Forgotten narrow gauge line rediscovered!

by

by BTWT guest writer, Robert Hall

belzec_map

Map from Trawniki website, originally published in Swiat Kolei

(click to see map in original setting and photographs)

key

dark blue – standard gauge railway
cherry – 600 mm gauge field railway
green – earlier Russian 750 mm gauge precursor
purple – 600 mm gauge link to sugar refinery
black chain – Russian/Austro-Hungarian border
(dates refer to the date of opening, or reopening,
in the case of relaid lines)

When in the course of research some months ago, a fellow Polish-railways-fan, Ian Simpson, and myself, came across a one-time PKP narrow-gauge line, previously unknown in Britain – we were somewhat amazed. We had not seen any mention of the line in any of the sources known to us to date, including the very useful Atlas Waskorotowek by Pawel Korcz. We felt like zoologists discovering a hitherto completely unknown species, alive and well in some remote part of the globe,.

As with a considerable amount of Poland’s narrow gauge, the line had its origin in light railways laid down for military purposes in the First World War. Its standard-gauge junction was Belzec, nowadays in south-eastern Poland. In the earlier phases of WWI, the Austrian army – having invaded what was then Russian Poland – built a 600mm gauge military line from the s/g at Belzec, some 120 km in a north-north-west direction to Trawniki on the Lublin – Chelm main line. This Feldbahn flourished in late 1915, but was superseded early the following year by fairly closely parallel standard-gauge lines built by the Austrians – nowadays PKP passenger table 554, section Belzec – Zawada – Rejowiec.

In January 1916, the military sold to the Austrian Imperial and Royal State Railways (Lemberg [Lwow] division), the first 11 km out of Belzec to Tomaszow Lubelskie, of their now redundant 600mm line, the rest of which was soon to disappear. Very shortly afterwards, the State Railways introduced a public common-carrier service on the 11 km which they had acquired.

At first, it carried mostly agricultural products; but in summer and autumn 1916, the State Railways extended it to serve traffic sources a little further out. Initially, a further 2 km of the Feldbahn north from Tomaszow Lubelskie was taken over; then new track was laid due northwards for 7 km to a sawmill near Tarnawatka, which supplied the military. A little later, the line was extended another 7 km northwards to the town of Budy Dzierazenskie, the site of a brickworks, rail connection for which would expedite the distribution of its products. This final extension produced a 600mm gauge line 27 km long in total.

The line remained in service after the end of WWI, and Poland’s regaining independence. Towards the end of 1918, it came under the management of the Ministry of Railways in Warsaw. In July 1920, it passed into the control of the Radom division of Polski Koleje Panstwowe. The line’s last appearance in the PKP public timetable in 1923, but with the annotation ‘Train service suspended’. Reputedly there are documents subsequent to that date, which refer to the dismantling of the whole line – thought to have taken place in 1924 or 1925.

The Belzec – Budy Dzierazenskie line was thus quite ephemeral – the reason, no doubt, why few people knew about it in the UK. The line would seem a likely candidate for the dubious distinction of being the victim of PKP’s very first abandonment. From the sources that were available to us, the conclusion that the line had an official passenger service, would seem a little speculative. Whilst its appearance in the PKP passenger timetable would appear to be a strong argument in favour, it is likely that the carriage of passengers would have been a rather casual affair, and very much a matter of mixed trains.

The sale in January 1916 to the State Railways of the Belzec – Tomaszow Lubelskie section, included three locomotives, of the standard military 600mm gauge Brigadelokomotiv 0-8-0T type, and ‘thirty wagons’. The locos concerned were military railway (HF) numbers HF 24 (Krauss 6939 / 1914), HF 428 (Jung 2334 / 1915) and HF 464 (Maffei 4596 / 1915). After the line’s closure, the first two locos were sold to an Austrian construction firm; their subsequent fate is unknown. The third machine remained in Poland, in non-common-carrier use, but went after World War II to the Birzava forestry railway in Romania, where it ran until 1962.

Acknowledgements to Piotr Kumelowski and to an article in the magazine Swiat Kolei for November 2002, by Carlheinz Becker and Helmut Pochadt. (The authors of the article acknowledged the help that they received from the Director and staff of The Regional Museum in Krasnymstaw, Waldemar Bienkowski, Andrzej Tajhert and Wieslaw Wojasiewicz. Ed.)

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