Archive for the ‘Customer care’ Category

Poles in 4th place re. rail disatisfaction

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Only the Bulgarians, Romanians and Italians are more dissatisfied with their rail services. Table courtesy European Commission.

(Click graph to see it double-size. Click on the link to download the source document: Eurobarometer 388.)

The European Commission has published the results of a public opinion survey which shows, that of the 25 EU nations surveyed, Poland is in 4th place when it comes to dissatisfaction with the country’s rail network.

Only 28% of the Poles surveyed said that they were satisfied with the nation’s railways.

With a hat tip to Podroznik for the link.

Transport of Delight, or own goal? (Finale)

Monday, 2 July 2012

On its way out? The old station building. Photo BTWT.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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*Mushroom management methodology: keep them in the dark and from time to time throw in a load of sh*t.


Transport of delight, or own goal? (Awaiting departure)

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Dyspozytor is returning to Poland from a soujurn in the UK. He has reached Poznan Glowny on the eve of the Ireland v. Italy game, and is about to catch the 15:55 to Lodz Kaliska.

The main indicator board. Photo BTWT.

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It is 15:15, the 15:55 has not yet been posted. When it appears, some 10 minutes later, it will be shown as terminating at Krakow Plaszow and calling at Konin and Kutno. There will be no indication that it stops at 15 other intermediate stations including Lodz Kaliska and Krakow Glowny!

Time for a break. Photo BTWT.

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Some things in Poland never change. The cleaner talks to the security guard for over half an hour. The brand new lift goes to… who knows? Perhaps they are standing there to advise football fans looking for the lift to platform 2?

Stairway to heaven. Photo BTWT.

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No doubt at all that these are stairs down to platform 2. The escalator only goes up. The 15:55 has been posted, but I need to use my iPhone to access the TK Telekom on-line timetable to confirm that TLK83106 also calls at Lodz Kaliska.

BTWT reaches parts other media never get to. Photo BTWT.

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This is the sight that greets passengers coming out of the lift. It looks as the team who built the new station took little heed of the design of the existing bridge. Note also the ‘hidden’ bay platforms with absolutely no signage.

Alfred Hitchcock would have loved this station. Photo BTWT.

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I turn around and see lots of trains, but the space under the concourse is dark and threatening. Those spindly single track steps are not a fire escape, but the only stairs down to platform 3. Similar narrow steps link the concourse area to platforms 1 and 2.


Transport of delight, or own goal? (Prelude and fugue)

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Dyspozytor lands in Poznan on the eve of the Ireland v. Italy game. He is pleasantly surprised by the welcome awaiting the Irish fans.

Recently returned after a rail journey from Moscow to Beijing, Andrew preferred the plane to the train for his trip out from Poznan to Moscow. Photo BTWT.

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18 June

Monday begins badly. I am not an early bird and I was not happy when, two days before my departure from the UK, I received an e-mail from Wizzair telling me to turn up at Luton Airport three hours before the my scheduled departure time. I crawl out of bed at 04:00, shower and eat a one sandwich breakfast. At 05:10, I leave St Albans for what should be a 20 minute car journey to the airport.

Millions have been spent on making the airport approach road a dual carriageway. Just after it was completed, the airport (run by TBI plc) abolished the its drop-off point conveniently close to the terminal building and routed all incoming cars through a car park and a single ticket barrier. It is not yet 06:00, and already the queue of cars slowly crawling forward is tailing two miles back. Has anyone calculated the social cost of the decision to impose a minimum £1 charge on all cars entering the airport?

Luton airport has become my own personal bête noire as far as making passengers walk unnecessary miles. The new drop-off point is now at least 100 yards away from the terminal entrance. It is raining. My suitcase handle is a good 4 inches too short to be comfortable, and my back is already sore after a restless night on a soft bed. It is 06:05. Halfway through the terminal there is a security cordon where boarding cards are checked. I am told to proceed to security zone six – another 50 yards walk back in the direction that I have just come from.

