Warsaw’s minor railways, part 1

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Updated 01:30 GMT, Sunday 5 October 2008

Warsaw’s railways in 1924

(borrowed from Kolejka Marecka webpages)

A comment from Robert Hall regarding the gauges of the Warsaw narrow gauge railways gives us an excuse to post this map, published in a 1924 guidebook, of Warsaw’s railways during the inter-war period. The map is not to scale and the routing of the lines has been greatly simplified. Nevertheless it will repay some further study.

Some standard gauge anomalies

The standard gauge network within Warsaw has actually grown since 1924. A map of the current network is shown on the PKP website here. Let’s start our quick review with the curious North-South line from Dworzec Gdanski to Mlociny. Other maps show this as a tramway. In a month’s time, passenger trains will once again run between stations bearing these same names, but this time on the last and final section of the Warsaw Metro. Intriguingly the map shows an extension under construction to the North of Mlociny. Can anyone out there shed any more light on this railway?

Getting back to the city centre, curiously enough, the map does not show the route of the Warszawska Lnia Srednicowa, the construction of which was approved in 1921. Work on the line, linking the main stations on the left and right banks on the Vistula, Dworzec Glowny and Dworzec Wschodni, started in 1924 and the line (in its original two track form) was completed in 1933. Neither does the map show the planned route of Warszawaska Kolej Dojazdowa, the construction of which was first mooted in 1918. However, as the building of this line did not actually start until 1925, and the first train ran in 1927, that is perhaps understandable.

Warsaw’s narrow gauge railways before WW II

The first narrow gauge railway to be constructed in Warsaw was the Kolejka Wilanowska, an 800 mm gauge horse tramway from Belweder to Wilanow. It was first opened in 1892 and steam locomotives, tram engines with enclosed wheels and motion, were introduced in 1894. In 1896 the line was extended to Jezorna and in 1900 to Konstancin. At some stage the line was extended to plac Unii Lubelskiej at its northern end and to Piaseczno at its southern end. In 1935 as the result of a court decision which affected both the Kolejka Wilanowska and the Kolej Grojecka, both railways lost their street running sections within the City’s boundaries, the Wilanow Railway being cut back to Belweder. According to the Piaseczynska Kolej website (Polish only) the Wilanow Railway was regauged to 1,000 mm in 1936 and from that time became an integral part of the Kolej Grojecka system.

In 1897 (some sources say traffic started unofficially in 1896) the 800 mm Kolej Marecka was opened as a horse tramway, from Targowek to Marek. An Orstein & Koppel steam locomotive was bought as early as 1896 and tried out on an unopened section of line in 1897. By 1899 the line had reached Radzymin, and work to relay the railway with heavier rail more suitable for steam locomotives was in full swing. The original weight was 10 km/m and the replacement rail was 14 km/m. In 1901, the line was extended westwards from Targowek to Warszawa Praga Stalowa. At that stage the line was about 12 miles long (19.6 km) and had many short branches to various industrial establishments along its length. In 1916 the German occupying forces built a branch from Struga to Zegrze, reusing some earthworks and bridges that were built before the war, possibly for a standard gauge line. Shortly afterwards they extended this branch to the North East from Struga to connect at Wawer with the Kolej Jablonowska. This extension, the Linia Wojenna, continued in use until 1923.

In 1889 a 1,000 mm gauge line, which was to subsequently become known as the Kolej Grojecka, was opened from plac Unii Lubelskiej in Warsaw to Piaseczno, running broadly parallel to the Wilanow Railway. In 1900 the new line reached Gora Calwaria. In 1914 a branch, which subsequently became the main line, was opened to Grojec. The Grojec line was extended in stages and reached Nowe Miasto nad Pilica in 1924. In 1935, the Grojecka Railway’s operations in the streets of Warsaw were cut back to ul Odynca because of of the desire of the city authorities to give greater priority to motor traffic and the planned extension of a tram route along ul. Pulawska. In 1938 the line was cut back further to a terminus called Szopy (literally sheds) later renamed Warszawa Poludnie, (Warsaw South) currently the site of a bus station and the Wilanow metro station.

In 1900 the 800 mm Kolej Jablonowska was constructed, linking communities along the right bank of the Vistula. It first ran from Jablonna to Wawer and in 1914 was extended to Karczew. This concludes our quick review of the birth and growth of Warsaw’s narrow gauge railways. Some of the information sources  that I have checked this account against are vague, some are conradictory, so if you have any further information, do please write.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the history of Warsaw’s narrow gauge railways after WW II – an initial period of explosive traffic growth followed by subsequent decline and closure.

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5 Responses to “Warsaw’s minor railways, part 1”

  1. Robert Hall Says:

    Many thanks for this — most fascinating material.

    I once read somewhere — or perhaps only imagined reading — that the origin of the 800mm gauge for Warsaw’s local railways, was that one of the lines between Warsaw and Piaseczno (per your sources, the more westerly of those two was metre-gauge from the outset anyway) included a very steep climb at one spot, originally surmounted by a rack section — hence the 800mm gauge (rack-railway “sub-standard”). Your account runs much otherwise — I would reckon that the “rack section” thing, is nonsense. One doesn’t greatly associate the environs of Warsaw with fierce gradients, anyway!

  2. dyspozytor Says:

    You’ll find some photos (and lots of Polish text) of the only rack railway in Poland by following the link below.

    http://www.kolej.one.pl/_fervojoj/BIBLIO/OGOLNE/SCINAWKA/SOWA.HTM

  3. Robert Hall Says:

    Ah, the old “Owl Mountains Railway” — just a shame that the rack part of it was abandoned so very long ago. Wondefully evocative pictures… I learned of this system, on a visit to the Dolnoslaskie region in 1983. At that time, one last segment of it still had a passenger service: Scinawka Srednia to Radkow — travelled on mixed train thereon (TKt48 + two wagons of stone + one coach). Understand that 5 km. of the system in the other direction from Scinawka Srednia is still in use, to serve a stone quarry.

  4. Martin Ashford Says:

    Don’t know about the “rack railway in Warsaw” thing being nonsense. I have a list of all rack locos built by the leading Swiss firm SLM, and it includes one loco built for the Kolejka Wilanowska in 1900 (given line number 30). According to your information above, that’s when the line was extended south. Could this have involved a rack section? Alternatively, it is conceivable that the loco was built mainly for construction purposes. I would love to know more if anyone has the faintest idea!

    • dyspozytor Says:

      Don’t know about the “rack railway in Warsaw” thing being nonsense.

      Indeed not. Several reputable sources confirm the existence of the rack section which was needed to climb the Vistula valley escarpment between Belveder and pl. Unii Lubelskiej.

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