A return journey – part 7

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… the continuing story by Robert Hall of his nostalgic return trip to Poland

Disused platform at Rzepin station. Photo Roland Semik.

(Click image to see a gallery of Roland Semik’s photos of Rzepin station on Rzepin.net.)

…continued from: A return journey – part 6

I reached Rzepin a little before 16:00 hours on Mon. 19th July. Plinthed by the station was 2-10-0, Ty51-37. Appropriately – this class is strongly associated with this venue, in a ‘graven on the heart’ way. These big, powerful post-WW II Decapods were a class which always fascinated and attracted me, and with which I had little luck.

By the time I first got to Poland in the 1980s, this class was in retreat – on the whole, heavy freight was an early priority for dieselisation by PKP. The locations where steam still handled such traffic, became few and far between. In the endless war between gricers and PKP, paranoia became a trait discernible on both sides. Some railfans were convinced that PKP, indulging their sadistic impulses, deliberately concentrated their dwindling numbers of active Ty51 locos in sensitive border areas where attempted photography, or even too obvious an interest taken, would land the enthusiast in deep mire. (The fact that pre-the 1990s, all Poland’s neighbouring countries were supposedly friendly Soviet-bloc allies, was neither here nor there.) This was the case at Rzepin. Up to beginning of the 80s, the Warsaw – Berlin main line’s electrification ended at Zbaszynek. For the 80-odd kilometres from there to the East German border at Kunowice / Frankfurt-Oder, most freight was hauled by Ty51s based at Rzepin. Early in the 80s, the wires were extended west from Zbaszynek to Rzepin, but for a few more years, the dozen or so kilometres from Rzepin to the border remained unelectrified, and the Ty51’s stayed in business bridging this short gap. I saw the magnificent machines on freight duties in this area, on entering and leaving Poland in 1980 and 1984; but was aware that breaking off my travels to take an interest in their so doing, would be an enterprise which I would likely have cause to regret deeply. Well, it is all over now – rest in peace, Ty51-37.

Rzepin – not high on Poland’s must-do list of tourist attractions – was on my agenda because of one particular line. The one-time cluster of branch lines north of the east-west main line, all the way from Poznan to Rzepin, was one of Poland’s last areas to use steam on a regular basis – mostly in the form of class TKt48 2-8-2Ts, working from the Miedzyrzecz depot. I saw a little of this scene in the 80s; but never travelled on the 66 km line from Miedzyrzecz to Rzepin, which stayed TKt48-worked till 1990 or so, and retained diesel-hauled passenger services for some years after that. Quite astoundingly, in 2008 – probably ten years or more after passenger services were suspended – the Miedzyrzecz – Rzepin line was reopened to passengers under the auspices of the provincial government. I had always thought of the line as an archetypical useless-in-the-modern-age super-rural Polish branch line, of the kind on which passenger services were slaughtered by the scores and hundreds, in the early 1990s. Ever since I knew that – should I ever revisit Poland – this is one line that I must do, if by a miracle it would still be running when I got there. I did; it was; so a date was made with the 06:10 Rzepin – Miedzyrzecz on Tuesday 20th July.

I had spent the previous night at Rzepin’s Park Hotel, within easy reach of the station – comfortable enough, and very inexpensive. Not many people beat a path to Rzepin. I was at the station in comfortable time for the 06:10. The revived passenger service on this line is very meagre – I had very little choice regarding workings. The day before, I had witnessed the 16:41 arrival from Miedzyrzecz. (There was no return working on that day.) This was formed by a modern railmotor, SA 105-104 – a four-wheel single-unit job, tiny as this range of vehicles go – branded as operating for Lubuskie province. The same railmotor worked the 06:10 on the 20th. The departure was punctual, and was followed by an hour and twenty minutes’ run through attractive, well-wooded countryside. Calls were made at nine intermediate stops. We left Rzepin with about ten passengers, and arrived at Miedzrzecz with twelve or thereabouts – a fairly high degree of passenger turnover en route. Once again the total lack of freight action, gave a melancholy tone to the scene – deserted, overgrown goods yards, and lineside factories once clearly rail-linked, but with the sidings to them now severed. Nevertheless it was a journey which I was highly pleased to get in the bag. Could I but have travelled on the line two or three decades earlier, behind a 2-8-2T and with the whole set-up busily functioning; but alas there was never enough time or money to do anything like the amount of Polish steam-bashing, that could have been accomplished.

As already mentioned in part 2, Miedzyrzecz station in 2010, in contrast with its appearance in 1980, was a sad and desolate sight. The more so, owing to the lack of my planned rail connection onward. Checking a few days previously on a website which gives up-to-date information for train times and journeys in Poland, I discovered that the 07:00 Zbaszynek – Miedzyrzecz – Gorzow Wielkopolski train – which would have made a very neat connection with the 06:10 ex Rzepin – was not running: a substitute bus departed Miedzrzecz for Gorzow at 08:50. [The current timetable does show a 07:00 working, but it is a bus. Ed.]

The Zbaszynek – Gorzow route was, way back then, the nearest thing to a main line, which the branch network focusing on Miedzyrzecz had. It and the Rzepin – Miedzyrzecz route are the only lines of that complex, which nowadays carry passenger services – or did, anyway. Certainly, on 20th July, there was no sign of the 07:00 ex Zbaszynek. I am not in a position to know whether it was just that particular rail working which had been cancelled (and if so, whether temporarily or permanently); or whether the line’s entire passenger service has been ‘bustituted’. [All the direct workings appeared to be ‘bustituted’. Ed.]

Miedzyrzecz railways. Google Maps & Railmap – Kolejowa Mapa Polski

(Click on image to link to Railmap – Kolejowa Mapa Polski.)

The earlier parts of Robert Hall’s journey:

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