Archive for July, 2015

Wolsztyn Shed – Wielkopolska Vote “Yes”

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

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OL49-69 ready to depart with Woltur train, Wolsztyn. Photo William Wright.

(Click on images to see larger photos.)

Further to our report (BTWT, 1 July 2015) that representatives of all the parties (Wielkopolska Provincial Government, Wolsztyn District Council, Wolsztyn Town Council and PKP Cargo) had agreed in principle to proceed on the basis of a revised business plan, the council members of the various local authorities have been debating and voting on the proposals to set a new institute to run the shed. Each of the parties will be making a contribution to the setting up and operation of the shed (PKP Cargo – locomotives, rolling stock and facilities; others – start up capital and an ongoing financial contribution towards operating expenses) and participating in its strategic management.

Wolsztyn District Council (Starostwo Wolsztyńskie) have already voted in favour of the proposals and yesterday a critical milestone was passed when the Council of the Wielkopolska Provincial Government (Sejmik Wielkopolski) also passed a vote in favour. The Wielkopolska councillors’ vote was critical because the business plan envisages the provincial government being the principal funding source for the restoration and running of daily steam services.

The last council vote needed to secure the plan is that of the members of Wolsztyn Town Council, but with the town’s hospitality industry badly feeling the drop in tourism since the cessation of daily steam services, it is envisaged that Wolsztyn Mayor, Wojtek Lis, will have little difficulty in securing the support of the town’s councillors. The Town Council will consider the question during their meeting on August 3. If they vote in favour, the last piece of the jigsaw falls into place. There will be a formal signing ceremony sometime later, and December 1, 2016 is already pencilled in as the first day that the shed opens its doors under the auspices of its new owners.

The elephant in the room remains Poland’s railway infrastructure manager, PKP PLK. For reason best known to itself, PKP PLK insists on treating steam trains as if they were carrying out of gauge loads or nuclear waste. Whereas in other countries, steam trains are regarded as bringing useful publicity to the railway and their operators enjoy access to the railway network on the same (or even preferential) terms as those of other trains, in Poland PKP PLK demands a premium rate. As a result it is almost impossible to fill a steam train in Poland unless somebody – usually a local authority – picks up some of the bill.

With so many bodies pulling together to safeguard the future of Poland’s steam heritage at Wolsztyn would it not be appropriate for PKP PLK to also put a shoulder to the wheel?

Dyspozytor

Wolsztyn steam is alive…

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

 …passengers needed!

 

by William Wright

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Poznan Market Square. Photo William Wright

(Click on images to see larger photos.)

Standard-gauge steam services running on selected days around Wolsztyn are very much alive! I tested a few services on Thursday and Friday May 21 and 22, 2015.

My short tour started in Poznan – a fine town with plenty to discover. I caught a local electric train to Zbaszynek in time to see the afternoon steam train from Wolsztyn arrive. A few days earlier a problem with a wheel bearing had required immediate repair, but thankfully all was now well with Ol49-69 that was to haul all the steam services.

The steam journey to Wolsztyn started with a non-stop stretch to Zbaszyn, on the Berlin to Warsaw mainline. From there, and on all the lines radiating from Wolsztyn, the scenery is a mixture of small villages and forest landscapes; look out for deer and old-fashioned horse and cart farming! Wolsztyn is a small town, with for many visitors its principle attraction being the engine shed and several steam locomotives in various states of repair, but with plenty of fine local attractions to discover also worth exploring in its own right. Accommodation can be found easily.

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OL49-69 on arrival at Zbaszynek. Photo William Wright.

The following day, three return services covered part of the main routes out of Wolsztyn, to Nowa Wies Mochy, Rakoniewice and Stefanowo. Each service is mentioned clearly on the printed station departure board timetables. Tickets can be bought on the trains. The services ran perfectly to time, key railway staff were ready to signal departures, operate level-crossing gates and set signals. My visit not being a weekend, passenger numbers were very low, but this is still early days.

As reported in BTWT on 19 February 2015, the town of Wolsztyn, various other local authorities and the Wolsztyn Experience agreed to invest in a brand new tourist product – Woltur. This was set up by Patryk Szkopiec of IRPiK, the same organisation that runs Turkol, with the cooperation of PKP Cargo, responsible for the engine shed in Wolsztyn, and local train services operator, Przewozy Regionalne. Turkol continues to run longer-distance weekend steam specials.

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Frozen in time, Tuchorza station and station master. Photo William Wright.

The overall impression is a perfectly run service authentically reproducing a sample of timetabled standard-gauge steam services. My recommendation? Go now whilst the services still exist! For those interested in a more hands-on experience see the Wolsztyn Experience website.

 

Wolsztyn Institute Plan gets green light

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

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A ray of sunlight in Wolsztyn Shed. Photo Jo’ny.

A major milestone in the plan to set up a cultural institute to manage Wolsztyn Depot (see BTWT, 8 May 2014) was achieved yesterday, when at a meeting at the office of the Chief Executive (Urząd Marszałkowski) a new business plan was agreed to by all the parties concerned.

Negotiations had been stalled for some time because of the size of the on-going financial support being asked of the local authorities. Relations between PKP Cargo and the local authorities had reached an all time low and PKP Cargo had threatened to pull the plug on this year’s Steam Parade,  if the local authorities did not sign up to the business plan.

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With just the basics necessary for light maintenance, Wolsztyn lacks the engineering resources necessary for heavy maintenance. Photo Jo’ny.

A new ‘can do’ attitude seems to have infected all the parties since the visit to Wolsztyn of Britain’s Ambassador to Poland, Robin Barnett (see BTWT, 18 March 2015). Not only was it announced that the Steam Parade (see BTWT, 5 May, 2015) was going ahead, but shortly afterwards PKP Cargo agreed to prepare a new business plan which would take into account the concerns of the local authorities.

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Steam specials could be a useful income stream, but track access charges for steam trains are punitive. Photo Jo’ny.

(All photos can be enlarged by clicking on the images.)

During the last few months the business plan has been the subject of intense discussion with the local authorities and PKP Cargo has given a ‘hair cut’ to the financial support expected from the local authorities by cutting the rental payments expected from the new institute.

At yesterday’s meeting representatives of all the parties to the negotiations – Wojciech Jankowiak, the deputy Chief Executive of Wielkopolska Province; Janusz Frąckowiak, the Chief Executive of Wolsztyn District; Wojciech Lis, the Mayor of Wolsztyn; and Andrzej Jabłoński of PKP Cargo agreed to proceed on the basis of PKP Cargo’s revised plan.

Our congratulations to all concerned. It is always invidious to pick out any individuals, but perhaps it would not be out of order to mention the mayor of Wolsztyn, Wojtek Lis (who has been doing a great deal of work behind the scenes), and Andrzej Jabłoński, who has been managing the project on behalf of PKP’s Cargo.

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Although not in steam at this year’s Steam Parade pacific Piękna Helena had been cleaned by a couple of volunteers. Photo Jo’ny.

Now it only remains for the council members of the three local authorities – Wielkopolska Province, Wolsztyn District, and Wolsztyn Town – to vote on the proposals, and for the agreement to be signed in a blaze of publicity when everybody gets back from their summer holidays.

Friday, January 1 2016, is the target date for the new institute to take over responsibility for the shed, and Saturday 30 April has been tentatively pencilled in as the date of the next Wolsztyn steam parade. Watch this space!