Archive for April, 2013

Partnership, the key to Wolsztyn success

Monday, 29 April 2013

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On the left DB Schenker owned Tkh 5353, built Chrzanow 1953; on the right Tkh 5695 (carrying the number Tkh49-1) from Chabowka, built Chrzanow 1961. Photo Marek Ciesielski.

In spite of the clouds and rain, the 20th annual Parada Parowozow held at Wolsztyn over the weekend 27/28 April was an outstanding success.

A few months ago the prospects for the event looked decidedly gloomy – the town council at Wolsztyn was reported to have withdrawn from financing the security arrangements; the Poznan Department of PKP Cargo had its funding for the event cut to the bare bone…

In the intervening months, the wind seems to have changed. Maybe someone whispered into the ear of Cargo senior managements that this was to be the 20th steam parade, and the last to be held before PKP Cargo is privatised by a share floatation on the Warsaw stock market?

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The two Tkh locos and 4-8-4T 464-008 from the Czech Republic steam towards the station. Photo Marek Ciesielski.

Money was evidently found, and Cargo set itself the target of having 20 engines in steam at the event. In the end they were some half dozen engines short, but neither this nor the bad weather seemed to damp the spirits of the huge crowd who came to watch the parade, or ride on the record number of steam trains organised by TurKol.

The fireworks and lightshow were moved from their traditional slot on Friday evening to Saturday evening guaranteeing that many people stayed on till late.

Significantly as the event drew to a close, the chairman of PKP Cargo was seen to confer with the Chief Executive of the Wielkpolska provincial government and local Cargo managers. Hopefully a sign that a deal to secure not only the steam depot, but also its unique ordinary passenger schedule steam trains, may well be on its way.

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Looking back down the line

Sunday, 14 April 2013

5 km South of Krosniewice

A Krosniewice-Ozorkow special in 2006. Photo BTWT.

This post is the 1,000th article that I have posted on BTWT, though thanks to Ed Beale and John Savery it is actually our 1,029th post. It is not actually the 1,000th article that I have written for BTWT, because half a dozen or so of the articles that I have posted were actually written by Robert Hall. Robert is suspicious of computers and prefers not to have anything to do with getting his material on-line.

So maybe it is premature to be marking my personal milestone? Perhaps not? BTWT did have a brief existence on another blogging platform prior to migrating to wordpress.com and, if my memory serves me well, I posted there for a couple of months before making the move to WordPress – a move which in hindsight was very wise. WordPress has turned out to be a very reliable platform and does nearly everything that I want it to do.

There is now no trace of our former home, nor of those very early posts.  I console myself with the thought that those posts were rather self-indulgent and that their digital destruction was for the best. It is usual when passing such milestones to take look at what has gone before, so here for BTWT readers is a nostalgic trip into the past. Rereading the old posts, some seem remarkably prophetic!

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Eurostar to Brussels about to depart. Photo BTWT.

The very first of my articles that survives, posted on Sunday, March 9 2008, extolled the virtues of the London – Poznan rail jouney via Eurostar and ongoing connections, and suggests that UK railway societies book steam railway trips through our friends Fundacja Era Parowozow. Some five years later, I actually got round to doing the trip – though not without some misadventures. I will be publishing a full account of my trip, though not necessarily some time soon!

Fundacja Era Parowozow  is still in existence and pays an allowance to its trustees for attending its monthly council meetings, but our friends who worked for the foundation have long since left, and the scheme of hiring out steam trains to rich foreign railway enthusiasts has long since gone to the scrapheap of bright ideas, driven out by the exorbitant track access charges levied by PKP PLK.

March 2008, also saw the demise of Poland’s busiest freight-hauling narrow gauge railway – the Krosniewice Railway and I published three articles deploring the decision by the Krosniewice Town Council to end the lease to SKPL and urging readers to put pen to paper.

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Robert Stephenson’s office as restored by the Trust.
Robert Stephenson Trust Photo

Until Englishrail.blog was split out a separate blog – a decision that was probably not one of my brightest ideas – BTWT occasionally dealt with UK stories. On March 11 2009, in a post which was paradoxically prophetic of the problems about to be faced several Polish railway heritage ventures, I wrote about how the Robert Stephenson Trust were being forced out – by a massive rent hike – from their base in the world’s first locomotive factory.

The Society were being priced out of premises which – while much of Newcastle’s industrial heritage was being demolished – the Trust had managed to save and restore. The buildings had been acquired by a developer. After putting up a valiant fight, the Trust failed to obtain a rent that they could afford and had to move out of the premises that they had worked hard to restore to their former glory.

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Germany spends ten times as much on its railway infrastructure (expressed as a % of GDP) than Poland.

Returning back to Poland, and another matter that remains perennially topical, on 30 March 2009, I published an article about how 7,000 km of the Polish railway network faced the axe. It seems that Poland spends about 0.15% of its GDP on railway infrastructure, the Czech Republic, 0.38%, Germany 1.28% and France just under 1.4%.

The Wolsztyn Gala on 2 May 2009. Photo BTWT.

