A Return Journey – Part 14

by

by Robert Hall

The final part of Robert Hall’s story of his return to Poland after 16 years

Robert Hall’s route from Radom to Lodz Fabryczna. Map courtesy Railmap.

(Click on the image to enlarge, but click on this link, if you want to follow Robert’s journey station by station on a larger scale Railmap which can be zoomed and scrolled.)

After a night in an agreeable hotel in Radom, only a couple of minutes’ walk from the station, I set off to Lodz the following morning, Monday 26 July. Armed with a packed breakfast provided by the hotel, I caught the 07:27 through local train Radom – Tomaszow Mazowiecki – Lodz. At the time, this was the only through westbound train of the day; it had an eastbound counterpart which ran in the evening. There is a meagre selection of other trains on the line, but no other trains run the full length.

The EMU departed punctually, for a delightful early-morning, all-stations run through pleasant countryside. Whilst passenger workings on this route may be few and far between, in the course of the journey we did pass a number of long-distance freights, and I noticed timber being loaded into PKP Cargo wagons at Wykno. It was cheering to see these all rail freight activities after my experiences on other secondary lines during this visit to Poland.

EMUs at Lodz Fabryczna shortly before closure. Photo Wiktor Baron.

(Click image to enlarge. Click on this link to see original on Wikipedia and for details of licensing.)

I arrived at Lodz Fabryczna station at 10:41, where  Dyspozytor and his car were waiting. A fine coup had been achieved: we were off to Zdunska Wola some 40 km to the west, and neighbouring Karsznice, for a visit to the little-known standard-gauge ‘skansen’ (open air museum) at the latter location. The railway museum, formerly under PKP control, has only recently been transferred to the Zdunska Wola municipality.

Our first stop was the Zdunska Wola Museum in the centre of town. The railway museum for administration purposes is now part of the town museum. We were met by the town’s museum director, under whose remit the railway museum now falls.

We were given a tour of this most interesting museum which tell the history of this textile town which is something of a junior partner of Lodz, and then, with Piotr Skorek of the Zdunska Wola museum staff as our guide, we continued to the railway museum at Karsznice, a few kilometres to the South.

The Karsnice ‘skansen’ in 2006. Photo BTWT.

(Click on image to enlarge.)

Until recently the railway museum was an integral part of Karsznice loco depot and railway workshops. Karsznice is a railway town, built for the Magistrala Weglowa (Upper Silesia – Gdynia coal railway) in the 1930s. It was a convenient point for exchanges of locos and crews, on the long run between the coal mines and the seaport.

It was a great privilege to see round Karsznice railway museum, which at the time of my visit was not open to the public at all; its Skierniewice counterpart can at least be visited a few days in the year. The previous workshop manager  had set out to collect one example of each of the engines that used to work on the coal line and was one engine short when he received his redundancy notice.

I spotted five out of the seven standard-gauge steam classes which were still active in the 1980s. The exceptions were class TKt48 2-8-2T, and class Ty51 2-10-0, and plentiful examples of both clases are preserved elsewhere. There was also Ty23-237, a Polish ‘home-grown’ 2-10-0 freight hauler. A few specimens of this class were active on PKP till the late 1970s.

Also still in use in the late 1970s, were the massive American-built class Ty246 2-10-0, fitted with a mechanical stoker. These were built to make good World War II losses in the brief time-window before it all went nasty between the West and the Soviet Union. I understand that some features of class Ty246 were used in the design of the later Ty51. Besides the steam locomotives there were also an assortment of diesel locos and railcars, and passenger stock, some of considerable antiquity.

Most unfortunately, there is at present no alternative to all these exhibits being kept permanently out in the open air. In addition, the museum’s future is entirely in the hands of the local council, who are at present supportive but there is no guarantee that this attitude will continue indefinitely, or even for long, given the situations faced by other Polish rail heritage assets in local authority care.

We drove back to Lodz via country roads with a coffee-and-ice-cream stop in a little town en route. You can’t cover everything – it turned out that something had to give, and the victim was Lodz’s wonderful metre-gauge tram system. In the end, time didn’t allow us to do the epic interurban run north to Ozorkow. So I was not able to enjoy as much of the Lodz tram network as planned, but those fragments I did experience were cherished. A great inducement for another visit to Poland.

The start of the interurban line to Konstantynow and Lutomersk at Zdrowie. The Lodz MPK trams turn right here and go round a loop. Note the Tramwaje Podmiejskie logo on the tram. Photo BTWT.

(Click image to enlarge.)

I did see a fair amount of the interurban tram line to Lutomiersk (featured in ‘A return journey – part 3‘) which is shorter than the Ozorkow line, but no small-time spur. At the time of my visit, the Lutomiersk tram route was temporarily interrupted over the central stretch near Konstantynow while road works were being carried out. Buses were bridging the gap, something of a discouragement to travel.

We travelled alongside the line for some distance by car, on journeys on two different days. On the journey to Zbiersk on July 19th we examined the route’s end, a loop in Lutomiersk town square. During our journey to Zdunska Wola on the 26th we also followed part of the line, and made a call at the interurban route’s depot on the west side of Lodz.

