Archive for the ‘Robert Stephenson’ Category

Looking back down the line

Sunday, 14 April 2013

5 km South of Krosniewice

A Krosniewice-Ozorkow special in 2006. Photo BTWT.

This post is the 1,000th article that I have posted on BTWT, though thanks to Ed Beale and John Savery it is actually our 1,029th post. It is not actually the 1,000th article that I have written for BTWT, because half a dozen or so of the articles that I have posted were actually written by Robert Hall. Robert is suspicious of computers and prefers not to have anything to do with getting his material on-line.

So maybe it is premature to be marking my personal milestone? Perhaps not? BTWT did have a brief existence on another blogging platform prior to migrating to and, if my memory serves me well, I posted there for a couple of months before making the move to WordPress – a move which in hindsight was very wise. WordPress has turned out to be a very reliable platform and does nearly everything that I want it to do.

There is now no trace of our former home, nor of those very early posts.  I console myself with the thought that those posts were rather self-indulgent and that their digital destruction was for the best. It is usual when passing such milestones to take look at what has gone before, so here for BTWT readers is a nostalgic trip into the past. Rereading the old posts, some seem remarkably prophetic!


Eurostar to Brussels about to depart. Photo BTWT.

The very first of my articles that survives, posted on Sunday, March 9 2008, extolled the virtues of the London – Poznan rail jouney via Eurostar and ongoing connections, and suggests that UK railway societies book steam railway trips through our friends Fundacja Era Parowozow. Some five years later, I actually got round to doing the trip – though not without some misadventures. I will be publishing a full account of my trip, though not necessarily some time soon!

Fundacja Era Parowozow  is still in existence and pays an allowance to its trustees for attending its monthly council meetings, but our friends who worked for the foundation have long since left, and the scheme of hiring out steam trains to rich foreign railway enthusiasts has long since gone to the scrapheap of bright ideas, driven out by the exorbitant track access charges levied by PKP PLK.

March 2008, also saw the demise of Poland’s busiest freight-hauling narrow gauge railway – the Krosniewice Railway and I published three articles deploring the decision by the Krosniewice Town Council to end the lease to SKPL and urging readers to put pen to paper.


Robert Stephenson’s office as restored by the Trust.
Robert Stephenson Trust Photo

Until was split out a separate blog – a decision that was probably not one of my brightest ideas – BTWT occasionally dealt with UK stories. On March 11 2009, in a post which was paradoxically prophetic of the problems about to be faced several Polish railway heritage ventures, I wrote about how the Robert Stephenson Trust were being forced out – by a massive rent hike – from their base in the world’s first locomotive factory.

The Society were being priced out of premises which – while much of Newcastle’s industrial heritage was being demolished – the Trust had managed to save and restore. The buildings had been acquired by a developer. After putting up a valiant fight, the Trust failed to obtain a rent that they could afford and had to move out of the premises that they had worked hard to restore to their former glory.


Germany spends ten times as much on its railway infrastructure (expressed as a % of GDP) than Poland.

Returning back to Poland, and another matter that remains perennially topical, on 30 March 2009, I published an article about how 7,000 km of the Polish railway network faced the axe. It seems that Poland spends about 0.15% of its GDP on railway infrastructure, the Czech Republic, 0.38%, Germany 1.28% and France just under 1.4%.

The Wolsztyn Gala on 2 May 2009. Photo BTWT.

By March 2010, BTWT was dealing with exclusively Polish topics. Tunnel Vision became Englishrail blog and fired one of its regular salvos against the harassment of railway enthusiasts by over zealous security staff, and poked fun at Gordon Brown’s instructions that Admirals and Generals should travel by second class.

In March 2010, BTWT broke the story that the Wielkopolska provincial government were planning to set up a separate company to run the Wolsztyn depot. (See BTWT, 1 April 2013 for latest update on this story.)

Other stories that month included an account how Undersecretary of State responsible for Poland’s railways, Juliusz Englehardt had vetoed Przewozy Regionalne’s plan for cheap InterRegio services between Poznan and Berlin.

There was also an account how PKP PLK had set up a ‘Train Operators Council’. Interestingly, at the time, I commented that for such a body to be effective – it should be independent and not the tame creature of PKP PLK.

I now hear that the principle train operators outside the PKP group are setting up their own body, Fundacja Pro Kolej (Pro Rail Foundation) to press the case for Poland’s rail infrastructure to receive a larger slice of the transport infrastructure spend than it receives at present.

A year later, BTWT had got into one of its periodic crisies, but I did find time to cover the story how Poland was being censured by the European Commission for trying to spend €1.2 billion of its EU rail funding on building roads!