Security zone six turns out to be a fast track security check for passengers like myself who turn up at Luton with less than the advised 3 hours before departure. The queue is short and moves quickly. My baggage clears X-ray without a hitch, but I manage to ring the warning buzzer in the magnetic scanning machine and I am treated to a pat down.

Another 100 yard walk and I reach a small lounge fitted with departure monitors and chairs. What should I do? Do I wait here, reasonably close to Gates 1 through to 19, or do I walk some distance to the main departure lounge which is conveniently close for Gates 20 to 26? I check the monitor, it is 06:20, my flight is not yet shown. I see that various Wizzair flights are due to depart from both clusters of gates, so I decide to stay where I am. I eat my other sandwich and settle down to read my book, a biography of Richard Trevithic. The book is destined to help me combat boredom during many long hours this day, but as yet I am oblivious of what lies ahead.

The new above-the-tracks concourse at Poznan Glowny. A further segment of the concourse is under construction beyond the screen on the east side. The concourse currently provides access to the new platforms 1, 2 and 3. Will the extension provide access to a further platform 4? Photo BTWT.

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Shortly after 07:00 my flight, the 08:05 to Poznan, is posted. Check in is at Gate 25, which turns out to be a 500 yard walk from my lounge. By the time I have limped to the gate, there are already about 100 passengers in the queue ahead of me. I ask a couple of football fans to save my place and gratefully sink in to one of the chairs. The queue moves again, I regain my place. Another corridor, a long flight of steps… someone helps me with my suitcase up the steps to the aircraft, I collapse gratefully into a free seat in the last row.

I reflect wryly on the difference between the way that Victorian railway companies looked after their passengers and the operators at Luton. Whenever possible through coaches were detached from main line trains and attached to branch line services, to reduce the number of changes. This enlightened practice continued on BR till the 1960s. When it was not possible to provide through coaches, the railway companies tried to arrange same platform connections.

Patriotic colours. Plenty of places for a coffee and a quick snack, but not much else. PKP have not yet understood the retail potential of their main stations. Photo BTWT.

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I am not impressed by the flight attendants who spend most of the flight chatting up a senior colleague and ignoring passengers. The absence of any customer service ethos still seems to linger as a characteristic of many large ‘Eastern block’ companies.

We land in Poznan just before 11:00. I walk cautiously down the steps and am delighted to see a bus waiting at the bottom. This drops me a few yards from passport control. Wonderful! The border authorities have opened more booths to deal with the influx of football fans, but not all have been fitted up with computer terminals. The border official writes down my passport number on a sheet of paper and and waves me through. It only takes a minute. I walk the short distance across the baggage reclaim area and I am in the arrivals hall… another 20 yards and I reach at the bus stop for route ‘L’, the Poznan Glowny shuttle. I award Poznan airport the BTWT award for the most user-friendly airport access that I’ve come across.

More surprises on the bus. There is a ticket machine, but it has run out of small change and can only issue tickets for the exact money. The driver is also selling tickets, but by the time I reach him, all the right tickets have gone. The last time this happened to me here, I was overcharged by three times the going rate! This time, the bus driver smiles, rattles about in his till and changes my 5 zloty coin for the right change to put in the machine. Goodness! What has happened to the legendary rudeness of Polish bus drivers? Am I dreaming? I enter into the spirit of things and answer lots of questions from Ireland supporters. I advise them to travel all the way to the railway station where there will be an information desk and possibly maps showing the way to the football stadium.

Polish railways

Does the architect of the new Poznan railway station ever travel by train? Seating for passengers does not seem to have a high priority. Photo BTWT.

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Will the bus stop next to the new station building? No, The bus stops where it always has, just short of the old railway station. I am determined to try out the new building. There does not seem to be a grand entrance. Perhaps it has been built yet? But there do seem to be stairs going up into the building from the platform level. Hurrah, there are escalators. It is going to be a good today after all!

