Archive for September, 2012

Lorry collision stops steam

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Steam services from Wolsztyn have been suspended following a collision between a lorry and Ol49-69. The collision, which took place on 11 September, caused some damage to the locomotive, including bent motion.  The lorry suffered serious damage, with most of the cab destroyed.  The lorry driver was lucky to escape with his life, with parts of the cab attaching themselves firmly to the locomotive.

Damage to Ol49-69 following the collision on 11 September

Ol49-69with the remains of the lorry’s door  firmly attached to the loco’s cab. Photo James Shuttleworth.

Whilst the loco was out of traffic for a couple of days whilst repairs were effected at Wolsztyn, it has since returned to service.

The reason for the disruption to the service this time, was not due to the unavailability of a loco or crew, but down to the the cold snap that seems to have caught everyone unawares. The only suitable steam-heated coaches which Koleje Wielkopolskie  had available were involved in the collision. These still require repair, with their steps being ripped off in the force of the collision. (The Poznan-Wolsztyn services are run by Koleje Wielkopolskie, with the locos and their crews being provided by PKP Cargo, and the coaches leased from Przewozy Regionalne!)

With temperatures dropping as low as 3C at night at present, and with no other steam heated coaches available, PKP has taken the step of substituting a diesel railcar until suitable coaches are in service.  It is understood that steam services will return as from today’s (Thursday 27 September) afternoon working.

Stop press

We understand from a senior railway source, who wishes to remain anonymous, that yesterday PKP Cargo signed an agreement for the purchase of 10 passenger coaches, suitable for steam haulage, from Czech Railways at a very good price. The second class coaches are destined for the Poznan-Wolsztyn service; the first class coaches are expected to see duty on various steam specials.

Warsaw leads TomTom Congestion Index

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

EU congestion winner. Graphic TomTom Congestion Index.

(Click graphic to download the TomTom Congestion Index – pdf)

In car navigation producer TomTom has used anonymised data harvested from its devices to compile a ‘Congestion Index’ for Europe. Warsaw is in top place as Europe’s most congested city, followed closely by Marseilles and Rome.

The index was compiled by comparing the length of time a particular journey takes in low traffic conditions with the time when traffic volume is at its highest and aggregating the results. On average a peak traffic journey in Warsaw takes 58 minutes longer than its low traffic counterpart.


Plans to close 1/4 of Poland’s rail network

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Part of the ‘front page’ of today’s Rynek Kolejowy.

(Click image to read article on Rynek Kolejowy portal.)

In an exclusive scoop, Poland’s leading railway trade journal, Rynek Kolejowy (Railway Market), revealed today that Poland’s Ministry of Transport is targeting 25% of the country’s railway network for closure.

Last year, McKinsey & Co. was commissioned to analyse the options for Poland’s railways and a programme to axe some 4,000 to 5,000 route km has been ‘sold’ to the Ministry as the safe ‘middle course’.

The McKinsey report propounds the view that the size of Poland’s railway network must be adjusted to suit the country’s financial means. Under Secretary of State, Andrzej Massel told Rynek Kolejowy that a 14,000 – 15,000 route km railway network should be ‘sustainable’ and would not eat up funds earmarked for infrastructure improvements.

British readers will have an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. This report mirrors the infamous ‘Beeching Report’ of the 1960s which led to the closure of two thirds of Britain’s rail network. Implementation  of the ‘Beeching Plan’ singularly failed in its public objective, that of ‘making the railways pay’. Post-Beeching BR lost much more passenger and freight traffic than had  been forecast resulting in less revenue and its ‘losses’ continued to grow.

Pre-Beeching BR was EBITA positive, but its annual accounts were weighed down by interest charges – the ‘cost’ of the capital tied up in nationalising the railways. Perversely, in Poland and in the UK, the ‘cost’ of capital is not taken into account when calculating the finances of maintaining the road network.

What Dr Beeching did succeed in doing, was transferring large volumes of heavy freight traffic onto Britain’s overcrowded roads, which in turn was used to justify an accelerated road-building programme. There are cynics who say that this was the real objective all along.

