The parable of Kudowa Zdroj

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EU-assisted cobbles. From a photo on rezerwacjahotelu.pl

(Click on image to see the original photo in its original context.)

I have escaped to the UK to avoid the worst of Euro 2012, so please forgive the rather intermittent postings of late.

Nearly 8 years ago, I spent a week with some acquaintances in Kudowa Zdroj. While my friends went off for their daily hike across the magnificent hills that surround this old spa town, I set off to get some much needed therapy for my bad back and sciatica.

The treatment centre was located in the town park next to the historic spa buildings. All had recently been refurbished thanks to an EU-funded restoration project. Paths, which a year earlier had consisted of broken and cracked tarmac, had been beautifully relaid with cobble stones. They looked magnificent. Unfortunately they had been finished with a sharp unpolished surface. They were bad enough to walk on and would have been all but impossible to negotiate with a wheelchair.

The centre itself was bright with new white paint a fresh sky blue signage. How thoughtful! The most prominent of the brand new EU-funded signs was mounted above the lift door, Winda nieczynna (Lift out of order). So the facilities for disabled visitors were all on the ground floor, excellent!

I approached the reception desk, I’d like to book some therapy sessions. I feel like lying in a bath with lots of healing bubbles and possibly some massage with a beautiful nurse. The receptionist looked at me oddly and informed me that I would have to see a doctor who would prescribe the appropriate treatment. Just tell me where, I said. On the first floor, but he’s not there now. It’s a Saturday.

If  the doctor was not in duty at the centre on Saturdays, he was even less likely to work Sundays, so I turned up on Monday to be told, No doctor today, it’s a bank holiday. I went on Tuesday, No doctor, he only sees people between 9 and 10 am. I arrived at 9:45am on Wednesday, No doctor, he’s just left. I rush breakfast on Thursday, climb the stairs to the first floor, Ah Mr Doctor…

I manage to get bookings for two two bubble bath sessions. Both took place on the first floor! It gradually dawned on me that the raison d’être of the whole system is not to compete with other spas who treat private patients who are genuinely ill, but to provide a state-funded holiday to patients who are well, and know the ropes how to get favours from their GP.

I am never coming back to Kudow Zdroj. Until Poland’s spas learn the meaning of customer service, they will be never be competitive with those in other countries, nor attract the foreign business which their expensive EU-assisted projects were supposed to help them gain.

Wschodnia looking smarter than it has ever been. Photo BTWT.

And so on to Euro 2012.

On the plus side, Poland has gained an impressive list of infrastructure improvements which would have taken years to construct had it not been for Poland being co-host of the championships. Just look at these before and after photographs on Sfora.pl. In the last few days before the tournament, Transport Minister Slawomir Nowak was racing around the country opening, nearly complete, newly restored railways stations, including Warszawa Centralana, Warszawa Wschodnia, Warszawa Zachodnia, and amazingly, Wroclaw Glowny. Even Prime Minister Donald Tusk decided that it was safe to be photographed travelling by train.

Poland’s railway companies pulled out all the stops. Railway infrastructure company PKP PLK suspended track works for the duration; journey times were reduced; special trains were run. SKM in Gdansk/Gdynia/Sopot carried 40,000 fans to and from the Spain Italy match without any incident.

Clean subway, but the drain covers are not in place. Photo BTWT.

So why am I not jumping up and down in glee? Let’s look at the other side of the balance sheet.

Rushed work is botched work as anybody who has seen Warszawa Centralna on a rainy day will know. (The completion of this communist-era flagship project was rushed so that it would be ready for Leonid Brezhnev’s 1975 visit to Warsaw.) There have been many complaints of the new train indicator boards not working properly and only time will tell how the major investments at Wroclaw Glowny and Poznan Glowny will turn out in practice.

Publication of the temporarily improved timetables was delayed for far too long. For months before the championships, travel discussion forums were besieged by fans desperate for train travel information. The advice from Poland veterans was, Take a bus, take a plane, take anything, but don’t travel by train.

The train data was also not available to PKP ICs ticketing systems, so advance tickets were not available. I’m now receiving reports that many PKP IC long distance football specials ran three quarters empty! Mysteriously the same problem seems not to have affected Przewozy Regionalne which operates its own ticketing system.

Until the people responsible for Poland’s railways begin to understand the meaning of customer service, they will never stop the desertion of their customers to other carriers, nor carry the foreign tourists which their expensive EU-assisted projects were supposed to attract.

A more positive take on the Euro 2012 construction projects:

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One Response to “The parable of Kudowa Zdroj”

  1. Ed Beale Says:

    Kudowa Zdroj 4 years ago was my introduction to just how bad some Polish branch lines had become – it had a 20 km/h speed limit all the way from the main line junction at Klodzko Miasto up to the terminus! Shortly afterwards the line was closed and trains replaced by buses taking half the time.

    I am amazed that the refurbished stations opened on time for the start of Euro 2012 – it just goes to show what can be achieved when faced with an immovable deadline! Although the station and line modernisation has caused immense disruption, Poland will have much better rail infrastructure at the end of it.

    Next the rail companies will need to improve their services (rail services and customer service) to match the improved infrastructure, and rail travel in Poland could start to be a pleasure again.

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