‘Lux Torpeda’ railcar at Zakopane station, late 1930s
In Poland’s glorious pre WWII past, each town closed down for a fortnight for the annual ferie zimowe (winter holiday). Some towns took their holiday in January, others in February. Most of the workers went off to the mountains and stayed in kwatery and pensjonaty (digs and guest houses) in the mountains while essential maintenance work was carried out on the machinery which kept the wheels of industry turning.
The annual ritual was maintained during the post-war period, when Soviet-style communism was imposed on the country. (An experiment which was ‘like putting a saddle on a cow’ according to Stalin.) The only difference being that workers could now stay in the zakladowy osrodek wypoczykowy (the works holiday camp) rather than private accommodation. For seven successive weekends, the whole country was on the move and trains were packed to bursting point.
It is now 90 years since Poland first recovered its independence, 20 years since communism was replaced by market economics, 10 years since Poland’s heavy industries were abandoned, and long since the last osrodek wypoczynkowy was turned into a private hotel, but the annual ferie zimowe ritual is still maintained. Most people now travel by car, and the icy Zakopianka – the main road between Cracow and Zakopany – becomes in turns, a deadly race track and a day-long traffic jam. But many young people still travel by train. It is easier to carry skis, snowboards, rucksacks and luggage by train, than by coach. And though there are less trains, those that still run to the mountain resorts are packed to the gunwales.
Unfortunately, the geniuses who put together PKP InterCity’s timetables – PKP InterCity took over PK Przewozy Regionalne’s long distance pospieszny trains in December – forgot about the ferie zimowe. Used to long distance business travellers, they couldn’t see the need for weekend trains from places like Szczecin to distant mountain towns like Krynica. Suddenly youngsters, who had already booked tickets in advance, read in the newspapers that from the beginning of January their weekend trains were no longer running. There was an almighty row and some, but not all, of the weekend trains were reinstated for the holiday period.
Meanwhile, a few brave souls, who use PKP InterCity to holiday abroad, face an information blackout. Krysztof Radomski, PKP Przewozy Regionalne region director in Katowice, has issued an edict forbidding PKP Przewozy Regionalne staff, manning ticket offices and information points in the Slask province, from dispensing any information about PKP InterCity international trains!
Did we dream it or was it only December when Cezary Garbarczyk, Minister of Infrastructure, enjoined PKP bosses to ‘love their passengers’? Some love affair indeed!