Archive for December, 2008

Behind dark glasses

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

A reader – who is an expert on the history of Polish narrow gauge railways – writes in to highlight some mistakes and omissions in our recent reporting. He also takes us to task for choosing to publish anonymously. Here are the key sections of his letter followed by our replies.

I’ve been reading your blog for some time and have been tempted to respond to some items in the past, but have resisted mainly because I don’t particularly want to contribute publicly – no particular reason, other than the fact that you want to keep your identity concealed and I don’t feel comfortable revealing mine in a public blog whose writer doesn’t.

It is worth restating that first and foremost BTWT is a campaigning blog. We try to make a difference with regard to the provision of rail-based transport links and the safeguarding of railway heritage. In Britain such activities are entirely mainstream. You have to be very vigorous in your campaigning to earn your own MI5 file and, as far as I am aware, no-one has been killed for trying to prevent the demolition of a historic railway station or trying to reopen a closed line.

Poland is different. A generation of wealthy thugs who formed the U.B. (Poland’s communist era Security Service) have gone freelance and have no scruples in employing whatever means seem appropriate to their limited imaginations to do their masters’ will. I was once punched in the back by a private security guard in Warsaw for parking my car after work hours in a private parking spot. The head of Warsaw’s police was murdered a few years ago for investigating a gang who, inter alia, were trying to redevelop the Warsaw Railway Museum site.

There are many Polish, and even a few English, websites that provide information about the Polish Railway scene. As far as we know we are the only independent website prepared to sponsor campaigns to defend Poland’s minor railways. As often as not, such campaigns bring us head to head with powerful vested interests. As well as saving our own skins, we also have some first class sources that we wish to protect. In the circumstances, remaining anonymous seems to us the best choice.

The first rail related comment from our correspondent concerns our October post about Warsaw’s minor railways.

You seem to have dismissed Robert Hall’s comment about the rack section. The history of the line is not widely publicised but some information is presented on the Schmalspurbahnen in Osteuropa website under the link to Piaseczno. The history is fully described by Bogdan Pokropinski in ‘Kolej Wilanowska’, published by WKL in 2001, ISBN 83-206-1405-8.

The choice of 800mm gauge for the line was not, however, because of the rack section, as the first section of the Wilanow line opened in as a horse-worked tramway in 1891 and the later rack section, from Belweder to Mokotow (Plac Unii Lubelski) did not open until 1894; steam operation started later that year but the rack section was not introduced until 1903, due to the 4% gradient on that 800m section.

The rack does not seem to have been as successful as hoped and had a short life – when the Russians withdrew from Warszawa in summer 1915 they took virtually all the locomotives and much of the rolling stock with them and, while the Germans soon brought in new locomotives (including a couple which had been under construction by O&K for the Warsaw lines before the war broke out), they did not reinstate rack operation.

We didn’t dismiss Robert Hall’s comment , but rather at the time we did not have any more information to hand which would have allowed us to amplify our answer to his question.

Your potted history of the Warszawa narrow gauge missed some of the most interesting aspects – the involvement of the tailor Paszkowski who, due to his contacts with the aristocracy (as his customers) was involved in the metre gauge Grojec line and was so incensed when he found that Henryk Huss (the main figure in the Wilanow line’s development) had obtained an order to transport bricks for construction of new barracks in the city, managed to buy some land over which Huss had built the line between Chylice and Piaseczno, built a house compound (my translation from Pokropinski’s book is a bit hazy here) on the line overnight and demanded that Huss exchange the brick transport contract for the house compound. The loss of the contract put Huss and his co-financier Juliusz Rodys in severe financial difficulty and it seems they were subsequently bailed out by Prince Stefan Lubomirski and Count Tomasz Zamoyski – one gets the impression they were slightly embarrassed by Paszkowski’s behaviour. Lubomirski and Zamoyski were key figures in the Grojec railway, hence the line’s first locomotives being no. 1 ‘Stefan’ and no. 2 ‘Tomasz’.

Another interesting feature of the Wilanow/Grojec lines was the interchange with the Warszawa – Wien railway, the link to which finally opened in 1900 after many years of trying to get consent. When the Warszawa – Kalisz line was built in 1903 the 800mm gauge link was severed and the dire financial situation of the Wilanow line by then meant that a new link could not be financed. Then the Belgians got involved in the narrow gauge. A Belgian owned company had been operating the street tramways of the city for some time and the city authorities wanted them electrified. The Belgians weren’t keen to make the investment so eventually the city terminated the concession and brought in Siemens. Lubomirski and Zamoyski therefore contacted the Belgians, who bought a significant stake in the Grojec, Wilanow and Jablonna lines, bringing the possibility of new investment.

The first such investment, in 1911, was reinstatement of the link to the standard gauge, along a slightly different alignment. The opportunity was also taken to make this link dual gauge, so that it could serve both the 800mm Wilanow line and the 1000mm Grojec line. By this time of course, the Kalisz line was open on Russian gauge so at the interchange station there were in fact four gauges.

We were aware of the personalities who promoted the rival lines, and of some – but not all – of their story. Many thanks for this additional information.

Moving on to another little gripe about historical accuracy, I note that in Robert Hall’s recent item on the Smigiel line he repeats your earlier statement that a communist party official in Rakoniewice was responsible for the section between there and Wielichowo closing in the 70s. I note, however, he does not repeat the statement that the railway thus lost its busiest section. Is this because you have now realised that it wasn’t the busiest section? Certainly the history I’ve read has suggested the line to Rakoniewice was never as successful as hoped.

