Archive for the ‘BTWT’ Category

Narrow Gauge revival

Friday, 29 May 2015

Pleszew railcar in December 2011. Photo Ed Beale.

The beginning of May in Poland is memorable not just for the annual Wolsztyn Parade of Steam locomotives, but for the start of tourist services on Poland’s preserved narrow gauge railways. Most lines run trains just over the weekend, sometimes only a couple of return trips on Sundays.

To the best of our knowledge (please tell us if you know of others!) only three lines operate daily services during the operating season: the Nadmorska Kolej Wąskotorowa, aka the Gryfice Narrow Gauge Railway; the Znin Narrow Gauge Railway; and the Bieszczady Forest Railway. The Bieszczady weekday service runs only in July and August, while the Gryfice and Znin lines run daily from May through to September.

Pleszew_timetable

Pleszew Railway timetable 4 May until 13 June 2015.

(Click image to enlarge.)

Notes

(B) runs Mondays to Fridays & Sundays (except 4.6.2015)
(D) runs Mondays to Fridays except bank holidays
(E) runs Mondays to Saturdays except bank holidays
(6) runs on Saturdays
(7) runs on Sundays (except 4.6.2015)

All of us a BTWT were surprised and delighted to be told by SKPL that they have brought back daily ordinary passenger services (not tourist services!) on the Pleszew narrow gauge railway, and that funding is in place for the services to run to the end of 2015.

The Pleszew n.g. line is a mixed gauge line – standard gauge and narrow gauge trains share one rail. It is a 3 km fragment of the erstwhile Krotoszyn Narrow Gauge Railway which at its height was nearly 50 km long. The last train ran from Krotoszyn to Pleszew Miasto on 12 January 1986. The line was taken over by the Pleszew Town Council who licensed it to SKPL in 2006. SKPL operate freight trains over the standard gauge tracks from the interchange with the main line to an oil depot in Pleszew.

In February 2013, BTWT reported that passenger services using a diesel railcar operating over the n.g. tracks had been suspended. We are delighted to report that as from 4 May 2015 Poland’s last surviving n.g. regular passenger service is again operational.

Anastazewo to Jablonka, 1939

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

by ‘Inzynier’

(continued from: Gniezno District Railway, 1939 – Part 4)

On 5 July 2013, BTWT published the first part of the imaginary diary of a railway enthusiast exploring the magnificent narrow gauge railways of the Kujawy region of Poland in 1939. Carefully researched by ‘Inzynier’ and brilliantly presented by narrow gauge expert Ed Beale, they are an evocative recreation of a lost world.

At the start of the fifth day, we have a very early start to head East from Anastazewo…

Anastazewo-station-postcard

A very early postcard view of Anastazewo station.

(Click to see the original image on fotopolska.eu)

Around 5am we are woken from our slumber in the loco depot at Anastazewo as work starts on preparing the loco and train for the 06:00 departure.  Half an hour or so later we start to hear a train approaching from the east and at 05:48 the connecting service from Konin (Tuesdays and Fridays only) rolls across the level crossing and into the station.  The locomotive is another 0-8-0T, bearing the number D1-345, while the train consists of two coaches (but no passengers), the usual van and three open wagons(31).  One of the coaches appears to have been converted from a freight van, while the other is purpose-built.  Mail bags are exchanged between trains (and one goes into the station building), while one of the wagons (presumably loaded, as it is sheeted over) is added to the Gniezno train.

At 06:00 No. 6 and its train depart westward.  D1-345 takes water, shunts the other two wagons into the siding and couples up to the coaches, while the fireman prepares his fire for the journey ahead and the injector sings as the water level rises in the boiler.  Unlike the Gniezno men, this crew from Konin do not have the luxury of a few hours’ sleep before starting the return journey; they ‘clocked on’ quite a few hours ago, set out from their home station at 03:35, and will not get back until 08:35.

All too soon for the fireman it is time to depart and we join the other three passengers who have arrived at the station to board the 06:12 departure.  The train shuffles out of the station (the locomotive is fitted with a spark arrestor on the chimney, which muffles any real ‘chuff’) and back across the road as the next stage of our journey begins(32).

anastzewo-departure

A much more recent departure from Anastazewo, at the turn of the 1980s/90s. Photo Milosz Telesinski.

(Click to see the original image on Baza Kolejowa)

So far all of our travels have been on railways owned and operated by the respective local authorities (Jarocin, Wrzesnia and Gniezno).  Now we are on the state railway system but ironically the locomotive and coaches seem inferior to anything we have previously experienced.  We briefly run alongside the road, cross over it again and run along the other side of it.

After about a kilometre a branch trails in on the right, this is Goslawice sugar factory’s 7 km line to beet loading points at Naprusewo(33).  Our train trundles over a road junction and we find the road is on our right instead of left, but that soon changes when we cross to the other side again.  Various other trackways are crossed and then we leave the road for a while.  Curving to the left we cross a small river and another couple of roadways and arrive at Budzislaw Koscielny halt.  Here another Goslawice sugar factory line trails in, this time from the left and with a loop; it runs 4 km to a loading point at Marszewo(34).

anastazewo-budzislaw-map

Anastazewo to Budzislaw-Koscielny and branches. Extract from the WIG map of 1935.

(Click to download the full size map. Warning: Very large file)

A small crowd is awaiting the train at Budzislaw and perhaps a dozen people board the train, most carrying baskets full of produce, while those with more bulky goods load them into the van.  Within a minute or so we are on our way again, alongside a road for a couple of kilometres to the next halt at Nieborzyn, where the three waiting passengers quickly climb aboard.

Shortly after the halt, the road crosses to our other side, but roadside running remains the order of the day until we cross over again and then curve away from the road on the approach to Zlotkow.  This halt has a loop and another handful of passengers join the train.  There now follows a fairly straight section across open country, crossing the odd road or watercourse, to Dankow, another halt with a loading siding, at which another couple of passengers board.

Shortly after Dankow comes a pair of tight bends, then we cross a couple of streams and finally cross the road into Jablonka Slupecka, a quite sizeable station with loops and a number of sidings holding various wagons and vans, as well as the line from Sompolno trailing in from the east.  The 14 km from Anastazewo have taken us 53 minutes to cover (16 kph or 10 mph), but the importance of Jablonka is underlined by the fact that the train pauses here for 17 minutes – the loco takes water and the fireman again tends to his fire, while another half dozen or so passengers join the train.  Meanwhile, another 0-8-0T, number D1-332, is shunting wagons from one siding to another(35).

to be continued…

    Notes

    31) D1-345 was a ‘Brigadelok’ built by Henschel (works number 13312) in 1915 and initially numbered HF 349.  It was amongst the locomotives inherited by PKP when the Kujawy system was taken over after the First World War.  It remained on the system until the Second World War, when it became DR’s 99 1553, but was taken away from the system during that war and nothing further is known about it.

    32) The Anastezewo – Maly Patnow section was built by Goslawice sugar factory in 1912 as a 750mm gauge ‘industrial’ railway.  It was converted to 600mm gauge by the invading Germans in 1914, passenger services later started and the line was taken over by PKP after the First World War.  It was converted back to 750mm gauge in the 1950s, but passenger services west of Jablonka Slupecka ceased in 1954/5.  Jablonka Slupecka – Maly Patnow closed in 1965 as a result of brown coal mining in the area.  Freight traffic on the remaining section gradually declined to zero, but it remained in place as a link between the Gniezno and Sompolno operations.  Following cessation of PKP narrow gauge operations in 2001 it was officially transferred to the Gniezno division, but saw no regular traffic and sections have since been lifted to facilitate further brown coal mining.

    33) Goslawice sugar factory’s branch to Naprusewo was built to 600mm gauge in the 1920s and regauged to 750mm in the 1950s.  It closed in about 1975.

