Archive for the ‘PKP InterCity’ Category

Expansion of Pendolino services

Monday, 5 October 2015

PKP InterCity have taken delivery of their twentieth and final Pendolino unit.  The EMU’s were built by Alstom at their Savigliano plant in Italy.  Introduced to the timetable in December 2014, and branded as Express InterCity Premium (EIP), they have been working scheduled services on the Warsaw – Czestochowa – Wroclaw, and Gdansk – Warsaw – Krakow routes.  With their top speed in public service of 200 km/h they have cut journey times between the Polish cities.

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A Pendolino waits in Wroclaw Glowny for a departure to Warsaw. 8 February 2015.  Photo: John Savery

InterCity have now announced plans to expand the routes, with Jelenia Gora and Kolobrzeg joining the network.  The Jelenia Gora to Wroclaw route has recently been modernised, with PLK spending a quoted 400 million zloty on works since 2010.  The result is a reduction in the journey time to Wroclaw of approximately one and a half hours, compared with five years ago.

For those not familiar with the route, the line follows a fairly straight run down to Jaworzyna Slask, before winding its way up the climb to Walbrzych, and onwards to Jelenia Gora at the foot of the Karkonosze range.  The twisty windy route would be well suited to the tilting Pendolino’s.  Sadly PKP InterCity cut the tilting element from the Pendolino project at design stage, and so passengers will not be able to take advantage of this or the potential for increased speeds on this stage of the journey.

The introduction of the through services to Warsaw (using Pendolinos) is due to take place at the December timetable change.

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PKP InterCity – strategy masterstroke!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

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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.

Poland – worst international rail connections in Central Europe

Monday, 23 February 2015

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International rail connections between the capitals of Central Europe. Graphic courtesy Centre for Sustainable Transport (CZT).

(Click image to access source material – in Polish – on CTZ website.)

Notwithstanding various European Commission initiatives to create a ‘connected Europe’, and to encourage a modal shift to rail, Poland’s international rail connections are pretty dire. Now the ‘Man in Seat 61‘ reports how international connections from Wroclaw Glowny have been slashed.

 

Should Wroclaw be stripped of its 2016 European City of Culture status?

First the Berlin-Wroclaw-Krakow sleeper train got cut.  Then the Berlin-Wroclaw-Krakow daytime EuroCity train Wawel got cut back to Berlin-Wroclaw.  Then it disappeared completely in December 2014, a civilised train replaced by 5 hours strapped to a bus seat, as if Wroclaw was not a major city, but a remote village far distant from the European rail network.  In a month or two, all Dresden-Wroclaw regional trains will be cut, unbelievably (a) leaving a 2km gap across the border between rail services on either side and (b) leaving Wroclaw with no direct trains whatsoever to or from Germany & the West. Can such a remote and inaccessible village possibly be European City of Culture 2016?  Perhaps the title should be reallocated to a city people can actually get to…  Wroclaw needs to wake up and reassert its need for proper links to the rest of Europe.

A hat tip to Chris White and Podrożnik for today’s stories.

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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

Jacek Leonkiewicz

Sunday, 18 January 2015

New broom at the helm of PKP IC

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Jacek Leonkiewicz. Photo PKP SA.

PKP IC’s new chairman, Jacek Leonkiewicz, graduated with a Masters degree in Banking and Finance from the Warsaw School of Economics (SGH) in 2007. While at the SGH he captained the football team and was an exchange student at the University of Madrid and the Copenhagen Business School.

Leonkiewicz gained work experience in London as an intern at Grant Thornton and J P Morgan and took a summer job as an analyst at Merril Lynch. On graduating he joined J P Morgan Case as a debt analyst. In 2009, he returned to Poland to join investment fund manager PKO TFI SA where he stayed for four years.

He became a board member of PKP SA in 2013, and, in 2014, he briefly joined PKP subsidiary, T K Telekom Sp. z o.o. as chairman of its supervisory board. Also in 2014, he became a member of the supervisory board of PKP Cargo SA and later that same year the chairman of the supervisory board of PKP Energetyka SA.

He helped PKP Cargo get in shape for its debut on the Warsaw stock exchange and has been working to prepare both T K Telekom and PKP Energetyka for privatisation.

He was appointed to the position of chairman of PKP IC on 16.1.2015. Here he will have his work cut out in stemming the desertion of customers to other modes of travel, as well as preparing the company for privatisation.

passengers carried by PKP IC each year (millions)

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declining passenger numbers

Toxic 2014 results at PKP IC

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Chairman sacked. Privatisation to be rushed through?

BTWT EXCLUSIVE

Unofficial 2014 figures for passengers carried by Poland’s TOCs show passengers deserting PKP InterCity in droves. PKP IC carried 30.7 million passengers in 2013, but only some 25.4 million in 2014, a loss approx of 5.3 million passengers (-17.2%). Most of the passengers deserting Poland’s long-distance train operating company were those who used PKP IC for relatively shorter journeys as the decline in passenger kilometres (from 7,085 million in 2013 to 6,221 million in 2014) was a more modest -7.9%.