The 1939 timetable shows there were already no workings between Rakoniewice and Wielichowo, while the 1944 DR timetable shows only one train, running three days per week, between Rakoniewice and Smigiel, while three daily trains ran to/from Wielichowo. The 1946 timetable showed no trains to or from Rakoniewice and by 1961 there were three trains each way between Rakoniewice and Wielichowo but four each way between Wielichowo and Smigiel. I’d say the busiest section was always Smigiel – Stare Bojanowo, with Smigiel – Wielichowo being the next busiest. Both the Rakoniewice – Wielichowo and Stare Bojanowo – Krzywin sections seem to have seen no passenger traffic at various points in history. I believe freight traffic between Rakoniewice and Wielichowo ceased in 1963, so the closure in 1973 seems to me to be the conclusion of a long decline from a not very high base.

The information that the Wielichowo-Rakonowice passenger services were well patronised and that this section was closed on the whim of a communist official came from a primary source, the guard of the railcar that I was travelling in a year or two after the services had ceased! However, now that you have raised the point, I will make a point of investigating as to whether any records exists as to what the passenger carryings on this section actually were. Just a point of clarification, the post that you refer to uses the words ‘a principal source’ not ‘the principal source’, but perhaps, in hindsight, ‘an important source’ would have been a more accurate rendering of what I had been told.

Incidentally, I think the closure of the Wielichowo – Ujazd section was finally brought about by the opening of the Wolsztyn – Grodzisk (-Poznan) line in 1905, although the section to Ujazd seems never to have been successful; from what I can see trains only ran on it on market days and the passenger service ceased as early as 1903

Many thanks for sharing your research with us. When it comes to historical accuracy, railway history is not as well documented in Poland as the UK, and the creation of a definitive record is a task which is still in progress.


Manchester high speed link by 2028?

Sunday, 28 December 2008


Europe High Speed Railways, V > 124 mph (200km/h),
Map by Bernese Media

(Click to see enlarged map in original context with details of licensing on Wikipedia.)

The Times reports that transport minister, Lord Adonis, believes that there is a strong case for building a £20 billion 200 mph (320 kph) high-speed line that would cut journey times from London to Manchester, one of Britain’s most congested routes, from 127 minutes to just 80.

Adonis’s comments preceed a report, being prepared for the government’s National Networks Strategy Group, on the case for a high-speed rail network in Britain. Group members include senior officials from Network Rail and the Treasury and they are due to receive the report in Q1 2009. After a trip by Adonis to Japan, The Times quotes him as saying, “Britain has a lot to learn from Japan about high-speed rail… . In Japan it has been a powerful force for economic regeneration and national pride. It could be the same in Britain.”

While there are some similarities between the South of England and Japan because of relatively small distances between conurbations Adonis need not have travelled right around the globe to have studied the role that high speed rail can play in a country’s transport infrastructure. He could have looked at high speed railways in France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain and Italy.

Japan introduced the Shinkansen, which ran at 130 mph (210 km/h), in 1964. Today the network has grown to 989 miles (1, 583 km), connects 10 cities and carries up to 1,600 passengers per train at speeds which reach 135 mph (220 km/h) and has carried over 6 billion passengers.

France introduced the Train à Grande Vitesse in 1981. Over the next 30 years a 996 mile (1,545 km) network of high speed lines, Les lignes à grande vitesse, were constructed. Originally designed to accommodate train speeds of up to 131 mph (210 km/h), most LGVs now have a maximum speed of 200 mph (320 km/h). The LGV Est européenne, France’s latest LGV line, was designed for service trains running at 224 mph (360 km/h), a specially modified train established a world record for a wheeled train of 357.2 mph (574.8 km/h) on 3 April 2007.

With demand for rail transport outstripping the capacity of Britain’s much cut down railway network, Lord Adonis’s proposal that Britain builds its first domestic high speed line – a 200 mph, 250 mile long HS2 from London to Manchester – within the next 20 years is cautious to the nth degree.

All’s well that ends well!

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Dyspozytor returns to Poland on Boxing Day.

Readers that have been following BTWT for some time will know that Dyspozytor is not a good air traveller. He has a fundamental aversion to the whole business, believing firmly that if man had been meant to fly he would have evolved with wings. Over the Christmas period there’s also the worry that the aircrew may have had one too many the previous night and that their blood alcohol levels may not yet have descended to a safe level. Finally, he finds the check in and security procedures intrinsically stressful and requires a composure and philosophical attitude which is far removed from his own.


Tram tunnel under taxiway. Photo

( Click to see photo on airport-technology website.)

My blood pressure started reaching dangerously high levels on the M25. Why is it on the one day in the year when half of Britain is travelling in order to visit loved ones and having as many drinks as possible, achievement of the second objective is frustrated – or made illegal – by the closure of the country’s entire railway network?

As the traffic on the M25 slowed down several times to a crawl, I had visions of not getting to the check in desk in time and reliving my earlier embarrassment at Lodz Airport. Traffic speeded up after Watford, and the northbound M1 flowed reasonably freely. The M1 – Luton Airport spur is being widened to a dual carriageway and here we were slowed down again. There’s a spare tunnel under the taxiway which was intended to take a tramway (why not full size rail link?) from the airport terminal to Luton Airport Parkway Station, but with the Department for Transport’s penchant for road building this seems now to be likely to be used by the final section of the spur road.

Heightened security procedures at the airport have moved the drop off point some 100 yards away from the terminal building. At the same time, the airport’s Spanish operating company have introduced a charge for the baggage trolleys that removed so much of the struggle with heavy luggage. Curiously enough, chargeable trolleys have also been introduced at Stansted Airport.