    34) Goslawice sugar factory’s branch to Marszewo was built in the 1920s to 600mm gauge.  It probably closed in the 1950s when the other lines were regauged.

    35) D1-332 was a ‘Brigadelok’ built by Henschel (works number 12557) in 1914 and initially numbered HF 255.  It was amongst the locomotives inherited by PKP when the Kujawy system was taken over after the First World War.  It remained on the system until the Second World War, when it became DR’s 99 1548.  It was taken away from the system during that war but later returned and became PKP’s Tx1-328.  It went to Rogow about 1950, to Mlawa on 1st September 1954 and was withdrawn on 16th November 1955.

Off topic. On message.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Dyspozytor takes a trip down memory lane to his school days and reflects on the UK elections.

Lost domain

A treasure trove of transport history. The River Thames (bottom right) has been a transport route since before the Romans invaded Britain. The Roman road from London to Bath (left bottom to mid right) was by-passed by the Great West Road which itself was superseded by the M4 motorway. The canalised River Brent  (top left to bottom right) was opened in 1798 as part of the Grand Junction Canal. The area comprising both banks of the canal to the north of Brentford Locks was the canal company’s Brentford Dock. The last commercial traffic on this section of the canal ceased around 1980.

The London & South Western Railway’s line from Barnes to Hounslow (lower left to upper right) opened in 1849 and is still open for passenger services. The Great Western Railway’s Brentford Branch, opened in 1859, was the last commission of Brunel, the GWR’s chief engineer. The whole triangular built up area to the south of Thames Locks was the GWR’s Brentford Dock. The Dock closed in December 1964.

The Great West Road (mid left to top right) from Hounslow to Kew was opened around 1930. The remaining section from Kew in Middlesex to the Cromwell Road in London completed in the 1950s. The eastern section of the M4 motorway (top left to top right) from Slough to the Chiswick flyover was opened in 1965. The white oblong on the right is the Griffin Park ground of Brentford Football Club.

Satellite view courtesy Google Maps. Click the image to open an interactive map of this area on Google Maps.

Today, Parliamentary elections are being held in the United Kingdom. What have football and party politics got in common? Both are capable of generating enormous levels of passion, both – in spite of the media hype – seem to leave a large portion of the population stone cold. I first noted the similarities between the two as a schoolboy.

Let us start at the beginning. In the early 1960s, whenever I could get away from school, much of my time was spent on the Grand Union (formerly Grand Junction) canal at Brentford where – having made friends with the lock-keeper at Lock 99 – I became his unofficial deputy. I had discovered the canal, the lock and my friendly lock keeper while on a cycle ride to explore the ex Great Western Railway Brentford branch line.

Firestone

Almost the entire section of the Brentford branch line that lies to the north-east of the Great West Road is visible in this photograph. It shows the area as it was in 1953. The Imperial Biscuit Works is the factory on the extreme left – it had its own siding as did Firestone Rubber Tyre factory in the foreground. This building with its iconic Art Deco frontage was demolished during the August 1980 bank holiday weekend before it could be listed.

Lock 99 of the Grand Union Canal is visible on the extreme right and Brentford Town Goods Depot is in the middle distance. Those with a keen eye will spot the Great Western main line and Wharncliffe Viaduct which carries the line over the River Brent valley. Photo ©Historic England.

(Click the image to see the original on the Historic England website and for details regarding reuse.)

At 07:00 each morning during the holidays, I would help to lock through 6 or 7 lighters (unpowered barges) that had been waiting below Lock 99 while their two-man crews (tractor driver and steerer) had breakfast at the café serving the Firestone Tyre factory.

Already the narrow boat pairs (motor boat and unpowered butty) heading for Birmingham had left the British Waterways Brentford Dock and locked through Lock 99, before the lock-keeper had come on duty. They were in a hurry to clear the 6 lock Hanwell Flight before the lighters began to move.

On Friday afternoons I was allowed to leave school early and as often as no cycling along the canal in the late afternoon, I would see a pannier tank haul a train of coal wagons along the branch where it ran parallel to the canal.

And so at an early age my life became linked with two transport routes that were on the way out: the railway to Brentford Docks and the Grand Union Canal. Meanwhile the M4 motorway was being cut through one of the lakes of Osterley Park and taken over Boston Manor Park on an ugly steel viaduct.

My lock keeper friend took me to see the run down Brentford Docks just before they closed in December 1964. The tractor-hauled lighters carried their loads up to Hanwell and Southall until the closure of London Docks. Long distance narrowboat carrying along the Grand Union continued on a small until the closure of Blisworth Tunnel for major engineering work in 1980.

It was easy to see even at my tender age that a tiny tractor pulling a barge loaded with 80 tons of cargo, or a pair of narrow boats carrying 50 tons between them with the motor boat powered by a single cylinder Bolinger engine, or an ex GWR 0-6-0PT 57xx class loco pulling 25 coal wagons, were all burning much less fossil fuel than if the same loads were being carried by heavy lorries. Likewise it did not require a Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree from Oxford to see connect the dots when a Minister of Transport called Ernest Marples was promoting a switch from rail to road while his wife’s company, Marples Ridgeway, was building motorways.

Biscuits and Firestone

The Great West Road, looking from Osterley towards the Brentford Dock branch line in 1931. The Imperial Biscuit Works is the first factory on the left and Firestone Rubber Tyre factory is far distance. Photo ©Historic England.

(Click on the image to see it on the Historic England website and for details of re-use.)

During the 1960s, a great deal of effort was expended explaining to the general public that railways make a loss and road transport is ‘more economic’ to justify the wholesale destruction of Britain’s railways. A great deal less was said then, and has been said since, about the way that this economic argument is slanted against railways which in the UK, as in Poland, are expected to bear their capital and maintenance costs – a charge which is not made on the balance sheet of road transport. If the environmental and health costs of unbridled road expansion are taken into account the case for investing in railways becomes even stranger.

Ever wondered why in countries such as Austria and Switzerland which do put their roads and railways on the same financial footing it still ‘pays’ to transport rail freight by the wagonload and also carry it over their extensive networks of narrow gauge railways.

In 1993, Britain’s railways were broken up into over 90 companies and privatised. Poland’s railways are undergoing a similar process and the privatisation of PKP Energytyka – responsible for supplying the traction current – and PKP Informatyka – responsible for PKP’s computer services – is being rushed through with indecent haste.

Not surprisingly the ‘reform’ pushed up costs and made long-distance ‘walk-on’ fares too expensive for ordinary people who switched coach services. Since those days the major political parties have produced a great deal of hot air – usually while in opposition – about making railway services more affordable for passengers and switching freight from road to rail. These promises are quickly forgotten as soon as the opposition party is elected to government.

Which brings me back to the football analogy at the start of today’s post. While the fans roar their support for one or other side, the real action is taking place off the pitch. Who will invest in the club? Which players should be bought? What will the sponsor want for his money?

As it is with football so it is with mainstream politics. If you share my concern for the destruction wrought by the UK’s pro road transport policy and have still not cast your vote, why not fire a shot across the bows of the mainstream political parties and cast a vote for the Green Party?

EPSON scanner image

The site of Brentford GWR station in 1961. Note the overhead wires for providing the traction current for trolleybuses. The footbridge to the British Waterways office at Lock 100 can just be discerned under the railway bridge, Photo ©Ben Brooksbank.

(Click on image for details of licensing.)

More:

Invisible destinations, invisible trains…

Saturday, 4 April 2015

timetable-SR

The 1922 rebuilding of Waterloo Station in London by the London & South Western Railway Company brought order and purpose into what had been a rambling and confusing building. From a Southern Railway poster published shortly before the nationalisation of Britain’s railways.

Travelling by train used to be an adventure.