To say that the result is a disaster for PKP IC would be an understatement. In 2013, PKP IC declared an overall loss of 87.2 million PLN, on a difference between sales revenue and operating expenses of 91.3 million PLN. Adjusting sales revenue in accordance with the approx 8% reduction in passenger km in 2014, and assuming that any savings achieved in operating expenses was cancelled out by increased debt service charges, the gap between sales revenue and operating revenue opens out to a huge 282.6 million PLN. What the overall effect on PKP IC’s bottom line is, is anybody’s guess, PKP IC has additional deprecation charges associated with the purchase of new rolling stock in 2014.

What is known for certain is that, after 12 months in post, former PKP IC chairman, Marcin Celejewski, has been turfed out of his job (though he remains a board member) giving up his chair to PKP privatisation guru, Jacek Leonkiewicz – the clearest sign yet that PKP may wish to rapidly divest itself of its troublesome flagship company.

Selling some, or even all of PKP IC, will not be easy. Compared to the UK, Poland’s long-distance passenger market is a mess: there are no through ticketing arrangements between the different passenger operators, journey times are lengthy due to speed restrictions due to poor track or construction work, ticket prices (when compared to earnings) are high, Poland’s TOCs having to pay some of the highest track access charges in Europe.

Stagecoach investigated the possibility of setting up as a TOC in Poland and decided the market was too risky – with the insight so obtained into Poland’s public transport market Stagecoach founder, Brian Souter, decided to set up PKP IC’s nemesis, Polski Bus, instead!

Polish Pendolino – a cautious step forward, or too little too late?

Monday, 15 December 2014

Dyspozytor travels on the first public service Express InterCity Premium (EIP) ‘Pendolino’ train from Warsaw to Krakow on 14 December.

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Over half an hour to go before the first Warsaw to Krakow Pendolino departs – time for a coffee and a roll in my favourite coffee bar at Centralna. Photo BTWT.

(All the photos can be enlarged x 2 by clicking on the image.)

I am impressed, but not excessively so. The 2nd class seats are comfortable, though a tad narrow for the classical Polish male derrière. Acceleration out of Warszawa Zachodnia – gentle yet sustained – is comparable to the diesel-powered HST125s out of Paddington (after they were throttled back following the Ladbroke Grove crash) though to PKP’s credit there is no appreciable slowing down through the Zyradow modernisation area, where delays have been the rule for over a year.

I cannot find an Internet signal, but there is a double power socket in the space between the seats. I have to have it pointed out to me as my left thigh is obscuring the location. It seems that the same approach has been made as regards the inter-seat spacing as on the notorious PESA Bydgostia EMU’s – a narrow body shell has been fitted out with 2 + 2 seating and a gangway wide enough to run a wheelchair from one end of the train to another. I have difficulty in believing that such a wide gangway, and the consequent narrow seats and ultra close inter-seat positioning that results, is really required to comply with EU directives.

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On the platform at Centralna there is an impressive platform, but it is only for TV news crews – there will be no speeches. Photo BTWT.

We change tracks vis a facing point at approximately 60mph and I am impressed with our coach’s steadiness as its Alstom Pendolino bogies negotiate the pointwork. The ride is very good, though I am annoyed by the low-frequency rumble occasioned by the welded track joints. Polish rails lack the near perfect alignment achieved in the UK and, apart from a few high quality sections, each welded rail joint is felt in the coach as a slight bump.

I am frustrated by the quality of information provided to passengers. In Warsaw a female voice on a recorded loop announced some 30 times that passengers attempting to travel WITHOUT a ticket and seat reservation will be fined 600 złoty (approx. 120 GBP). This seems somewhat excessive both as regards frequency of the announcement and also the size of the fine, especially as 90% of the seats are empty and journalists and PKP staff seem to outnumber fare-paying passengers.

The LED travelling information ribbon panel at the end of the coach is stuck in an endless loop announcing alternatively: first, that the next station will be Krakow Glowny and then, that the remaining stations will be… Krakow Glowny. I had hoped for the usual more informative display with an occasional real-time indication of our speed.

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Our train draw into the platform, but where are the crowds of intending passengers? Photo BTWT.

There are some nice human touches, the driver switches on the PA and announces aeroplane captain style that we are travelling at 200 km/h (125 mph). The track is exceptionally smooth here and I would never have guessed. However, immediately after making the announcement he applies the brakes so I cannot savour the moment for long.

Our 200 km/h peak top speed took some time to build up and I conclude that Pendolino drivers have been trained to limit their acceleration and hence the current drawn from the electric supply. The Pendolino traction equipment was originally designed for high voltage (25kV or 15kV) AC electrified lines and the current drawn on Poland’s 3kV DC lines is very high. (Hint: POWER = VOLTS x AMPS.) Theoretically, two Pendolinos passing each other on the same electrical section and accelerating hard could blow the circuit breakers in the electricity sub station.

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The interior – very nice, but the passengers do not quite fit the seats (or is it the other way round?). Photo BTWT.

We slow down for the junction at Psary and turn south passing through the site of the Szczekociny head on collision of 2012. The line begins to twist and turn and on this section the tilting package (based on research carried out by the BR Research Division in the 1970s and left off the Polish Pendolino bogies to save money) would have allowed our driver to take the curves some 10 km/h faster. With only twenty-five minutes to our scheduled stop at Krakow Glowny, we grind to a halt at Niedzwiedz. So much for our 2hr 28min run, thinks the cynic in me. Our captain comes on the intercom again to say that the delay has been factored in the timetable, and, we are still scheduled to arrive in Krakow on time. Four minutes later, a train running in the opposite direction having passed, we are off again.