My comfortable walking boots, bought in Krakow a couple of years ago, attracted the attention of a security operative who ordered that I take them off. The same boots attracted no attention whatsoever at Stansted a month earlier. The Stansted security staff did confiscate a small bottle of fizzy mineral water, but allowed me to take half a pound of sugar onto the plane. I conclude that airport security procedures are pure theatre and are nothing to do with preventing explosives being carried on board and everything to do with maintaining the state of post 9/11 and 7/7 national paranoia.

Once through security, I wanted an orange juice. £3-00 from the café, but only £1-50 from W.H. Smiths. The bookshop won. The drink was a life saver. Luton is one of these airports which expects its travellers to maintain a state of Olympic fitness. The number of the gate is shown at the last possible minute and sprinting to it can take 20 minutes.

Wizzair have an unfortunate habit of cancelling their flights and leaving their passengers stranded. On the other hand, their Airbus A320s are newer and have more comfortable seats than Ryanair’s older Boeing 737s. You make your choice and pay your money. This time, the Wizzair flight was without incident and the crew were Polish and friendly.

Passport control at Poznan Airport was brisk and efficient, although I fail to understand why, when all aeroplane stands near the terminal were vacant, our plane was stopped 20 yards from the terminal building, but 100 yards from the terminal’s airside entrance. Perhaps the airport authorities just wanted to show off their new buses?

In side the terminal building there were no bus ticket machines and all the new kiosks selling tickets were closed. I needn’t have worried, the bus driver accepted my 100 zl note with a smile and gave me change for my 4.80 zl fare. Driving on practically deserted roads, we reached Poznan station in 15 minutes.

I spied my train just across the tracks from the bus stop. With just 5 minutes to spare, I didn’t bother about buying a ticket or using the subway. I sprinted across the tracks and told the guard that I needed a ticket. He directed me to the head of the train. Armed with the change provided by the bus driver there was no problem in buying it on board the train. The kierownik (train manager) konduktorka (female train conductor) and I exchanged gossip about the latest developments on PKP. After behaviour that would have seen me fined and arrested in the UK, I was safely back in Poland.


Christmas special – our 300th post!

Thursday, 25 December 2008

The  Smigiel  Railway – A Historical Sketch

by BTWT guest writer, Robert Hall

We wish all or readers a Happy Christmas!


Track work at Stare Bojanowo, November 2008. Photo SKPL

(Click to see picture in original context on SKPL website.)

With the Smigiel 750mm gauge railway being frequently in the news recently, a brief review of this line’s slightly-over-a-century of life is appropriate.

The line’s genesis was in the time when there was no independent Poland. The area in which it lies was then part of Germany. In 1892, the German Parliament passed an Act enabling local authorities to construct and operate local railways. In 1897 The Smigiel District Council passed a resolution to construct a metre gauge railway connecting Krzywin – Stare Bojanowo Waskotorowe – Smigiel – Wielichowo – Ujazd.

The first part of the Schmiegeler Kreisbahn to be opened to traffic was the 18 km section from Stare Bojanowo (connecting there with the Poznan – Wroclaw line opened in 1856) east to Krzywin, in 1900. The section north-westward from Stare Bojanowo through Smigiel to Wielichowo was opened shortly afterward in 1900/1901, and then the last north-east section via Lubnica to Ujazd was brought into use. Here there was a connection with the newly-opened Prussian State Railways standard-gauge line from Koscian to Grodzisk Wlkp.

The Lubnica – Ujazd section proved extremely short-lived. Traffic did not live up to expectations, services were suspended for a while in 1903, and the line was completely closed and dismantled at the end of 1905. The materials recovered were used to build a branch (opened 1907 or 1908) from Lubnica to the brickworks at Gradowice and also, in 1910, an 8 km westward extension from Wielichowo, to meet the standard-gauge Grodzisk Wielkopolski – Wolsztyn line at Rakoniewice.

With the end of the First World War, and Poland regaining her independence, this whole area became Polish territory. The system remained in the ownership of the District Council, as the Smigielska Kolej Powiatowa. Independent Poland’s first few years were turbulent in various ways, including financially: a general economic and political crisis caused suspension of services over the whole system for a few months in 1923 – spelling the end for the Wielichowo – Lubnica – Gradowice section, which was closed and dismantled 1923/24.

After the crisis lifted, the railway settled down for the next half-century, as an approximately fifty-kilometre route from Rakoniewice in the west to Krzywin in the east, via Smigiel and Stare Bojanowo. World War II brought the area back under German administration. After the end of the war, all was back in Polish hands, and a little afterwards, the railway was absorbed by the PKP.


The Smigiel Railway, Map by Robert Hall

After the war PKP sought to standardise its narrow gauge lines as far as was practicable – adopting the Russian 750mm gauge as the norm. As part of this programme in 1951/52 the Smigiel Railway to 750mm gauge. Its metre-gauge locos and rolling stock were transferred to the far north-west of Poland, where the secondary railways were overwhelmingly metre-gauge, and were retained on that gauge by PKP.

In 1956 the track was extensively rebuilt and railcars were introduced for passenger services while steam locomotives in the guise of the ubiquitous Px48s reigned supreme on freight workings. Paradoxically, in the light of the present-day interest in this line, it drew very little of their attention from Western enthusiasts in the 60s and 70s. It was a fairly ordinary PKP 750mm narrow gauge railway – very charming, but there were a dozen or more up and down the country like it; in 1973, it  was one of PKP’s first narrow-gauge ones to go all-diesel (the steam locomotives went to Krosniewice) – after which almost no Western gricer spared it a glance, at least for the next fifteen years.


Diesel Railcar at Wielichowo, 2003. Photo Wikipedia Commons

(Click to see details of attribution and licensing.)