We had a chat and a coffee with the hospitable general manager and had a walk round the depot under the guidance of the chief engineer. At the depot we saw service vehicles of very considerable antiquity, converted from tramcars.

On the way back from Zdunska Wola and Karsznice, we planned our route so as to hit the main road west of Aleksandrow Lodzki, whose municipality a few years ago foolishly voted to abolish their tram route to Lodz, on a separate formation parallel to the main road, and replace it with buses. The result was road traffic chaos, which might hopefully serve as an object lesson to other commuter towns around Lodz about the wisdom of keeping their trams…

And so dawned Tuesday 27th, my last day in Poland. For complicated reasons, I had arrived in Poznan by air, but departed by rail. I had a few hours left for a farewell trip before my train in the evening. Having developed a fondness for leisurely journeys along electric lines by local EMU, I decided on a local-EMU odyssey as a fitting farewell to Poland, so I took a tram to Lodz Kaliszka station, and left Lodz on the 13:33 EMU, arriving in Poznan Glowny at 18:45, in plenty of time for the westbound night express due out of Poznan at 21:33.

The local EMUs seem basically ageless and unchanging, the same now as they were in 1980, and give a fairly comfortable ride. Who cares if it takes many hours of watching the beguiling Polish rural scene out of the window to arrive at one’s destination? Lines important enough to have been electrified also seem to have more action happening on them, including freight, than the depressing and seemingly dying non-electrified lines.

I enjoyed the long-distance EMU run. The train reversed in a leisurely fashion with a long lay-over at Ostrow Wielkopolski. A tank engine, 2-6-0T TKi3-120, was plinthed on the platform there. Pleszew was next. SKPL’s passenger service on this line was suspended for the summer, but I looked out eagerly for the 750mm gauge track, having a vague memory of seeing it in passing twenty years previously, but saw none this time.

Some way further north, Ol49-1 was plinthed at Jarocin, appropriately as Jarocin was the last place in Poland (with the exception of Wolsztyn) with completely genuine steam workings, until early 1992, mostly with class Ol49. At Sroda I was dozing, so missed a potential glimpse of the still-active 750mm gauge line.

And so I arrived in Poznan with time to get things straight, have a bite to eat, and prepare to board the Jan Kiepura express to the west, the first leg of my homeward journey. I was to leave the Jan Kiepura at Köln, and the journey until the far west of Germany was in darkness. I confess to being someone who lives firmly in the past, taking not much pleasure or interest in the ultra-modern railway scene. For me, even the Channel Tunnel, through which I have travelled several times, is a convenience rather than a thing of joy.

The Kiepura arrived at Poznan punctually, having started its run in Warsaw. It is designated, impressively, a ‘Hotel’ train, and its spacious accommodation, even in second class, certainly felt hotel-like after a long diet of Polish local trains with their comfortable enough but not overly expansive seating (and, as for the narrow gauge, comfort is not the object of that exercise). The reservation, obtained when booking the ticket in Britain a month previously, worked like a charm, and departure was punctual at 21:33.

With a long and quite intensive grice having taken its toll, I slept most of the night, completely unaware of the Polish-German border, and woke up briefly only at the key points of Berlin, Hannover, Hamm, and Essen. I had something over an hour in Köln, awaiting my train on to Brussels – an opportunity for some breakfast.

My Brussels train, coming in from further afield, was formed of highly modern and thoroughly comfortable stock. As at Poznan, the seat-reservation had worked smoothly, but my heart sank when an announcement was made that departure would be delayed because of a coupling-related fault on the train. My connection with Eurostar at Brussels was a little tight, and being given to travel-related panic, my imagination went into overdrive regarding what is done with passengers who miss their booked Eurostar because of the late running of their preceding train. The coupling fault was quite promptly remedied, and we set off about a quarter of an hour late. All being well, the Brussels connection would still be okay.

Shortly after Aachen, a change in the style of station-signage revealed that we had crossed into Belgium. I had hoped for some nice hill scenery in this far-eastern part of Belgium, but nowadays a great deal of the run between Aachen and Liege is in tunnel. Interchange to Eurostar at Brussels Midi was accompanied with check-in procedures identical to an airport, and after boarding the Eurostar, departure for London St. Pancras via Lille was punctual.

After a journey through unexciting scenery then through the ‘big rat-hole’, arrival was at about half past noon, my first time arriving by Eurostar into St Pancras, as the last time I had travelled by Eurostar the terminus had still been at Waterloo. With a short walk to Euston, the next train to Birmingham New Street, and a suburban train to my local station, I reached home. It had taken six trains and 24-plus-a-few hours, to get from Lodz Kaliska to Chester Road on the Birmingham – Lichfield line, with electric traction all the way.

My very great thanks to Dyspozytor for everything he had done to welcome me and to open doors to places which on my own I would have had no chance of accessing. I had a wonderful fortnight-and-a-bit. I had feared that the Poland of 2010 would be a miserable come-down, compared to the Poland that I had last experienced 16 years ago. I need not have worried, though my reservations were proved true in a couple of respects, in the main I am pleased to report that I found the country as much a delight as ever before. I want to go back – all that’s needed is a lottery win…

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