The damage done to a road surface by the passage of a road vehicle is proportional to the fifth power of its axle weight. The fact that the owners of heavy road vehicles do not pay road taxes or excise duties proportional to the fifth power of the axle weights of their lorries means that the ordinary motorist – as well as the non-motoring tax payer – is actually subsidising road freight – something almost certainly not taken into account in the McKinsey report.

Poland, has already lost about one third of its rail network, by stealth. At its peak, around 1960, the country had just under 30,000 route km of rail. This total includes non-PKP industrial lines of various gauges. Today, there are some 19,000 route km left in operation.

In post-Beeching Britain, a second round of deep cuts was planned by the Ministry of Transport in the 1970s. How it was stopped will be the subject of a future post. What does the future hold for Poland’s railways? Only time will tell.


Poles in 4th place re. rail disatisfaction

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Only the Bulgarians, Romanians and Italians are more dissatisfied with their rail services. Table courtesy European Commission.

(Click graph to see it double-size. Click on the link to download the source document: Eurobarometer 388.)

The European Commission has published the results of a public opinion survey which shows, that of the 25 EU nations surveyed, Poland is in 4th place when it comes to dissatisfaction with the country’s rail network.

Only 28% of the Poles surveyed said that they were satisfied with the nation’s railways.

With a hat tip to Podroznik for the link.

Olsztyn – double tram triumph

Monday, 24 September 2012

Simulation of a tram journey on the yet-to-be-built route. Video by Olsztynska Telewizja Internetowa for U.M. Olsztyn.

Proponents of the planned brand new tram system in Olsztyn have two reasons to celebrate – not only did construction of the new travel system commence on 12 September, but also on 21 September a contract was signed with Solaris for the supply of 15 Tramino trams.

Construction works on ul. Ploskiego. Photo U.M. Olsztyn.

Olsztyn lost its small 6 km tram system in 1965 when it was one of several smaller Polish towns and cities that decided that trams no would no longer play a part in their future transport arrangements.

Olsztyn Tramino. Graphic by Solaris Bus & Coach S.A.

The idea of building a new tram system in Olsztyn dates back to 2006 when a radical reconstruction of the town’s transport infrastructure was envisaged. Several different proposals were first analysed by consultants and then subjected to extensive public consultation. The result – a 105 million euro project for an integrated transport systems. 85% of the cost will come from the EU regional development bidget, 15% from the city council’s own funds. When the project is completed in 2014, Olsztyn will have gained a modern public transport system with: ‘intelligent’ traffic lights, dedicated bus lanes and a 10.5 km tramway.

Old Olsztyn, Video ; Music Czerwony Tulipan.

Building work formally started in March this years, but actual construction work was delayed until September, because of problems with the ‘paperwork’. Meanwhile the procurement of trams was delayed when Pesa challenged the result of the first tender which had been won by Newag-Modertrans. Now, a second tender has been held, all legal obstacles have been cleared, and the construction of trams in the Solaris works in Poznan can begin.


Second Srem Rail ‘Picnic’

Saturday, 22 September 2012

TGM40-9586 and train waiting to depart from Czempin. Photo Michal Koscielniak.

The second Piknik Kolejowy, which took place last Saturday, 15 September, was an outstanding success. Thousands of local railway residents and railway enthusiasts crowded the grounds at Srem railway station.

Triple overtaking! Photo Michal Koscielniak.

Undoubtedly the biggest attraction was the special shuttle train service that ran between Czempin and Srem on this normally freight-only line which has been taken over by the Srem District Council.

Garden railway. Photo Michal Koscielniak.

With SKPL operating the trains, Przewozy Regionalne providing the double deck railway carriages and the Srem District Council arranging the various family attractions at Srem station, the recipe proved very popular and it looks as if the ‘railway picnic’ is set fair to be an annual event.

Tail lights. Photo Michal Koscielniak.

Local rail transport enthusiasts are hoping that the publicity generated by the event may encourage the Wielkopolska provincial government to provide financial support which would enable regular passenger services to be reintroduced on the line.

Train ready to depart for Czempin. Photo Michal Koscielniak.

Our thanks to SKPL for forwarding Michal Koscielniak’s superb photographs.