By the 1970s some communist party official in Rakonowice decided that narrow gauge railways were unfashionable and the 8 km section from Wielichowo to Rakoniewice was closed in 1973; leaving the line with just one standard gauge connection, at Stare Bojanowo. As time went on, other sections were abandoned – Zgliniec to Krzywin in 1979,  and Stare Bojanowo to Zgliniec during the 1990s. The railway was relinquished by PKP in late 2001, but was taken over by the Smigiel Town Council and brought back into service, with SKPL as operator, the following year.

All that remained by that time was the 23 km Stare Bojanowo – Smigiel – Wielichowo. On this total length, there have been ups and downs in the past seven years regarding provision of services, especially west of Smigiel. As is known, suspension of services was enforced on that side of Smigiel, early in 2008, by reason of the very poor condition of the track – at the time of writing, services are running over only the 5 km between Stare Bojanowo and Smigiel. Perhaps displaying insane optimism, I hold to the hope that it may truly be just a matter of “suspension” between Smigiel and Wielichowo; and that if things could only be sorted out for the line to be brought back into non-suicidal condition, SKPL could and would resume services on this section…

At the line’s inception at the turn of the 19th / 20th centuries, its loco fleet was two Krauss 0-6-0Ts, and three 0-6-2Ts from the same builder. Another locomotive from the line’s metre-gauge days (though its career at Smigiel would have been rather brief) is – certainly as per a July 2008 report — in the metre-gauge museum at Gryfice in the north-west. This is a Krauss-Maffei 0-6-0T of 1944 (PKP number Ty6-3284), presumed to have been transferred to the north-western metre-gauge network after the regauging of the Smigiel railway. Other, unchronicled, steam locos could well have worked on the Smigiel line over its metre-gauge years.

I would like to acknowledge the following sources: the book Z dziejow Smigielskiej Kolei Dojazdowej 1900 – 1990 by the late Maciej Matuszewski; the Continental Railway Journal and the website

Wesolych Swiat

Wednesday, 24 December 2008


Ol49-111, Ol49-23, Pt47-112 in steam, December 2002
Photo © Wojtek Lis

(Click to see picture in original context on Wojtek Lis’s Parowozy z Wolsztyna photographic record of steam at Wolsztyn. Then click the picture a second time to see a high resolution image.)

Parowozy z Wolsztyna is a wonderful record of the last two decades of Wolsztyn. The webmaster Wojtek Lis has been taking photographs of steam engines at Wolsztyn since 1991 and currently works for Wolsztyn Town Council with responsibility for promoting the town overseas. He publishes a regular e-bulletin on developments at the shed. Unfortunately none of Wojtek’s material is as yet available in English.

In Poznan, Tomasz Wiktor, the Director of Tourism for Wielkapolska province, is planning a major EU-funded railway heritage project which would encompass not only Wolsztyn Shed, but also the repair workshops at Gniezno. Meanwhile Polish State Railways Estates Company have their own plans for the Gniezno Workshops site and have just offered the turntable there to the Warsaw Railway Museum.

Some things in Poland never change.

The BTWT editorial team wish all our readers Wesolych Swiat which can be literally translated as ‘Happy Holiday’, but is more colloquially rendered as ‘Happy Christmas’.

A tale of two policies

Monday, 22 December 2008


Chur Station, Switzerland. Photo Wikipedia Commons

(Click to see enlarged picture and details of licensing.)

There’s no other country in Europe which treats public transport with the flair and imagination of the Swiss. An excellent example of Swiss transport policy in practise is Chur Station where the local authority has just constructed a concrete deck over the station with a magnificent steel and glass roof. The new construction will provide a weatherproof interchange between the trains and the postal buses. Just outside in the street one of the Rhaetian state railways lines reaches the station via a track that runs down the middle of the highway.

The two extracts below illustrate the difference between transport mindsets in England and Switzerland better than anything that I could write myself. First part of a longer article in the The Economist on-line edition of December 18th 2008.

The Department for Transport spent £4.4 billion last year subsidising private railways, a number roughly four times larger than the subsidy paid to British Rail, the state-owned firm that ran the railway until it was privatised in the mid-1990s.

Alarmed by the cost, ministers have decided that passengers must bear more of the burden. Total subsidies are forecast to fall to £3.3 billion by 2009-10, and to keep falling thereafter. To fill the gap, fares will continue to rise by more than inflation (a 7% increase is scheduled in January).

That will provoke howls of protest, and reinforce the impression (which surveys by Passenger Focus, a travellers’ watchdog, show are widespread) that railways are a rip-off for those who use them. But it is far from clear that trains deserve the state support they get. Rail journeys account for just 6% of total travel (roads for 84%), but subsidising rail consumes around 20% of the government’s £21 billion transport budget. Using an average price for road-building over the past decade, the £9 billion spent on the west-coast railway line could have added an extra lane to around 450 miles of motorway—roughly the length of the M1, M3 and M4 combined.

Admittedly, cost-effectiveness is not the only consideration. Rail travel is usually cleaner, greener and faster than travel by car. And it is hard to see roads offering an alternative means of shuttling millions of commuters in and out of built-up large cities, a niche that trains dominate.

As for apportioning the cost of rail, David Leeder, vice-chairman of the Commission for Integrated Transport, a state-funded think-tank, points out that businessmen and commuters are exactly the sort of people who can most easily afford to pay higher fares. “Currently, we have rich people from the south demanding that poorer people in the north subsidise a service that, by and large, they don’t use,” he says. “I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense”.

The complete article can be found here. Thanks to W-wa Jeziorki blog editor, Michael Dembinski, who sent in a comment with the link. Another way of looking at transport priorities can be found on the Swiss Info website.

