A Return Journey – Part 13

by

by Robert Hall

The continuation of Robert Hall’s account of his 2010 return trip to Poland after a break of 16 years.

Jedrzejow stations in 1936. Note the location of the n.g. and s.g. facilities. From the 1:25,000 1936 WIG map of Jedrzejow.

Sunday’s objective was the 750mm tourist line at Jedrzejow. I was warned against trying to stay in overnight in Jedrzejow, so I spent a pleasant night in Krakow instead. Next morning, I set off towards my target, some 90 km north-east, on the 07:35 ex Krakow Glowny to Lublin.

This part of Poland, an approximate triangle Lodz – industrial-Upper-Silesia-and-Krakow – Swietokrzyskie Hills east of Kielce, was an area I had never visited before.  The usual reason:  by the 1980s, this region had become poor/next to useless for steam, so we gricers mostly stayed away from here.  The Krakow – Jedrzejow journey, through moderately hilly countryside, was interesting – a pleasant change to the great flat plains often encountered in rural Poland.

At the Sedziszow stop I saw Ty51-15, plinthed just south of the station.  Once again thoughts of the 1980s were evoked.  In the latter half of that decade,  PKP attempted a slight degree of enthusiast-friendliness by offering a small number of locations up and down the country for which we could apply in advance for (highly circumscribed) photographic permits.

Some of these venues were worthwhile, others, it was hard to see any point to.  Sedziszow was one of the latter.  Though on a long-electrified main line, and not a junction, up to the late 1980s Sedziszow had, for some odd reason, a steam depot with a small allocation of Ty51. A couple of the big 2-10-0s could be relied on to be in steam there at any particular time; but they never seemed to do anything beyond a little shunting. Useful perhaps, if you needed to bag a photograph of a Ty51 in some sort of action – I never felt that desperate.  It appeared to me as another instance of PKP’s taunting gricers where this class was concerned.

Passenger stock at Jedrzejow, autumn 2010. Photo BTWT

The punctual arrival at Jedrzejow arrival was marred by something of a hunt for where to get the narrow-gauge train. The Jedrzejow Railway’s headquarters are about a ‘crow-and-bee’ kilometre across town from the standard-gauge station.  In narrow gauge passenger days, the line continued to a halt outside the standard gauge station (conversely, a s.g. siding lead right into the n.g. depot for the interchange of freight) but alas, no more. The n.g. line now exists in ‘splendid isolation’. The prospects for through freight are nil, even in the remote contingency that such traffic should be offered.

With, happily, about an hour and a half in which to tackle the conundrum, I found the narrow-gauge station in good time.  This preserved line, with a 31 km route between Jedrzejow and Pinczow, is the small active remnant of a once very extensive narrow-gauge system (Poland’s second-largest, after only that of the Kujawy region) spreading out east and south from Jedrzejow,and at one time reaching back to the outskirts of Krakow. Like much of Poland’s narrow gauge, the line owes its genesis to military lines of WW I. In this case, a 600mm gauge railway built by the Austrians in their invasion of Russian-controlled Poland in 1915, this line was added to in 1916 and the system developed further under the aegis of PKP in the 1920s. In the 1950s, PKP converted the whole system to 750mm gauge.

‘Active’ as described above, is a rather relative term: the line operates one return tourist working on summer Sundays only.  It is the same frequently repeated sad story:  its local-government authority owners seem keener to milk money from the railway – and possibly entertain thoughts of selling its land for development – than to support and promote it. The line has recently been threatened with closure, and its future seems very unsure.

At all events, on Sunday 25 August 2010, the railway was alive and well. The train, due to depart at 10:00, was formed by Lxd2-258, heading one Romanian railcar trailer, an older-vintage Bxhpi 1AW coach, another such labelled Bufet, and the usual brankard all-purpose brake van. The line has an operational Px48, which, however, is used only on special occasions – on this day, it was hidden away in its shed. The train well-filled, by time our guard called Odjazd (Right away).

Px48-1724 in its shed at Jedrzejow. Photo BTWT.

Given the basic repertoire of a 31 km route, the most was made of the eight hours or so spent on the line. That Jedrzejow – Pinczow end-to-end run took about an hour and a half – it is a rickety line. It was a pleasant ride through some gently undulating terrain. Between Umianowice and Pinczow, there was a steep escarpment on the east side of the line.