The concourse area is quite stunning. It is light and airy and deliciously cool. It was uncomfortably hot outside. A number of Ireland supporters are milling about inside. I decide that the first thing to do is to get my ticket for the journey to Lodz. As always, when buying a ticket in Poland is important to have planned your journey first. I am tired and I do not fancy jumping off and on to trains or dragging my suitcase up-and-down subways. There are only two direct trains the 12:45 Regio osobowy (all stations stopping train) which takes 4 hours 38 minutes and the 15:55 TLK which takes 3 hours 29 minutes. Reluctantly I decided that a journey involving a change of trains – the 14:25 Galczynski, and the 16:52 Doker from Kutno – total journey time 3 hours 59 minutes – is probably my best bet.
Polish railways

‘st. Martin’s Croissants’ – oh dear! Luckily the Ireland fans seem to have eyes for things other than the bad spelling. Photo BTWT.

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There is no queue at the ticket counters. The old station is still in commission and I suspect is still used by most of the regular rail travellers. I choose a PR counter because the lady ticket clerk looks efficient, and ask for a ticket for a journey on the 14:25 TLK to Kutno and then by the 16:52 TLK from Kutno to Lodz Kaliska. I am told that all seats on this train have to be reserved and that this entails a small extra charge. No worries, at least this guarantees me a seat. Reservation on certain TLK train was introduced a month ago by Transport Minister Novak to ensure that scenes of people squashing on to packed trains via open windows do not occur during Euro 2012.

The lady looks puzzled, Booking for this train is blocked, I can’t seem to be able to sell you a ticket. Odd! Ireland is playing Italy in Poznan this evening, so why should an afternoon train running from Poznan to Warsaw be sold out? Since long before the championships, I have kept hearing rumours that tickets for certain trains were unavailable for direct purchase from PKP, but had been reserved for the handful of agencies operating the Poland Ticket scheme. I begin to wonder if any PKP directors are financially involved in any of the Poland Ticket agencies… I decide to take the later through train and buy a ticket for the 15:55 Sukiennice which will take me direct to Lodz Kaliska.

Two coffee shops and a couple of snack stands – still room for improvement before catching up with the gastronomic standard of the  Gare de Lyon. Photo BTWT.

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I have some three hours before my train departs to Lodz. I have arranged to meet up with my good friend Andrew, who has just returned from an epic  train journey from Moscow to Beijing. I want to hear all about his travels and beg him to write an account of his adventures for BTWT. Much to my delight he agrees. Andrew minds my luggage while I climb painfully to the third floor press office to collect my Euro 2012 press pack. I am hoping to get lots of hard facts about the various improvements that have been carried out to ready Poland’s railways for the influx of football supporters, but the pack turns not to contain the information I am looking for.

For some reason my iPhone has not automatically reset itself to CET and suddenly I find myself with less than 30 minutes to go before my train departs. We say a quick farewell and I collect my things for my journey to Lodz. Little do I know that my adventures are about to begin!


A Christmas Tale – part 2

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Customer service on the British Railways, Western Region Blue Pullman in 1964. How many former connecting lines and sidings you can spot? Film by British Transport Films.

A Christmas Tale – part 1 described an incident when British Airways customer service broke down when a member of its staff had been subject to stress. The recent snow falls and freezing weather in the UK has seen some airports like Gatwick (now no longer part of the Spanish-owned British Airports Authority) coping magnificently and scheduling extra flights while others, like London’s Heathrow Airport, were totally unprepared for the big freeze and had intending passengers camping for days in the terminal buildings. Inevitably in such situations, where staff and passengers alike suffer extraordinary levels of stress, even the best designed systems can break down.