Although many Swiss are car fanatics, they use rail transport more often than anyone else bar the Japanese, and public transport infrastructure covers the country.

There is now a car for practically every second Swiss man, woman and child. But annual new car sales now at a low of 260,000 reflect a lack of economic growth, as does the average age (ten years) of a third of all cars on Swiss roads. At the same time, the average Swiss makes 40 train trips a year.

Switzerland has one of the densest rail networks in the world, most of it operated by the Swiss Federal Railways, which has been nationalised since the early part of the 20th century. In addition, there are many mostly narrow gauge private companies operating regional and local services. Cantonal and local authorities are usually shareholders.

In mountainous areas there are countless funiculars, cog railways, and cable cars to the highest summits.

Swiss transport policy wants to get freight traffic off the roads and motorways onto the railways – largely for ecological reasons. This applies in particular to transalpine traffic between northern and southern Europe. The existing Gotthard and Lötschberg lines have been undergoing reconstruction at lower altitudes, resulting in new 57- and 35-kilometre-long tunnels permitting high speed passenger and goods trains. The Gotthard should be completed in 2012, while the Lötschberg was opened in 2007.

In December 2004, the main stretches of the Rail 2000 project were inaugurated. Switzerland’s early participation in the “rail fever” of the mid 19th century means many rail lines meander between villages rather than forming direct links between cities. Thus one of the Rail 2000 projects sees a straightened Zurich-Bern line partly parallel to the motorway, permitting a running time of under an hour for the 125-kilometre trip.

Bus lines, often operated or subcontracted by the Post Office, assure transport where there are no rail lines. Competition is avoided as, in many cases, services are partly subsidised.

The complete text can be found here. Now which country’s transport policy makes more sense to you? Do please let us know.

Lukoil threat to Bialowieza

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Site of planned Lukoil terminal at Lesna

It is rare for BTWT to come out publicly against a proposed railway development, but Russian oil giant Lukoil‘s plans for a massive 62 acre (25 ha) oil terminal on the edge of the Bialowieza Forest fill us with foreboding. The Forest is one of the largest remaining parts of the immense primeval forest which once covered Europe. Before WWII the Forest was in Poland, since the post-war shift of Poland’s borders, it lies in south-western Belarus, and north-east of Poland. UNESCO have declared the Forest a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. The EU have given the Polish part of the Forest Natura 2000 designation and, in both Poland and Belarus, portions of the forest are also protected under domestic legislation.

From Lukoil’s point of view the site offers many advantages. The Narewka Council is in favour of the development and have already sold some land to the oil company. The site is already connected by a broad gauge railway to the Belarus railway system. The proposed oil terminal would actually lie outside the Bialowieza National Park. The company intends to prepare an environmental impact assessment and and to install suitable traps and dykes to minimize the effect of any spillage.

On the other hand, ecologists throw up their hands in horror. They point out that Lukoil are hardly known for their care of the environment. Any oil or chemical spillage would eventually leach into the drainage canals that run from the site into National Park. The heavy road tankers that would take fuel from the oil terminal to destinations all over Poland would actually run through the Park. In the event of an accident like the explosion and fire at the oil terminal in Buncefield, the damage to the Forest’s ecosystem would be incalculable.

PKP Cargo on verge of bankruptcy

Friday, 19 December 2008

BTWT Exclusive


Wojchiech Balczun, Chairman PKP Cargo in April,
Photo Railway Market Forum

(Click to see photo in its original context (Polish) on the pages of Railway Market Forum.)

PKP Cargo has advised railway trade unions that it is heading for a loss of nearly 200 million PLN in 2008 and that, unless drastic economy measures are taken, the losses will rise to some 500 million PLN in 2009. As recently as April this year, PKP Cargo Chairman, Wojchiech Balczun was telling delegates at a conference organised by Railway Market Forum, that he intended to turn PKP Cargo into a modern logistics company. He set himself the task of writing a strategic plan which would take Cargo forward for the next 10-15 years and prepare it for a floatation on the Warsaw Stock Market in a couple years time.

The problem was that while Balczun and his board were thinking about writing a plan, Cargo’s ‘open access’ competitors, companies such as CTL, PCC, Lotus and PTK, had creamed of 22% of the most lucrative freight traffic on Poland’s Railways. As oil, gas and petrochemicals freight were lost to the new operators, PKP retrenched to the markets it knew best: coal and iron ore. Enter the world financial crisis stage in October and ArcelorMittal are telegramming Cargo that they have closed down their giant coke oven in Nowa Huta, Cracow and that are in no position to accept the iron ore trains that are beginning to stack on the Polish border. PKP Cargo’s management board see the only way forward as abandoning their investment plans and introducing a drastic cost-cutting exercise involving the cutting of benefits to railway workers and sacking 5,000 staff.

BTWT have an alternative plan which would involve sacking the entire PKP Cargo management board, selling 33% of Cargo to a modern railway freight operator, giving 33% to Cargo’s employees and keeping 33% in the state treasury. Then encouraging all three parties to hammer out the best way forward, bearing in mind the collapse of the global economy. Such a solution would be anathma to all advocates of minimum government intervention, maximum deregulation and leaving everything to market forces. However, as governments around the world try a range of interventionist measures in an attempt to stave off the global financial collapse, the remaining disciples of Milton Freidman are going the way of the dodo.