By March 2010, BTWT was dealing with exclusively Polish topics. Tunnel Vision became Englishrail blog and fired one of its regular salvos against the harassment of railway enthusiasts by over zealous security staff, and poked fun at Gordon Brown’s instructions that Admirals and Generals should travel by second class.

In March 2010, BTWT broke the story that the Wielkopolska provincial government were planning to set up a separate company to run the Wolsztyn depot. (See BTWT, 1 April 2013 for latest update on this story.)

Other stories that month included an account how Undersecretary of State responsible for Poland’s railways, Juliusz Englehardt had vetoed Przewozy Regionalne’s plan for cheap InterRegio services between Poznan and Berlin.

There was also an account how PKP PLK had set up a ‘Train Operators Council’. Interestingly, at the time, I commented that for such a body to be effective – it should be independent and not the tame creature of PKP PLK.

I now hear that the principle train operators outside the PKP group are setting up their own body, Fundacja Pro Kolej (Pro Rail Foundation) to press the case for Poland’s rail infrastructure to receive a larger slice of the transport infrastructure spend than it receives at present.

A year later, BTWT had got into one of its periodic crisies, but I did find time to cover the story how Poland was being censured by the European Commission for trying to spend €1.2 billion of its EU rail funding on building roads!

The site of the collision on the following morning following the accident. Photo zawiercie.naszemiasto.pl.

By March 1012, BTWT had got back in its stride, we published some 14 posts that month. The biggest story that month – and one that will scar the image of Polish railways for many years to come – was the account of the head on collision between two passenger trains near Szczekociny on 3 March 2013.

So what of the future? The new targets are to get a new post published on BTWT every other day, and to put up a post on Englishrail blog every fortnight. With the help of our editorial team, Ed, John and Rob, as well as the leads and stories sent in by our readers, we might just do it. As British Rail used to say, We’re getting there!

Our mailbox is: railfan[at]go2[dot]pl . If you can solve the puzzle we would love to hear from you!

Thank you for your support over the last five years, here’s hoping you be reading BTWT for many more years to come!

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Court decision blow to Museum

Friday, 12 April 2013

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The former Warszawa Glowna Station throat on a misty morning, 11.04.2013 – prime development site. Photo BTWT.

On 10 April 2013, the Warsaw District Court decided in favour of PKP SA and ordered the Warsaw Railway Museum to vacate the land occupied by the Museum.

The museum  occupies the former  Warszawa Glowna terminal building fronting ul. Towarowa, part of the former goods station alongside ul. Kolejowa, and a section of the former station’s tracks and platforms.

The Museum has one year to vacate the site from the time that judgement acquires legal standing. The Museum authorities intend to appeal against the decision.

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PR boss sacked!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

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Małgorzata Kuczewska-Łaska besieged by journalists at a press conference in December 2012. Photo BTWT archive.

At a meeting of the supervisory board of Polish regional railways, Przewozy Regionalne, on Wednesday 10 April, Chairman and Chief Executive Małgorzata Kuczewska-Łaska was dismissed.

With 13 years in the railway industry, Kuczewska-Łaska was a doughty defender of Przewozy Regionalne which had been split off from the PKP group in December 2008.

Transferred from the PKP Group to the provincial governments on 22 December 2008, PR soon found itself in financial difficulties. The operation of frequent local commuter services is a loss maker everywhere, particularly in Poland where – faced with a massive debt burden – PKP PLK imposes some of the highest track access charges in Europe.

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Rebuilt EMU – EN57 at the old Lodz Fabryczna Station in March 2011. Photo BTWT archive.

The provincial governments resisted taking over PR as long as they could, realising that the ‘reform’ was intended to shift the financial burden of running local trains from the PKP Group onto their shoulders.

Local authority Chief Executives did not see any votes in subsidizing PR and delayed making payments for services so that PR was nearly always strapped for cash. Those local authorities in Poland’s poorer areas, like Podlaskie or Opolskie, did not invest in new rolling stock.

Those who could afford to do so, such as Slaskie and Wielkopolskie, concluded that it would be more glamorous – and would win more votes – if they dispensed with the services of PR and set up their own operating companies.

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Joint venture – Regio DB train in Wroclaw. Photo BTWT archive.

Under Kuczewska-Łaska, PR fought back. Without the cash to buy new rolling stock, she rebuilt Poland’s communist-era EMUs, yet again, giving them clean modern interiors and new more comfortable seating.

EU grants were persued and won. Though the more profitable inter-regional trains and their more comfortable locomotive-hauled rolling stock had been handed back to PKP IC. Kuczewska-Łaska obtained paths for her rebuilt EMUs and ran cheaper inter-regional trains in competition with PKP IC.

She negotiated with regional operators across Poland’s borders like Regio DB and set up joint operations. She argued against the setting up of local authority-owned railway companies arguing that they were unlikely to be cost effective and that the operation of local authority services should be put up for tender.

