Archive for the ‘Channel Tunnel’ Category

A Return Journey – Part 14

Thursday, 15 March 2012

by Robert Hall

The final part of Robert Hall’s story of his return to Poland after 16 years

Robert Hall’s route from Radom to Lodz Fabryczna. Map courtesy Railmap.

(Click on the image to enlarge, but click on this link, if you want to follow Robert’s journey station by station on a larger scale Railmap which can be zoomed and scrolled.)

After a night in an agreeable hotel in Radom, only a couple of minutes’ walk from the station, I set off to Lodz the following morning, Monday 26 July. Armed with a packed breakfast provided by the hotel, I caught the 07:27 through local train Radom – Tomaszow Mazowiecki – Lodz. At the time, this was the only through westbound train of the day; it had an eastbound counterpart which ran in the evening. There is a meagre selection of other trains on the line, but no other trains run the full length.

The EMU departed punctually, for a delightful early-morning, all-stations run through pleasant countryside. Whilst passenger workings on this route may be few and far between, in the course of the journey we did pass a number of long-distance freights, and I noticed timber being loaded into PKP Cargo wagons at Wykno. It was cheering to see these all rail freight activities after my experiences on other secondary lines during this visit to Poland.

EMUs at Lodz Fabryczna shortly before closure. Photo Wiktor Baron.

(Click image to enlarge. Click on this link to see original on Wikipedia and for details of licensing.)

I arrived at Lodz Fabryczna station at 10:41, where  Dyspozytor and his car were waiting. A fine coup had been achieved: we were off to Zdunska Wola some 40 km to the west, and neighbouring Karsznice, for a visit to the little-known standard-gauge ‘skansen’ (open air museum) at the latter location. The railway museum, formerly under PKP control, has only recently been transferred to the Zdunska Wola municipality.

Our first stop was the Zdunska Wola Museum in the centre of town. The railway museum for administration purposes is now part of the town museum. We were met by the town’s museum director, under whose remit the railway museum now falls.

We were given a tour of this most interesting museum which tell the history of this textile town which is something of a junior partner of Lodz, and then, with Piotr Skorek of the Zdunska Wola museum staff as our guide, we continued to the railway museum at Karsznice, a few kilometres to the South.

The Karsnice ‘skansen’ in 2006. Photo BTWT.

(Click on image to enlarge.)

Until recently the railway museum was an integral part of Karsznice loco depot and railway workshops. Karsznice is a railway town, built for the Magistrala Weglowa (Upper Silesia – Gdynia coal railway) in the 1930s. It was a convenient point for exchanges of locos and crews, on the long run between the coal mines and the seaport.

It was a great privilege to see round Karsznice railway museum, which at the time of my visit was not open to the public at all; its Skierniewice counterpart can at least be visited a few days in the year. The previous workshop manager  had set out to collect one example of each of the engines that used to work on the coal line and was one engine short when he received his redundancy notice.

I spotted five out of the seven standard-gauge steam classes which were still active in the 1980s. The exceptions were class TKt48 2-8-2T, and class Ty51 2-10-0, and plentiful examples of both clases are preserved elsewhere. There was also Ty23-237, a Polish ‘home-grown’ 2-10-0 freight hauler. A few specimens of this class were active on PKP till the late 1970s.

Also still in use in the late 1970s, were the massive American-built class Ty246 2-10-0, fitted with a mechanical stoker. These were built to make good World War II losses in the brief time-window before it all went nasty between the West and the Soviet Union. I understand that some features of class Ty246 were used in the design of the later Ty51. Besides the steam locomotives there were also an assortment of diesel locos and railcars, and passenger stock, some of considerable antiquity.

Most unfortunately, there is at present no alternative to all these exhibits being kept permanently out in the open air. In addition, the museum’s future is entirely in the hands of the local council, who are at present supportive but there is no guarantee that this attitude will continue indefinitely, or even for long, given the situations faced by other Polish rail heritage assets in local authority care.

We drove back to Lodz via country roads with a coffee-and-ice-cream stop in a little town en route. You can’t cover everything – it turned out that something had to give, and the victim was Lodz’s wonderful metre-gauge tram system. In the end, time didn’t allow us to do the epic interurban run north to Ozorkow. So I was not able to enjoy as much of the Lodz tram network as planned, but those fragments I did experience were cherished. A great inducement for another visit to Poland.

The start of the interurban line to Konstantynow and Lutomersk at Zdrowie. The Lodz MPK trams turn right here and go round a loop. Note the Tramwaje Podmiejskie logo on the tram. Photo BTWT.