Save Ustki Station

Thursday, 18 December 2008


Ustki Station, Czech Republic. Photo Pavel Dvorak

Our Czech friends write asking for help to save Ustki Station on the line between Prague and Ostrava. Apparently the old station is in the way of a new track alignment which is meant to allow trains to travel more quickly. Demolition of the station has been scheduled for the end of 2009. BTWT is not convinced that it is necessary. The aerial photograph below shows that that there is plenty of room to ease the sharp curves at Ustki without demolishing the fine 1874 station buildings. But the pointless demolition of an old station and the building of a modern replacement – as occured in the case of Lodz Kaliska – offers decision makers a great many opportunities to receive fat ‘brown envelopes’.


Ustki Station, from the air

An on-line petition by Czech railway enthusiasts has been launched to show the authorities that proposed demolition of the station is viewed with concern not just in the Czech Republic, but all over Europe. If you would like to help you will find the petition here. The meaning of the fields are as follows:

Czech English
Jméno a příjmení first name and surname
Město address
E-mail e-mail (will not be displayed)
Podepsat Sign petition


Koleje Dolnoslaskie launch photos

Wednesday, 17 December 2008


Two SA106 railbuses at Goznica Station. Photo PESA2008


Three logos. Photo PESA2008


Legnica Station after dusk. Photo PESA2008

All of these photographs were taken on 14 December 2008, the day that Koleje Dolnoslaskie launched its services. Koleje Dolnoslskie SA is an independent local railway operator 100% owned by the Council of Dolnyslask province.


(BTWT is pleased to note that the Railway Market article is partly sourced from our post of 14 December. How do we know? That would be telling!)

More from Bialowieza

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Words and Pictures by Barry Murphy, Tourism Pure


Tx 200, 0-8-0T, unknown builder. Photo Barry Murphy

I was leading a walking tour of Bialowieza National Park in March 2008. We were meeting a representative of the National Park at Hajnowka and before we left, he showed us the two locomotives. One was exhibited outside on a short piece of track together with some timber wagons. The other was inside the workshops.

The narrow gauge railway stem from Hajnowka through the Bialowieza Forest includes still has some 90 km of tracks. Built by the Germans during WW1 to extract wood some 400km of track were laid. The lines were extensively used in the 1920s by the Century European Timber Corporation, a British company referred to as “Centurion” by the National Parks staff of today, to ‘rape’ the forests of their greatest oaks and other hardwoods.


Tx 1112, 0-8-0T, built by Borsig in 1918. Photo Barry Murphy

Barry’s own website – Tourism Pure

What should come first

Monday, 15 December 2008

…the chicken or the egg?


Proposed Manchester Congestion Charge zones.

(Public domain artwork sourced via Wikipedia.)

Last Thursday, over a million people in Greater Manchester (well over 50% of those eligible to take part) voted almost four to one to reject plans for £5 a day congestion charge in return for a £3bn package of public transport improvements.

The only surprise is that so many transport pundits claim to be surprised by the result. The result is a good example of a game theory dilemma called the ‘The Tragedy of The Commons‘. Hunan nature is such that few people will voluntarily accept greater costs (or a smaller benefit) for some future benefit that they have not had the opportunity to check out for themselves.

The cynic in me suspects that the Greater Manchester Transport Innovation Fund project was set up to fail. The DfTt predicated government funding on the city setting up a congestion fund. We were told that the objective was to reduce traffic in the city’s centre and help towards the running costs of the project’s tramway extensions, improved buses and rail links.

Now, if I had been asked to sell the congestion charge to the people of Manchester, I would have wanted to introduce the public transport improvements first and developed effective ‘park and ride’ schemes to encourage ‘mixed mode’ trips. (You start your journey by car, but don’t take it all the way to the city centre.) Having put attractive public transport links in place, I would have held a couple of congestion charge demonstrator weeks, or even tried a ‘motor traffic free’ week in the city centre.

Once people had tested the public transport alternatives and had the opportunity to see how restricting motor traffic in the city’s core actually improves the environment asking people to vote about introducing a congestion charge becomes much more meaningful. I suspect I may have even won the Manchester referendum!


More information:

Kolej Dolnoslaskie start services

Sunday, 14 December 2008


Diesel railbus SA106 at Legnica Piekary station in March 2008

(Click photo for attribution and licensing details.)

At 04:18 this morning at Klodzko station, the departure of the train to Legnica marked the start of operations by Koleje Dolnoslaskie SA, a local railway operating company. The company, set up by the Governor of Dolnyslask province in December 2007, had less than twelve months to clear all the technical and administrative hurdles that threatened to frustrate its launch timetable.

As well as forming the local operating company, the Governor’s office is taking the initiative in sourcing funds to enable PKP’s infrastructure company, PKP PLK, to repair the railway lines:  Wroclaw – Jelenia Gora; Jelenia Gora – Szklarska Porembia; Szklarska Poreba – Harrahov (Czech Republic) and Wrocław – Kobierzyce – Swidnica.

Initially KD plans to operate services over two PKP-owned lines:  Klodzko – Miedzylesie  and Klodzko – Walbrzych.

When asked by BTWT how the KD services would differ from those provided by PKP Przewozy Regionalne, Tomasz Strapagiel, the company chairman answered. We are a local company responsible to the office of the Governor’s Office. We will be more aware of and responsive to the needs of the local community. We are betting on our people. We intend to respect and listen to our clients.

Our congratulations to Marek Lapinski, the Governor of Dolnyslask Province, Tomasz Strapagiel, the chairman of KD, and all involved in achieving this historic milestone in the face of the major obstacles that appeared in their way.


Friday, 12 December 2008


BobbaLew – blogging with a professional polish

(Click to go to blog.)