Prezes has e-mailed a story which continues with the theme of delivering customer service when the going gets tough. about how a sharp eyed member of one airline’s ground staff ensured a Happy Christmas for severely disabled man stuck in Heathrow chaos. Arriving to work at 06:00 on 22 a few days ago, Susan (all names changed to avoid embarrassment) was threading her way through the bodies that lay sleeping in the check in area when she saw a man sitting in a wooden chair. Now this struck Susan as strange – such chairs are not used in this part of of Terminal 3. But the most extraordinary part was to follow, the man got up and with great difficulty started to walk towards her. He caught her arm, introduced himself as Peter and slowly explained that he was trying to return home to the USA. He talked the way he walked, with great difficulty. He had been in the Terminal for 4 days.

Alarm bells rang in Susan’s head. When flights are severely rationed, passengers returning home are given priority over passengers flying out from their home country. Disabled passengers should be flown out on the first available flight. Someone like Peter should have been back home days ago, not still sitting and sleeping in a chair for 4 days. Susan rushed upstairs, pausing only to enquire from the manager responsible as to the status of Peter’s case. Oh that’s all right we arranged for him to stay in a hotel, came the breezy reply. Susan took a deep breath, rushed up some more stairs and found herself talking to a senior manager several levels above her rank. You were right to let me know, do whatever you need to do and get him on the next available flight.

Peter had fallen through the system, because although his movements were severely impaired he preferred to walk rather than use a wheelchair. Without a wheelchair staff did not recognize his case as exceptional. They made a reservation for him in a hotel, but expected him to find his own way there. After waiting for over an hour in the freezing cold for a bus that never came, Peter decided that it was warmer and safer back inside the terminal building. Someone had fetched him a comfortable chair and he was left sitting in it for three days.

The story has a happy ending with Peter getting back home for Christams after Susan personally made sure that Peter got onboard the next USA flight. The company she works for – owned by an eccentric millionaire – differs from PKP in one crucial respect. When a catastrophic failure occurs, staff are empowered to think and behave as if the airline belonged to them and to take whatever means seem reasonable to put things right. You may feel that there is less scope for such empowerment on the railways, but this little story published on-line by the BBC, proves that even in the days of British Railways, such little heroic acts of extraordinary customer care did occur.



A Christmas Tale – part 1

Saturday, 25 December 2010

A trip on the Santa Fe Railroad in 1954. Film from the Travel Film Archive via YouTube.

Podroznik is preparing a series of educational films for whoever is brave enough to step into Juliusz Engelhardt’s shoes. The Passenger Train is one of his choices. USA railroads may not have run their trains particularly fast in the 1950s, but they certainly knew how to look after their passengers.

The real test of the sincerity of company’s commitment to providing the best possible customer service to its passengers is not when things are running smoothly, but when they have become derailed. Sadly as passengers on PKP InterCity have long known, the best customer care courses in the world are useless unless they are backed up by the appropriate procedures and staff empowerment.

I recall flying on British Airways just after the company had spent several million pounds on training its staff in customer care. There was a bomb scare at Heathrow and my plane departed some four hours late. During the flight I pressed the button to ask the stewardess for another bottle of wine and she practically barked at me, What do you want? Just one bad experience, and I have never thought of the world’s favourite airline in the same way again.

From Hel to hell

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Video shot from the window of Hel – Krakow Plaszow train on the night of 22 – 23 August by mgrokrutny

People crushed in coaches with no room to move, others travelling in the space between coaches, passengers jammed in toilets, mothers with small children crying because they cannot relieve themselves – reports like these have been coming in daily during the summer holidays. Meanwhile recently refurbished coaches are left to the mercy of vandals in sidings. Why? Because PKP IC is heading for a thumping loss and has been told to cap its deficit and cutting down on trains and coaches is the only way it knows how. Why? Because PKP IC management do not understand the basics of marketing and face track access that are amongst the highest in Europe. Why? Because the half-baked ‘reform’ of PKP makes Poland’s railways expensive to run and inefficient. Why? Because the government – despite its green posturing – is pursuing a pro-road agenda which the rest of Europe has long abandoned. Why? The Poles have a saying, Jeśli nie wiadomo o co chodzi, to chodzi o pieniądze. Which loosely translated means – if something doesn’t seem to make any sense, you can bet someone’s making money out of it. With a hat tip to Podróżny for the link to the video.