Resisting blandishments to sample the delights of the restaurant car, I remain in my seat throughout and tap away on my tablet writing this article. The ride is sufficiently smooth to make typing on a tablet or laptop a pleasure. Another announcement (surely too early?) informs us that we are approaching our destination and that we should check that we have collected all our luggage.

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On arrival in Krakow a few stragglers pause to admire the train. Photo BTWT.

We arrive in Krakow Glowny at 08:56, 2hr 21min after departing Warsaw – 7 minutes early! The (theoretically non-stop run) from Warszawa Zachodnia (Warsaw West) has taken just 2hr 15min to cover 290km – a very satisfactory average speed of approx. 129km/h (80mph). At Glowny, just as had been the case at Centralna, there is a scramble of TV cameras and journalists, but no brass band, nor ribbon cutting. VIPs, whether PKP senior executives or politicians are conspicuous by their absence.

Maria Wasiak – former PKP group chairman and now as minister of Infrastructure and Development ultimately responsible for Poland’s railways – said a few days ago, no need to make a fuss, the Pendolino is just a train. However, I am cautiously impressed, and with plenty cheap discount tickets available for advance purchase, I will certainly be using PKP’s Express InterCity Premium service again.

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PKP Intercity ticketing system collapses – Heads roll

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

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Tomorrow’s morning trains from Lodz to Warsaw. Only the Przewozy Regionalne online booking service is working. Image TK Telecom train timetable portal.

(Click image to expand.)

The relaunch of PKP Intercity’s ticketing system, timed to coincide with the sale of tickets for the new Pendolino service starting in December,  has ended in farce.  Launched on Sunday 16 November, the service quickly collapsed, and whilst booking offices at stations have been resolved, the online service, which handles Intercity’s sales is still down.  Ticket machines are also affected.  Together, they handle 10% of sales.  No timetable is given for resolution. As of this evening, the online service remains unusable.

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PKP IC’s own ticket portal displays a dearth of information.

A crisis team has been set up, and the problem blamed on the lack of compatibility with the new system, and the existing archaic systems used throughout the PKP network.

Heads have rolled.  Paweł Hordyński, the board member with responsibility for IT and the new ticketing system has been removed from his post.  A further two directors have also gone.

As a means of apology, Intercity have increased the availability of the cheapest tickets (49zl) for the new Pendolino service threefold.  Assuming there is a means for buying them…

Intercity have stated that the launch date for the Pendolino is unaffected.

Łódź Fabryczna – white elephant?

Saturday, 2 November 2013

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Lodz Fabryczna construction site, summer 2013. Photo by Zorro2212.

(Click picture to see original photo on Wikipedia Commons.)

Behind The Water Tower has been ‘down’ for much longer than usual. I have not been well – nothing terribly alarming, rather a combination of ‘wear and tear’ and an old back problem has taken its toll, and much of my ‘get up and go’ seems to have got up and gone. I have decided on a few simple steps which should at least improve the frequency of postings, if not their quality.

BTWT readers may remember my dislike of the new Lodz Fabryczna project. Currently, the centre of Lodz is cut off for visitors by train and there is no firm date in sight for when the rail link will be restored. Lodzians commuting to Warsaw or further afield are better off – they simply park at one of the many stations on Lodz’s periphery: Zabienec, Kaliska, Chojny or Widzew and enjoy reasonably comfortable(1) – if not very fast train journeys.

There is currently no money nor end date for the completion of the 2,000 million PLN project, 1,500 million of which is being put up by PKP and 500 million by the City of Lodz. The project will not add a single new train path between Lodz and Warsaw.  Just think what 2,000 million PLN could have done in removing speed restriction and bottlenecks in key places around the Polish railway network.

For those readers admiring the progress on the new station in the photo above, perhaps I should explain that the concrete deck in the picture is not intended to be the track bed level of the new station, merely its ceiling. The actual station level remains to be excavated, under the newly cast concrete deck in the picture.

(1) Apart from certain Lodz-Krakow services worked by the PESA ED74 EMUs with their back-breaking seats.

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More: Wikipedia – Łódź Fabryczna railway station

Pending Pendolino

Monday, 12 August 2013

Around 04:00hrs ET22-2019, an electric  locomotive designed for hauling heavy freight trains, hauled the first of Poland’s 20 Pendolino trainsets through Wroclaw station. Eight hours later the train was very carefully propelled back into the station for its first showing to its potential customers. So many people wanted to walk through the train that the event, which had been scheduled from 12:00 to 14:00 had to be extended until 15:30.


Pendolino’s first appearance at Wroclaw Glowny. Video Gazeta Wroclaw.

A phone call on Sunday afternoon gives me early warning of today’s media storm. Do I want to take part in an early morning TV breakfast show to discuss PKP’s latest toy: the Pendolino? For various reasons which will rapidly be made clear, I am not a great fan of the PKP Pendolino but neither do I want to spoil beleaguered rail minister, Andrzej Massel’s, moment of triumph. How early is early? 06:40, I’m told.

Hmm. My first train of the morning, the 04:17 ex Lodz Kaliska, is supposed to get in to Warszawa Centralna at 06:23, but there a note on the timetable advising would-be passengers that because of a ‘usterki tchnicznej’ (a technical fault) the train may not reach Centralna until 06:53. I gracefully give my apologies.

