Transport of Delight, or own goal? (Finale)

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On its way out? The old station building. Photo BTWT.

(Click to expand)

One of my favourite parables is the one about the frog sitting in a cooking pot. It applies to many of the challenges that face the human race. A slow fire is lit under the pot and the frog never realises what is happening until it is too late and it can no longer jump out. Poor frog! The waitress starts fiddling with the temperature control on the cold drinks fridge and I realise it has become uncomfortably hot. Is the air conditioning not powerful enough to cope with a really hot day, I query. No, the building was opened in a rush by the politicians before all the systems were finished, she replies. Like a dark cloud on the distant horizon being a harbinger of a storm to come, this is the first warning.

The 15:55 leaves from platform 2. The stairs going down to the platform are clearly marked. Unfortunately, there is only an upward escalator and I do not want to take my suitcase down the steep and narrow steps. I look for a lift. There is a lift which looks as if it might connect to platform 2, but there are no signs to advise where it might go to. However, I notice that there is a lift on the opposite side of the concourse to each set of platform stairs, so I deduce that the one opposite the platform 2 stairs is probably the one I want.

Outside it is really hot and humid. Second class TLK stock is not fitted with air conditioning so I begin to worry about the journey to Lodz. The Sukiennice from Szczecin arrives punctually at 15:45 crammed full of Ireland supporters. I choose an open carriage to give me a better view. It is the last coach of the train and is destined to become the first as the train reverses here. I wait patiently as the fans pour out onto the platform till the flood becomes a trickle. Meanwhile passengers are already boarding the coach at the other end and desirable seats are going fast.

The coach resembles an open compartment coaches from BR days with a table and a window between each pair of seats. I rather fancy a window seat on the left of the carriage which will become the shady side once we reach the suburbs of Poznan and swing round towards the East.

As it happens some Ireland supporters have left one of the tables covered in beer cans and fast food containers. Other passengers have avoided its seats as if they were contaminated with polonium. I thank St Patrick and make a beeline for the mess, yank open the window and sink gratefully into my chosen seat.

Regio 71136, the 17:22 from Wrzesnia to Kutno.

Photo BTWT.

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The train accelerates out of Poznan Glowny like a bat out of hell. I am impressed, I have never left Poznan in such style. For years trains have dawdled along the approach tracks out of the city, only picking up speed once they were running in open country. I become mildly alarmed. The carriage is bumping and shaking with a motion not dissimilar to HSTs along sections of the Great Western mainline, but with a greater amplitude and noise. (The ride on the GWR has deteriorated somewhat since the days of BR.)

I calculate, that we are travelling at a little over 100 miles an hour. As I am to learn a little later, we are not, it is just that PKP have not mastered the art of accurately welding track and the bumps over the welded joins create the illusion of travelling faster than we really are. The high speed run does not last. After some 15 minutes, the brakes are applied, and we veer off the mainline tracks and stop by the platform at a new station. What station? What are we doing at some small wayside station?

After a ten-minute wait, we set off at high speed only to have the brakes applied just before the next station and another five-minute wait. Finally we reach Wrzesnia which is about 40 km to the east of Poznan. Here we stop and it seems we are destined to stay here for some time.

‘Should I have changed trains?’ Photo BTWT.

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The grumbling of my fellow passengers reaches a crescendo. It seems there is a Regio all stations osobowy to Kutno following us which might provide some of them with a faster way home. I debate with myself should I catch the Regio and then organise a lift from Kutno or should I sit tight and brave it out to see what happens? I decide to sit tight. I bury myself in the biography of Trevithick. This remarkable man pioneered the use of ‘strong’ (high pressure) steam, invented the railway locomotive, the steam dredger and several other world changing inventions and yet died a pauper.

Half an hour passes. It must be the hottest time of the day. Trevithick is now working on a project to build a tunnel under the Thames. The Regio arrives on the opposite platform and the majority of passengers decant themselves to catch it. I start to romance a survival film scenario: the majority set out to trek across the jungle to seek assistance, but we know in our hearts that will never make it. The chosen few stay put, improvise a shelter and go foraging for provisions.

A lady with blonde hair takes charge of the handful of passengers that are left. It appears that our locomotive has broken down and that a replacement logo has been summoned. She walks up and down the carriage opening windows and tries jamming a piece of paper under the doors at each end to encourage a draught. The gap under the doors is too big and no matter how many times she folds a piece of paper the doors snap open.

It is a matter of considerable satisfaction me that I once came top in the mechanical engineering exam at one of Britain’s leading industrial universities. We had a drop forge just across from the sports stadium. I crush the Irish beer cans to make neat little wedges. Proudly, I hand her my metal work. She fits my wedges under each of the doors and they stay open. A cool draught starts to blow along the open carriage.

Brief encounters, Dawid, Sonia and the team leader.

Photo BTWT.

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Our leader reports that she has interrogated the guard, the driver and a relief driver. All had given her different time estimates as to when help will arrive. The guard says that we could spend the rest of the day here and seems relieved most of the passengers have deserted his train. The relief driver thinks we may be delayed by about two hours, while the driver expects to have more information in about half an hour.

The prognosis is encouraging, but my water supply – I bought a small bottle at Poznan – is getting dangerously low. Apparently there is a spozywczy store close to the station. Sonia, a student at the Lodz Film School, offers to go and get some beer. This is getting better and better! We place our orders and assure her that we will not let the train go without her.

Soon she returns with our drinks. I put Richard Trevithick aside and we discuss our plight. We are all agreed that it is absolutely unacceptable that at no stage we been provided with any official information. What we do know, we have had to find out for ourselves.

Our team leader reports that she has complained strongly to the guard about the way he has kept us in the dark. I reflect that he will probably be the last to be kept informed and that in any case there is no effective feedback mechanism in PKP. The company treats its staff strictly according to the ‘mushroom management methodology’. (*See below.)

We are briefly joined by the driver and another driver travelling ‘on the cushions’. The driver reports that a relief engine has been sent out. Our own engine, EP09-02 has overheated. It is 70°C in the resistor compartment, he tells us. I ask him whether he went over 160 k/h (100 mph) coming out of Poznan, I only touched 155, he answers defensively. He does not think much of the EP09s. Not as reliable as the EU07s, he tells us.

The EP09s were designed in the 1980s to be thyristor controlled, but as Poland was in the middle of a hard currency crisis at the time, the thyristors were replaced by resistors. This radical redesign made the locomotives much less energy efficient. The wasted energy becomes converted into heat. All it needs is a hot humid day and a faulty fan and the EP09 is crippled.

Failed EP09-002, piloted by unknown EU-07 hauling TLK 83106 at Lodz Zabieniec on 18 June 2012.

Photo BTWT.

(Click to expand)

Footnote

*Mushroom management methodology: keep them in the dark and from time to time throw in a load of sh*t.

TO BE CONTINUED

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