Pinczow is interesting – for about the last kilometre into this big village, the railway does not so much run along the main street, as IS part of the main street: rows of houses on each side, and in between, the road, and parallel to it, the narrow-gauge rails – with a stretch of grass and occasional trees, separating road and rail. (The Pinczow-ites seem to be very good, as regards not blocking the path of the once-weekly train by car-parking on the line.)

When we reached the station the loco ran round, and took the train back 9 km to Umianowice with its still-in-place triangle.  Here there was a long lunchtime layover. The railway land within the triangle is equipped with plentiful picnic tables and benches – with shelter in case of inclement weather – and a covered stage / dance-floor.  Recorded pop music played for everyone’s delectation, with Beatles numbers, prominent.

The Jedrzejow line seemed big on music: the train is fitted up with loudspeakers which throughout most of the journey, pump out a musical assortment (a feature not found on the Rogow or Przeworsk lines).  Some of the Jedrzejow musical fare is pop, some folk with, if my poor comprehension of Polish did not mislead, a proportion of the latter, railway-themed. (I kept hoping for something in translation, from The Ballad of John Axon, but was disappointed.).  I personally prefer to go about my business without unsought musical accompaniment, but this line is battling gamely on, against rather desperate odds, and trying its best to please its patrons, so allowances were duly made.

I had no such reservations in awarding the Jedrzejow line full marks for its Bufet.  The Przeworsk line has a coach similarly marked and equipped, but purveying only a tame and restricted selection of soft drinks and snacks.  Jedrzejow does much better: its ‘buffet car’ sells a range of snacks, fizzy drinks, fruit juice, and also draught beer, which I duly purchased; and does fairly basic hot food (burgers / kebabs / chips), which fearing it might be horrid, I passed. (Dyspozytor, I subsequently learned, has sampled the same and found it OK.)  The buffet also sells postcards of the line.  This railway may not have all that much, but it makes the most of what it has.

After the lunchtime layover, the train returned to Pinczow; then set out back northward for its homeward run.  There was another layover for most of an hour at Umianowice, where the bonfire and sausages ritual (for those not too full from lunch) was enacted.  There some indications that the first 2 km of the system’s one-time eastward branch, as far as Hajdaszek, can and may at times, still be traversed for those interested, during this second layover. But there was no sign of any such move, on the day I travelled; possibly because about at this time, quite heavy rain had set in, though not sufficiently heavy to deter the keener sausage-grillers.

Google maps ‘slippy map’ of the Pinczow area.

And so, probably because of the rain, the train started its homeward bound run some quarter-hour before scheduled time, getting back to Jedrzejow (Wask) about 17:45.

The Jedrzejow network went overwhelmingly diesel quite early on and lost its passenger services rather early  (the last being withdrawn in 1987); and even when passenger workings still running, they were sparse, and at nightmare hours, making the system “a bitch and a half” to cover by normal scheduled passenger trains.  In the early 1980s, the network’s  86 km west-to-east main line from Jedrzejow to Bogoria, had two passenger workings in each direction per day, taking about five hours one way.  Jedrzejow departures were 01:34 and 18:10, Bogoria ditto 00:48 and 17:24 – impossible thus, even on Midsummer’s Day, to travel the whole length of the route in daylight and see all that you were riding through. So sadly I, and many other British gricers gave it a miss.

Though the operational line is basically between Jedrzejow and Pinczow, all is not necessarily lost (even if it is in the department of beyond-Pollyanna lunatic optimism) further beyond.  In 1996, the still-active Jederzejow – Umianowice – Pinczow section and the disused routes Umianowice – Rakow (47 km) and Pinczow – Wislica (28 km) were declared a protected ‘historical landmark’.  Everything else of this one-time system has been lifted;  but I learn that technically, the above mentioned sections are ‘protected’.  However, many parts of the disused but supposedly protected sections have fallen victim to the modern Polish scourge of rail-theft. Dodgy scrap-metal dealers offer enticing prices, and many people are sadly short of cash.  Where this has happened, the local authorities have – what a surprise – shown no interest in restoring track.

A steam-hauled trip on a now closed section of the line from Kazimierz Wielka – Skalbmierz on 24 April 1994. Video by .

