A return journey – part 4

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Banks of linefinders – part of the Siemens built historic telephone exchange in the railway museum at Skierniewice. Photo Pawel Mieroslawski.

Sat. 17th was slated for a visit to the Polskie Stowarszyszenie Milosnikow Kolei (Polish Railway Enthusiasts’ Society) museum based on the former locomotive depot at Skierniewice, 50 km north-east of Lodz on the Warsaw – Czestochowa – Upper Silesia main line. I met up again with Dyspozytor and we caught a brand-new EMU built by PESA at Bydgoszcz, comprising the 10:54 Tanie Linie Kolejowe semi-fast to Warsaw (TLK is the PKP InterCity brand for trains that are not categorised as being in one of their ‘fast’ categories such as IC or EIC.) Dyspozytor was scathing that, after a line upgrade costing billions of zloty, the brand new rolling stock was being throttled down to a maximum speed of 130 km/h because Polish railway regulations demanded two people in the cab for trains travelling at higher speeds. Dyspozytor directed me to some uncomfortable looking seats near the toilets. When I queried this, he explained that the normal seats, while stylishly designed, had never been ergonomically tested and were uniformly loathed by train crews and regular passengers alike.

Soon we were bowling along the newly relaid track. Though our maximum speed was only 80 mph, it seemed much faster. Polish continuously welded rail is much ‘bumpier’ than its British equivalent. There was a long line of cars waiting for us to pass at the level crossing across the Lodz – Rawa Mazowiecka road and soon Dyspozytor was pointing out the headquarters of the Fundacja Polskich Kolei Waskotorowych (Polish Narrow Gauge Railway Foundation) at Rogow, which was to be our destination the following day. While the new rolling stock may be uncomfortable to sit in, it does have powerful air conditioning, and I had not realised how hot it was outside until a blast of heat hit us as we exited the train and started our trek across the footbridge and then towards the shed. The Skierniewice museum is open to the public on the first Saturday of the month in summer, but Dyspozytor had worked his magic and soon we were being welcomed by Pawel Mieroslawski, the chairman of the PSMK.

Skierniewice museum is an incredible treasure-house of preserved motive power and rolling stock, which deserves to be much better known among British enthusiasts. I have included a link to the rolling stock catalogue on the Society’s webpages, so here is a short list of what were to me, its highlights. On display in the open, on the periphery of the indoors collection – 2-6-2T OKl27-10, 2-10-0 Ty51-1, 2-6-2 Ol49-4 – and of course the astounding sectioned Prussian S6 4-4-0.

Indoors in the former locoshed, were more marvels. Ty2-1407 is the arguably last steam loco built in Poland. Basically a Ty2 2-10-0 Kriegslok, it was assembled in 1964, from the parts of cannibalised locos, by ZNKT Poznan for experiments in the mid-1960s in heavy oil-burning. A totally new concept for me, I had had no notion that oil-burning was ever part of the PKP scene, with Poland having such enormous coal reserves. Mr Mieroslwaski told us that in the 1960s thick oil waste from the refineries at Plock, was tested as a possible loco fuel, and some 350 Kriegsloks were adapted to burn it. Also there was a time when only oil burning steam locos were permitted on the branch along the Hel spit, in order to minimise the risk of fire in the woods which held the sand dunes together.

Among the society’s collection of vintage carriages I found what were for me two absolute pearls: standing on a wagon was a 600mm gauge ex-German WW I 0-8-0 Brigadelok, obtained from Lesmierz sugar factory; there was also an utterly marvellous Wittfeld battery-electric railcar, built in 1913 and operated by PKP till 1957 from their Malbork sub-depot. Mr Mieroslawski has in Skierniewice, not only the ultimate ‘train set’ but also an impressive collection of smaller exhibits. His pride and enjoy is a Siemens telephone exchange of a type that was installed by the Germans during WWII on all the railway lines under their control and which post-1945 became the de facto standard on Polish railways. The exchange has been restored to working order by two members of the Society and is – we were given to understand – the only such installation still in working order.

After our tour of the shed and its exhibits Mr Mieroslawski took us around to the Society’s mess room and pulled out a couple of cold beers from the fridge. We discussed some of the problems that Polish railways societies laboured under such as the poor support from local authorities and no clear mechanism to give volunteer-run societies access to EU funds. The PSMK were lucky, in the heady days during the transition from Communism they were promised the freehold of the Skierniewice shed, and after 10 years of meetings and pen pushing, the Society finally acquired the freehold of the site. This gives the PSMK a considerable advantage over other societies who operate under licence from their local authority and whose use of a particular shed or railway line can be arbitrarily terminated at the drop of a hat.

Skierniewice Railway Station. Photo Tomasso.

(Click to see original on Wikimedia Commons and for details of licensing.)

We returned to the railway station. There was time to admire the beautifully restored station buildings, a refreshing contrast to what I had seen elsewhere, we grabbed a couple of ices at the smart café inside and caught the 16:15 to Koluszki. I was supposed catch a 17:08 to Tomaszow Mazowiecki at Koluszki. I was impressed that although our train was late the Tomaszow train was held at the junction to make the connection. In fact, the train was also held for a connecting TLK train run by Intercity – an impressive example of cooperation between the two operators. At the end of the erstwhile Piotrkow narrow gauge railway there is an attractive artificial lake that was created in the 1970s by damming the River Pilica. Although I am no sailor, I was to spend an enjoyable couple of hours cooling off in the early evening sailing on the lake.

More:

…to be continued

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