Lodz to Lviv – part 3

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Krakow Glowny – a broken station!

Access to the ‘deep level” subway, Architect’s visualisation PKP.

I am very enthusiastic about Krakow and am prepared to forgive its many idiosyncrasies. The first time I went there under my own steam, I was directed to meet up with some friends one evening in the Inkwizytor Pub in ul. Kanonicza. Walking from one end of the short street to the other revealed no bar with this name, nor could any of the taxi drivers parked up near Wawel Castle help.

Some time later, the secret was revealed. There is no welcoming pub sign. Instead you approach an elaborately carved stone archway, closed by an ancient oak door, the sort of portal that the art director of the Harry Potter films would have given his right eye for. You knock, give the right password and are admitted to the Department of Geology of the Jagiellonian University. You stride purposely forward into an enclosed inner courtyard, dive down some steep stone steps, pass through another oak door, and Bob’s your uncle!

Since then, the Inkwizytor became one of my favourite haunts and I have lost count how many times I have enjoyed the hospitality of Krakow’s cellar bars or student-priced restaurants. Until recently my enthusiasm extended to Krakow Glowny railway station which, though a rambling affair with its main passenger facilities a long walk away from the platforms, was actually quite passenger friendly once one got to know one’s way around it.

The station dates back to the 1840s. It was designed as a red-brick neo-Gothic affair with its own park by a Wroclaw architect, Peter Rosenbaum. During the next 20 years the railway infrastructure around Krakow expanded rapidly and the station facilities were soon inadequate. Between 1869 and 1871, the station endured the first of its many reconstructions. The main building was doubled in size, and given its present neo-Classical appearance, while the tracks and platforms acquired an overall glass roof.

The Krakow Glowny station building. From a photo by Hubert Wagula.

(Click on image to expand, click here to see original on Wikipedia and for licensing conditions.)

A further modernisation took place in 1892-1893, providing passengers for the first time with a subway linking the platforms. In 1920, when the track layout was changed. more platforms were added, the overall roof demolished and the station building was again extended. By 1934, the station was again bursting at the seams and an ambitious plan was devised to move the station and its passengers facilities some 300 yards to the North, where the station throat provided generous space for expansion.

WWII brought these plans to a halt: the General Government – the Nazi name for the authorities running that section of Poland that was to be incorporated into Germany – planned to eliminate the cross-town line and build a new station elsewhere; after WWII, the communist authorities toyed with a similar scheme.

Finally in the 1970s, PKP dusted down the original pre-war blueprints and drew up new plans for a station to the North of its previous position in an area where there was room for more through platforms. There were to be 5 levels, with many facilities buried deep underground – like the present plans for Lodz Fabryczna – the project reflected PKP’s predilection for hiding its stations and its passengers.

The design envisaged a car park on the roof, which spanned the tracks and platforms. Below the tracks were to be two subways linking the platforms, below these the main concourse area and station facilities, and below these a possible metro station.  Substantial progress was made and the major civil engineering work was completed. But then, as in the ill-starred rebuilding of Lodz Kaliska, the money ran out.

Danger men at work. Photo (taken through a train window) BTWT.

(Click image to enlarge.)

What was built worked quite well. So that any future construction work – such as the proposed metro – caused as little disturbance as possible, the new station was built on top of an elaborate concrete framework. Train diagrammers and signalmen have standing orders to route all freight trains to by-pass the station to extend the working life of this construction. The car park, new platforms and two new subways were commissioned. But the only facilities provided on the main concourse level were the toilets. The rest of the empty concrete caverns were sealed off with heavy steel shuttering.

All other facilities: booking hall, train indicator boards, left luggage, refreshments and station offices were retained in the 19th century station buildings which were connected to the new station by a covered walkway. The roof over the walkway was made of recycled parts from the original platform awnings blending perfectly with the old station buildings. Some of the same material was also used to construct a period station platform in the Skansen at Chabowka.

For nearly 30 years the hybrid station, blending a 19th century station building with 20th century platforms and car parking facilities, worked quite well. Cars, buses and taxis could draw up to the very front of the station building. Here you could check your train times, buy a your ticket, have a quick snack or a more elaborate meal, and buy a newspaper or magazine. The covered walkway led to two shallow subways. One was could be reached by a short flight of steps, the other buy a gentle slope. The latter was ideal for people encumbered with heavy luggage, particularly as lifts were available to connect with the platforms above.