The site of the collision on the following morning following the accident. Photo

By March 1012, BTWT had got back in its stride, we published some 14 posts that month. The biggest story that month – and one that will scar the image of Polish railways for many years to come – was the account of the head on collision between two passenger trains near Szczekociny on 3 March 2013.

So what of the future? The new targets are to get a new post published on BTWT every other day, and to put up a post on Englishrail blog every fortnight. With the help of our editorial team, Ed, John and Rob, as well as the leads and stories sent in by our readers, we might just do it. As British Rail used to say, We’re getting there!

Our mailbox is: railfan[at]go2[dot]pl . If you can solve the puzzle we would love to hear from you!

Thank you for your support over the last five years, here’s hoping you be reading BTWT for many more years to come!


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Newcastle to loose its engine works

Wednesday, 11 March 2009



The restored mezzanine floor
Stephenson Trust Photo

There are few places in Britain that can rival Newcastle’s upon Tyne’s claim to have been involved in the birth of the steam age. It was in the city that George Stephenson, his son Robert, Edward Pease, Thomas Richardson and Michael Longridge formed Robert Stephenson & Company and, in 1823, opened the world’s first steam locomotive factory.

In 1825, the factory built Locomotion for the Stockton and Darlington Railway.  Four year’s later, they built Rocket, Stephenson’s prize winning entry in the Rainhill Trials.

Locomotives built at the works were exported to railways all over the world. Stationary engines for collieries, marine engines, bridges and a steam driven chain ferry were built here.  At Robert’s death in 1859, the firm was the largest employer on Tyneside.  By the early 1890s, the works had expanded to occupy all available land and it became necessary to seek a fresh site.  Suitable land for a new and enlarged works was found in Darlington. The old works at South Street on Forth banks, Newcastle upon Tyne finally closed in 1904.

When Robert Stephenson & Co moved out the works were taken over by other users. Aeroplanes were built there during WW I and motor cars during the inter-war period. When British industrial manufacturing collapsed in the 1960s, the whole area became run down and disused. Had it not been for the efforts of The Robert Stephenson Trust, the buildings would undoubtedly have been demolished like so much of Newcastle’s industrial heritage.

The Trust succeeded in obtaining a lease on the former works office buildings and the boiler shop. The buildings were painstakingly restored and Robert Stephenson’s office was recreated as it would have looked at in the mid 1800s. A library was set up where researchers could access a wide variety of books, photographs and drawings for reference purposes. To safeguard their future, the Trust obtained Grade 2* listed status for the buildings.


The restored office
Robert Stephenson Trust Photo

The undoubted star exhibit was an original grasshopper-type beam stationary steam engine, made to drive the machinery in the works. Less spectacular, but no less valuable were the Trust’s document collection. The best way to display industrial artefacts are within their original context. Renamed ‘Stephenson’s Works’ by the Trust, the buildings became an important educational resource not only for students in Newcastle, but for researchers from all over the world.

Now, in spite of everything that it has achieved, the Trust is being forced to vacate the buildings that it saved and restored. A property developer called Silverlink has taken over the freehold, and much of the surrounding area, and has raised the Trust’s rent from £5,400 to £140,000 per annum. (The Trust’s annual income is around £12,000.) For 18 months the Trust has struggled to negotiate a compromise agreement, but to no avail. Sadly Newcastle Council, which is anxious to be seen as a patron of the arts, does not seem to value the City’s industrial heritage.

It would be a tragedy if the Trust’s living museum is turned into yet another office or souvenir shop. We are advised by the Trust that their negotiations with Silverlink have broken down and that they are busy packing their property. The only thing that could save them now would be an 11th hour decision by the Council to impose a development consent on Silverlink that would ensure the Trust’s continued occupation of the works.

What you can do to help?

  • Write letters and articles to railway magazines and railway forums alerting readers to what is happening to the Stephenson Works.
  • Write to the leader of the Council explaining the the unique heritage value of the Stephenson’s Works. Tell him that maintaining the Stephenson artefacts in the setting were they were built and used is the best way of displaying them. You could also point out that the City’s industrial heritage could be a very powerful tourist attraction. In short point out that marketing-wise the city is about to shoot itself in the foot!
  • Ask your friends and colleagues to join our campaign.

Write to:

  • Mr John Shipley, OBE
    Leader Newcastle City Council
    Newcastle City Council
    Civic Centre
    Barras Bridge
    Newcastle Upon Tyne
    NE99 2BN

More information:


‘Grasshopper’ beam engine, used in the works
Stephenson Trust Photo