We got to Waterloo at eleven, and asked where the eleven-five started from.  Of course nobody knew; nobody at Waterloo ever does know where a train is going to start from, or where a train when it does start is going to, or anything about it.  The porter who took our things thought it would go from number two platform, while another porter, with whom he discussed the question, had heard a rumour that it would go from number one.  The station-master, on the other hand, was convinced it would start from the local.

To put an end to the matter, we went upstairs, and asked the traffic superintendent, and he told us that he had just met a man, who said he had seen it at number three platform.  We went to number three platform, but the authorities there said that they rather thought that train was the Southampton express, or else the Windsor loop.  But they were sure it wasn’t the Kingston train, though why they were sure it wasn’t they couldn’t say.

timetable-1467

PKP IC TLK train at Lodz Kaliska. But is it my train? Photo BTWT.

Then our porter said he thought that must be it on the high-level platform; said he thought he knew the train.  So we went to the high-level platform, and saw the engine-driver, and asked him if he was going to Kingston.  He said he couldn’t say for certain of course, but that he rather thought he was.  Anyhow, if he wasn’t the 11.5 for Kingston, he said he was pretty confident he was the 9.32 for Virginia Water, or the 10 a.m. express for the Isle of Wight, or somewhere in that direction, and we should all know when we got there.  We slipped half-a-crown into his hand, and begged him to be the 11.5 for Kingston.

“Nobody will ever know, on this line,” we said, “what you are, or where you’re going.  You know the way, you slip off quietly and go to Kingston.”

“Well, I don’t know, gents,” replied the noble fellow, “but I suppose some train’s got to go to Kingston; and I’ll do it.  Gimme the half-crown.”

Thus we got to Kingston by the London and South-Western Railway.

We learnt, afterwards, that the train we had come by was really the Exeter mail, and that they had spent hours at Waterloo, looking for it, and nobody knew what had become of it.

From Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K Jerome, 1889.

timetable-1818

Changing the printed timetable is a major exercise. Photo BTWT.

Travelling by train in Poland is still an adventure. Surprisingly there is a dearth of information at the point of departure. Printed timetables do not always have details of all intermediate stations and quickly become out of date. The information on main and auxiliary indicator boards is often incomplete. The on-line timetable is probably the safest bet. But, not always.

timetable-1821

Auxiliary departure board at Warszawa Centralna in 2013. There was no indication that the 15:49 and 16:16 to Lodz Kaliska also stopped at Lodz Widzew and Lodz Chojny. Photo BTWT.

(Click to expand to see details.)

A couple of years ago the Zuławy Railway – a preserved fragment of the once extensive narrow gauge  railway network serving the coastal region near Gdańsk – arranged with Arriva to run a number of trains to connect with its tourist trains. Arriva arranged the train paths with infrastructure manager, PKP PLK, and PLK passed on the details to PKP subsidiary, TK Telekom, and the new trains duly appeared in the national railway timetable.

All went well, until PLK, decided to change the times of the paths that it was making available for the new services. Arriva changed the times of its trains, but TK Telekom, which was not contracted to make an intermediate timetable correction, did not change its timetable. During the Zuławy Railway operating season, intending passengers turned up to catch the Arriva trains only to find out that their trains had already gone.

lost trains

Fragment of TLK Telekom page showing the rogue results of a query for a service from Krakow Glowny to Warszawa Centralna on 19 April 2015.

In spite of such gremlins, many still consider TK Telekom to be the definitive source of timetable information. The company hosts two timetable query pages: its original service, old.rozklad-pkp.pl, and a newer service, rozklad-pkp.pl. The former is rather old-fashioned, but provides much useful information, including real time tracking, about selected trains. The latter is much easier to use on a mobile phone, but is much less informative.

So when one of BTWT’s regular readers was researching a trip to Krakow in a couple of weeks time it was entirely appropriate that he started by looking up the time of trains on the original TK Telekom website. He had intended to fly in via Katowice on Thursday evening, 16 April and to go back via Warsaw on the Sunday 19 April. Much to his surprise he found (see screen grab above) that there were no suitable connections.

There was a 08:42 TLK train which was timetabled to do the Warsaw journey (via Katowice, Czestochowa and Piotrkow Trybunalski) in 9 hours and 1 minute! The next direct service (and the only one to do the journey in a reasonable time) was the 15:08 EIP.

Accordingly, he decided to forgo his planned trip to Warsaw and afternoon flight back to Heathrow, and to fly out on Sunday morning direct from Krakow. Having booked his plane ticket, he was playing around with PKP IC’s own ticketing portal. Imagine his chagrin when he discovered several additional Sunday services from Krakow to Warsaw that suddenly appeared which had not shown up when he queried the TK Telekom timetable. (See below.)

PKP_IC results

PKP IC e-ticketing system showing additional morning trains from Krakow Glowny to Warszawa Centralna on 19 April.

In fact, there is a very good service from Krakow to Warsaw on Sunday mornings. Services include the 10:06 EIP (journey time 2 hours 26 minutes), the 10:44 TLK (2hrs. 51 min.) and the 12:07 EIC (2hrs. 27 min.).

So is the PKP IC portal better than TK Telekom’s? Well not necessarily. I have seen the PKP IC service display ‘ghost trains’ which do not actually run on the day queried. A more frequent problem is when the system refuses to show the price of available tickets, or to process a ticket sale.

PKP IC prices7

PKP IC e-ticketing system unable to provide ticket prices for the 17:35 EIP, the 18:35 EIP and the 19:15 TLK trains from Warszawa Centralna to Krakow Glowny at 08:26 on 24 Febuary.

PKP IC e-ticketing

PKP IC e-ticketing system unable to complete a ticket purchase for the 11:35 EIP from Warszawa Centralna to Krakow Glowny at 08:26 on 24 Febuary.

(Click to expand.)

With a fierce warning on the bottom of the page that anyone caught on a Pendolino train without a ticket will be fined 650PLN (118 GBP), the PKP IC ticketing system does not leave the would be Pendolino traveller with a warm fuzzy feeling. Maybe the marketing team at PKP IC could learn a thing or two from the bright young chaps at PolskiBus?

Polski bus

Screen capture showing a part of the PolskiBus home page.

PKP InterCity – strategy masterstroke!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

PKP_Intercity_HQ_Zelazna

Where the new strategy was developed – PKP IC HQ in ul. Zelażna, Warsaw. Photo By Adrian Grycuk (CC BY-SA 3.0 pl), via Wikimedia Commons.

How to make PKP IC profitable? That was the question that new PKP IC boss, Jacek Leonkiewicz, set his best brains to solve. The challenge is formidable, at the top end of the market – served by the EIC and EICP (Pendolino) services – the carrier is facing stiff competition from the domestic airlines and the private motor car. In the lower end of the market – served by the TLK services – the train operating company is losing passengers as a result of the bargain basement tactics of PolskiBus and its me too imitators.

With the company stuck between a rock and a hard place, the solution dreamt up by the best brains in PKP IC is stunning. Not for them the complexities of BTWT’s own 10-point reform plan. No, the PKP IC solution stands out in its brilliance and simplicity: in the timetable changes, to be introduced towards the end of 2015, journey times for TLK trains will be extended!

But, dear reader, I can hear you protest, won’t even more TLK passengers desert as a result? Precisely! When it can shown that the TLK sector is a declining business, more trains can be withdrawn, or the sector can be closed down completely. With less expensive trains to run – PKP IC’s finances will improve dramatically!

A big hat tip to Rynek Kolejowy for today’s story.

Railway photography in Poland

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Old gentleman

The Railway Children’s ‘The Old Gentleman’. Frame grab courtesy Studio Canal.

