The Smigiel Railway – A Historical Sketch
by BTWT guest writer, Robert Hall
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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 www.cleeve.com.