Which neatly brings me to the first of my Pendolino reservations. Some 5 years since the introduction of the special 100mph (160km/h) PESA-built ED74s and the start of a multi-billion PLN project to rebuild the the Lodz-Warsaw line for 100mph running, PKP IC TLK trains from Lodz Kaliska to Warszawa Centralna are still timetabled to take between 2hrs 1min and 2hrs 14min.

The run is timetabled (and this is excluding any delays caused by ‘usterki’) for an average speed of 41.3mph (66.1km/h). If PKP cannot run its ‘fast trains’ faster than at an average speed of 40 mph after a hugely expensive track upgrade, what hope is there that the Pendolino will be able to run at anywhere its top service speed of 156mph (250km/h)?

2nd class seating is decidedly tacky. Video Gazeta Wroclaw.

My second reservation is concerned with passenger comfort. The PKP Pendolino is being positioned as a premium service. Yet the seats look decidedly tacky – a cut down version of something I would expect to find on RyanAir and a million miles away from the sumptuous comfort that I recently experienced in a (quite old, but superbly maintained) DB ICE coach. Look at this carefully staged photograph with the models leaning over to make the seats appear bigger.

1st class seating does not seem more comfortable. Video Gazeta Wroclaw.

My third reservation is why, oh why, are PKP buying Alstom rather than supporting Poland’s own railway industry? Both Newag and PESA were quoting for 125mph (200km/h) trains at substantially below the French company’s bid. 125mph running would be a step change from today’s railway and would leave cash to spare for other much-needed improvements.

The start of today’s event in Wroclaw. While the picture quality is appalling the video does capture how the special announcer brought in for today’s event stumbles over the word “Pendolino”. On two occasions he starts to say “Prendolino”, before correcting himself. While “Prendko” is the Polish for ‘fast’ is it really possible that the announcer never heard of a pendulum? Video Gazeta Wroclaw.

My fourth and final reservation is that while PKP bosses focus on shiny new trains, nobody seems very interested in the overall passenger experience. For a relatively small investment on such matters as: decent interchange with public transport transport, secure parking for bikes (and cars!), full height platforms, and fast and friendly ticketing the ‘user experience’ could be transformed for all passengers, not just those lucky enough to be able to travel by ‘Premium InterCity’.

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Non-tilting PKP Pendolino bogie. Photo courtesy PKP IC.

After today’s launch, the Pendolino unit will undergo certification trials on PKP’s test track at Zmigrod test track, and after that further trials and driver training will take place on the main line. If all goes well, the first Pendolino trains will start running in regular service at the end of 2014.

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Nice train… pity about the seats

Friday, 21 June 2013

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PKP’s Pendolino train in Savigliano. Photo Alstom.

The Polish Government has been cuddling up to Alstom, the builders of PKP’s special fleet of non-tilting Pendolinos. Today, 21 June 2013, Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk,, accompanied by the Minister of Regional Development, Mrs Elzbieta Bienkowska, visited Alstom’s turbine factory in Elbląg, Poland. On 17 June, the Undersecretary of State responsible for Poland’s railways, Andrzej Massel met his Italian counterpart Rocco Girlanda on Alstom’s site in Savigliano, Italy. The event was part of the official presentation to the board of PKP and PKP Intercity of the first Pendolino train for Poland.

The event is seen as a significant milestone in the €665m contract signed between Alstom and PKP IC in May 2011 for the delivery of 20 Pendolinos. The contract also covers the construction of the train depot in Grochow district of Warsaw and the maintenance of the trains for 17 years. The 250 km/h (156 mph) Pendolinos are scheduled to go into service from December 2014 and will connect northern and southern Poland, linking the Gdansk-Gdynia-Sopot Tricity, Warsaw, Cracow, and Katowice.

Rather like the wicked fairy in the tale of Sleeping Beauty, Dyspozytor, was not invited to the champagne-popping and feasting. So instead, he got out his wand and…  a puff of smoke and lots of red stars appear and there’s Andrzej Massel sitting inside the Pendolino, but something is not right, Andrzej Massel is too big, or the seat’s too small, or… .

The smoke settles and all is clear, the Pendolino bodies are tapered to stay within the loading gauge when they tilt. The Polish Pendolinos have the same narrow bodies. The 4-in-a-row narrow seats are designed around the Mediterranean-diet derrière, but the average Polish backside is a much more substantial affair. Oh dear!

More:

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.

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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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Footnote

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

TO BE CONTINUED

PKP IC Ticketing system tested – part 2

Monday, 7 May 2012

FAILS TEST!

Test 2 – Lodz to Krakow

Following Friday’s less than satisfactory results, I thought it only fair to give the PKP IC ticketing system another chance to prove its worth. However, before trying to book a hypothetical journey in Poland, I had another task to perform – to book a real journey in the UK for June 5.

A morning trip from Bath Spa to Slough was bound to be expensive. The rail distance between the stations is 88 miles 35 chains* or about 142.5 kilometres. So, although I knew there were cheap ‘advance’ tickets to be had, I wasn’t very optimistic about getting a good deal on a train that suited my plans.

The cheapest fare finder on National Rail Enquiries.

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Plan one month ahead and get some real bargains.