(Click image to enlarge.)

I did see a fair amount of the interurban tram line to Lutomiersk (featured in ‘A return journey – part 3‘) which is shorter than the Ozorkow line, but no small-time spur. At the time of my visit, the Lutomiersk tram route was temporarily interrupted over the central stretch near Konstantynow while road works were being carried out. Buses were bridging the gap, something of a discouragement to travel.

We travelled alongside the line for some distance by car, on journeys on two different days. On the journey to Zbiersk on July 19th we examined the route’s end, a loop in Lutomiersk town square. During our journey to Zdunska Wola on the 26th we also followed part of the line, and made a call at the interurban route’s depot on the west side of Lodz.

We had a chat and a coffee with the hospitable general manager and had a walk round the depot under the guidance of the chief engineer. At the depot we saw service vehicles of very considerable antiquity, converted from tramcars.

On the way back from Zdunska Wola and Karsznice, we planned our route so as to hit the main road west of Aleksandrow Lodzki, whose municipality a few years ago foolishly voted to abolish their tram route to Lodz, on a separate formation parallel to the main road, and replace it with buses. The result was road traffic chaos, which might hopefully serve as an object lesson to other commuter towns around Lodz about the wisdom of keeping their trams…

And so dawned Tuesday 27th, my last day in Poland. For complicated reasons, I had arrived in Poznan by air, but departed by rail. I had a few hours left for a farewell trip before my train in the evening. Having developed a fondness for leisurely journeys along electric lines by local EMU, I decided on a local-EMU odyssey as a fitting farewell to Poland, so I took a tram to Lodz Kaliszka station, and left Lodz on the 13:33 EMU, arriving in Poznan Glowny at 18:45, in plenty of time for the westbound night express due out of Poznan at 21:33.

The local EMUs seem basically ageless and unchanging, the same now as they were in 1980, and give a fairly comfortable ride. Who cares if it takes many hours of watching the beguiling Polish rural scene out of the window to arrive at one’s destination? Lines important enough to have been electrified also seem to have more action happening on them, including freight, than the depressing and seemingly dying non-electrified lines.

I enjoyed the long-distance EMU run. The train reversed in a leisurely fashion with a long lay-over at Ostrow Wielkopolski. A tank engine, 2-6-0T TKi3-120, was plinthed on the platform there. Pleszew was next. SKPL’s passenger service on this line was suspended for the summer, but I looked out eagerly for the 750mm gauge track, having a vague memory of seeing it in passing twenty years previously, but saw none this time.

Some way further north, Ol49-1 was plinthed at Jarocin, appropriately as Jarocin was the last place in Poland (with the exception of Wolsztyn) with completely genuine steam workings, until early 1992, mostly with class Ol49. At Sroda I was dozing, so missed a potential glimpse of the still-active 750mm gauge line.

And so I arrived in Poznan with time to get things straight, have a bite to eat, and prepare to board the Jan Kiepura express to the west, the first leg of my homeward journey. I was to leave the Jan Kiepura at Köln, and the journey until the far west of Germany was in darkness. I confess to being someone who lives firmly in the past, taking not much pleasure or interest in the ultra-modern railway scene. For me, even the Channel Tunnel, through which I have travelled several times, is a convenience rather than a thing of joy.

The Kiepura arrived at Poznan punctually, having started its run in Warsaw. It is designated, impressively, a ‘Hotel’ train, and its spacious accommodation, even in second class, certainly felt hotel-like after a long diet of Polish local trains with their comfortable enough but not overly expansive seating (and, as for the narrow gauge, comfort is not the object of that exercise). The reservation, obtained when booking the ticket in Britain a month previously, worked like a charm, and departure was punctual at 21:33.

With a long and quite intensive grice having taken its toll, I slept most of the night, completely unaware of the Polish-German border, and woke up briefly only at the key points of Berlin, Hannover, Hamm, and Essen. I had something over an hour in Köln, awaiting my train on to Brussels – an opportunity for some breakfast.

My Brussels train, coming in from further afield, was formed of highly modern and thoroughly comfortable stock. As at Poznan, the seat-reservation had worked smoothly, but my heart sank when an announcement was made that departure would be delayed because of a coupling-related fault on the train. My connection with Eurostar at Brussels was a little tight, and being given to travel-related panic, my imagination went into overdrive regarding what is done with passengers who miss their booked Eurostar because of the late running of their preceding train. The coupling fault was quite promptly remedied, and we set off about a quarter of an hour late. All being well, the Brussels connection would still be okay.

