Gricing a new route on un train extraordinaire
Alternate routes to the South. Map Railmap, Google Maps
(Click image to go to Railmap – Kolejowa Mapa Polski website.)
Lapy is a sad town. Over 2,000 adults are unemployed in a town with a population of approximately 17,000 – some 5,000 families. The principal employers were the sugar refinery and the carriage and wagon works. The sugar refinery closed as a consequence of the Polish government agreeing to limit Polish sugar production – part of the deal under which Poland entered the EU. The carriage and wagon works went bankrupt as a consequence of the government’s pro-road transport policies – part of the deal under which Poland was allowed to join the West. Warsaw has given up on Lapy and many other similar towns, which is why even the remotest British villages now have Polish graduates working in pubs and restaurants. As if to rub the message in, PKP has closed down all the facilities inside the grubby 1970s station building. Tickets now have to be bought from one of the shops in the centre of town.
We bought first-class tickets and waited for our train at the head of the platform. The first-class carriage was down at the other end of the train. Trains do not hang around in places like Lapy so we jumped on board and made our way down the train. A few carriages further on we made a pleasant discovery – there was a restaurant car and it was open! We dumped our bags in a compartment – the first-class carriage was next to the restaurant car – and asked the attendant what he might recommend. The choice narrowed down to either kotlet schabowy or pierogi. We chose kotlet schabowy and we were not disappointed.
Now at this point I will confess that I was tired after our meeting and was not thinking as analytically as I should have been. In hindsight I should have been asking, what is a restaurant car doing on a train between Bialystok and Warsaw? Or even, what is a restaurant car doing on a TLK train at all? My lack of curiosity was to lead to more adventures later on.
We arrived at Centralna 5 minutes early at 18:05 and both got off the train. My companion had to change to a train heading down the line to Poznan while I needed a train going to Lodz. The train that we had been on was heading to Katowice, presumably via the CMK. As we got off the train I noticed that the destination indicator on the platform advertised a stop at Koluszki, so the train would not be taking the CMK after all, but the older route via Piotrkow Trybunalski and Radomsko. Koluszki I noted was also on my route to Lodz.
We took the escalator up to the bridge deck that spans the tracks to check the departure indicators. The train that we had been on was due to depart at 18:15. The Lodz train was due to depart at 18:25. I made a snap decision, rather than risk travelling in one of the dreaded E74 sets, I would return to the train that we had been on and the comfort of the first-class compartment. I would leave the Katowice train at Koluszki and wait for the Lodz train there. It seemed a no-brainer that I would arrive at Koluszki ahead of the Lodz train. So I dashed back to the Katowice train, settled myself comfortably in our old compartment and relaxed.
We rattled along the tracks as far as our final Warsaw stop at Zachodnia and then began to build up speed. The train ran faster and faster. I estimated that we were doing about 90 miles an hour and the thought did cross my mind that the Lodz trains, whether locomotive hauled or EMU, never seem to reach more than 80 mph and only run at that speed for a brief period of time.
I dimmed the lights so as to be able to follow the night view better and spied a huge rail connected Tesco warehouse to the north of the tracks. Surely this is not one of the landmarks on the route to Koluszki? We flashed under a modern road bridge and passed through a station which should have been Skierniewice yet was not. Finally we passed through another station which I recognised as Sochaczew. (It is after all the terminus of the Sochaczew narrow gauge railway!) Suddenly I realised what had happened – the train had taken the ‘mainline’ to Poznan instead of ‘turning left’ just after Warsaw and taking the Skierniewice route.
After what seemed a very long time, train slowed and branched off to the left. We ran – more slowly than on the main line – through wooded countryside past abandoned stations where the snow had piled itself high on old platforms. If we were about to rejoin the usual Warsaw – Koluszki route there would be ‘action’ on the left-hand side of the train so I moved across to the window on that side.
Eventually a large town came into view. Could it be Koluszki? We passed a signal cabin, but it was too close to the train to read its location code. We reached a triangle, one pair of tracks turned sharply to the left, we took one of the tracks forking sharply to the right. I was puzzled until I saw the mainline to the left. Could it be? Yes it was. The train had reached the triangular junction just to the South West of Skierniewice station. What a curious route for the the train to take? Now it began to dawn on me that though my train that had departed Centralna 1o minutes before the Lodz train,the latter would probably reach Koluszki ahead of us.
Lowicz – Skierniewice newly griced route. Google Maps.
(Click to see an enlargeable ‘slippy map’.)
We reached Koluszki at 19:39 and I hopped off smartly. A quick check of the printed timetable said it all. The Lodz train had departed 9 minutes earlier. What was the reason for routing my Katowice train via the mainline through Sochaczew via a diversion that added exactly 20 minutes to our journey time? Amazingly the Koluszki ticket office was still open. I ascertained that the next Lodz train would leave at 20:40. It would get me to Lodz an hour later than if I had swapped trains at Centralna in the first place. Now, with the best part of an hour to spend Koluszki I began to study the timetables. Where had my extraordinary train come from? Gdynia? No surely there was a mistake? Via Bialystok? Yet the arrival and departure timetables tallied, that indeed was the route of, my train.
The tour de Pologne. Timetable by TK Telekom.
On my return home I used the PKP Internet timetable to find my mystery train. You will hunt in vain if you enter ‘Gdynia’ as departure station and ‘Katowice’ as your destination. But enter ‘Bialystok’ in the ‘via’ field and out it magically pops – TLK54108 – one of the most extraordinary workings over the Polish railway network which PKP InterCity in a flash of inspiration have named the Tour de Pologne.