Railway photographers lead dangerous lives. All too often they are arrested, their cameras taken away from them and their photos deleted. We asked Dyspozytor how he deals with jobsworth officials interfering with his railway photography in Poland. We have no hesitation in recommending either his regretful approach, ‘I’m awfully sorry. I’m from England. I didn’t know your railway was a strategic installation of military importance.’ or his more apologetic, ‘Thank you for pointing out that I was trespassing. I am very sorry. Now let that be the end of the matter’. However, the last technique he describes here seems to us to be downright dangerous and should not be attempted by anyone who does not at least possess a black belt in the martial arts.

Rule 1. Remain calm and collected at all times.

Let the ‘Old Gentleman’, so brilliantly portrayed by William Mervyn in the 1970 film adaptation of The Railway Children, be your role model.

My first brush against Polish officialdom occurred in 1965, or was it perhaps a year or two earlier? I was a schoolboy and had gone to Stepnica, a tiny port on the Szczecin Lagoon served by a couple of sidings on a branch of the then massive metre gauge railway network centred on Gryfice. I took a couple of shots of an engine at the head of a train at the station.

There are few signs that the port and town of Stepnica were once served by a railway. Satellite photo courtesy of Google Maps.

The station master caught me and delivered a lecture that the railway was a strategic instillation of military significance and that he should call the police. I countered that in the UK we did not regard narrow gauge railways as having any significance at all other than as tourist attractions and apologised profusely.

I was allowed to keep my camera and my film. I used a similar tactic and obtained the same outcome when challenged after photographing a tram depot near Warszawa Wschodnia station in the 1970s.

Sanok Station-2010

Sanok station July 2010. Dyspozytor had strayed off the platform on the left. Photo (GRAD). Licence CC BY-SA 3.0.

But that was then – when Poland was in thrall to the Soviet empire, and paranoia reigned on both sides of the Iron Curtain. Today Polish law has changed. You are allowed to take photographs of trains and railways, but not trespass on railway property.

In 1990, I was with Michael Dembinski (author of W-wa Jeziorki blog) waiting at a level crossing to photograph a Tkt48 pulling a train consisting of a couple of double decker coaches. The level crossing attendant ranted at us that photography of railway lines was prohibited. Michael retorted in his best Jeremy Clarkson manner that the days of communism were over. Which leads me neatly to:

Rule 2. Be firm and stick to your guns.

A few years ago, I was wandering around taking photographs of Sanok station, which was – and still is – served by only a handful of trains a day. I stepped off the platform to get the whole of the station in the frame, shot a set of photographs and found myself facing a member of the Straź Ochrony Kolei (Railway Police).

He told me that I was breaking the law, that he would call the police and would face all sorts of unspecified punishments. I told him that there was no law against taking photographs of the railway. He told me that I was trespassing on railway land and that he would call the police and that I would face… . I thanked him for pointing this out and for having told me off, and told him that I accepted his rebuke and told him that that should be the end of the matter.

W-wa Centralna Pendolino-1030187

Warszawa 06:25 on December 14 2014 . Shortly after taking this photo in available light (no flash) Dyspoztytor was challenged by a uniformed member of the SOK (Railway Police). Photo BTWT.

We repeated this scene some three or four times. I then pointed out that he had done his job and I needed to get going. I suspect that he had hoped for a bribe. With none forthcoming, he left. The next time I was challenged by a member of the Straz Kolejowy, I did not let him off so lightly, which brings me round to my last rule:

Rule No. 3. The best form of defence is attack!

On the morning of December 14 2014, shortly before travelling on the first ever public Pendolino service from Warsaw to Krakow, I was accosted by a member of the SOK and asked whether I had a permit to take photographs. All around me TV crews were setting up, people were snapping away as if there was no tomorrow, yet this SOKista had the nerve to pick on an old gentleman barely supporting himself on a walking stick – me!

Henryk_Pobozny

Henry the Pious before his defeat and beheading at the Battle of Legnica in 1241. From a painting by Jan Matejko.

I saw red. My blood pressure rose past all safe limits. I was trying to change the course of history and fighting the Battle of Legnica all over again, defending civilisation against the hordes from the East. What! I spluttered. Today, everybody in Poland should be rejoicing that at last Polish Railways have taken a cautious step forward into the future, and YOU are behaving as if we were still living under communism!

I had reached the most dangerous moment, the man’s temper was rising. The list of remedies available to members of SOK reads like something out of Fifty Shades of Grey: physical force, weighted baton, handcuffs, tear gas grenade, police dog, Walther P99 and Taser. It was time to go in for the kill, Tell me Sir, when did you last go to confession?

Defeated by an old gentleman with a walking stick, the SOKista beat a hasty retreat.

Prussian P8-5228

Tp3-3, former Prussian Railways G8 class, built Hanomag 2013, active PKP service 1945-1970, displayed as a ‘technical monument’ at Zbąszynek from 1988. Note pile of coal in foreground and shadow cast by the sun. Photo BTWT.

My last run in with the SOK occurred just 5 days ago on 17 March at Zbąszynek. I was with a friend, we were returning from Wolsztyn, where we had been guests at a lunch given by the Mayor of Wolsztyn in honour of the British Ambassador on the occasion of his visit to the Steam Locomotive Depot.

We were both smartly dressed and talking – quite loudly I suspect – in English. It was 15:15, the sun was shining brightly from the South West and we both walked off the end of the platform to get a good view of the Ex Prussian Railway G8 0-8-0 plinthed just off the neighbouring platform.

After I had taken my photographs, we were approached by a couple of SOKisci. It appeared one of them objected that we were wandering too close to a pile of coal. The last part of our conversation went something like this.

Me Zbąszynek should be celebrating its railway heritage not harassing tourists!

SOKista Why are you raising your voice?

Me Because I object to being told off for taking a photograph of a unique Prussian Railways locomotive.

SOKista You can take your photo from the other platform. I am just telling you that you should not be wandering around in the vicinity of the heap of coal.

Me So you you think that I am planning to take the coal away in my jacket pocket? I cannot take a photograph against the sun. I object most strongly to you lecturing me.

SOKista I am not lecturing you… 

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SOKisci are human too! Taking photos of the first ever public Pendolino working to Krakow in 14 December 2014. Photo BTWT.

[Here comes the critical moment, the SOKista has as good as admitted defeat, and has delivered his last two lines with a broad grin on his face. Time to let him off the hook, and to show that I understand that he has to work in a wider environment with regulations and bosses.]

Me That as maybe. But I am lecturing YOU. Please tell your boss that, if Zabąszynek is to be a proper custodian of a unique locomotive of world-class importance, photographers should be welcomed not harassed.

And that was the end of the matter. When it became clear that our EIC train from Berlin to Warsaw was lost somewhere in Germany, and that it would be prudent to take the next KW stopping train to Poznan, the SOKisci, seeing my walking stick, guided us politely over the barrow crossing to the platform where the stopping train was waiting. Perhaps things are getting better on PKP after all?

More:

Sławomir Żałobka appointed UnderSecretary for Rail and Air!

Monday, 9 February 2015

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Żałobka’s new workplace. Photo courtesy Google Street View

The office customarily occupied by the Minister responsible for Polish Railways has from today (9.2.15) a new occupant, Sławomir Żałobka. The office has been empty since 18 December when Żałobka’s predecessor, Zbigniew Klepacki was sacked by Prime Minister, Ewa Kopacz, as part of her review of government ministers.

Undersecretary of State Slawomir Żałobka studied Law and Administration at the University of Warsaw. He has been a civil servant for many years. He has worked the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education, the Office of the Prime Minister and the Office of the Civil Service. He was also a member of the Public Procurement Council, and acted as an arbiter in disputes involving public procurement.

BTWT sees Żałobka’s appointment as a consequence of Prime Minister Kopacz wanting a ‘safe pair of hands’ in a position that has the potential to embarrass the Government. At least one of Żałobka’s predecessors was sacked for being too ‘pro-rail’.