Shortly after Aachen, a change in the style of station-signage revealed that we had crossed into Belgium. I had hoped for some nice hill scenery in this far-eastern part of Belgium, but nowadays a great deal of the run between Aachen and Liege is in tunnel. Interchange to Eurostar at Brussels Midi was accompanied with check-in procedures identical to an airport, and after boarding the Eurostar, departure for London St. Pancras via Lille was punctual.

After a journey through unexciting scenery then through the ‘big rat-hole’, arrival was at about half past noon, my first time arriving by Eurostar into St Pancras, as the last time I had travelled by Eurostar the terminus had still been at Waterloo. With a short walk to Euston, the next train to Birmingham New Street, and a suburban train to my local station, I reached home. It had taken six trains and 24-plus-a-few hours, to get from Lodz Kaliska to Chester Road on the Birmingham – Lichfield line, with electric traction all the way.

My very great thanks to Dyspozytor for everything he had done to welcome me and to open doors to places which on my own I would have had no chance of accessing. I had a wonderful fortnight-and-a-bit. I had feared that the Poland of 2010 would be a miserable come-down, compared to the Poland that I had last experienced 16 years ago. I need not have worried, though my reservations were proved true in a couple of respects, in the main I am pleased to report that I found the country as much a delight as ever before. I want to go back – all that’s needed is a lottery win…

First regular freight service on HS1

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

…will connect Wroclaw to Barking!

DB Schenker Class 92 and European loading gauge curtain swap body on container wagon during trials on HS1 in May 2011. Photo DB Schenker.

17 years after the Channel Tunnel opened, and 4 years after the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (now known as HS1) was commissioned, regular European loading gauge freight trains will start running into London. A weekly service will operate between Wroclaw and Barking. The train will be loaded with European-sized curtain sided swap bodies. Having an internal height of three meters, they allow two standard pallets to be stacked on top of each other.

The first train will depart from Wroclaw on the evening of 08 November arriving in Barking in the early hours of 11 November. The train will leave the UK the same day to transport goods to Poland on the return journey.

The service will be the first regular rail freight service to use HS1, the only European loading gauge railway in the UK. Because of lack of long-term commitment to rail by the then Ministry of Transport the the Great Central main line from London to Manchester – was closed in stages between 1966 and 1969. The line, built by Edward Watkin at the end of the 19th century, was intended to be part of a continental-loading line linking Manchester, Nottingham and Leicester with the railway network of continental Europe.

Alain Thauvette, Chief Executive of DB Schenker Rail UK, said: Strong European rail freight trading links are essential for economic development and to encourage modal shift from road to rail. The introduction of this new rail freight service between Poland and the UK will be the first of a number of such trains, which utilise the DB Schenker Rail pan European network. This is an important step for rail freight in Europe, as a new market has been developed and a new trading route opened.

BTWT congratulate DB Schenker on achieving this historic milestone. Now if only Deutsche Bahn could be persuaded to run passenger trains between Poland and the UK!

HS1 tracks burrow into the ground for the last leg into St Pancras; continental-gauge freight tracks continue overground to the Barking Freight Terminal.

Source:

Channel Tunnel, Thatcher’s muddle

Friday, 12 September 2008

Suspension of services notice on the Eurostar website

(click on image to go to the Eurostar website)

If one was superstitiously minded, one might think the BTWT editorial team clairvoyant. On Thursday 4 September, we announced that our services would be temporarily suspended and we carried an illustration of a train stopped by water on the track. A week later, Eurostar announced that the UK’s most famous train service, which normally goes under water, is suspended by a fire in a lorry on the Euroshuttle freight service. Of course, this is only a coincidence.

For 130 years, from 1856 to 1986, the idea of a railway link under the channel was promoted. It met with official hostility and indifference. There were actually two attempts to build the tunnel in 1881 and 1974. The 1881 attempt was linked to Sir Edward Watkin’s plan for a high speed railway route from Manchester to the continent. The 1974 attempt was a government funded project which was still primarily a link between the railways of Britain and France.

BTWT is apolitical and does not care a toss about party politics. However, we do not hesitate to name politicians who play an important role in shaping transport policy. When the idea of building the Channel Tunnel was revived again in 1981, it was Mrs Thatcher who insisted that it’s main purpose was to be a shuttle for road vehicles. The extra size of the tunnel’s main bores, to accommodate road lorries carried on special rail vehicles, added considerable to the project’s cost and complexity. While the tunnel itself received no public funds, two massive motorways, the M20 and M2, were cut through the South Downs to funnel road traffic to the tunnel’s shuttle terminals.