Customer care conundrum

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

PKP IC staff leaflet

(Click image to read the full size leaflet.)

A friend has e-mailed a scanned copy of a PKP InterCity staff leaflet. He is clearly incensed. He heads his e-mail – Western standards, or lack of thinking, oppression and fear? He continues in much the same vein. I have never seen anything so absurd. Is anyone in charge of what on-board ticket inspectors are being forced to do?  …particularly worthy of note is Rule 13 and its subsidiary point that the customer is always right. Does this mean that customers can insult us and afterwards we will then have to thank them?

It is difficult to understand how this little leaflet can arouse such ire; nothing in it is particularly controversial. It sets out 16 basic principles such as, Remember that in every situation you are representing PKP InterCity and Keep your knowledge of railway regulations and current special offers and promotions up to date. The supposedly controversial rule 13 says, If a client is aggressive, try to help ease his temper, while the sub-clause, which so excited my correspondent, merely says, Never tell the client that he is mistaken, which is not the same thing at all as instructing staff that the customer is always right.

Yet there is something fundamentally wrong about the way that PKP and its subsidiaries treats its customers. Take my experience at Poznan earlier today. I had 5 minutes to catch my connection to Stary Bojanowo. My train from Warsaw had arrived 10 minutes late. As I jumped onto the platform, I heard the announcer tell passengers to hurry up for the connecting train to…  a list of stations… Stary Bojanowo was not among them. I rushed down to the subway looking for a timetable. I spied 5 timetables… all gave the time of arrivals, not departures.

At last a yellow departures timetable, but the new slim line format does not allow all intermediary stations to be listed. According to it there are no trains to Stary Bojanowo from Poznan ever. I barge rudely to the front of the queue to the information window only to be told that I have just missed my train. In despair I make my way to the train dispatcher’s office. Here I receive a lecture. We held your train for 8 minutes. Yet you and a whole crowd of others failed to make your connection. Didn’t you hear the announcements? Yes, I heard the announcements, but no Stary Bojanowo was mentioned. Yes that’s right we don’t announce all the intermediate stations; we expect you to know the ultimate destination of your train.

Snow slows Britain

Tuesday, 3 February 2009


‘A skeletal service will run due to adverse weather. Passengers are advised not to travel.’ Train indicator at Mortlake Station. Photo BBC on-line News.

(Click on picture to see original on BBC ‘Winter weather slide show’.)

A fall of some four inches of snow caused chaos in South Eastern England on Monday. 1 in 5 people failed to get to work. All London buses were cancelled in the morning. Trains and tubes were cancelled. Schools were closed. Two Eurostar trains became trapped in the Channel Tunnel. Today South East Britain slowly got its act together, but new snow storms spread the chaos to Wales and the South West.

It wasn’t always like this. I remember the great winter of 1962-63 travelling as a young schoolboy alone by train from Paddington to Leamington Spa. It was really cold and as we crossed the GW&GCJR viaduct at Denham I could see icebound narrowboats trapped on the Grand Union. But the trains and Underground ran almost normally. Nobody dreamt of saying ‘Passengers are advised not to travel’. My parents were quite confident that I would arrive on time at my destination. Britain was a different country in those days and the railways were run by railwaymen and not ‘managers’.

Rail pundit Christiam Wolmar picked up the same theme in his blogWhat is missing is the old ‘the show must go on’ Windmill spirit. The spinelessness is reflected elsewhere, too: Camden’s parks are all closed for safety reasons and the government building where my daughter works was threatened with closure because not enough security staff had got through the snow.

Winter Holiday

Sunday, 1 February 2009


‘Lux Torpeda’ railcar at Zakopane station, late 1930s

In Poland’s glorious pre WWII past, each town closed down for a fortnight for the annual ferie zimowe (winter holiday). Some towns took their holiday in January, others in February. Most of the workers went off to the mountains and stayed in kwatery and pensjonaty (digs and guest houses) in the mountains while essential maintenance work was carried out on the machinery which kept the wheels of industry turning.

