The vanishing skansen at Elk

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Alerted by a PKP estate department’s tender for the sale of items from the erstwhile ‘skansen’ at Elk, John Savery leaves his car at home and travels by Wizz Air and TLK to photograph the remains.

How do I get to Centralna without getting wet? Photo John Savery.

I have regularly driven to Poland in recent times, my hands-on involvement in the preservation scene here makes carrying tools and equipment easier and more practical. I had not used Wizz Air’s Warsaw flight for about 5 years, however a bit of research showed that this was the best way of getting there. A late evening departure from Luton meant a 23:00 arrival at Okecie and, despite knowing Warsaw well, I opted to pay the extra and use the Wizz Air bus connection to the centre of town.

Okecie is still being modernised, and seems huge compared to what it was like when I first used it back in 2000. Despite the Euro 2012 championships being less than a month away, like many other projects, the airport still needs some finishing touches, and parts of the arrivals hall are still fenced off.

Leaving the terminal building and following the contradictory directions for the connecting bus, I decided discretion was the better part of valour, and took the liberty of phoning the helpline number for the driver. After a reassuring person told me that there would be someone with me in 8 minutes, there followed a 30 minute wait, and several more phone calls before I finally found myself in a Wizz Air taxi on the way to the centre. Next time, if there is a next time before Wizz locate to Modlin airport, I will take the 175 bus!

Zlote Tarasy interior. Photo John Savery.

A central Warsaw hotel provided convenient accommodation, close to Centralny station, however breakfast was not provided in the price, and being unwilling to part with the extortionate fee of EUR 20 for the privilege of eating in the hotel, I decided to do breakfast on the hoof or on the train.

Walking around to the station, the area has changed considerably since I last visited, (although I have kept apace with developments through Michael Dembinski’s excellent Warszawa Jeziorki blog) and the partially completed Zlota 44 tower now rivals the other buildings around it.

Not wanting to risk a long wait at the ticket office, I opted to buy my ticket first, and joined the back of a fairly quick moving queue at the ticket windows. It is pleasing to see that there were common queues for multiple ticket windows, much improved on the previous system of choosing a window and finding yourself behind an awkward or complicated request, although for the life of me, I could not work out why there were two queues each leading to half the windows. With an internet printout of the train I wanted in my hand, the purchase of my ticket was swift. With that completed in less time than anticipated, I wandered back through the bus station to Zlote Tarasy, the Eden Project style shopping mall opposite, to find food for the journey.

Better information and signage. Photo John Savery.

Warszawa Centralna is greatly improved following the facelift. Lighting and ambience are better, and gone are the dark entrances to the platforms. Like the airport, I would be amazed if it is complete by the time the football starts, but at least it has taken a big step in the right direction. I have always been wary around Centralna, and despite living in more dangerous places, it is the only place where I have nearly been pickpocketed getting into a train. The improved lighting helps the atmosphere. Platform information is adequate, with departure listings on the digital screens at platform level, however the individual platform screens are not utilised well, with confirmation of the train only being put on the platform screen at the last minute. This results in a last minute rush of passengers to the platforms.

The TLK itself was comfortable. I opted for first class, more expensive but more roomy, and there was only one other person in my compartment. Striking up a conversation it transpired that he was from Lodz. The conversation turned to what I thought of Poland now as to compared to what it as like when I had lived here previously, and the state of manufacturing in the UK. With the bar car conveniently located in the next coach, I sat back with a coffee and watched the Polish countryside roll by.

SU45-168 takes over the train. Photo John Savery.

On arrival in Elk, I wandered down to the front of the train to see the loco being changed. EP07-456 giving way to SU45-168, which would take the train forward to Olsztyn. The narrow gauge railway is immediately opposite the station on the opposite side to the town, however with no obvious access, (and no signage) I wandered down the road immediately opposite the station to my hotel for the night.

The Rydzewski was reasonable, and importantly had a town map on reception, so after dropping my bag in the room, I retraced my steps under the leaden skies towards the station, followed the road under the under-bridge and into the narrow gauge area. Elk could make more of its narrow gauge railway. The signage was woeful, only a small sign near the entrance was visible. Walking unchallenged through the security gate I set about exploring the yard.

N.g. coaches recently touched up. Photo John Savery.

