Archive for April 1st, 2013

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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