A blast from the past


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 At the time, the theory that local railways should be superseded by bus or motor car still dominated.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.

3 Responses to “A blast from the past”

  1. Robert Hall Says:

    Dyspozytor, I’m highly envious of your first-hand experience of the Warsaw – Radzymin line.

    I don’t know thing one about the Russian Trojka train; but hope that going off at a different tangent, might be indulged – this prompted by the “Samowarek” nickname and the Warsaw connection. Years ago, I read an autobiographical memoir by the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer (1902 – 1991, lived in Poland until 1935, subsequently in the USA). Not a very cheerful read: for various reasons, the author had a difficult time as a citizen of Poland; but he comes across as the ultimate head-in-the-clouds intellectual, not really on this planet at all – liable to have problems wherever he might live. Singer recounts living for a while – circa 1930 IIRC – in the southern suburbs of Warsaw, and mentions that the means of travel between where he lodged, and the city centre, was by a funny little narrow-gauge railway which the locals affectionately called the “samowarek”.

    It would seem that this pet name was likely applied to all the narrow-gauge lines which at one time radiated from the capital – as you mention, Radzymin line the last survivor thereof. From the context, it would seem that Singer must have lived on the one which ran Warsaw – Otwock – Karczew. I’ve always been fascinated, by much of the Warsaw-based narrow gauge’s having been on the gauge – unique in Poland, I think – of 800mm. If I have things correctly, Warsaw – Radzymin was converted from 800mm to 750mm in 1951; and the last remaining short section operational on 800mm, was abandoned in 1963.

  2. Sarah Dietz Says:

    Hello Dyspozytor,

    I have been trawling the internet all morning to research Warsaw’s narrow gauge railways and particularly the Radzymin line…finally found your article! My husband’s great grandfather spent the years between 1910 and 1915 living and working in a British owned textile mill at Marki, on this line. He wrote a manuscript about his experiences and fondly describes his rides to and from Warsaw on the ‘kolejka’ or ‘trainette’ as he dubbed it!

    I have a very poor quality photo of the train at the station at Marki in this period, am not sure how to post it here but do e-mail me and I can forward it to you.

    My relative has marked the picture with a cross to one side which indicates where he was living…right opposite the station!

    All the best

    Sarah Dietz

    • dyspozytor Says:

      Hi Sarah,

      Great to hear from you. Yes I would love to publish your picture and also any of your father’s reminiscences about the line. I will drop you an e-mail as you request.

      Best wishes

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