The narrow gauge coaches were parked neatly in the station, and the area itself was kept tidy. Grass was kept in check, and the line’s Px48-1752, which although cold, looked as though it had been recently steamed, with fresh ash in the pit.

Elsewhere in the yard, SM42-002, one of the items on PKP’s tender list stands forlorn; next to it lie the remains of what appear to be a set of wheels which have been crudely cut from the axles – it wasn’t possible to tell what they were from, however they looked suspiciously like pony truck wheels from an Ol49.

Nice grass, pity about the locos. Photo John Savery.

There are two standard gauge locos on the adjoining tracks, Ol49-11 and Ty2-1285. Both have been heavily stripped, with hardly a single item inside the cab. The connecting rods of the Ol49, along with some of the axle box covers on the tender were also missing. Both are in dire need of a coat of paint to protect them from the elements, however, this is the very least of the concerns from them. Theft of further components appears to be a real risk despite the narrow gauge area being fenced off and having steel shutters at the entrance.

I took a wander over to the ticket office, as up to now, I had not seen hide nor hair of anyone else, and found it locked. How many other potential customers have wandered in and out without paying?  However, this also meant that I could not view the small museum inside either. Wanting to see more of the standard gauge locos that were stationed around the former roundhouse, I set off towards the standard gauge tracks.

What a railway museum this could have made if only PKP and the local council could have reached agreement. Photo John Savery.

The first two locos that I came across were Ol49-80 and 102. Both were plinthed on a separate section of track next to what appeared to be living accommodation in coaches. Ol49-80 holds the dubious distinction of probably being the only Ol49 to be fitted with a satellite dish! That, and its appearance on PKP’s auction list may not bode well for the loco’s future. Whilst most of the motion on the side closest to the station appeared intact, metal magpies had again been at the bearings, and the crank and con-rod bearings had been stripped from the fireman’s side of the loco. The cab had been stripped bare, with even the firebox doors missing.

Ol49-102 was in a similar state. Being on a separate section of isolated track, coupled with the removal of key components may make it extremely difficult to move either of these locos. The fact that the tender and loco are listed separately on the auction page would seem to suggest that they are trying to generate as much money as possible from the sale, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that the scrap man may be interested.

Blacksmith forge awaiting scrapping. Photo John Savery.

Elsewhere on the site, demolition is in full swing. Spying through a chink in the modern section of the roundhouse, industrial sized skips are present, as stripping continues. This is clearly a place in its death throes, with contractors moving in with the axe. In the older part of the roundhouse, which again, is secured to deter intruders, a tiny chink in a door reveals Ty2-1279. Alas, this too has been the victim of theft, and despite not being able to get close to it, it is possible to see that the crank and con-rod bearing have been taken from the side that is visible.

With the shed all but abandoned, it is probably as easy for a thief to work under the cover of the shed, as it is for them to work outside. The roof of the shed looks anything but secure. Daylight spews in through blatant cracks in the planking and felt roof, its sieve like properties must do little to protect the interior.

How much longer before these locos are quietly scrapped? Photo John Savery.

Despite probing, I am unable to access the shed, and turn my attention to the remaining engines in the yard. Aside from a small diesel shunter, the yard contains two Ok1’s and three Ol49’s. All are in abysmal condition, stripped to ex-Barry hulk status. All have motion missing to some degree or other, and one, Ol49-61, has trees growing in its tender. Exploring some of the others is risky business, and I tentatively worked my way around the cabs, probing gently at the wafer thin metal of the cab floors, ensuring it was load bearing before taking each step.

Ok1 waiting for rescue. Photo John Savery.

Walking back to the hotel, I pondered on the question raised by Gary Boyd-Hope in this month’s Steam Railway magazine. Is the breaking up of steam locomotives acceptable in the 21st Century? The question appears to be rhetorical. To some people it is. Locomotives that were once complete are being taken apart piece by piece, by thieves and others until they no longer have a future or purpose. At that point, it is easy to call the scrap man in to take away an eyesore, or to cash in on the value of the scrap metal asset that exists.

Take a piece of precision machinery and leave it out in the open for Polish weather and metal thieves to do their worst. Photo John Savery.

One thing is for certain. The remaining locos at Elk face a very difficult future, and I would be amazed if the majority are not lost in the coming years.

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One Response to “The vanishing skansen at Elk”

  1. Ronnie Ray Says:

    So sad, people don’t care about the history or engineering heritage of these great machines.

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