The annual ritual was maintained during the post-war period, when Soviet-style communism was imposed on the country. (An experiment which was ‘like putting a saddle on a cow’ according to Stalin.) The only difference being that workers could now stay in the zakladowy osrodek wypoczykowy (the works holiday camp) rather than private accommodation. For seven successive weekends, the whole country was on the move and trains were packed to bursting point.

It is now 90 years since Poland first recovered its independence, 20 years since communism was replaced by market economics, 10 years since Poland’s heavy industries were abandoned, and long since the last osrodek wypoczynkowy was turned into a private hotel, but the annual ferie zimowe ritual is still maintained. Most people now travel by car, and the icy Zakopianka – the main road between Cracow and Zakopany – becomes in turns, a deadly race track and a day-long traffic jam. But many young people still travel by train. It is easier to carry skis, snowboards, rucksacks and luggage by train, than by coach. And though there are less trains, those that still run to the mountain resorts are packed to the gunwales.

Unfortunately, the geniuses who put together PKP InterCity’s timetables – PKP InterCity took over PK Przewozy Regionalne’s long distance pospieszny trains in December – forgot about the ferie zimowe. Used to long distance business travellers, they couldn’t see the need for weekend trains from places like Szczecin to distant mountain towns like Krynica. Suddenly youngsters, who had already booked tickets in advance, read in the newspapers that from the beginning of January their weekend trains were no longer running. There was an almighty row and some, but not all, of the weekend trains were reinstated for the holiday period.

Meanwhile, a few brave souls, who use PKP InterCity to holiday abroad, face an information blackout. Krysztof Radomski, PKP Przewozy Regionalne region director in Katowice, has issued an edict forbidding PKP Przewozy Regionalne staff, manning ticket offices and information points in the Slask province, from dispensing any information about PKP InterCity international trains!

Did we dream it or was it only December when Cezary Garbarczyk, Minister of Infrastructure, enjoined PKP bosses to ‘love their passengers’? Some love affair indeed!





Procrastination at Poznan

Friday, 5 December 2008


Day 3 of the UN Climate Change Conference at Poznan

(Click picture to see photo in original context on Conference website.)

Nobody seems to be expecting very much to happen at the UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan. Though the BBC on-line news service does cover the Conference, the story not easy to find. It does not feature on its News Front Page RSS feed, giving way to stories of greater global importance such as Honda’s decision withdraw from Formula 1 motor racing or Terry Wogan’s decision to withdraw from the Eurovision Song Contest.

The Wall Street Journal argues that the global economic crisis has sapped the will of European countries such as Italy and Germany to support French President, Nicholas Sarkozy’s bid to get European nations to sign up to a 20% cut in their CO2 emissions by 2020.

Poland’s Puls Biznesu, a Polish language daily which covers business and economic matters has decided that it can safely ignore the Conference. There is nothing about the Conference on its on-line pages. There is, however, a story (Polish) that Regional Development Minister, Elzbieta Bienkowska, announced that she intends to increase the amount of EU funds devoted to road-building from 16 billion euro to 21 billion euro. Bienkowska presumably forgot that, for the period 2007-2013, EU transport funding should be allocated approximately as follows:

Roads and motorways: 52%
Railways: 30%
Public passenger transport (urban, suburban, regional): 10%
Inland waterways: 2%
Ports: 2%
Intermodal infrastructure: 1%
Airports: 1%

Perhaps the last word should to an American. Hugh Bartling writes on his blog:

Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky will be arriving in Poznan next week for the high-level ministerial negotiations that will be the culmination of the two-week UN process towards a post-Kyoto global climate change treaty. She and the chief White House environmental policy advisor, James Connaughton had a press briefing today in advance of their trip.