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To my delight the ‘cheapest fare finder’ on the National Rail Enquiries website came up trumps offering me three morning connections to Slough (changing at Reading) for £10:50! What’s more I could add a ‘Plusbus’ option at either end for only £1.50. The bus journey from Sough railway station usually costs £3.50 so adding this was a no-brainer.

The whole process was delightfully simple and straightforward. Once I had chosen my train, my travel details were seamlessly passed to First Great Western’s booking system. Here I was asked to log on (or register if I had not been a returning customer) given the choice of postal delivery, or printing the tickets myself at any UK station with a self-service ticket machine. (Do not forget to bring the card that you used to pay for the journey with you if you choose this option.)

Altogether the process involved 16 screens (including my bank’s verification process) and took about 5 minutes. I had saved £17.00 on the cheapest ‘walk on’ fare available on the day and another £2.00 on my bus journey. A good morning’s work!

Apparent  dearth of trains from Lodz to Krakow.

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So now I was curious to see what would happen if I gave the IC ticketing system the same chance to prove itself by trying to set up a journey about a month in advance. I enter ‘Lodz Kaliska’ and ‘Krakow Glowny’ as my starting point and destination and choose 5 June as the date of my journey.

The first problem that hits me is that there appears to be no convenient train to get me to Krakow in time to do a morning’s work. The former 07:00 + something connection is no more – The Swinoujscie – Krakow train now runs via Wroclaw rather than Lodz. There is a 05:27 connection via Warsaw which gets me into Krakow for 12:39, but the 09:18 direct train gets me there for 12:45 so that would be a sensible choice.

In fact the system only shows two decent services – the 09:18 and 13:13  – and only these trains appear to be bookable on-line.

So maybe the answer is to take a later train and stay overnight and do my business in Krakow the following morning? Clicking the ‘pozniej’ (later) button a couple of times gives me some more choices.

The train to get would appear to be the 19:30, but that gets into Krakow at 23:05 a but too late to book into my accommodation and sample Krakow’s rich night life. True I could take either the 14:22 or the 16:25 connection via Warsaw which arrive at 22:08 and 22:51 respectively, but that is still rather late and do I really want to spend over 6 hours travelling in a train? So should I take the 13;13 and arrive at 18:08?

If the IC route planner is to be believed there are only three connections to Krakow, the 09:18, 13:13 and 19:30 which provide a journey time of less than six hours. But hold on a moment, there must be something wrong! Since Andrzej Massel took over rail at the Ministry of Infrastructure connections from Lodz to Krakow have improved. The IC booking system would seem to indicate that the opposite is the case. Let’s see what happens if I look up my journey on the official PKP journey planning system.

More choices on http://rozklad-pkp.pl !

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Ah that’s better! Suddenly there are more choices that had been hidden from me by the IC booking system! The 04:41 start is uncomfortably early, but offers the attraction of Euro InterCity travel from Warsaw; the 06:00 gives me 88 minutes extra sleep and still reaches Krakow at 10:50. Both trains have a buffet car serving a cooked breakfast.

After that Przewozy Regionalne’s 06:40 InterRegio offers excellent value for money at 47 zloty and a 11;41 arrival in Krakow, still  early enough for a meeting before lunchtime. I can understand IC not wanting to publicise PR’s services, but why is the company hiding their own quite decent 04:32 and 06:00 connections and promoting the quite dreadful 05:27 connection which takes 7 hours 12 minutes?

The 07:00 connection offers the prospect of a good night’s sleep beforehand and arrival in Krakow just after noon. Again the IC train finder manages to lose this connection. The 09:18 direct train appears on both systems. But the 09:41 and 10:36 connections again do not. Presumably this is because in each case some of the journey takes place on a PR service.

The most peculiar difference between the two systems concerns the 14:22 connection. The main PKP system advises that this should get me to Warszawa Zachodnia for 16:19. There is ample time to catch the 16:39 EIC from Zachodnia to Krakow Glowny. The EIC offers the attraction of a proper wagon restauracyjny (restaurant car), not wagon barowy (buffet car). But when I look up the 14:22 connection on the IC journey planner, I’m advised to wait at Zachodnia (and a less inspiring place to wait at I cannot imagine) until the 17:10 TLK which as we already know gets in to Krakow at 22:08.

So now I know all my options. I decide on the 13:13 direct service, because the ‘Kup bilet’ button shows that it is bookable on-line and I don’t want the hassle of standing in a queue at Kaliska during the summer holidays.

PKP IC Log on screen

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Pressing the button takes me to a log on screen. I have not yet registered on the system, that takes a while as the system is quite demanding on what I am allowed to enter as my logon name and password. At last that’s all done to the system’s satisfaction and I am returned again to the log on screen. I enter my logon name and password and…

Ticket sales start 7 days before the train departs.

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… am told that tickets are only available 7 days before the departure of the train!

…/to be contiued

New PKP IC Ticketing tested – part 1

Friday, 4 May 2012

‘Rafal’ and the PKP IC website: http://intercity.pl/pl/

(Click image to go to website.)

Early in Febuary, PKP IC launched a new website which encourages passengers to purchase and print their own tickets via the Internet. Two months later, on 15 April, IC introduced the e-bilet, electronic ticketing – no paper ticket is necessary, just show the conductor the ticket code on your laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Nobody likes hanging around in ticket queues, and at busy stations it can take half an hour or more to research one’s journey (at a separate window!) so the new ticketing system – if it delivers – will make life easier for Internet-savvy passengers. PKP IC boss, Janusz Malinowski, is expecting the new system will help to boost ticket sales. So having given PKP IC a fair bit of time to iron out any bugs, BTWT’s own veteran software tester, took a look at how well the system performs in practice.

