Various motive power, Smigiel Railway. Photo BTWT.
I have just completed a very emotional telephone call with Wit Kreuschner, the general manager of the Smigiel Railway. Tomorrow Wit hands over the inventory of the railway to Smigiel Town Council and will be general manager no more. It is a sad day for a man who ten years go was the initiator of the plan to save the line, and with the help of SKPL, engineered its takeover by Smigiel town Council.
Jerzy Ciesla, the town mayor in those days was an enthusiastic supporter of the railway and the idea that it should continue to play an active part in the economy of the area. The motives of the current administration are more difficult to fathom. Wiktor Snela, the present incumbent in the mayoral post told Robert Hall that he believes the railway has a future as a tourist attraction rather than as a transport undertaking. A year, or so ago, I attended a meeting at which the deputy mayor said that the Town Council has no interest in developing the Town’s tourist attractions. So which statement is correct? Time will tell.
The last post, reporting the Smigiel Railway’s demise under SKPL auspices, generated a huge amount of interest. On January 6, we had 1,310 hits, a BTWT record. This ‘surge’ in readership also took BTWT over a total of 300,000 hits. But we will not be celebrating these milestones.
In response to the article a number of BTWT readers suggested organising a collection to cover the Smigiel railway deficit for one year. It would have been churlish of me not to have passed the idea on to Tomasz Strapagiel, SKPL chairman. Tomasz asked me to express his appreciation and to explain that the railway’s finances are not really amenable to a rescue plan.
In brief the financial arrangements were as follows. The line’s finances were always on a knife edge. The line needed some 150,000 PLN per annum to cover its costs. There was an understanding between SKPL and the Wielkopolska provincial governor’s office to the effect that the railway would receive funding of 100,000 PLN each year in return for operating a public transport service. But before this grant could be paid, it had to be to be approved by provincial government council members, this usually took place in early summer. Afterwards it took a month or so the funds to be processed and then for various legal reasons it was paid to the Smigiel Town Council. Smigiel Town Council’s management team then had to decide how much of this grant should be actually handed over to SKPL and how much cash should be retained for its own expenditure on matters to do with the railway. By September SKPL received the remaining cash in their bank account. The shortfall was made up from freight revenues and a small amount of ancillary income.
These arrangements were not conducive to the railway’s good health. SKPL never knew what the line’s operating budget was, and so would scrimp and save so as to reduce the eventual deficit. The council saw the effects of this and grumbled about SKPL’s parsimony. And so year by year the relationship deteriorated. When freight carryings ceased, and the Council demanded that SKPL pay local taxes, the elastic snapped.
Perhaps now, where there is no third party to shift responsibility to, the railway might undergo a renaissance? I very much hope so. In the meantime we and many friends of the Smigiel Railway will watch developments carefully and raise the alarm should the council go back on its commitments to continue operating the railway.
My condolences to Wit and his daughter Lidia, who together comprised the line’s management team and for whom the railway was like a member of their family. They were always generous with their time and hospitality to all who came to visit this unique line – the last Polish narrow gauge line to run a genuine passenger service. I hope that both will be able to find equally rewarding employment elsewhere.