of the Ty2 cresting the summit at Szkrydzlna with regulator wide open. Steam trains need to move, not stand in museums. And yes, that requires funds. So I’d rather pay 20 zl to travel a few km on live steam than pay 10 zl to photograph cold dead iron.

  4. dyspozytor Says:

    Steam trains need to move, not stand in museums. I couldn’t agree with you more. This applies to the display of all industrial heritage items, not just steam trains. The idea that the exhibits in a museum should actually work is a concept that is difficult to explain in Poland. I once upset the curator of the Museum of the River Pilica by asking him what was the point of restoring a water mill next to a river if the water wheel is not going to be turned by the water.

    If you really want to see Chabowka come alive then I would recommend coming to Parowozjazda on 6 & 7 September.

  5. Devlin Says:

    Hi,
    i wonder if you could help me…
    If i were looking to buy a piece of heritage – about 2 miles of track, a small engine and a couple of carriages, where would i start?
    sincerely,
    devlin

  6. Devlin Says:

    just read your blog entries regarding the Polish and South African scrapping agenda of old locos – would they be good places to investigate and how would i go about it?

  7. dyspozytor Says:

    Hi Devlin,

    It rather depends what you want to do with your bit of rail heritage and where you want to do it. Would you keep it in Poland, or uproot it and take it to England?

    Are you interested in standard gauge or narrow gauge? Do you want to run a private railway just for yourself and friends, or are you prepared to run a public railway for the benefit of the local community?

    Let me know a little more about what you are thinking of doing and I will see what I can do to help. You’ll find my e-mail address at the end of the article.

    Good luck,

    Dyspozytor

  8. Brandon Beck Says:

    How can I get further information so that I can schedule a visit? Thank you. bhb

  9. dyspozytor Says:

    Details of PKP Cargo’s steam specials can be obtained from Fundacja Era Parowozow.

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