Googling ‘PKP IC’ takes the one to intercity.pl/pl/.  There is a button to go to the English language version of the system intercity.pl/en/ on the top right hand corner of the page and Rafal a ‘virtual assistant’ on the left. Rafal, like many flesh and bone employees of IC, is very courteous, but not much help! The first journey that I tried to set up was Lodz to Krakow Perhaps Rafal can help? Here is my ‘conversation’ with him translated into English. (Rafal is not available on the English version of the website.)

Rafal. Remember that if you want to talk, I’ll be here to answer your questions.

BTWT. Great! How much is a ticket from Lodz to Krakow?

Rafal. The price of railway tickets depends on the length of the journey and the number of changes. Ring the railway information office and you will quickly discover the price of a ticket.

BTWT. If I wanted to ring the railway information office I would not be asking you!

Rafal. The telephone numbers of the railway information office are: 19 757 from a landline phone and 42/20 55 007 from a landline. The cost of a call, irrespective of telephone operator, is 1.05 zloty ex Vat (1.28 zloty inc, VAT).

BTWT. Let’s try again. From which station in Lodz can I catch a train to Krakow?

Rafal. I’ve filled in your destination in the route planning system, just fill in the other fields and click ‘Find a connection’ to obtain the results.

BTWT. But I want to travel to Krakow!

Rafal. I’ve filled in your destination in the route planning system, just fill in the other fields and click ‘Find a connection’ to obtain the results.

BTWT. That’s better. Thank you!

Rafal. The pleasure is all mine.

Hmm. I’m not sure that I can take much more of Rafal, polite as he is. Let’s see what happens as I start typing in ‘Lodz’ as my starting point.

In spite of the fact that the bulldozers are flattening Fabryczna as this article is being written, it is the system’s first choice as a starting station for journeys from Lodz.

Predictably clicking ‘Szukaj Polaczenia’ (Find a connection) comes up with a warning ‘No connection found’, but there is no prompt that Fabryczna is no more, nor any hint that one should try inputting the journey details again starting from another station.

These days most trains from Lodz start from, or run through, Kaliska, so let me try that.

(Click to enlarge.)

Some ghastly choices. All three remaining connections would get me into Krakow about quarter of an hour before 11pm and there is no facility to buy tickets for any of them! I think I’ll skip the journey to Krakow this afternoon and check out the Polski Bus timetables instead.

…to be continued.

Could PKP IC go bankrupt?

Thursday, 3 May 2012

PESA ED74-001+ED74-002, wilful blindness? Photo Solaris8315.

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

On 12 April, the day after Jakub Karnowski took over as chairman of PKP SA, the Polish business daily, Puls Biznesu, reported that PKP IC had problems in paying its suppliers. Its smallest creditors face real difficulties. Few companies were prepared to speak ‘on the record’, but privately Puls Biznesu was told that individual companies are have as as much as several million zloty worth of invoices overdue. The PKP IC press office disputes this account and claims that everybody is being paid on time.

In an effort to raise cash PKP IC has put its debtors list out to tender. The company is owed nearly two million zloty, mostly in unpaid fares. PKP IC is haemorrhaging customers; increased journey times, rising fares, grossly overcrowded trains are the principle causes, but the company’s ‘customer interface’ – the way it interacts and treats its passengers also leaves a great deal to be desired. At the beginning of April the number of passengers booking journeys from Krakow to Gdynia was down by 48% from the same period in 2011.

In 2011, PKP IC made a deficit of 25 million zloty; in the first two months of 2012 the company had already lost 20 million zloty. PKP IC boss, Janusz Malinowski, assures everybody that things are getting better and that the company was on track to lose 45 million in 2011, before it began to recover.

Malinowki is betting on a surge of traffic during Euro 2012, more competitive fares and new ticketing technology to turn round IC’s fortunes. But the PKP group as a whole appears ill-prepared for the football championships and, while PKP dithers, the new local airlines and Polski Bus are making the most of the opportunity.

PKP IC’s problems are systemic. With all the PKP group companies and the state treasury determined to extract the last pound of flesh from Poland’s ‘commercialised’ rail industry, IC has to pay unrealistically high track access charges. The track renewal works taking place on many key routes are anither problem – with so many other PKP companies having a say in the matter, not to mention the claims of the independent freight operators, the track authority, PKP PLK, finds it difficult to program line closures in a way that would minimise delays to IC passengers.

To compound its difficulties, PKP IC has a bloated management structure, an appalling company culture, and regards its passengers as a necessary evil rather than as a major stakeholder.

The saga of the incredibly uncomfortable PESA ED74s which the company inherited from PKP PR in 2008 are a good example of the contempt with which the company treats its customers. Though acquired by PKP PR for the Lodz – Warsaw services, their unergonomic seating makes them fit only for 30 – 40 minute city centre to outer suburban workings. PKP IC continues to use them on off-peak Lodz – Warsaw services – a run which can take up to 2½ hours. Now they are also being employed on TLK services between Lodz and Krakow, a run of nearly six hours.

