Transport of delight, or own goal? (Prelude and fugue)

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Dyspozytor lands in Poznan on the eve of the Ireland v. Italy game. He is pleasantly surprised by the welcome awaiting the Irish fans.

Recently returned after a rail journey from Moscow to Beijing, Andrew preferred the plane to the train for his trip out from Poznan to Moscow. Photo BTWT.

(Click to enlarge.)

18 June

Monday begins badly. I am not an early bird and I was not happy when, two days before my departure from the UK, I received an e-mail from Wizzair telling me to turn up at Luton Airport three hours before the my scheduled departure time. I crawl out of bed at 04:00, shower and eat a one sandwich breakfast. At 05:10, I leave St Albans for what should be a 20 minute car journey to the airport.

Millions have been spent on making the airport approach road a dual carriageway. Just after it was completed, the airport (run by TBI plc) abolished the its drop-off point conveniently close to the terminal building and routed all incoming cars through a car park and a single ticket barrier. It is not yet 06:00, and already the queue of cars slowly crawling forward is tailing two miles back. Has anyone calculated the social cost of the decision to impose a minimum £1 charge on all cars entering the airport?

Luton airport has become my own personal bête noire as far as making passengers walk unnecessary miles. The new drop-off point is now at least 100 yards away from the terminal entrance. It is raining. My suitcase handle is a good 4 inches too short to be comfortable, and my back is already sore after a restless night on a soft bed. It is 06:05. Halfway through the terminal there is a security cordon where boarding cards are checked. I am told to proceed to security zone six – another 50 yards walk back in the direction that I have just come from.

Security zone six turns out to be a fast track security check for passengers like myself who turn up at Luton with less than the advised 3 hours before departure. The queue is short and moves quickly. My baggage clears X-ray without a hitch, but I manage to ring the warning buzzer in the magnetic scanning machine and I am treated to a pat down.

Another 100 yard walk and I reach a small lounge fitted with departure monitors and chairs. What should I do? Do I wait here, reasonably close to Gates 1 through to 19, or do I walk some distance to the main departure lounge which is conveniently close for Gates 20 to 26? I check the monitor, it is 06:20, my flight is not yet shown. I see that various Wizzair flights are due to depart from both clusters of gates, so I decide to stay where I am. I eat my other sandwich and settle down to read my book, a biography of Richard Trevithic. The book is destined to help me combat boredom during many long hours this day, but as yet I am oblivious of what lies ahead.

The new above-the-tracks concourse at Poznan Glowny. A further segment of the concourse is under construction beyond the screen on the east side. The concourse currently provides access to the new platforms 1, 2 and 3. Will the extension provide access to a further platform 4? Photo BTWT.

(Click to enlarge.)

Shortly after 07:00 my flight, the 08:05 to Poznan, is posted. Check in is at Gate 25, which turns out to be a 500 yard walk from my lounge. By the time I have limped to the gate, there are already about 100 passengers in the queue ahead of me. I ask a couple of football fans to save my place and gratefully sink in to one of the chairs. The queue moves again, I regain my place. Another corridor, a long flight of steps… someone helps me with my suitcase up the steps to the aircraft, I collapse gratefully into a free seat in the last row.

I reflect wryly on the difference between the way that Victorian railway companies looked after their passengers and the operators at Luton. Whenever possible through coaches were detached from main line trains and attached to branch line services, to reduce the number of changes. This enlightened practice continued on BR till the 1960s. When it was not possible to provide through coaches, the railway companies tried to arrange same platform connections.

Patriotic colours. Plenty of places for a coffee and a quick snack, but not much else. PKP have not yet understood the retail potential of their main stations. Photo BTWT.

(Click to enlarge.)

I am not impressed by the flight attendants who spend most of the flight chatting up a senior colleague and ignoring passengers. The absence of any customer service ethos still seems to linger as a characteristic of many large ‘Eastern block’ companies.

We land in Poznan just before 11:00. I walk cautiously down the steps and am delighted to see a bus waiting at the bottom. This drops me a few yards from passport control. Wonderful! The border authorities have opened more booths to deal with the influx of football fans, but not all have been fitted up with computer terminals. The border official writes down my passport number on a sheet of paper and and waves me through. It only takes a minute. I walk the short distance across the baggage reclaim area and I am in the arrivals hall… another 20 yards and I reach at the bus stop for route ‘L’, the Poznan Glowny shuttle. I award Poznan airport the BTWT award for the most user-friendly airport access that I’ve come across.

More surprises on the bus. There is a ticket machine, but it has run out of small change and can only issue tickets for the exact money. The driver is also selling tickets, but by the time I reach him, all the right tickets have gone. The last time this happened to me here, I was overcharged by three times the going rate! This time, the bus driver smiles, rattles about in his till and changes my 5 zloty coin for the right change to put in the machine. Goodness! What has happened to the legendary rudeness of Polish bus drivers? Am I dreaming? I enter into the spirit of things and answer lots of questions from Ireland supporters. I advise them to travel all the way to the railway station where there will be an information desk and possibly maps showing the way to the football stadium.

