by Robert Hall
Holding sidings close to the s.g./n.g. ramp at Przeworsk.
(Click image to see this and other photographs of the Przeworsk narrow gauge railway on the SMPKW website gallery page.)
There’s a wonderful overnight train plying between Poland’s north-westernmost corner at Swinoujscie (a hot contender for the country’s most unspellable and unpronounceable place name for foreigners), and its rival in these categories, at the opposite south-easternmost corner of the country, Przemysl. This train calls at Poznan, and at Przeworsk. At the former I wished to board it, and at the latter, to disembark. The train includes sleeping cars, however when Dyspozytor attempted to make a reservation by phone he was unable to get through to PKP InterCity’s telephone booking service. So, when I reached Poznan Glowny station, I made a bee-line to the PKP IC customer service office, only to be told that as the train had already left Szczecin it was now too late to make a sleeping berth reservation! I understand that sleeping berth upgrades are available from the attendant that travels with each sleeping coach. But being a rather timid character and with virtually no command of Polish, I settled for a still-vacant second-class seat on the crowded train when it arrived at Poznan Glowny at 23:10 on July 22nd. After a fairly forgettable night and an early morning, I reached Przeworsk around 10:30, some half an hour late, on Friday the 23rd.
The 46-km Przeworsk – Dynow 750mm gauge line is generally reckoned Poland’s best narrow-gauge section for scenery, save for the Bieszczady preserved forestry line still further to the south-east. Its current status is a little unusual. It is worked by SKPL, but is geographically far away from that firm’s Kalisz headquarters – a situation which has at times raised problems. Officially the line is open for freight traffic, of which a little does run at rare and unpredictable intervals; but most of the action nowadays takes the form of a one train-each-way-per-day tourist service which runs on summer Saturdays and Sundays. It is likely that SKPL will, after this year, give up the unequal struggle concerning this line, and relinquish its operating agreement. [SKPL sent a formal notice, resigning from their operating agreement, to the Chief Executive of the Przeworsk District Council earlier this week. D.] The local authorities in this area appear much more supportive of their narrow gauge railway than is usual in Poland, and there would seem to be a fair possibility of their taking it over and continuing the tourist workings, in years to come; but the line’s future is far from certain, and it seemed a good idea to take the chance to travel on it this summer.
I had briefly visited Przeworsk before, in 1984, but that trip had been focused on standard-gauge steam, with no time or attention available for the 750mm line. On this year’s visit, I noted a standard gauge locomotive plinthed at Przeworsk station – Ol49-8 – a representative of the class most prominent hereabouts a quarter-century ago. With the tourist train’s departure time being 09:00 – difficult to fit in with a same-morning arrival from the west – plan was to spend Friday night in Przeworsk. The place seems to be more significant as a railway centre, than as a civilian settlement; and lies some way away southward, from its stations – accommodation for rail-borne visitors, therefore a potential problem. Dyspozytor thus enlisted the local knowledge of the n/g line’s general manager, Pan Wladyslaw Zelazny. On my presenting self to him on arrival on Friday morning, he kindly drove me to the Hotel Zgoda, only a few minutes away by car; I was duly installed there, and we parted ways till the following morning.
The Zgoda, whilst undoubtedly a Godsend for rail travellers to these parts, was an experience. Had some of the traits of a nostalgia-trip back to Communist times, inadvertently I’m sure on the part of those who run it. Though the staff were pleasant and helpful, the general facilities were at best so-so. Shared bathrooms and toilets – no effete en suite arrangements here. In the showers, at least one shower-head proved to be totally detached from its fitment. The rooms were fairly Spartan. There were no towels provided, and the lighting was abysmally dim. An evening meal could be had, but the only sitting was at 18:00 hours which clashed with my planned expedition, so no use for me. Admittedly, the accommodation was commensurately cheap: 36 zloty (£9) per night for a single room.
I occupied Friday afternoon with a standard-gauge bash: a dose of nostalgia for something from steam days which I had read about, but never experienced. Until late in the steam era – 1989 or ’90 – the branch north-eastward off the main line here, to Belzec, was solidly steam on passenger, worked by Ol49 from Przeworsk depot. (Until the mid-to-late eighties, further steam from another division of PKP, made its appearance at Belzec.) My short 1984 visit had not involved this line: focus had been on the more dramatic steam route into Przeworsk from the north-west. Of this former 97km branch, 58km at present retains a passenger service, from the main-line junction as far as Horyniec Zdroj – a basic four workings each way per day, one of which nicely suited my movements.
Jaroslaw Station. Photo PKP S.A
I journeyed by main-line train to Jaroslaw, 15km to the east of Przeworsk. Here I took a break for lunch, the station being conveniently right in town centre. I then continued on the 15:28 departure down the branch. Once again, the train was a modern railmotor, SA109-010, an articulated double-unit, branded as running in the colours of Podkarpackie province. The workings were quite well patronised on the outward and the return run. Scenically, it was frankly a boring journey. This part of south-east Poland is virtually dead flat, though delectable hill country begins not far to the south. Unless the terrain changes dramatically beyond Horyniec Zdroj, this must have been a rather dull steam route, lacking in gradients and thus noise-and-smoke effects.
There was a delay at Munina, the actual junction point – awaiting a westbound main-line connection – which put the working behind time. The timetabled three-minute turn-round at Horyniec Zdroj was accomplished at lightning speed, giving me no opportunity to check out the status of the track on the passenger workings-less section on towards Belzec. It was the same picture as on standard-gauge branches elsewhere – seemingly no freight action, all intermediate goods yards overgrown and out of use. This trip was, however, as much in homage to how things had been on this line a couple of decades back, as for its own sake. The return working, departing Horyniec Zdroj at 16:47 as per the timetable, gave me a through run to Przeworsk, and then proceeded further along the main line to Rzeszow. And so after, a fairly effortless journey back, I returned to the rather penitential regime of the Zgoda.