Sources:

IC loses 73% W-wa – Gdansk passengers

Monday, 23 January 2012

March timetable – 85% ‘Express’ trains to run even slower.

Worsening connection times. Source Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

(Click table to see the original on the GazetaPrawna.pl website.)

Today’s Dziennik Gazeta Prawna (Daily Law Journal) carries a damning article about worsening state of Polish rail services. Quoting PKP IC chairman, Janusz Malinowski, DGP reveals that as a result of worsening connection times 73% less passengers were carried on the Warsaw – Gdansk route in September 2011 than in the same period the previous year. On the Warsaw – Krakow and Warsaw – Katowice routes the fall in passenger numbers was 20%.

The results are a disaster for PKP IC. Its prestigious Express (Ex), Express InterCity (EIC) and EuroCity (EC) services, which in 2010 accounted for more 30% of its revenues, are haemorrhaging passengers. In an attempt to stem the flow PKP has dropped the price of certain tickets. For example, the cost of travelling on the Malopolske and Norwida services between Cracow – Warsaw and Gdynia has been reduced by 30%. But not all the passengers have come back.

Connection times and ticket prices are important factors in determining whether passengers choose to travel by train, but so are ‘soft’ factors such as the ease of purchasing tickets, the accuracy of timetable information and customer service. PKP IC  manages to achieve ‘third world’ levels on all 5 of the key factors important to passengers. Of course, not all factors are completely under the control of PKP IC. Ticket prices are driven by track access charges which are controlled by another PKP subsidiary, PKP PLK, which has actually raised its charges for trains travelling on the Warsaw – Gdynia route by 30%!

To add insult to injury, connection times will actually get worse for 85% of Ex, EIC and EC trains, following the March timetable adjustment. Of the 80 trains whose connection times will be affected by the new timetable only 12 will reach their destinations in less time than before. Undersecretary of State responsible for rail, Andrzej Massel, assures intending passengers that the longer journey times are only a temporary measure to allow key infrastructure work to be complete in time for Euro 2012 and that after 1 June connection times will improve dramatically.

DGP comments that the improved train times will be the result of certain infrastructure works being suspended for the duration of the championships. When the fans go home, the works will resume and the slower connection times will return.

Source:

Lodz to Lviv – part 1

Monday, 7 November 2011

Prelude

A sudden summons to Lviv, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of railways in the Ukraine, caused a fluster in the BTWT tower. It’s only a short hop by bus, suggested one wag. It may be a only be a short hop, but it’s a bus too far, I replied. My bad back does not permit me to undertake long journeys sitting in a bus.

I suffered a back injury in the Gare du Nord in Paris on 12 December 1981 after carrying some very heavy luggage for a very pretty Polish girl hurrying to catch her train to return home to Poland after the expiry of her visitors’ visa. She caught her train, but only just, and I damaged a disk, which was to rupture a few weeks later and leave me bed-ridden for 6 months and in pain for many months thereafter. If only I had not been so keen to help, she would have missed her train, but I would not have smashed up my back. The following day, General Jaruzelski declared martial law in Poland and the French authorities immediately granted visa extensions to all Poles who were in the country when Martial law was declared. Had the girl missed her train, she could have stayed and worked in France for as long as she would have liked.

There is an excellent night train sleeper service from Krakow to Lviv, and Krakow is only a short hop by train from Lodz, so I treated the bus suggestion with the scorn it deserved and proceeded to surf the Internet to find my trains to and from Lviv.

The PKP InterCity website is a total waste of time. The e-ticket booking facility does not work for international trains and the website has no information for travellers to the Ukraine which is of any value whatsoever. I moved on to the regular PKP electronic train-finder and timetable at rozklad-pkp.pl. Confusingly this does not allow one to enter “Lviv” as a valid destination, but does allow the Polish and Russian equivalents – “Lwow” and “Lvov”. Finding the night sleeper from Krakow to Lviv was easy; finding the return train was more difficult; according to the time table the night sleeper from Lviv to Krakow did not appear to exist.

A personal visit to the PKP IC advance ticket counter at Lodz Kaliska was called for. And what trains would you like to travel on my dear? I’m awfully sorry the train I want to travel on does not appear to exist! The lady booking clerk was a model of efficiency. Don’t worry I’ll ring a colleague in Warsaw. I started to thank her profusely. Don’t thank me just yet, she laughingly replied. Her Warsaw colleague came up with a secret code; my model booking clerk entered it into her terminal and lo and behold the 00:59 from Lviv to Krakow magically appeared, my ticket and sleeping berth reservation followed shortly after. I flirted wildly with the booking clerk, If only the rest of PKP InterCity was as efficient as you are madam everybody would want to travel by train. Unfortunately the bosses of InterCity prefer travel by car and plane and have no idea what is happening on the railway.

Dyspozytor

Continued:

Night train primer

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Kasztan will take you from Berlin to Novosibersk via Warsaw. Video by .

It some 40 years since I travelled ‘on the cushions’ in a night train with no more than the space that I was sitting in to spend the night. It was a desperately cold winter and the couchette coaches for the Hoek van Holland – Moscow Express (via Berlin and Warsaw) had not turned up at Hook of Holland for their return journey to Moscow. It was a long, hard night. However, I continue to patronise night trains. And having sampled night trains in various European countries, I can vouch that Polish sleeping cars compare very favourably – in facilities, cleanliness and customer service – with what is available elsewhere.