Dobriansky basically said that their participation in efforts to achieve anything substantial will be minimal:

In Poznan, our highest priority will be to set the stage for an effective outcome in 2009. And what this means specifically is that we hope that Poznan can produce a deeper understanding of parties’ priorities and expectations, and then also our objective there is to reach consensus on a practical work plan — a work plan that will guide us and the new team into intensive negotiations into the spring period of next year for agreement at Copenhagen in December in 2009.

This, of course, is essentially a replay from last year’s meeting in Bali. Nearly a year ago, Dobriansky explained what the US delegation wanted to accomplish in Bali:

First, we would like to see a successful outcome in Bali, and specifically, the United States is very committed to developing a new global post-2012 framework that is environmentally effective and economically sustainable. And toward this end, the United States will be working with its partners to reach consensus on a Bali road map that will advance negotiations

Over the past year we’ve moved from wanting to “advance negotiations” to an outcome that will “produce a deeper understanding of parties’ priorities”!

The United Nations Climate Change Conference comprising, the Fourteenth Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 14), the Fourth Session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 4), the Twenty-Ninth Session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 29), the Twenty-Ninth Session of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI 29), the Resumed Sixth session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (Resumed AWG-KP 6) and the Fourth session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA 4) opened in Poznan on Monday 1 December.

Welsh narrow gauge railways scored

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The jury – ignore mum and the kids at your peril

(click on picture to see photo in original location, on Ryd Ddu blog)

One of the problems of running a heritage railway is that while many railway enthusiasts can be enormously passionate about what colour their engines and carriages should be painted, but this enthusiasm becomes somewhat lukewarm when it comes to properly looking after their customers. One of our best experiences on a British heritage railway was on the Chosley and Walingford Railway simply because of the quality of conversation with which the volunteer station staff regailed their customers. Another memorable occasion occured during a visit to see that beautiful model of railways and 1930s rural England at Pendon Museum. Normally Pendon runs like a Swiss watch, but this time, due to an extended opening, the engines were beginning to run a little less sweetly because dirt had built up on the tracks. A model GWR 28xx 2-8-0 freight locomotive derailed its tender and became separated from its train. A member of our party managed to sound the alarm just before the locomotive pulled its off the rails tender through some complex and very delicate pointwork, with potentially catastrophic results. We were rewarded for our efforts by a most comprehensive detailed explanation of what went on ‘behind the scenes’ at Pendon with none of our questions left unanswered. We all had a wonderful time.

But we don’t all visit railway locations just for the quality of the conversation. Mr and Mrs Colin Lea devised an 18 point scoring system in order to rate the North Wales narrow gauge railways that they visited on their holiday.

Marks out of 5 for the following

  • Loco variety
  • Parking
  • Cafe
  • Shop
  • Carriage comfort
  • Staff friendliness/helpfulness
  • Days open in the year
  • Publicity
  • Walks
  • Revisit potential
  • On board service
  • Attractions along the line
  • Facilities for kids
  • Photography opportunities
  • Engines in use at peak
  • and up to 5 extra for special things such as being offered a footplate ride

plus marks out of 10 for the following:

  • Views
  • Interest along the length of the railway

I wonder what criteria you would use to score your own heritage railway experiences. Anyway, here are the results of the Lea review. (Click on railway to see their detailed comments and photos.)

  1. Ffestiniog Railway
  2. Talyllyn Railway
  3. Welsh Highland Railway (Caernarfon)
  4. Bala Lake Railway
  5. Llanberis Lake Railway
  6. Fairbourne Railway
  7. Welsh Highland Railway (Porthmadog)
  8. Great Orme Tramway
  9. Llechwedd
  10. Corris Railway

It was interesting that using the Lea points system the Corris Railway came last. Yet they reported, Both staff and cafe scored very highly – very friendly people, a relaxed atmosphere and the best cup of tea we had all holiday. We do wonder how the Leas would score the heritage railway sites in Poland.