Return to Czempin. Video by


Biggest rail fair beats records!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Solaris 5-segment Tramino, the variant operating in Poznan, but in Olsztyn livery. Photo courtesy Kurier Kolejowy.

(Click photo to go to the Kurier Kolejowy InnoTrans photo gallery.)

The largest yet Innotrans – the most important railway trade fair in the world – is over. The organisers, Berlin Messe, estimate that by the time the gates closed this afternoon a record 120,000 visitors had come to the fair.

Bombardier Flexity tram, already operating in Blackpool and Cracow, in Cracow livery. Photo courtesy Railway Gazette.)

(Click photo to go to the Railway Gazette InnoTrans photo gallery.)

2,500 companies from 49 countries exhibited their wares. The fair attracted 54 exhibitors from Poland underlying the importance of the railway industry to the country’s exports.

Exhibition organiser checks that all the outdoor exhibits are in the right place. Emma waits in the background. Photo courtesy InnoTrans.

(Click photo to go to the InnoTrans outdoor exhibit photo gallery.)

While the latest locomotives and rolling stock attracted a great deal of interest, the undoubted star of the show during the public open days was Emma, a diminutive 0-4-0T built by Hanomag in 1925 and owned by H. F. Wiebe GmbH.


Photography permit in Poznan

Friday, 21 September 2012

Parts of the new station at Poznan are quite photogenic. Photo BTWT.

(Click to enlarge.)

A resident of Murowana Goslina, a village some 20 kilometres to the North of Poznan, was taking photographs of the new Poznan Glowny railway station only to be stopped by security guard.

He was told that photography was forbidden, and when he challenged the ruling, he was informed that a special permit had to be obtained before taking any photographs. When he asked where these permits could be obtained, he was told that the appropriate gentleman, the Regional Director with responsibility for stations, was away on holiday and that such permits could only be obtained after paying a fee.

Considerably miffed, our hero took the story to the Glos Wielkopolski daily who contacted the PKP SA headquarters in Warsaw. An embarrassed PKP spokesman explained that, it is true that photographic permits have been introduced for photography at Poznan Glowny, but that these are only required for commercial or wedding photography and there is no regulation in place to stop casual photography.

So if you are taking photographs in a public railway location either in the UK or in Poland and are stopped by an over zealous official,  do ask to see a written copy of their instructions or failing that their manager. It may well be that it is your persecutor, rather than you, who is operating outwith their remit.

With a hat tip to Robert Dylewski.


Problems at Pleszew

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Pleszew Miasto station, December 2011. Photo Ed Beale.

Passenger services on the Pleszew Railway, Poland’s last regular narrow gauge passenger service, are facing serious problems. The service has been in steep decline since 2010 when there were 6 return trains a day. In December 2010 the service was reduced to 5 trains a day, then to 3 return trains in March 2011, then to 2 return trains in September 2011. By that time it had been reduced to a basic schools service, nominally still providing a link between the town and the standard gauge station but really only used by teenagers going to school in Pleszew. Trains do not run during school holidays but usually resume in early September.

However, this year things have taken an even more serious turn. The railway has not resumed for the start of the school year, apparently due to road repairs being carried out on ulica Lipowa, which crosses the narrow gauge line in Pleszew, and when trains do resume on Monday 8 October the afternoon train pair will be suspended due to lack of financial support from the local government, leaving only one train a day in the morning, from Pleszew Miasto at 06:20, returning from Kowalew (Pleszew Wask) at 07:22.

When BTWT asked SKPL for comment, they sent us a copy of a letter from Przewozy Regionalne turning down a suggestion for a joint ticketing arrangement from Pleszew Miasto to destinations on the main line network. Apparently the scheme, which would have boosted passenger carryings and was enthusiastically received by PR HQ in Warsaw, was just too much trouble for local PR management to implement.

So, for the moment, teenagers may still go to school on the train, but must go home by bus. Following the much documented end to the regular passenger services at Krosniewice and Smigiel, it seems that the end may well be nigh for the last regular narrow gauge passenger service in Poland.


GH3 Genesis in Travel Town

Monday, 17 September 2012

Still from Genesis, shot on pre-production GH3, courtesy Panasonic.

(Click image to see the whole film on Vimeo.)