These political decisions left Eurotunnel with a large bank debt and a preference for running its own shuttle services for lorries rather than providing paths for freight trains. An Anglo-French safety commission only allows a limited number of certified railway vehicles to run through the tunnel. The result of all of these constraints, and the withdrawal of UK-French government subsidies, is that the Channel Tunnel’s full potential to carry rail freight has never been realised, and that only a handful of freight trains work through the tunnel.

The total cost of yesterday’s fire in the Channel Tunnel will run into hundreds of millions of pounds. It’s ironic that the three fires that closed the Channel Tunnel (on 18 November 1996, 21 August 2006 and 11 September 2008) all took place in road vehicles, or more specifically the HGV lorries, whose carriage by the tunnel shuttle Mrs T had insisted upon. It’s also unfortunate that Eurostar, the high speed train operator between England and France that has been doing so well, will be taking a hit from a disaster on an operation – the Eurotunnel Shuttle – over which it has no control or influence.

Reflecting on Customer Service

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Eurostar trains at Waterloo International

Can’t say I’d rather take train from UK to Poland rather than plane – no matter how fast the train was (unless you’re talking maglev and 400mph/600kmph). Door-to-door, London to Warsaw is six hours. Even if a train could do it in twelve, I’d pass. Unless it was thruppence ha’penny return.

So commented W-wa Jeziorki blog editor, Mike Dembinski, on reading my recent Eurostar sees a 21% increase in passengers post. It made me reflect on how different people perceive the quality of goods or services.

For jet-setting Mike, hopping between one business meeting and another, time taken from A to B is the deciding factor. But for my friend Jozek – and hundreds of thousands of Poles like him – a decent through train service with a proper luggage van would be just the ticket. Jozek is having to spend tonight (it’s now Wednesday night) in a hotel on the German-Dutch border because his van has bust a half-axle. He drove out from the UK on Friday night with van and trailer to pick up the belongings of a couple that have sold up in Poland and are moving permanently to the UK.

Mike’s comment reminded me of the time I travelled from London to Warsaw by train. It was November 1994 and Eurostar had just launched its public service between London Waterloo International and Brussels or Paris. I had business meetings in Brussels and Munich and then a short project to complete in Warsaw. Travelling by train – rather than flying and booking hotels – was actually a good solution to my travel and accommodation needs.

I left Waterloo on the morning service. A friend that I hadn’t seen for ages was also travelling, in his case just for fun, and we took photographs of each other posing self-consciously against the Eurostar train. We bumped rather than glided across the BR tracks until we reached the Channel Tunnel terminal. Here the train appreciably speeded up, though not as much as it might have done had the UK government not agreed to reduce the specification of the tunnel railway track as a cost cutting measure. Emerging into daylight at the French portal, the sudden burst of acceleration was phenomenal and soon we were flying along at 160 mph. All too soon, we arrived at our stop at Lille and from here the Eurostar bumped its way slowly over orthodox railway tracks till we reached our destination at Brussels. Passport control at the Belgian end was a handful of officials sitting behind folding card tables who just waved us through.

My Brussels meeting over, and replete with supper from one of the excellent Brussels restaurants, I boarded the night sleeper from Brussels to Munich. This was not a good experience. The German sleeping car attendant directed me to the wrong carriage, and then when I finally found my sleeping compartment and dragged my heavy luggage into it, I discovered that there was no water to freshen up. The attendant seemed to find my difficulties amusing. Here was one fellow who had not forgiven the Poles and Brits, for thrashing the Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain.

I arrived in Munich, hot, sweaty and cross. I did not endear myself to my German hosts by informing them that the quality of customer service on their night sleeper services was crap, and that before I could start the meeting I needed a bathroom and a good wash. The evening journey from Munich to Hannover was a complete contrast. The ICE train (the German equivalent of the French TGV) was clean and efficient. The Swedish style smoked fish platter was delicious. Why was I then not completely satisfied? What was the missing ingredient?

I waited at Hannover station for the Brussels-Moscow train which was to take me to Warsaw. The Polish WARS sleeper carriages looked dowdy and unkept. My expectations were low. I found my compartment. The attendant poked his head round the door, with a broad grin on his face. “Would you like a hot towel sir? Can I get you a snack or a beer?” Suddenly I knew that the rest of the journey would be OK. I was home!