Two standard gauge wagons on three transporters returning from Zbiersk to Opatowek. Photo Tomasz Jankowski, SKPL.
(Click image to see original on SKPL website.)
For those who relish above all else, genuine commercial railway operation, the jewel in the Polish narrow gauge’s crown nowadays has to be SKPL’s 24 km Opatowek – Zbiersk 750mm line – freight-only, but Poland’s one remaining narrow-gauge railway which handles a worthwhile and dependable amount of revenue-earning freight. This takes the form of stone, fertilizer, and a certain amount of timber. Workings usually take place several times a week, but on a as required basis – it helps enormously, to have on hand a knowledgeable contact, in touch with the nerve-centre of operations at Zbiersk. Dyspozytor performed this office, and ascertained that a freight train would be running on the morning of Monday July 19, departing from Zbiersk at 08:00 for the standard gauge interchange at Opatowek on the Warsaw – Lodz – Wroclaw main line.
We considered staying overnight at Russow near Zbiersk, but in the end a 06:00 departure by car from Lodz was decided upon, to cover the 90-odd km west to Zbiersk in good time. In part, a beeline was taken over country roads, with Dyspozytor driving and me navigating – despite a couple of minor mess-ups, we got to Zbiersk station only a couple of minutes after 08:00; to discover that due to some minor repair work on the locomotive, our departure would now take place at 08:30, at the earliest. The SKPL staff made us welcome and plied us with tea, while we waited; and we had the chance of a quick look around the locoshed and workshops, including the heartening sight of transporter trucks undergoing maintenance – an indication of freight action on this line continuing for a while yet. Our train departure was ultimately at 08:42. It was a fairly minimalist freight working, but indubitably a genuine one: B-B Lxd2-287 hauling a transporter truck carrying one empty standard-gauge four-wheeled van, which had arrived the previous Friday loaded with fertiliser.
Dyspozytor had arranged for us to travel in the loco’s cab, with the driver and second-man – four in the cab was OK any more would probably have been rather a squeeze. The 24km to Opatowek was covered in about an hour and a quarter. The track seemed fairly overgrown, but was in better-than-dreadful condition. There were many ungated crossings; the most momentous being over the direct Kalisz – Turek road. All of these were negotiated cautiously, with a great deal of horn-blowing from the loco. This particular Lxd2 anyway, had two horns, one on each side of the cab – one shrill, the other deep.
At Zelazkow, the junction for the fork of the line to Russow and formerly, Kalisz, the branch was still there and visible, diverging; but very shortly after the junction, vanishing into thick vegetation. Dyspozytor said nostalgicaly that he had organised a special train from Russow to Rurek which ran along this short spur some three years earlier. These days nothing less than a tank would have cut through the jungle. Onward to Opatowek, where the standard gauge wagon was run off the transporter and on to track of its own gauge. (We were able to render a little help in this operation). SKPL has a tiny standard gauge diesel shunter stationed at Opatowek, which our driver drove to pull the wagon clear from the actual interchange point.
At about 10:30, we headed off back for Zbiersk, with the loco hauling the empty transporter truck which had conveyed the wagon. We gathered that the transporter had some minor fault which needed attending to in the Zbiersk workshops. Back to Zbiersk at 11:49 – and that was it, for the railway’s action for the day. Farewells made to the staff, and then we were on our way.
Dyspozytor and I arranged to reunite at Smigiel in a couple of days time for doings of possibly some significance. In the meantime, I planned a few days exploring to the west and north. We drove to Konin, on the Warsaw – Poznan main line, whence I would travel by train westwards. The first part of the drive was plotted to encompass a couple of crossings over the narrow gauge line’s section Zbiersk – Turek, which had a freight service run by SKPL. This had operated until three years or so ago, but fell victim to the sadly frequent situation in Poland nowadays, of local councils having no interest in their local narrow gauge railway other than extracting money from it via rates and other local charges. SKPL’s chairman basically told the local councils, We’re not playing, and suspended workings on the section Zbiersk – Turek. The track is still there, but overgrown to the point of becoming invisible… having checked out part of this line we drove to Konin. Hetre we parted, I boarded a train running west to Rzepin. We agreed to meet up at Stare Bojanowo, the standard-gauge railhead for the Smigiel narrow gauge railway, at 15:42, the arrival time of my local from Poznan, on the day after next.