According to my usual criteria, I should have found the Jędrzejów set-up thoroughly depressing.  It has been blatantly reduced to purest tourist-and-gricer-bait, losing all capacity to function as a real railway; its future has been for some time been in the balance (there’s no knowing whether it will run from one season to the next); and while all narrow-gauge lines that I visited on this tour, had fairly overgrown track, none were as bad as the Jedrzejow line’s was the most ‘vanishing into Mother Nature’s bosom’ track; and the just over thirty kilometres which tenuously survives, is a microscopic fragment of a once huge system.

Strangely enough, the experience of travelling on the line did not leave me feeling sad and wretched – on the contrary, I felt that the day was a demonstration of Poland’s spirit of facing hopeless odds, jauntily and with style. (Think of the cavalry taking on German tanks in 1939.) The cheery and positive attitude taken by those who run the trains, and their enterprising attempts (even if not always to my personal taste) to make the operation attractive to its customers, as well as the visible enjoyment of the plentiful customers, combined to make an agreeable day out. I was encouraged to hope that the worst may not happen, and that the line may continue to run on summer Sundays (and perhaps in the future more than that) for many years to come.

An additional attraction of this area, is the  LHS, originally the Linia Hutnicza Siarkowa (Steelworks and Sulphur Railway) now, following the closure of the open cast sulphur quarries near Tarnobrzeg, the Linia Hutnicza Szerokotorowa  freight route, inaugurated in 1979 on the Russian 1524mm gauge, from the Ukrainian border near Hrubieszow, to the Upper Silesian industrial belt.

This (non-electric) line intersects and then parallels the standard-gauge main for a while between Sedziszow and Jedrzejow; and runs parallel to and within easy sight of the narrow gauge, crossing over it at one point, for some kilometres west of Umianowice.  Several long freights on the broad-gauge line, were observed:  regulation motive power thereon, seeming to be double-heading class ST44 Co-Co diesels.  My first sight of the LHS in any detail; found it rather fascinating – and it brought the “score” of different gauges experienced on my bash, up to four.

Two ST40s (rebuilt M62s) on the LHS. Photo Sigman.

(Click image to see original at pl.wikipedia and for details of licensing.)

Close acquaintance here with class ST44, had an interest-factor of its own.  These Soviet-built machines were widely used in the USSR-as-was (there, designated class M62), and in a number of its satellite nations. They have on the whole been well regarded by loco crews, being found an unusually good and reliable example of Soviet design and engineering; though because of their tendency to spread poorly maintained track are less fondly regarded by their civil engineering counterparts.

Polish railwaymen nicknamed the class Gagaryni – their introduction on PKP having roughly coincided with Mr. G’s exploit in space.  They are now becoming rather rare on PKP:  the LHS would seem to be one of their chief remaining strongholds.  There appears these days, to be a considerable nostalgic focus on class ST44 – especially on the part of German enthusiasts (the East German railways also used the type) – their remaining duties in Poland seem to be lovingly followed and chronicled.

The ST44s have other, less happy, connotations for enthusiasts such as me.  In the mid-and late 1980s, the blasted things seemed forever to be showing up in cherished steam venues, often spoiling passenger workings expected to be purely steam, by piloting a steam loco, or hauling the train solo. Ee bitterly hated and resented the ugly green so-and-so’s.  Decades later, the wheel has turned, and the ST44s are themselves an endangered species, and nostalgia-fodder. I found it possible to let bygones be bygones, and entertained quite fond feelings toward those encountered during my trip.

On return to Jedrzejow, I retrace my steps to the standard-gauge station and catch the 19:04 Warsaw train, for the run to Radom.  Here I stay overnight in a comfortable hotel a stone’s through from the railway station, prior to my departure for Lodz early the following morning.

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One Response to “A Return Journey – Part 13”

  1. Robert Hall Says:

    Wonderful video — thanks for including it. Per my info, this action must have happened shortly before the final abandonment, and dismantling, of this section of the Jedrzejow system — as I understand, the very last commercial use of any of the system — as opposed to “preservation” on small parts thereof — was in 1994. By that date, regular steam long finished on the system: the steam loco featured, is its long-designated preserved one, Px48-1724.

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