BTWT rescue plan for PKP IC

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

An open letter to the new PKP InterCity chairman.

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Pendolino trainset prepares to reverse out of its platform at Krakow Glowny having formed the first ever Polish Pendolino public service train to Krakow: the 06:35 from Warszawa Centralna on 14.12.14. Photo BTWT.

Dear Jacek,

I hope that you don’t mind me addressing you as ‘Jacek’ rather than ‘Mr Leonkiewicz’. As you have worked in London for two years, I am sure that you are used to the English custom of business colleagues addressing each by their first names, and – although you have only worked in the railway industry for two years – I wanted to recognize you as a fellow railway professional. In fact I think that the brevity of your sojourn in PKP will work to your advantage – you will not yet have been infected by the cynicism that eventually saps the will of most senior PKP people.

Before I get started, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment to the position of CEO of PKP InterCity. By now you will have found out that the job is something of a poisoned chalice – you are the 9th PKP IC CEO in the space of the last ten years. You may be wondering why so few of your predecessors lasted any length of time. Were they really ALL so incompetent? Of course not, and my reason for writing to you is to offer you a few pointers so that you avoid the rapid career change that befell most of them.

Seriously, all joking aside, one of the things you should consider is talking to your predecessors – those who are prepared talk. Some have become bitter and are rusting in sidings like Poland’s historic steam locomotives, others have coped better and are developing their careers elsewhere. The latter will tell you that not all the key variables that affect PKP IC’s profitability can be managed the IC board or even the main PKP SA board. There are systemic factors which were outwith their control. Some of the strategies of your predecessors were actually quite good, but they were not given the time to make them work.

Here are thumbnail sketches of some of those you should talk to. Jacek Przesluga pointed out that the overall image of railways in Poland depended not just on the quality of the trains, but also on the standard of the stations. He wanted to set up a separate company to manage PKP’s main stations, but was dismissed before he could implement his plan. Janusz Malinowski was popular with staff and drew attention to the environmental benefits of travelling by train. He was sacked for making senior appointments without consulting his boss, a mistake that I am sure you will not want to repeat. Marcin Celejewski’s mission was to bring in airline style marketing and ticketing methods and to ensure the trouble free launch of the Pendolino. He succeeded – but only partially – in both, however a 5 million plus drop in passenger numbers made his position untenable.

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EIC buffet car and WiFi carriage at Warszawa Centralna. Photo BTWT.

Steering the flagship company of the PKP group is a bit like steering a giant oil tanker – there is a considerable delay before any course corrections instituted by the captain are seen to have any effect. The captain has the benefit of training on simulators before he finds himself on the bridge of a real tanker. There is no similar training package for PKP IC CEOs and, being realistic, your ‘on-the-job training’ will take a year. Forgive me for being so blunt, but with PKP IC haemorrhaging cash and Parliamentary elections due no later than November, I do not believe that you have got a year before you have to be seen to have turned your ship around.

So to help you get your tenure off to a flying start I have prepared the following 10-point crib sheet. If you manage to implement all these recommendations you should – given a fair wind – outlast your predecessors.

  1. Listen to your customers

    Set up a focus group. Run customer satisfaction surveys. Ride your trains and talk to passengers. If you need inspiration talk to Anthony Smith at Passenger Focus. By the way, did you know that the seats in the 2nd class section of your expensive new Pendolino trains do not fit the standard Polish male derrière?

  2. Listen to your employees

    Another excellent way of discovering what your customers think of PKP is to talk to customer-facing employees like train managers and ticketing staff. They hear an enormous amount of complaints at first hand. Actually it is quite a good idea to set up a way of getting feedback from all your employees. Most of the PKP group’s internal culture is still firmly rooted in ‘Command and Control’ mode, a left over from the days when Poland’s railways were an integral part of the Warsaw Pact’s military machine. Instigating a ‘reverse channel’ so information can flow upwards from staff to their managers, regional directors and main board members should be one of your main priorities.

  3. Improve ticketing

    In spite of Celejewski’s attempt to introduce low-cost airline discount pricing, the PKP IC ticketing system is still a shambles. Passengers travelling, say from Lodz to Zakopany and changing at Krakow Plaszow from one TLK train to another, should NOT have to buy two separate tickets (thus loosing the through journey discount) when purchasing their tickets through the Internet. Trying to find a bargain discount fare by ‘hunting’ between different days (a painless process on the discount airline portals) involves having to re-key in all the journey data for each day ‘tested’. It is only possible to buy tickets four weeks in advance. Why? This is something you should be able to sort out quite quickly. Setting up a ‘fair’ single fare for journeys involving more than one train operating company will take longer, but this is also a goal worth pursuing.

  4. Improve the customer experience at stations

    In the last few years major stations have undergone complete rebuilds or makeovers – a process partly accelerated by Euro 2012 championship (though relatively few football fans actually travelled around Poland by rail). But there are still major deficiencies in the quality of the station experience: lack of decent waiting rooms with comfortable seats, incomplete information on destination boards, poor integration between commercial retail and station facilities. I could go on and on about my pet gripes, but rather than pay attention to me, why don’t you… ?

  5. Make your managers and directors travel by train!

    I have always been amazed how much – bearing in mind that they work for a national public transport network – senior railway people in Poland travel about on duty by plane, or are chauffeured around in luxury cars. What a missed opportunity for senior people to see what is really happening on the railway! You should ban this practice immediately in PKP IC, and – should a suitable occasion arise – suggest gently to your boss, PKP SA CEO Jakub Karnowski, that he consider implementing such a ban throughout the whole PKP group.

  6. Introduce a staff suggestion scheme

    Have you read Deming’s Quality Productivity and Competitive Position, Out of the Crisis and The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education ? If not, please order these two seminal books for yourself and for all your fellow board members. Deming proved that it is possible to increase quality and reduce costs simultaneously. His work had a profound effect on the competitiveness of Japanese industry post WW II. It takes time to change a company’s culture based on the ideas taught by Deming, but as a small step in the right direction, you should encourage staff (individuals or teams of co-workers) to submit ideas for improving processes and reducing costs by offering appropriate rewards.

  7. Improve access for less-abled passengers

    To give PKP credit where credit is due, major stations around the PKP network are being fitted out with escalators and/or lifts. But due to a blind spot (no pun intended) PKP’s architects are failing to provide integrated solutions – complete routes that can easily be navigated without encountering a flight of steps. In the recently modernised station at Katowice, one of two pedestrian tunnels has been fitted with escalators leading to the platforms. Access to this subway is via a flight of steps. Further along the concourse an escalator and wheelchair ramp leads to another subway, but this tunnel has only stairs leading to the platforms. Similar barriers exist at the brand new station at Krakow Glowny. One can – for a time at least – excuse such problems at legacy buildings like Warszawa Centralna, but for brand new facilities this is inexcusable!

  8. Empower staff to deal with certain problems on the spot

    When things go wrong (such as a broken down train) one of the most infuriating things that can happen to a passenger is to be told by the train manager that one has to buy a brand new ticket, and that a refund for the old ticket can only be obtained via a Kafkaesque complaints system. Please, please, empower train staff to deal with such minor problems on the spot, by granting them powers to revalidate old tickets, or issue new replacement tickets, without charging the customer a second time. You would not believe how much anger will be saved, and goodwill generated, by such a simple step.

  9. Appoint an ombudsman

    Appoint a customer champion and show customers that InterCity is really on their side!

  10. Re-enthuse staff and passengers with the ideal of safe, ecologically sound, rail transport

    Rail travel was once seen as the premium travel mode; in many parts of Europe it is being viewed as such again. PKP should be involving its passengers and staff in a campaign to promote the benefits of safe, ecologically sound, rail transport!

