New banners adorn the side of the Railway Museum at the former Warszawa Glowna station. Until recently the ‘sex shop’ sign was more prominent than the Museum’s own signs. Photo BTWT.
While the exhibits of Poland’s first National Railway Museum perished during WWII, one could be excused for thinking that those in the custody of its post-war successor had a secure future. The new Muzeum Kolejnictwa was set up in 1972, in the former main line terminus of Warsawa Glowna, with a mission to teach future generations of Poles about the role played by the ‘iron road’ in the history of their country. Originally established under the auspices of PKP, the Polish state railway company, responsibility for the museum was transferred to the Ministry of Transport in 1995 and in 1999 it was transferred to the custody of the Mazowsze provincial government.
The new legal arrangements suited both parties. PKP got rid of a massive potential liability – some of the Museum’s 80 items of historic rolling stock are listed and there is a legal obligation on the owner of a listed monument to maintain it in good condition. At the same time, the local government of Mazowsze province acquired an asset – slap in the centre of the City – with enormous tourist potential. Or at least this is how it was meant to be. In practice things turned out rather different.
A short step to retirement
The museum became the repository of tired former PKP officials who looked forward to their retirement rather than to the future of their collection. The locomotives and rolling stock – stored in the open – began to deteriorate. Some, which had been sent to the so-called ‘skansen’ at Krzeszowice, were scrapped. Cab fittings and connecting rods vanished. Meanwhile the director of the museum, Janusz Sankowski, concentrated on building up a collection of scale models.
Storm clouds first gathered over the museum in 2003 when PKP entered into discussions with a developer. The covered ways from the station building to the former low-level platforms were demolished and all the rolling stock collection was dragged several hundred yards northwards to make room for the planned development. Mr Sankowski and the developers discussed co-existence. His collection of scale models might even become the centrepiece of the new development. A few locomotives could be left outside while the rest could be farmed out elsewhere or sent to a remote siding. So, when an opportunity arose to move the museum to covered accommodation in the historic Praga South locomotive sheds, Mr Sankowski did not feel it was worthwhile to pursue the matter.
The original development plans for Warszawa Glowna came to naught. PKP and the developers started a series of legal wrangles regarding the future of the site and the Museum stayed where it was. A new director, Ferdynand Ruszczyc, was appointed earlier this year. The Museum and its rolling stock received a much needed coat of paint. Special events were organised to promote the Museum and its attractions. The future of the Museum looked brighter than ever. Then the blow came!
A move to the East of the Vistula
PKP’s long drawn out court actions were finally resolved and the company felt free to resume its plans for the redevelopment of the Warszawa Glowna site. In April this year, PKP started putting pressure on the provincial governor’s office to relocate the Museum PKP to some sidings on the East side of the River Vistula. Ironically these are located close to the – now demolished – locomotive sheds at Praga South, but lack any office buildings for the Museum’s small items collection and their staff.
Adam Struzik, the provincial governor of Mazowsze province decided to tough it out. His thinking seems straightforward – his provincial government is funding the Railway Museum – an institution which benefits Polish State Railways. If PKP wants to relocate the Museum, they should fund the move and ensure that the new facilities are at least equivalent to the existing accommodation.
“only and exclusively, on a commercial basis”
PKP’s thinking was summarised by their press spokesperson, Michal Wrzosek. “Polish State Railways S.A. – the owner of the former Warsawa Glowna station site at ul. Towarowa – 1 is preparing to use this land for the purpose of development. Polish State Railways S.A. has allowed the Railway Museum to use this site on a free of charge license since 1996. PKP SA – in accordance with its strategy for its land holdings – is obliged to rent land at this location, only and exclusively, on a commercial basis.”
A new national museum?
In an ideal world, a new national railway museum would be established, with proper covered accommodation, workshops and facilities to service steam-hauled special trains. This is exactly the sort of project for which EU funding for the former communist countries was designed to assist. But instead PKP and the provincial governor’s office seem determined to tough it out. Who will blink first? This strategy might just lead to a successful resolution, but it is more likely that the locomotives and vintage rolling stock at Warszaw Glowna will end up like their brothers and sisters elsewhere – in some forgotten siding – mysteriously shedding pieces of metal year by year. After all, with the high price of scrap, you don’t have to work particularly hard to earn yourself the price of a bottle of Vodka.