A return journey – part 9

by

by Robert Hall

Znin 0-8-0T with ‘home-made’ tender.
Photo Zninska Kolej Powiatowa archive.

(Click the image to see more vintage photos of locomotives on the Znin narrow gauge railway.)

The Znin line, operates what is by Polish narrow-gauge standards an intensive seven days a week summer service, though nowadays it runs in isolation from the rest of the country’s rail passenger network. Znin has to be reached by bus. Services, some of quite reasonable frequency, operate to and from various railheads. So, using the next available local EMUs from Krzyz to Poznan, and then Poznan to Gniezno, I was able to catch the 15:30 Gniezno – Znin bus.

Whimsical thoughts passed through my mind. What if this about this situation had arisen twenty years earlier, when Znin was still on the standard-gauge passenger map? In fact, it lay on the 170 km-long west – east cross-country line from Krzyz via numerous rural junctions to Inowroclaw. The last section of this route to lose its passenger service, did so some half-dozen years ago. My 1990 PKP timetable reveals that owing to the sparsity and slowness of Polish branch passenger trains even in their heyday, I would have fared no better case then, than I did this summer. A Krzyz arrival at 11:38 would have meant that the next departure on the cross-country route would have afforded the joy of the eastbound run of the one pair of workings each way per day, which traversed the whole 170 kilometre line end-to-end calling at every station en route, departing from Krzyz at 14:08, and arriving Znin at 19:08 – far too late for anything to be happening on the narrow gauge, though the probable Ol49 haulage on my standard gauge stopping train would have been a fair compensation…

As the Znin line had not been on my agenda I did not have a copy of its timetable. Instead I trusted to luck and my awareness that in Polish n.g. terms, the line operated a ‘London-Underground’ style service frequency. Luck did not oblige: alighting at the 600mm line’s outer terminus, Gasawa, right on the bus route, I discovered that the day’s final train had departed some half an hour previously. From Monday to Friday, the line operates a busy schedule, requiring two train sets, but it starts late and finishes early. On a Saturday or Sunday, I would have been in time for the last inbound train, but this was a Tuesday.

I decided, that ‘when rail fails, feet must serve’, and set out to walk the 12 km length of the preserved line to Znin. This line has been on the preservation scene for a very long time – some 35 years – and I had travelled on it before, in 1983. Many memories were prompted by the walk, which in the event took me an unanticipated three hours. I am clearly not as fit as I might be. In 1983, the line – nowadays exclusively diesel-worked – was using an 0-8-0 tender-tank, Tx4-564, a delightful machine, to haul its tourist trains. This preservation undertaking is on an excellent wicket, serving as it does in its short compass, various tourists attractions. These include: the 600mm gauge railway museum at Wenecja; the meticulously-restored Iron Age settlement at Biskupin with, at a discreet distance, hard by the railway’s Biskupin halt, various tourist-bait – an ‘iron Age hut’ kebab joint, a ditto gift shop… (none of this was around in 1983); and Gasawa village is a beauty spot, with a nice church.

The Znin railway used to be a compact, but-complex, 600mm system, with numerous branches. Genuine passenger services were withdrawn as long ago as 1963, but freight traffic kept the line busy long after. For some reason best known to itself, PKP decided in the 1970s to make Znin, its 600mm preserved railway (at that time it still had 600mm gauge lines elsewhere with genuine passenger services), and initiated the Znin – Gasawa ‘museum trains’. In 1983, most of the system was still in use for freight – chiefly diesel-worked, though the PKP guide on the organised tour with which I visited the line, claimed that steam was still used for freight on a couple of its branches. The guide was a delightful fellow – an impassioned gricer and steam-freak to the extent that one sometimes suspected that he lived on another planet… All that is now gone. There remains only the tourist line Znin – Gasawa, and a short disused length of what was once a branch running west from Znin (Gasawa line runs due south).

Mercifully, I found a nice hotel found in Znin, with rooms available. Here I collapsed into bed with the minimum of formalities. I was up early the next morning, and I took a pre-breakfast wander around town, which allowed me to investigate the bus options for getting out of the place. I discovered that Znin’s standard-gauge station, adjacent to the narrow-gauge one, still has track down, coming in from the east, and in relatively good condition. There wereno goods wagons to be seen in or around the station, but you never know…

First 600mm train of the day out of Znin, was at 09:00. In theory, I could probably have had a token ride to the first halt, 2 km out, and walked back from there; but was still footsore from the previous evening, and had mundane things to see to before leaving town. Standard motive power on this line now seems to be class Lyd2 0-6-0 diesel locos – two seen at the station, ready for action – the timetable requires two train sets. Lyd2-57 took out the 0900, a few minutes late: one authentic 1950s bogie coach, plus half a dozen semi-opens created for tourists. Necessary tasks done, a refreshing beer, and then off on the 10:25 express bus to Poznan via Gniezno ex Elblag. I reached Poznan just after midday.

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