I read maybe a dozen blogs a day. Some I read for their news content, some for pleasure and some in an attempt to make some sense in what is happening in a crazy world. Sadly, only a handful of the blogs that I read are well written. Those that are a pleasure to read (although I may disagree with the views expressed) include: Mike Dembinski’s W-wa Jeziorki, Iain Dale’s Diary, Tom Harris’s And Another Thing and Christian Wolmar’s Christian Says. So it was a pleasure to discover BobbaLew’s – The Keed. Here’s a taste.

Were it not for knowing it burned oil, ya’d think it burned coal.
3751 was upgraded in 1938, essentially what we see here. Increased boiler-pressure, larger steam passages, and 80-inch boxpok (“box-poke”) drivers. —Also roller bearings in a lotta places in the drive.
A lot of the footage is shot from way overhead from a helicopter.
It’s dramatic, but far enough away to lose the sound.
So Pentrex resorts to the old dubbed sound cheap shot.
“Chuf-chuf-chuf-chuf!” Sorry, but the spinning rods tell me it’s working a lot faster than that.
Once-in-a-while they’re close enough to actually capture the sound.
“Roar;” 30-40 mph. “Chuf-chuf-chuf-chuf,” is 10 mph.
The engine whistles for grade-crossings, emitting a visible plume of steam from 3751’s whistle.
At this point Pentrex dubs in the whistle sound; it’s actually 3751’s whistle.
Another sound is the locomotive’s bell.
It’s not an automatic bell ringer.
The locomotive’s bell is atop the smokebox front, and is rung by a long rope from the cab that swings the bell.
“Ker-clang; ker-clang; ker-clang; ker-clang!”
NICE, automatic bell-ringers can be irksome.
Pentrex dubs in the “ker-clang” when the bell is swinging. Sometimes it doesn’t. We’re far above, but I can see that bell a-swinging. (No “ker-clang.”)

I hope you enjoy BobbaLew as much as I did.


AGV running regularly at 360 km/h

Friday, 12 December 2008


AGV on the Velim circuit in the Czech Republic.

The Railway Gazette carries an informative article describing how, after 4 months of testing on the Velim test track in the Czech Republic, the Alsom built AGV demonstrator train has been running on the Champagne-Ardenne to Lorraine section of the LGV Est. Although, on the Velim circuit the trains have been limited to a maximum of 125 mph (200 km/h), on the LGV Est they are being run at their designed top service speed of 225 mph (360 km/h).

Currently the record holders for the world’s fastest service trains are the Chinese who are running at up to 219 mph (350 km/h) on the Beijing and Tianjin Inter City Railway, which was built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The French – who hold the world record for the fastest ever run of a steel wheel on steel rail technology train of 359.25 mph (574.8 km/h) – currently run their service trains on the LGV Est at 200 mph (320 km/h). Eight countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan and the United Kingdom) run service trains at up to 187.5 mph (300 km/h). Although the United Kingdom has a place on this list, 300 km/h running occurs only on the short Channel Tunnel Rail Link or ‘HS1’, elsewhere the highest service speed is limited to 125 mph (200 km/h).

It is a sad reflection of the priority that the UK government gave to its railways, its railway industry and the revolutionary technology being developed by the BR Research Laboratory in Derby, that Britain’s tilting Advanced Passenger Train – which was designed to operate at 155 mph (250 km/h) on existing railways lines – was abandoned in the 1980s.

The worst airport in Poland?

Friday, 12 December 2008


Lodz Airport opens on 13 September 1925

I’ve not had a good day. I’m supposed to be sitting typing this in the UK. The fact that I’m actually typing this in Poland will give you a measure of how bad the day has been. The Neostrada broadband connection went down at 09:10. The usual technique of going off to do something else didn’t work, nor did resetting the modem, nor did ringing TPSA’s technical support line 10 times. What did work was losing my temper and demanding to speak to the manager. He had my connection up and working within 30 minutes.

That was the least bad part of the day. The worst bit was still to come. The TPSA adventure had cost me seven hours. At 21:10 I should have been at the check in desk at Lodz Wladyswlawa Reymonta Airport, I got there at 21:15. We’re sorry sir, the check in desk is closed.

Yes I can see that, but I would be ever so grateful if you could see what you can do. The counter attendant attempted to make a phone call, but no one answered. Finally, another colleague appeared and spoke to someone by radio telephone.

Has he got and luggage to go in the hold?

Yes, I said.

Then It’s too late.

All right I’ll leave my luggage.

It’s still too late.

Exhausted by my battle with TPSA, I hadn’t the energy to make a scene at the airport. Besides which the security guard looked as if he was hoping I might try. As I walked away from the check in desk the first passengers to have come off the plane started coming through. Lodz Airport is tiny. It serves 8 flights daily. My flight was the last of the day, all the other passengers had cleared security and were being kept in a holding area barely 20 yards away from me for another 35 minutes.

I remembered a long time a go when an election rally by Jimmy Carter had delayed my arrival at Boston Airport. When I reached the departure hall, there wasn’t a person to be seen. Yet within minutes someone had appeared and quickly rustled up a car which drove me down to the end of the runway where the plane was waiting for clearance for take off. The other customers glared as I got on board, but in fact the plane had not been waiting for me, but for some fog to clear in New York. I reached London Heathrow without any further mishaps

Now that really was good customer service.


The last working HF…

Wednesday, 10 December 2008


Borsig built HF class 0-8-0T, Tx 1112 at Hajnowka
on 9 December 2008. Photo BTWT

Dyspozytor has finally tracked down and photographed a locomotive he first learned about in 1996! Come back tomorrow for a full report. Meanwhile here are some links which may be of interest.

Dyspozytor censored!

Tuesday, 9 December 2008


Plane Stupid demonstration at Stanstead on Monday.
Photo Plane Stupid.