Polish railways

Does the architect of the new Poznan railway station ever travel by train? Seating for passengers does not seem to have a high priority. Photo BTWT.

(Click to enlarge.)

Will the bus stop next to the new station building? No, The bus stops where it always has, just short of the old railway station. I am determined to try out the new building. There does not seem to be a grand entrance. Perhaps it has been built yet? But there do seem to be stairs going up into the building from the platform level. Hurrah, there are escalators. It is going to be a good today after all!

The concourse area is quite stunning. It is light and airy and deliciously cool. It was uncomfortably hot outside. A number of Ireland supporters are milling about inside. I decide that the first thing to do is to get my ticket for the journey to Lodz. As always, when buying a ticket in Poland is important to have planned your journey first. I am tired and I do not fancy jumping off and on to trains or dragging my suitcase up-and-down subways. There are only two direct trains the 12:45 Regio osobowy (all stations stopping train) which takes 4 hours 38 minutes and the 15:55 TLK which takes 3 hours 29 minutes. Reluctantly I decided that a journey involving a change of trains – the 14:25 Galczynski, and the 16:52 Doker from Kutno – total journey time 3 hours 59 minutes – is probably my best bet.
Polish railways

‘st. Martin’s Croissants’ – oh dear! Luckily the Ireland fans seem to have eyes for things other than the bad spelling. Photo BTWT.

(Click to enlarge.)

There is no queue at the ticket counters. The old station is still in commission and I suspect is still used by most of the regular rail travellers. I choose a PR counter because the lady ticket clerk looks efficient, and ask for a ticket for a journey on the 14:25 TLK to Kutno and then by the 16:52 TLK from Kutno to Lodz Kaliska. I am told that all seats on this train have to be reserved and that this entails a small extra charge. No worries, at least this guarantees me a seat. Reservation on certain TLK train was introduced a month ago by Transport Minister Novak to ensure that scenes of people squashing on to packed trains via open windows do not occur during Euro 2012.

The lady looks puzzled, Booking for this train is blocked, I can’t seem to be able to sell you a ticket. Odd! Ireland is playing Italy in Poznan this evening, so why should an afternoon train running from Poznan to Warsaw be sold out? Since long before the championships, I have kept hearing rumours that tickets for certain trains were unavailable for direct purchase from PKP, but had been reserved for the handful of agencies operating the Poland Ticket scheme. I begin to wonder if any PKP directors are financially involved in any of the Poland Ticket agencies… I decide to take the later through train and buy a ticket for the 15:55 Sukiennice which will take me direct to Lodz Kaliska.

Two coffee shops and a couple of snack stands – still room for improvement before catching up with the gastronomic standard of the  Gare de Lyon. Photo BTWT.

(Click to enlarge.)

I have some three hours before my train departs to Lodz. I have arranged to meet up with my good friend Andrew, who has just returned from an epic  train journey from Moscow to Beijing. I want to hear all about his travels and beg him to write an account of his adventures for BTWT. Much to my delight he agrees. Andrew minds my luggage while I climb painfully to the third floor press office to collect my Euro 2012 press pack. I am hoping to get lots of hard facts about the various improvements that have been carried out to ready Poland’s railways for the influx of football supporters, but the pack turns not to contain the information I am looking for.

For some reason my iPhone has not automatically reset itself to CET and suddenly I find myself with less than 30 minutes to go before my train departs. We say a quick farewell and I collect my things for my journey to Lodz. Little do I know that my adventures are about to begin!

Continued:

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3 Responses to “Transport of delight, or own goal? (Prelude and fugue)”

  1. Mike Says:

    Luton airport is indeed a horror. For those who are forced to use it and don’t have somewhere to stay nearby, there is an Ibis hotel fairly close to the terminal which can be as little as 29GBP per room, if booked in advance. Especially when travelling as a couple, I prefer paying that to 3am starts from further away.

  2. onthefringe Says:

    Please come and write an impartial review of the restored station in Gdynia. I am not unbiased, as I have had over two decades of using it as a point of departure to/arrival from the UK, in earlier years travelling with a small child and still sometimes with heavy luggage. I was dreaming of escalators, or at least lifts and even an exit at the far end of the long platform. A further item on the “wish list” was a single queue for the ticket counters so that customers could go to the next available window, instead of joining a queue for one window and finding that you are still waiting in the same position while the queue for the next window is moving rapidly. Just automatic doors at the entrance would help the elderly, the disabled or the mother with a buggy.It seems churlish to complain about a beautifully restored “zabytek,” but I was expecting something more passenger-friendly. But I’m afraid, as I said, that I’m being too subjective…

  3. Podroznik Says:

    I like photo #4. It’s great the way the circus-coloured ticket machine is shoved back there in the corner between LeCrobag and the elevator. Can you buy a pack of gum from it, too?

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