Today at the Photokina Exhibition in Berlin, Panasonic is launching a new camera, the GH3. Now BTWT is about trains not cameras, but hold on. We will get to trains in the end.

The GH3 is the successor to Panasonic’s GH2. The GH2 is a very special camera. It is a ‘micro 4/3’ camera with a smaller sensor than the more bulky  ‘full frame’ mid-range Canon SLRs. While not quite in the same league, it still takes great photographs. Its low light capabilities are pretty amazing. Those of us taking blurred murky photos in the last days of BR steam would have given our right eye for a camera that takes such sharp pictures inside a shed without having to lug a tripod around. (For an example of the GH2’s prowess at shed photography try the expanding the B&W photographs taken inside Leszno roundhouse.)

However, its not the GH2’s ability to take photographs that make it so special. Thanks to Vitaliy Kiselev, a Russian software engineer who has reverse engineered parts of the GH2’s operating system and a team of on-line helpers who have developed ‘patches’ to modify the way the camera codes video, the camera – in the hands of someone who really knows what he’s doing – can shoot video to a quality that matches professional video cameras costing 10 or even 20 times as much, and here no other stills camera – not even the top shelf DSLRs – can match it!

Now the GH3 is supposed to have consolidated into an official product many of the upgraded features that Vitaly and his team of hackers have given the GH2. “Supposed to” because as well as adding many impressive improvements to the GH2 spec, Panasonic appear to have taken a major step backwards by giving the GH3 a slightly smaller sensor than that used in the GH2.

To showcase the abilities of the GH3, Panasonic employed a team of professional film makers to make the demo short Genesis which is being premièred at Photokina. And Genesis brings us back neatly to trains.

While Genesis has lots of images of the sort that appeal to Alpha males: fast cars, smart phone, attractive heroine… it also has its heart-stopping feminine moments. And all of the latter have trains in the background! There’s a particularly dramatic piece of ‘guerilla video’ (shot without permission and with minimum gear) on a subway station and the final dénouement is shot at Travel Town, an amazing transport museum in Los Angles.

Sadly, while the emotional impact of trains and railways is understood in Western Europe, it is greatly underrated in Poland. Why else would local authorities be so keen to tear up their narrow gauge railways and lay cycle paths, or tear down their old roundhouses and build shopping malls? Told you we would get back to trains in the end!


A Week in Wolsztyn

Friday, 14 September 2012

Prior to 1970 Rakonowice was the Western terminus of the Smigiel Railway. Here Ol49-69 waits at Rakoniewice Station in the late afternoon on 29 August 2012. Photo © Christian Cederberg.

(Click to enlarge.)

One of the delights of publishing Behind The Water Tower is receiving photographs for publication from our readers. For several years we have showcased the hauntingly beautiful photographs of the Smigiel Narrow Gauge Railway taken by Marek Ciesielski. Sadly the Smigiel line, as it then was, is no more. It hangs on, as a pale shadow of its former self, cut off from its passenger and freight links to the standard gauge network, little better than a ‘funfair railway’ running a few times each year.


An unusual view of the Wolsztyn roundhouse taken through the window of the turntable operator’s cabin on 28 August 2012. Photo © Christian Cederberg.

(Click to enlarge.)

Today we are pleased to feature the photography of Christian Cederberg who lives in Copenhagen and was in Poland for a week at the end of August to photograph the Wolsztyn – Poznan steam services and what other interesting trains he could find.

How long before modernizers and those who ‘do not see the point’ bring about the death of regular steam haulage in Poland? Ol49-59 near Ptaszkowo on 28 August 2012. Photo © Christian Cederberg.

(Click to enlarge.)

In the end, with nothing stirring that week on the Opatowek-Zbiersk section of the Kalisz Narrow Gauge Railway, Christian decided to concentrate his efforts on the Wolsztyn – Poznan line. We think his photographs are magnificent. What do you think?

Ol49-69 at Wolsztyn on the evening 28 August 2012. Photo © Christian Cederberg.

(Click to enlarge.)

Christian is the webmaster of – an archive of colour railway photos from all around the world which is well worth exploring. To see all his photos from this trip in glorious full screen size, just click the link at the very end of this post.