Kuczewska-Łaska found herself between a rock and a hard place. The men at the Ministry saw her innovative moves as unhelpful. They were less concerned with providing services that customers wanted and generating revenue for PR, and more concerned that she should not take revenue away from PKP IC. Kuczewska-Łaska’s entrepreunership gained her powerful enemies.

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Koleje Wielkopolskie railbus being serviced at Leszno. Photo BTWT archive.

Inevitably with local authorities delaying payments needed to fund its operations, PR itself fell into arrears with payments to PKP PLK and needed to apply for debt forgiveness to keep the trains running.

This annoyed Jacek Rostocki, Poland’s Finance Minister, and the man who really calls the shots regarding Poland’s transport policy. He decided that PR was too powerful and too expensive and that the best solution would be to encourage the company to be broken up into smaller entities.

Under Kuczewska-Łaska this was unlikely to happen any time soon and so she had to go. Przewozy Regionalne Chairman and Chief Executive, Małgorzata Kuczewska-Łaska, was dismissed as from  Wednesday 10 April. Board member Paweł Stefański takes over as acting chairman until May 2 when Robert Nowakowski will become chairman.

How the plan to axe another 50% of Britain’s railways was defeated

Friday, 5 April 2013

Our sister blog englishrail blog is uncharacteristically busy. Having reviewed what the UK papers had to say about the Beeching cuts, englishrail blog now breaks the story how Reg Dawson, an unknown civil servant, and his friends on the Talyllyn Railway, defeated a conspiracy of senior civil servants to slash the post-Beeching railway network by another 50%.

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Clouds gather over Wolsztyn services

Monday, 1 April 2013

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Ol49-69 at Wolsztyn Station on a service train in August 2012. Photo BTWT.

The idea always carried some risk – setting up a separate body to run Wolsztyn Shed – the new body to be owned by PKP Cargo and the local authorities. Neither have a strong reputation for marketing or a passion for steam, two of the criteria that we would be looking for in any organisation to run the steam depot through the new millenium.

At least under the original scheme (see, BTWT 19.03.2010), the new company was going to be well capitalised – PKP’s Cargo’s steam locomotives and the shed was going to be valued at 5 million PLN and a similar amount in hard cash was going to be brought in by the Wielkopolska provincial government. Historic locomotives were going to be restored to running order and Wolsztyn was going to become a world class tourist attraction.

But it was not to be, negotiations with PKP Cargo dragged on. How many Cargo officials were trying for a place on the board of the new company as a sinecure to ends their days in profitable retirement? Meanwhile local government elections were held and the main proponent of the project in the Wielkopolska Urzad Marszalkowski (Chief Executive’s office) had moved on to pastures new…  .

By September 2011, PKP Cargo’s main board had passed the necessary resolutions, but the U.M. was having distinctly cold feet. The scheme returned to the drawing board. Now it has returned in a new guise, but with the capitalisation very much reduced. Instead of 10 million PLN, the new company will start operations with a capital of 1 million.

PKP’s contribution will be 500,000 PLN (in the form of a transfer of title of the steam locomotives) and the 3 local authorities (the Wielkopolska, provisional government, the Wolsztyn District Council and the Wolsztyn Town Council) will contribute 170,000 PLN each.

Not only is the cash component ludicrously small, but presumably this time round the title to the property is being excluded from the deal and the new organisation will be hobbled from the start by having to pay a commercial rent for the land and buildings occupied by the shed.

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Slide showing income from hauling scheduled steam services ending in 2017. Slide UMWW.

Thanks to some accounting magic running the shed under the new regime is going to be profitable! The ‘expensive’ scheduled steam services will be phased out by 2017 (see graph) and the new organisation will concentrate on running ‘profitable’ steam specials for tourists. Now Jerzy Kriger’s letter (see BTWT 23.01.2013) can be understood in a wider context. The loss of weekend services is just the beginning of the run down of steam-hauled passenger services leading to their complete elimination by 2017.

Whoever wrote this plan clearly has no understanding that what makes Wolsztyn different is that it is the running depot for the world’s only main line regular steam-hauled passenger service that is NOT based on ‘steam specials’.

Without its scheduled steam passenger trains Wolsztyn become another historic steam depot and falls from its spot at the top – as the world’s only steam depot servicing locos running regular passenger trains – to ‘just another steam centre’.

The rescue plan as drawn up by the UMWW (Wielkopolska province Chief Executive’s office) shows only three locomotives being maintained in running order: Pt47-65, Ol49-59 and Ol49-69 – hardly a world class attraction.

What is more Poland is littered with remains of similar schemes that have failed. The steam sheds at Elk and Koscierzyna were going to make a profit running steam specials. Chabowka’s once popular public steam specials now only run at the time of Parowozjazda – its annual steam gala.

Without  PKP PLK, Poland’s infrastructure manager, all such schemes are doomed to failure – PKP’s track access charges are amongst the highest in Europe and steam-hauled specials enjoy no special rates.

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Tr5-65 awaiting overhaul at Leszno. The Orenstein & Koppel built ex Prussian railways 2-8-0 is absolutely unique, but will it ever steam again? Photo BTWT.

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