My sincere best wishes for your success

Dyspozytor 1

Krosniewice death watch

Monday, 11 August 2014

With perhaps, the future of the daily ex Wolsztyn steam services being the one exception, no campaign has mobilised BTWT readers as much as the battle to save the Krosniewice Narrow Gauge Railway. Alas it seems that all our attempts – as well as the stalwart efforts of local enthusiasts – have failed to influence the decision makers.

As the various local authorities prepare to take over sections of the line, rip up the track and convert them into cycle paths, on July 6 our reporter paid a last nostalgic visit to photograph the railway’s remains at Ozorkow and Krosniewice.

The text and photographs in this article may be republished under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence.

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Volunteers tidy the path leading to the narrow gauge platform at Ozorkow. An Open Day is held each Sunday afternoon at the station. Photo (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) BTWT.

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

In its heyday the Kujawy Narrow Gauge Railways – comprising some 1,000 km of 600mm and 750mm lines – were Poland’s largest narrow gauge network. Starting from various independent agricultural and sugar beet railways the lines were expanded and connected together into a 600mm network for the purposes of supplying the Prussian forces during WW I.

When Poland recovered its independence the ‘main line’ was converted to 750mm. PKP constructed two new buildings at Krosniewice in the latest Art Deco style – the station building and the running shed.

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One of the attractions of the Sunday Open Days is the possibility of a ride on a platelayer’s trolley. Local volunteers pose with an itinerant Englishman. Photo (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) BTWT.

The Kujawy Railways survived WWW II and some of the remaining 600mm feeder lines were converted to 750mm gauge. At the start of 1991, PKP reorganised the Kujawy Narrow Gauge Railways into three independent railways the Gniezno Narrow Gauge Railway, the Sompolno Narrow Gauge Railway, and the Krosniewice Narrow Gauge Railway.

The Krosniewice Railway and the Gniezno Railway – but not the Sompolno Railway – were two of the some two dozen railways that were rescued from the wholesale destruction of the remaining PKP narrow gauge lines in 2001.

Thanks to co-operation between the then Mayor of Krosniewice, and the former PKP general manager of the line, the Town Council decided to acquire the Krosniewice line from PKP.

 

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At first sight Krosniewice station appears to be open. Closer inspection reveals to two changes wrought by Barbara Herman, the Mayor of  Krosniewice – the removal of the level crossing barriers across the main road, and the grave-like display of flowers in the platelayer’s trolley next to the level crossing. Photo (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) BTWT.

While the legal formalities for the transfer of the ownership of the line proceeded, the Council obtained an operating licence from PKP SA granted which it sub-licensed to SKPL, a society set up with the objective of carrying on operations on the recently closed narrow gauge railways.

The line’s future seemed secure. SKPL operated a regular passenger service on weekdays linking Krosniewice to the PKP stations at Ostrowy and Krzewie. On market days the service was extended to Dabrowice and Wielka Wies Kujawska.

But the main work on the line was freight – carrying supplies to and refined sugar from sugar refineries situated on the network. At the peak of SKPL operations the line was carrying 100,000 tonnes of freight a year.

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Looking to the North – everything appears neat and tidy. Photo (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) BTWT.

The legal wheels turned but slowly – Polish law required PKP to recreate the missing deeds for all the parcels of land over which the line ran before a formal handover could be concluded with Krosniewice Council.

Meanwhile, as a gesture of good faith, PKP transferred the ownership of all the line’s rolling stock – including a working Px48 steam locomotive – to the Council.

Unlike PKP, SKPL received no central government subsidy. During the off-season it was sometimes difficult to find the money to purchase replacement parts for the diesel locomotives and pay staff.

Slowly, disused feeder lines began to vanish…  .

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But a peek across the wall shows that every piece of glass is smashed in the skylight of the workshop roof. Photo BTWT.

Meanwhile a group of railway enthusiasts started clearing the overgrown trackbed on the disused track bed between Ozorkow and Krosniewice. While senior SKPL management – based in the Zbiersk Cukrownia HQ of the Kalisz narrow gauge railway – backed their efforts, relations with management and staff at Krosniewice were strained.

Perhaps the greatest achievement of local railway enthusiasts was when GDDKiA (Poland’s Directorate of Trunk Roads and Motorways) decided that they needed to take over a section of the narrow gauge railway in the vicinity of Topola Krolewska to build a new wide viaduct across the Lodz-Kutno railway line. Thanks to the energetic lobbying of the enthusiasts, the GDDKiA ended up having to construct a brand new viaduct for the narrow gauge line as well!

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The narrow gauge freight wagons have received no attention since the line’s closure. Photo (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) BTWT.

In 2006, at special meeting in Ozorkow the supporters of the line decided to formally constitute themselves into the Kujawy Narrow Gauge Railways Society. SKPL Chairman, Tomasz Strapagiel, attended the meeting and gave the venture his support.

The Society acquired a passenger coach from the defunct Piotrkow Trybunalski narrow gauge railway and restored it to running order. The Society’s volunteers cleared the trackbed from Krzewie to Ozorkow and, with the co-operation of SKPL, a number of special trains – which proved very popular – were run through to Ozorkow.

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The Art Deco building in the background is the running shed. Photo (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) BTWT.

Then in 2007 or thereabouts a new Mayor was elected in Krosniewice. Whereas the previous Mayor saw the Krosniewice Railway primarily as a transport undertaking, the new Mayor – Barbara Herman – saw the railway as a lucrative development opportunity.

Soon she visited the line, in the company of the local PKP property surveyor, and expressed an interest in demolishing the historic workshop buildings in order to make was for a major new property development – the General Wladyslaw Anders Centre.

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Recently repainted, the point lever and indicator adds a surreal touch. Photo (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) BTWT.

Mrs Herman requested that SKPL vacate the workshop buildings. The General Manager pointed out that SKPL needed the workshops to maintain the transporter wagons used to carry the standard gauge freight wagons. The Mayor countered that she had no interest in carrying ant freight though she might be prepared to countenance a small ‘fun fair railway’ somewhere on the site.

SKPL refused to vacate the workshop buildings. The Mayor countered by terminating SKPL’s licence to operate the railway.

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These coal trucks have a special compartment for a brakeman and were last used on sugar beet trains. Photo (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) BTWT.

The last train ran on 31 March, 2008. Ironically SKPL were in negotiation with a bulk aggregate supplier to deliver several hundred tonnes of roadstone required for building the A2 and A1 motorways. Ads a result of the Mayor’s decision roads in the Lodz Province were subject to tens of thousands of tonne km of unnecessary road traffic.

The Mayor’s decision provoked a massive storm of protest. Realising which way the wind was blowing, the Mayor trimmed her sails maintaining a public stance that she supported the reopening of the railway. She even allowed local activists to organise a couple of special trains from Krosniewice to Ozorkow to demonstrate her good intentions. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Mayor continued her attempts to have the workshop buildings demolished.

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Barely visible under the undergrowth – a line of standard gauge transporter wagons. Photo (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) BTWT.

But the Mayor’s plans hit an unexpected obstacle in the form of the Wojewodzki Konserwator Zabytkow, Mr Wojciech Szygendowski. Mr Szygendowski refused to grant permission to have the historic listed buildings demolished.

With her plans apparently thwarted the Mayor decided to reverse her predecessor’s decision to acquire the whole of the Krsoniewice Narrow Gauge Railway from PKP. Instead she came up with the plan that each local council should acquire just that section of line that lay within the its own administrative boundaries.

Now the demise of the railway could become a collective affair – one council could use the line for a cycle path, another for road improvements… and as the line died section by section and the historic workshop buildings deteriorated she could try yet again to have them demolished.

