Archive for October 2nd, 2008

A blast from the past

Thursday, 2 October 2008

A press cutting about the closure of the Warsaw – Radzmin n.g. line

(The above and other press cuttings about the line can be seen on the Polish only Kolejka Marecka website. Click twice on the image to read the Polish text.)

A few days ago, I was doing some research on Polish narrow gauge railways when I stumbled onto the Kolejka Marecka website via a (Polish only) Wikipedia entry about the line. Having last travelled on the line just a week before the line closed in 1974 I clicked the ‘external links’ link and was delighted to find the website – a real labour of love, although unfortunately at the moment only available in Polish. One press cutting particularly caught my eye. It was published just after the first oil crisis had begun to bite and after the Warsaw authorities had started to regret think that their decision to abolish the tram route to Wilanow might not have been such a bright idea after all. I thought you might find an English translation interesting.

“Our little samovars rush to and fro,
From Warsaw to Marek, the’re on the go.”
(local song)

Well the’re on the go no longer, the last of the narrow gauge railways that once ran to the capital has ceased to exist. It used to go from Warsaw to Radzimin.

It would seem appropriate to say a few sentimental words about the ‘little samovars’, particularly about their wartime service when they played a significant, but illegal role, in keeping Warsaw supplied with food. A role which was entirely at odds with the Nazi’s plan to starve the inhabitants to death.

But before such a memorial is published it’s worth looking at the matter from another point of view. Is the demolition of this modest little railway really ‘progress’? For the last 10 or 15 years everyone would have said so. At the time, the theory that local railways should be superseded by bus or motor car still dominated. Today, such a point of view belongs to the past.

In Russia the “Trojka Train”, currently running between Moscow and Lenningrad – and soon to start operating between other cities – will be displacing the aeroplane. Generally speaking, there is no credible competitor to rail for mass transport. Of course, it is possible to replace trams, but this can only be done effectively by metros or overhead railways.

These days nobody closes down rail transport solutions, instead they are improved and developed. Unfortunately, we lag behind with our ideas of ‘progress’, basing our plans on assumptions that were in vogue 20 or even more years ago. It would seem that we spend too long planning our progress and when we finally implement it its already out of date. We are told the buses will be faster. Good, but how many people will be able to get on. It was better by far to travel by a slow train than not to travel at all by a fast bus.

Well maybe nothing is lost. A fast tramway could be constructed on the trackbed of the railway. The track was worn out anyway. we’ll just have to wait.

What prophetic words, published in Warsaw of all places in 1974! And that would be the end of today’s lesson were it not for the photograph at the top of the article. The earnest young man who has just stepped off the footplate, the jacket, polo neck sweater, and haircut that was subsequently to be copied by Boris Johnson. The combination is unique. Dear reader, c’est moi!

PS. If anyone has any information about “The Trojka” train, please write.