A week ago Michael Dembinski, who publishes one of Poland’s best blogs, W-wa Jeziorki, wrote a primer about using Polish night trains. It is excellent and I republish a slightly abridged version here for all BTWT readers who do not regularly visit his blog. Do click the link below if you want to read the original version. By the way, there is much of railway interest on W-wa Jeziorki. What is the link between Euston Station and PKP? See today’s post to find out.

There are three forms of night train accommodation. You can (as I did) buy a basic ticket, which entitles you to no more than your seat. If you are unlucky, and you board an overcrowded train – as is standard on Fridays in summer, you won’t even have a seat. You will stand all the way, or sit on your suitcases in the corridor. Standing up for nine hours – all night long – is not pleasant. Booking a 1st class ticket gives you six people rather than eight to the compartment, the higher price means that fewer people are likely to go for it, so it’s likely that there won’t be a full complement of six in your compartment. First class from Warsaw to Międzyzdroje costs 99 złotys as opposed to 66.

Next up from a seat is the kuszetka (couchette). In a compartment, there are six bunk beds, three on one side, three on the other side, of a narrow passage, and a step ladder to reach the middle and top bunks. For a 25.50 złotys supplement, you are assured a lie-down and you’ll not be bothered by the guard once you’re in your compartment (he’ll wake you up ten minutes before reaching your destination). There are no sheets or blankets; you are expected to take off your shoes and lie down in your clothes, covered with a jacket or coat. The couchette and sleeper carriages are sealed off from the rest of the train, for the passengers’ security. And the toilets are cleaner than in the normal carriages, especially after nine hours of travel.

The most luxurious form is the sleeper carriage (wagon sypialny). The compartments are for two or three people; bedding is provided. You need a second class ticket plus an supplementary payment of 70 złotys (three-person compartment) or 130 złotys (two-person compartment) per person for the wagon sypialny. This pushes up the price of a return trip to the seaside quite considerably; I think the kuszetka is the optimal price/comfort trade-off.

More:

Wagon shortages hit international services

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Electronic destination board on a coach making up part of the Jan Kiepura train in March 2011. Photo BTWT.

Until now the shortage of passenger coaches ‘in ticket’ has been inconveniencing PKP Intercity’s domestic passengers, but now IC’s troubles are now seriously effecting IC’s international trains.

Advance booking facilities have been withdrawn for journeys after 24 July on the BWE 40, 42, 44 and 46 trains running between Warsaw and Berlin and the prestigious EN 436 Jan Kiepura service between Warsaw and Amsterdam. In addition advance booking facilities have been withdrawn for journeys after 31 July on trains to Austria (EC 103 Polonia Warsaw – Villach; EC 105 Sobieski Warsaw – Vienna). A similar fate has fallen on passengers intending to travel to the Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria (EC 110 Praha Warsaw – Prague / Budapest; 407 Chopin Warsaw – Vienna / Budapest / Prague / Burgas).

In addition there will be no advance booking facility on 23 July on EC 248 Wawel running between Krakow and Berlin and on 24 July running between Krakow and Lueneberg. Finally between 4 – 29 July trains 35/36 Krakow – Lwow – Krakow have been suspended altogether.

If PKP IC is prepared to treat its international passengers in such a cavalier fashion one seriously doubts the wisdom of the Polish government backing its planned €665 million purchase of the Pendolino train sets.

PKP IC orders Pendolino

Thursday, 2 June 2011

but tilting trains won’t tilt!

Latest generation tilting train, the New Pendolino ETR 600. From a photo by Mathew Black in Wikimedia Commons.

(Click on image for details of licensing.)

PKP Intercity, has awarded Alstom a contract to supply 20 New Pendolino trains, their full maintenance up to 17 years and the construction of a new maintenance depot. The first trains are scheduled for delivery in 2014. The 7-car train sets will cost €20 million each. Alstom will also supply full maintenance of the trains up to 17 years in a new depot of 12.000 m² which will be built in Warsaw. The maintenance package will bring the total cost of the contract to €665 million.

PKP SA, the holding company responsible for all the PKP daughter companies, originally hoped to attract an EU grant for the purchase of the high speed trains. Indeed the feasibility study for the EU finance assisted Warsaw – Gdansk track upgrading specifically required that the upgrading be compatible with the introduction of tilting train technology. However, the German railway industry lobbied hard against PKP acquiring the Pendalinos and receiving any EU assistance. In the end Alstom has agreed to give PKP IC another three months to complete its funding package.

PKP IC will operate the trains on existing routes in Poland: Warsaw – Gdansk – Gdynia; Warsaw – Krakow; Warsaw – Katowice. The train sets will be able to carry up to 402 passengers and have a maximum speed of 250 km/h. In practice, given the state of Poland’s railway infrastructure, it is unlikely that the trains will operate anywhere above 200 km/h (125 mph) and they will only operate at 200km on a short section of the 1970s built CMK between Warsaw and Krakow. For the rest the trains will be throttled down to 160 km/h (100 mph) or less.

Pendolino’s tilting train technology would have been ideal on the sharply curved section of the Warsaw – Gdynia line on the section Dzialdowo – Ilawa – Malbork. There just one problem – PKP IC has chosen to buy the Pendalino trains without the tilting mechanism!