(Click to see original on the Plane Stupid website.)

Monday’s demonstration at Stanstead Airport, to protest against the government’s decision to steam roller the building of a second runway at the airport,  left me with something of a dilemma. On the one hand, I am opposed to further airport expansion in Britain and I would like to see a high speed railway network constructed to link up Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, not only with London, but also with Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and the rest of Europe. On the other hand, I fly from Stanstead to Poland about four times a year. What if I had been one of those stranded on the ground because my flight had been cancelled by the demo?

I read the BBC’s on-line report about the demonstration with interest. As the day progressed this was to go through over 20 different revisions! The earlier versions tried to be balanced and carried an interview with one of the demonstrators as well as a video of the police carrying out arrests and comments from BAA and angry passengers. The later editions dropped the interview with the demonstrator and replaced it with an interview with the Chief Superintendent of the local police.

The BBC ran a ‘Have Your Say‘ comments facility. The comments were highly polarised, although those supporting the demonstration were in the minority, and those who urged that the police should throw the ‘anti terror legislation’ book against the demonstrations, were very much in the majority. The number of comments posted means little, as powerful companies such as BAA employ ‘whisper marketing’ techniques, in effect paying people to post comments critical of their opponents.

As veteran readers of BTWT will know I am very critical of the plans to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport.  Gordon Brown has postponed the announcement of his decision till the dust from the Damian Green affair settles. Reliable sources report that he seems determined to force through the expansion plan in the teeth of fierce opposition from half his cabinet,  nearly all the residents and all the  councils in the effected areas. ‘At least the Stanstead demo’ is firing a warning shot across Gordon’s bows’, I thought as I decided that, even if I had been one of those whose flight had been cancelled, I would have backed the action of the young protesters. So I left a supportive comment on the BBC’s site. This is approximately what I wrote. (I can’t quote it exactly because the BBC censored the comment. ) What do you think? Was what I had written so inflammatory?

Parliamentary democracy in the UK has broken down. Political campaigns and political parties are funded by interest groups who then demand that a policy price is paid for their financial support. Now an MP who opposed the government has been locked up for doing his job.

No one voted to close 2/3 of Britain’s railway network. MPs are not going to be allowed a vote as to whether a third runway is to be built at Heathrow Airport. No wonder some people think that direct action is the only way to make their voices heard.

Do let me know what you think!


Wharncliffe Viaduct

Monday, 8 December 2008


Wharncliffe Viaduct before it was widened.
Drawing by John Cooke Bourne

(The drawing is now in the public domain.)

Mystery picture 5 was, of course, Wharncliffe viaduct on the GWR mainline at Hanwell in the early 1900s. Well done Mark and Michael! The locomotive is not, as Mike thought Churchward’s one off experiment in building a pacific, The Great Bear. The boiler is too short. It much more likely that the engine is a Churchward Star.

The carriages are a rum lot with the first vehicle being an ancient, short wheelbase, clerestory coach. The others are more modern, but are not painted in the GWR’s characteristic chocolate and cream coach livery. Anyone any ideas?

Wharncliffe Viaduct is a brick-built viaduct that takes the Great Western Railway first main line across the Brent Valley, a few hundred yards to the west of Hanwell Station. The 65 ft high viaduct was built in 1836-7.

The viaduct was the first major structural design by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the GWR, the first building contract to be signed, and the first major engineering work to be completed.

The train that never was

Sunday, 7 December 2008


Clapham Junction in the rain. Photo Elsie Esq.

(Click to see photo in original context and details of licensing.)

In our last survey, one of the matters that BTWT readers asked us to deal with occasionally was the review other blogs. Nils Jorgensen started his blog in September 2007 and it had a brief flowering before dying on 4 May 2008. The blog is not actually about railways, but the post Not Adelstrop has a strong railway flavour and is rather good. Here is a snippet.

A real life sequence of events can suddenly jog my memory, remind me of a song, a film, a book. A favourite poem in this case. Sitting on a train not so long ago, Clapham Junction, south west London, I saw someone on the platform who caught my eye. Before taking a photograph, I usually weigh up the situation in terms of how good the picture is, the risks involved etc. However sitting in my carriage I felt somehow protected. The train started to move, and I raised my camera and snapped. My subject saw me and smiled. But with every second the distance between us was increasing, and I knew I was safe. Not the bravest way of conducting street photography, but no less valid for it either.

Follow the link if you want more… . I can get very sentimental about Clapham Junction. The shuttle trains to Kensingtom Olympia were the last steam operated suburban services in London. Intended only for Post Office workers at Olympia, they were kept secret by BR. There were two early morning trains from Clapham Junction to Olympia and two evening trains back to Clapham Junction. There was no evening service to Olympia.

When I was still at school, two of us determined to ride the evening empty stock working back to Olympia. We went up to the ticket office and attempted to buy two single tickets to Olympia, but were told that that was impossible as there were no more trains that day. That’s all right, I said airily, we actually want to travel tomorrow morning. We made our across the rickety bridge down to the short platform where the train from Olympia had just come in.

We crept on board,when the guard wasn’t looking, and full of anticipation awaited our departure. Alas, it was a corridor coach and the guard walked down the train to make sure that no passengers that had fallen asleep on the comfortable upholstered seats. (PKP please note!) When he found us he was not amused. This is not a service train, he thundered. You’ll have to get off!

I put on my most angelic face and apologised profusely. We didn’t know, I explained. And no one said anything when we bought our tickets. The guard checked our tickets. They looked all right. He hadn’t reckoned on us being so devious as to buy tickets for the next day’s train. And so he allowed us to stay and travel on the train that never was.