The rot set in when the Galeria Krakowska – a huge shopping centre – was built during 2004 – 2006 on former railway land next to the station. The city authorities wanted a piazza next to the historic buildings, so the car pick up/set down, taxis and buses had to go elsewhere.

The new piazza outside the station. Satellite photo courtesy Google Maps.

A bus station was built to the East of the ‘new station’, an official car pick up point was established on the station roof, while an unofficial one jammed up the end of ul. Topolowa. These facilities fed in some passengers directly to the new station at the East end of the South subway, so a train indicator board and ticket facilities were provided, so obviating the need for these passengers entering the station here to walk to – and return from – the main station building. Everything still worked reasonably well, provided you knew where to find it.  However faced with competition from 22 different outlets offering food of in the Galeria, the buffet style restaurant in the main station building – never particularly salubrious – went into terminal decline.

Although the Galeria, like part of Zlote Tarasy in Warsaw, was built on railway land ńo effort was made to tidy up and utilise the empty concrete caverns under the tracks. PKP’s Estates Department seems never to have heard of a development premium, whereby the developer carries out some works for the benefit of the general outside the immediate footprint of the development. A new deep level passenger subway was constructed under the railway tracks at the same level as – and connecting directly with – the lowest level of Galeria, but lifts or escalators to platform level were conspicuous by their absence.

Part of the huge space under the tracks was utilised for a road tunnel connecting ul. Wita Stosza with ul. Pawia and finally the deepest level was exploited at last when the 1970s designed metro tunnels were used for an extension of Krakow’s ‘fast tram’ network. Then flushed with football fever, PKP decided that it would build an integrated ‘transport hub’ at Krakow Glowny in time for the Euro 2012 championships.

Chaos reigned. Lifts were switched off. Access for people with mobility problems – or bad backs – became non-existent. Contractors complained that they were being given contradictory instructions by PKP PLK, who were responsible for the tracks, and PKP SA, who were responsible for the real estate. About the only statement that can be made in absolute confidence is that it seems increasingly unlikely that the whole caboodle will be ready when the first kick off takes place on 8 June 2012.

There was a ‘cloth fair’ in the central square since the 13th century. It took 300 years for the building to acquire its present shape. Will the rebuilding of Grakow Glowny take as long? Photo BTWT.

(Click image to enlarge.)

So with a tram to catch close to the old station building, lifts not working and the ramp leading to one of the old subways out of action, I was not a happy bunny. Carting heavy luggage up and down stairs is not recommended when suffering from a back injury. I cheered up a bit when I discovered that the left luggage facility inside the old station building was still working and the the attendant was prepared to take 3 pieces of luggage and only charge me for two. A short walk took me to the tram stop and almost instantly a No.4 tram turned up to take me to my stop at Teatr Bagatela. A short walk and I was at my destination, Dynia, a highly regarded, inexpensive, eatery popular with students.

Did the Gods smile at me for what was left of the day? Well no. Catering in Poland has improved by light years since the old days, and it seems like an eternity ago that I had to teach a Krakow café how to make a latte macchiato. So when it was time to order the sweet I did not anticipate too many problems. Do you serve sharlotka (apple strudel)? I asked. Yes we do, the waitress replied with a smile. Well could I have a hot sharlotka with a single ball of vanilla ice cream on top? The waitress looked horrified, But it will melt! But that’s just how I like it. I’ll go and ask, and she scampered away. You can have the sharlotka on one plate and the ice cream on another, but not both together.

At this point I usually let my missionary zeal get the better of me and explain firmly that we have left the dark days of communism far behind and that it is customers like me who are keeping her restaurant open and paying her wages. But this time, in deference to my companion, whom I had not seen for ages, I kept mum and just said that in that case I would not bother with the sharlotka and would chose something else instead. When the meal had finished I decided to revisit the old Inkwisytor. I know that the set that used to drink here has moved on, but does the bar still exist? A sign on the outside – there never used to be any sign – proclaimed Autorska Cawiarnia (Authors’ Café) – I feared the worst!

Dyspozytor

To be continued…

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