‘Steaming off into the twilight’ – actually an early morning shot, not evening – Ol49-69 between Granowo and Strykowo on 29 August 2012. Photo © Christian Cederberg.

(Click to enlarge.)


Railway roundabout

Monday, 10 September 2012

Jacek Rostocki, Poland’s Finance Minister at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2009. Mr Rostocki shares Mrs Thatcher’s antipathy to rail, but seems to have been persuaded that Poland would not get its share of the next tranche of EU funding if it did not continue to invest in improvements to its rail network. Photo by World Economic Forum.

(Click image to see original on and for details of licensing.)

It has been a crazy fortnight. After having spent some 10 years hiding in a quiet backwater of Poland, my alter ego has suddenly been rediscovered. The consequence are a drastic change of lifestyle. Instead of resting, generally avoiding work and only doing the odd bit of translation when the pile of bills gets too high, I’m suddenly in demand.

An urgent summons to attend the Economic Forum in the mountains near Poland’s border down South is followed by an important business meeting the next day up North on the coast. Rushing up and down the country by train is very pleasant, and results in many adventures which really deserve to be written up on BTWT, but the need to read briefing notes, plan my meetings and generally be prepared, takes away a great deal of time which was previously spent updating the blog. So I would like to apologise to all BTWT’s readers and friends – a big personal “Sorry!” for the break in service that has occurred.

And it is not just my personal life that has been in turmoil: hardly had the e-ink dried from our last post announcing a draconian cut in the infrastructure grant for PKP PLK, when there was a massive reversal of government policy and Andrzej Massel, the Secretary of State for railways, announced that, instead of there being less funds for rail in 2013, there would actually be more!

We are still reading the tea leaves on this about turn, but it does seem that someone very senior in government realised that the next tranche of the EU funds for infrastructure are to have a stronger pro-sustainable transport bias than hitherto, and that if the Polish government wanted its fair share of the EU cake, it would not get away with diverting nearly all its EU infrastructure funding support to building new roads as it had done hitherto.

As if this wasn’t wasn’t enough, for the first time in over 40 years the number of passengers carried by Poland’s railways has actually increased. Of course some of this increase is due to Euro 2012, but a careful reading of the statistics indicates that the increase in passenger carryings has been sustained, even after the championships were finished.

All in all, 2013 heralds to be an exciting year. BTWT intends to be there and we look forward to having you along for the ride.


Finance Minister cuts rail support by 50%

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Lift door at Krakow Glowny station on 4.9.2012. In spite of a rebuilding programme which started nearly 40 yeas ago, and received a recent 130 million PLN (approx. 26 million GBP) EU-assisted boost, the lifts only go up to the car park and not down to the passenger concourse and the new tram station. There are no escalators.

(Click image to enlarge.)

On Monday 1 September the news was released through the usual unattributed channels that the Ministry of Finance was planning to cut support for Poland’s railway infrastructure by 500 million zloty (approx. 125 million Euro).

This year the support received by PKP PLK (Poland’s railway infrastructure administrator) was 1.3 billion złoty so the cut – when adjusted for inflation – represents a claw back by the Ministry of nearly 50%.

BTWT’s own unattributable channels report that the bosses of Poland’s largest railway operators (outside the PKP Group) are furious. They believe that the cutbacks will be reflected in hikes in track access charges which are already the highest in Europe. BTWT sources indicate that the Finance Ministry’s Plan ‘B’ – if the plans generate sufficient opposition – will be, after some time, to announce that after ‘consultation’ the cut will only be some 300 million PLN, that being its minimum internal target cut all along.

Mitigated or not, there can be no doubt that the cuts will damage Poland’s economic growth and generate extra car journeys that will jam up and pollute Poland’s car-priority cities.

One can only hope that the cuts will end the ‘white gloves’ treatment that PKP PLK receives from the Ministry and that there will be a concentrated economy drive within the company to reduce waste. At the moment infrastructure work commissioned by PKP PLK cuts upto 100% more than the EU average.

It is also high time that transport minister, Slawomir Nowak, cut back on political vanity projects like the infamous underground station in Lodz and reinvested the money saved on desperately needed infrastructure repairs.