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The low buildings were the machine shops. The smashed windows and doors tell their own story. Photo (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) BTWT.

Without any maintenance, the workshop buildings deteriorate year by year. Unless a ‘white knight’ appears on the scene it seems increasingly like that Mrs Barbara Herman will succeed in her plan to bring about the final end of the Krosniewice Railway.

Further reading:

Poland’s brand new narrow gauge line

Sunday, 6 July 2014

First day of public operation as a 785mm gauge line, 19 June 2014. Video courtesy Sarmacja Film.

BTWT has had a longer than usual hiatus. I have had many things on my mind over the last twelve months and at some point all the creative energy drained away. The fact that this Polish railway blog is running at all owes a great deal to our deputy editors, John Savery and Ed Beale.

I would also like to thank all those who have provided articles and stories, especially ‘Inzynier’. My thanks to all BTWT readers and contributors. Please do continue sending us your stories and pictures. Our e-mail address is: railfan[at]go2[dot]pl.

What better to celebrate the return of BTWT than this story about the rebirth of the Park Slaski Railway, a line that many had given up for dead? Our thanks to Andrew Goltz for sending us his photographs.

Dyspozytor 1

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Industrial narrow gauge in the park. Las49-3343 being serviced. Photo Andrew Goltz.

(All photos can be expanded by clicking the image.)

The Park Slaski line has had three gauges! It opened in 1957 as a 1,000mm line. Trains were operated by 3 sets of single-directional railcars and trailers. The railcars had to be turned on special turntables located at each end of the line.

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First the tanks are topped up with water. Photo Andrew Goltz.

By 1966 the railcars and trailers were life expired. The line was re-gauged to 900mm – a gauge for which wheelsets and locomotives were readily available from nearby coalmines. Three 2WLs50 diesel locos were acquired and ten light coaches were specially constructed. The 2WLs50 locos struggled with the steep gradients between Zoo and Wesole Miasteczko stations and were replaced in 1973 by two more powerful WLs75 locos.

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Then the locomotive is coaled. Photo Andrew Goltz.

In 1988, the WLs75 locos were themselves replaced by two WLs150 locos that had been obtained from the KWK Katowice mine. When they became worn out they were replaced in 1994 by a single WLP50 loco which was painted in garish colours in the style of a steam loco as imagined by a drug user during a psychedelic delirium.

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Details for model makers. Photo Andrew Goltz.

In 2003, the operator of the Bytom Narrow Gauge Railway – the Stowarzyszenie Górnośląskich Kolei Wąskotorowych – took over responsibility for running the Park Slaski Railway.The Society ran the railway until the end of the 2011 running season. By this time services the single WLp50 was breaking down at frequent intervals and services suspended. The track was also in a very bad state.

In May 2012 the operating agreement with the SGKW was terminated and in October that same year the track was lifted and the track bed was bulldozed away. In spite of assurances to the contrary by the Park authorities, many people thought that the track-lifting heralded the end of the Park Slaski Railway. However, in 2013, a new bed of ballast was laid down. On this the company that had built the 750mm gauge park railway at Krosnice started constructing a brand new 785 gauge railway.

Initially the track has been laid between Wesole Miasteczko and Zoo stations (about 1 km) with a spur to the engine shed beyond. Eventually the Park authorities intend that the line should rebuilt for the full length of its former route – just over 4 km.

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Builders Plate. Photo Andrew Goltz.

On the 19 June 2014, operations commenced on the new line utilising rolling stock, staff and volunteers from the 785mm gauge railway at Rudy. Motive power was in the form of a Las49 0-6-0WT and a Romanian Lxd2 diesel. The Las 49 was only supposed to work the first three weekends, but has proved so popular (the police had to be called in to control the crowds of would-be passengers on the first day) that its guest appearance in the park was extended.

More:

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!

Dyspozytor

Spring Deals in Electronics

Deals of the Week in Electronics and PC

The cull begins, 2,000 route km to go

Saturday, 16 February 2013

3,000 km more to follow?

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PLK’s ‘Network Optimisation’ presentation.

(Click image to view or download the pdf file which includes a list of lines affected.)

On Friday, Poland’s rail infrastructure manager, PKP PLK,  announced that a total of 2,000 route kilometres was due to close by the end of the year.

According to PKP PLK, the effects of the programme – some 90 lines are due to close – will be to reduce the size of the Polish railway network from 19,200 km to 17,200 km. However, in September 2012, Rynek Kolejowy, was reporting that a ‘deal’ had been concluded within the Ministry of Transport whereby the target size of the Polish railway network would be some 14,000 – 15,000 km, necessitating a total line cull of some 5,000 km.

Perhaps, fearing a backlash from the Polish railway trade unions and the new train operating companies, PKP PLK is trying to put as much positive spin on the news as possible. (The unions are already furious that PKP’s daughter companies are trying to renege on a travel benefits package that was awarded to railway employees as part of an earlier salary and benefits package.)

PLK are talking about network ‘optimisation’ rather than closure. The lines would only be ‘suspended for a time’ rather than ‘closed’, says PLK’s vice chairman, Filip Wojciechowski, in charge of the restructuring programme. Only 910 km of route are definitively due to close, the other 1090 km will only close after the demand from train operating companies has been taking into account. There will be no further closures Wojcichowski assured at a press conference.

To those familiar with the Beeching closure programme much of the above language will be depressingly familiar. Services in the UK were only ‘suspended’, then after closure railway lines were disposed of in indecent haste as if to make sure that any subsequent reopening would be nigh on impossible.

Strategic considerations were sacrificed for short term financial goals. The Great Central Railway route from London to Manchester, constructed to European loading gauge, was closed at the same time that a detailed geological survey was being conducted prior to the connection of Britain’s railways to Europe via the Channel Tunnel! When the Beeching closures failed to make BR profitable another round of drastic closures was proposed in the early 1970s which was only averted by the most vigorous lobbying.

What is really depressing is that the supporting material released by PLK also seems to be based on the principle that PKP PLK should be ‘making a profit’. Any lines that detract from this objective should be axed. PLK’s press release cites the example of the 84 km section of line 227 between Czerwonka – Orzysz which carries only 3-4 freight trains a week and is supposed to be losing PLK over 1.5 million PLN a year.

Not only does the 1.5 million loss seem totally unrelated to anything happening on the ground – such lines enjoy zero annual maintenance and the block keepers and level crossing keepers were all laid of year’s ago – the implication that this traffic should all go by road makes no allowance for the additional road maintenance bill caused by the lorries carrying the transferred freight traffic.

It is a fact, frequently ignored by Poland’s transport planners, that the damage caused by a road vehicle moving over a road service varies as the 4th power of its axle weight. A simple calculation demonstrates that the typical HGV travelling over Poland’s roads is subsidised by ordinary motorists and taxpayers. It is a sobering thought that most of Poland’s road network would fail the ‘profitability test’ being applied by Poland’s Ministry of Transport to the country’s rail network.

Is Friday’s news the beginning of a stealth closure programme which in reality is targeting 25% or more of Poland’s railway network. Here at BTWT we very much fear that the evidence strongly suggests that in  reality this is the case.

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BTWT Brain-twister 3

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Rebuilt and relaid 600mm gauge line, but where?
Photo BTWT.

(Click image to enlarge.)

In our last Brain-twister competition we asked, What links two of Poland’s newest underground stations with a 15th century confirmation of a union between two nations? Amazingly our previously astute and assiduous competition solvers all seem to have been asleep for this round although it was so very easy!

The latest underground station to open in Poland is at Warsaw’s Chopin Airport as reported in BTWT on 22 May. Identifying the station would have won 2 of the 6 marks available. Previous to that the last underground station to open in Poland was not on Line 1 of the Warsaw Metro, but the pre-metro, fast tram station underneath Krakow Glowny main line railway station. Identifying the pre-metro station would have gained another 2 marks.

Finally, both stations link to the old Warsaw – Krakow railway which passes through Radom. The Commonwealth of Poland and Lituania was confirmed there in 1401. Identifying Radom and its treaty would have earned the final two points.

Today’s brain-twister is even easier. For example, identifying the narrow gauge railway above gains an automatic single point! Though you will have to work quite hard to gain all the 6 points available for fully solving today’s riddle:

     Two neighbours – different in all ways but one,
One carries people on their annual quest to the sun.

The other carries treasure wrested from the deep,
Is little known, less lauded, but by no means asleep.

Wolsztyn recruitment

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Engine crew give Pm36-2 a quick check at Wolsztyn. Photo BTWT.

Wojciech Lis’s website parowozy.com.pl carries the story that PKP Cargo has recruited 4 new enginemen to retrain to work with steam locomotives at the Wolsztyn shed. Three are former enginemen, the fourth is a young trainee whose higher education is being sponsored by Cargo.

We are delighted to be able to report good news in the same post as announcing that BTWT has passed the milestone of 500,000 hits. To all – readers and contributors – who have made BTWT a success our heartfelt thanks. Thanks also to Podroznik for today’s lead story.
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PYSKOWICE REPRIEVE!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Court case adjourned till October.

Yesterday the adjourned court case regarding TOZKiOS’s use of the former engine shed at Pyskowice was reconvened, only to be adjourned again till October! While we are not yet out of the woods, it looks as if the accumulating weight of letters received at the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure and Maritime Affairs, has thrown a spanner in the works and the society will not be receiving their marching orders just yet.

The good news is that local politicians are beginning to get involved and that there is the first glimmer of hope that PKP SA and TOZKiOS may be able to come to an agreement before the court case convenes for the third time. At least the October date gives us time to explore all available options, if PKP SA prove willing to negotiate in good faith. We have arranged to interview Zbyszek Jakubina, the Chairman of TOZKiOS on Thursday afternoon and will publish a detailed post on the subject of the Pyskowice Skansen as soon as possible thereafter.

Many thanks to all BTWT readers who took part in our letter writing campaign. It is only appropriate that I also acknowledge the debt of gratitude due to several senior figures in the international railway heritage movement who also took up their pens on behalf of Pyskowice.

My most sincere thanks to you all,

Dyspozytor

Freightliner PL in profit…

Saturday, 7 July 2012

…BTWT issues apology.

Freightliner PL leaflet. Photo Grafixpol.

On Wednesday 28 March 2012 we published an article ‘Freightliner PL to be sold‘ in which we stated that the company ‘has yet to make a profit’ and may have given the impression that the company’s owners might be forced to sell at a ‘garage sale price’. We now accept that Freightliner PL is profitable, that there is no possibility of a quick sale of the company at a knocked down price and that although a sale at some stage is likely – its principal owners Arcapita Inc are in the business of buying and selling companies – it will not take place according to the distressed sale timetable suggested by the article.

We make an unreserved apology to Freightliner PL.

The article was based on information in the public domain about the financial status of Freightliner PL’s principle owner Arcapita Inc and information about Freightliner PL’s financial results supplied by one of our trusted sources. What we had not factored in was that – in an effort to divert business away from Freightliner – one of Freightliner PL’s principle competitors was spreading misleading information about Freightliner PL’s profitability. We should have checked this information; we did not, and we accept full responsibility for the mistake.

Transport of Delight, or own goal? (Finale)

Monday, 2 July 2012

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.

(Click to expand)

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.

(Click to expand)

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.

(Click to expand)

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

Xmas/New Year Competition – No. 12

Monday, 30 January 2012

The last mystery location. Satellite photo courtesy Google Maps.

(Click image to enlarge.)

After a record 7 weeks – BTWT competitions usually drag out for much longer – we have reached the very last round. Starting on 8 December as our ‘Christmas Competition’, the contest played 7 rounds in 2011, and then morphed into our ‘Xmas/New Year Competition’ for another 5 rounds in January.

Today’s round is not helped by the lack of any high resolution image of the area in Google Map ‘satellite view’. The location has been deliberately chosen because it is so confusing. If you look carefully, you will see standard gauge lines, narrow gauge lines, and what could be either! As throughout the rest of this competition, the first person to identify the the area correctly gets the point.

Location No.11 stumped everybody apart from Inzynier. He writes,

From your clue about following steam trains, I first thought of Gniezno, as I remember chasing steam by car along here, and the line runs in the same sort of orientation, but there’s no matching location.  Sroda runs in the wrong direction.

By the time I started visiting the sugar beet lines, steam trains had disappeared.  But I remember driving out from Kruszwica with the railway running almost alongside the road before curving away near the entrance to a farm, which is the location of this photo.  I think I may have some video (certainly some still photos) taken from this location during the period between 1996 and 2002.

Spot on! Inzynier kindly did dig up his photos and found two glorious autumn evening sunlight pictures taken exactly at the No. 11 location in October 1996. Given the flat wagon, box van and the odd passenger coach I would guess this is a mixed P.W. / sugar beet train bringing home the track gang from a day’s work sorting out a few rough places. I passed through here in the early 1970s and caught sight of a steam-hauled train quite by chance.

West bound train near Kruszwica, October 1996. Photo Inzynier.

(Click image to enlarge.)

Kruszwica Railway, the same train a while later. Photo Inzynier.

(Click image to enlarge.)

Google Maps ‘slippy map’ view of location No. 11

 

Xmas/New Year Competition – No. 10

Sunday, 22 January 2012

The 10th mystery location. Satellite photo Google Maps.

(Click to enlarge.)

Many years have passed since the last train ran along these hills and today the former narrow gauge railway has become a road. Sometimes the modern road abandons the former railway track and takes a more direct route where the trains once hugged the contour and took a more roundabout route.

Our last Google satellite view was the former site of the Radzymin terminus of the erstwhile Marecka Kolej Dojazdowa which was an important part of the transport infrastructure of Warsaw’s right bank and ran from Warszawa Wilanow station to Radzymin.

The first correct reply came from Inzynier who compared the copious clues with some of the information given in earlier BTWT posts. The other came from Waldemar Heise who utilised his Polish Ordnance maps (WIG) from the 1930s and came in with the answer some 8 hours later. So the point goes to Inzynier.

Part of the WIG 1:25,000 map of the Radzymin area.

Map Archive of Wojskowy Instytut Geograficzny:

Xmas/New Year Competition – No. 9

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The 9th mystery Polish n.g. location. Satellite photo Google Maps.

(Click to enlarge.)

It has been many years since trains ran into this station. Yet in its heyday, it was the terminus of a very busy narrow gauge railway which should be known – by reputation, if not from personal acquaintance – to most BTWT readers. I paid two visits to the line when it was still working, once in the 1960s and once in the 1970s, and on the occasion of my last visit managed to talk myself aboard the footplate for a brief ride while our engine, a Px48, was running round its train at this very location.

Armed with a fistful of clues, I trust that today’s location will prove a walkover. The same cannot be said for our last location which stumped everybody. This is quite surprising given that the line closed as recently as 2008, and would have been seen by anyone looking out of the window and travelling by train from Krakow to Przeworsk and destinations further East.

The line was the 600 mm Igloobud brickworks railway in Debica. It carried clay from an opencast mine in Wolica – a suburb of Debica – to the brickworks adjacent to the mainline. It was opened in 1968 and served for 40 years. Most of the track, except that buried in the street, was dismantled in May 2009. Had it not been for the Ministry of Finance regulation that owners of industrial railways have to pay local authority taxes on their railways, the line might be running still.

A Google Maps ‘slippy map’ (can be scrolled and zoomed) of the No. 8 location on the Debica brickworks railway.

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