Archive for the ‘Upper Silesia’ Category

Another difficult year ahead for Bytom

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Track severed by A1 Motorway construction, 2011. Photo SGKW.

The Bytom narrow gauge railway is the longest surviving fragment of the Upper Silesian narrow gauge railway, an extensive 785mm gauge freight network that carried heavy coal traffic until as recently as May 2001. The tourist service dates back to 1993 when the railway was still operated by PKP.

Since PKP closed all of its surviving narrow gauge lines at the end of 2001, the railway has been owned by Bytom, Tarnowskie Gory and Miasteczko Slaskie councils. It has been operated under licence by Stowarzyszenie Górnosląskich Kolei Wąskotorowych (The Upper Silesian Narrow Gauge Railway).

The new operators survived a very tough first year or two, when track theft was a major unchecked problem in Upper Silesia. Vast swathes of the former network were lost to theft, including the lines to the southern tourist train terminus of Siemianowice Slaskie and to the repair workshops at Bytom Rozbark. Following this, the railway entered a period of relative stability, operating daily tourist trains in the summer over the core Bytom to Miasteczko Slaskie route. The line gave access to the popular recreational lake Chechlo-Naklo, and long trains were well loaded with tourists.

The recent problems started in 2010 when floods in the middle of May badly damaged the bridge over the river Stola at Tarnowskie Gory. Trains were unable to run over the northern section of the line for two months while repairs were carried out, resuming on 15 July. Then in 2011, construction of the A1 motorway severed the route for the whole of the summer operating season. Originally due to be complete in October 2011, the work overran considerably and the new viaduct is only now ready for track laying.  At the time of writing, SGKW are expecting the new bridge to be ready for use by the end of April.

The new viaduct ready for track laying. Photo SGKW via Facebook.

But already a new problem is looming on the horizon. The two viaducts either side of Szombierki power station, which carry the narrow gauge line over first the Bytom to Gliwice line, and then the Bytom to Tarnowskie Gory line, are both in very poor condition and in urgent need of repair. Bytom council have received an EU grant to cover part of the cost of the repair, but the conditions of the building permit mean that work must start by July. So for the third year running SGKW are faced with a key part of their route being closed for the main tourist season. Trains will have to start from Bytom Karb instead of from the platform at the main Bytom Glowny station, and the society fear that far fewer passengers will travel on the trains as a result.

If all this were not enough, the railway is also suffering from mining subsidence from the Bobrek-Centrum coal mine in Bytom. A 1.5km section of the line is affected, at the centre of which the track level has fallen by 8 metres. The resulting gradients are so steep in places that they make operation of the trains difficult, as well as causing ongoing damage to rails and sleepers. The mine owners should be liable to repair the damage, but this may take time.

SGKW board members have shown considerable resourcefulness in trying to overcome the problems they face and have come up with several new ways to attract passengers to the railway. In 2008 they introduced power station tours which were a great success, involving a short train ride from Bytom to Szombierki power station, then a guided tour of the power station and train back. Unfortunately, the new Finnish owner of the power station is concerned about health and safety and these tours are unlikely to run again this year. Other recent new ventures include involvement in the annual Industriada event celebrating the industrial heritage of Upper Silesia, and “cinema trains”, evening events consisting of a train ride from Bytom to Bytom Karb for film showings in a converted railway carriage.

Due to the uncertainty concerning the viaducts at Szombierki the timetable for the 2012 season has not yet been finalised, but trains from Bytom Karb to Miasteczko are expected to run on summer weekends, and perhaps also on weekdays in the school summer holidays. The line has considerable scenic as well as railway interest, and is well worth a visit.


Floods – Poland holds its breath

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The railway bridge across the river Poprad. Photo Gregorz Momot.

(Click the image to see more photographs by Gregorz Momot of the destroyed bridge on

Continuous heavy rain in the last two weeks in May brought severe flooding to many parts of Poland. While large cities such as Krakow, Warsaw and Wroclaw held their breath as the level of swollen rivers rose ever higher, but escaped serious flooding, many smaller settlements were flooded when their flood defences were breached.

The largest built up area to be flooded was Sandomierz. The historic core of the city, built on a high escarpment on the left bank the river Vistula escaped unscathed. The modern town built on the right bank was completely engulfed and several thousand residents had to be evacuated. Only the Pilkington glass works where employees and firemen worked round the clock reinforcing flood defences was saved.

Sandomierz photographed from the ISS. The island in the middle is the Pilkington glass works.
Photo by Soichi Noguchi.

(Click on image to see original on twitpic.)

Many railway lines and roads were closed because of the floods. On the railway line between Nowy Sacz and Stary Sacz flood waters knocked two spans of a girder bridge off their concrete piers and swept them into the river. A third span fell into the river and remains supported by just one pier. The broken bridge has cut off the winter holiday resort of Krynica from the main railway network. Given the dire financial state of Polish State Railways it is doubtful whether the line will ever be reopened.

Damaged culvert on the Upper Silesian Narrow Gauge Railway. Photo GKW.

(Click to see original on GKW website.)

Poland’s preserved railways have not escaped the devastation. The Przeworsk Railway has had its track washed out in 5 places. The line’s General manager is trying to acquire some ballast and arrange the loan of a bulldozer in order to put matters right. On the Upper Silesian Narrow Gauge Railway a culvert has been damaged and the normal timetable has been suspended.

In the first week of June the weather has improved and river levels have dropped a little. But local storms have caused some further flooding. (The Poprad bridge was washed out 4 June.) The ground remains saturated with water and the high river levels have weakened many flood defences. Weather forecasts predict more storms. Poland holds its breath.

Narrow gauge pioneer

Saturday, 11 April 2009

by ‘Inzynier’


Narrow gauge pioneer, 2-4-2T built by W. Gunther in 1855.
Drawing © Jakub Halor archive

(Click to see original drawing. Click here to go to Upper Silesian Railways website.)

The region of Upper Silesia (under German control until the First World War) has a long industrial history, with mining for minerals and coal, iron and steelmaking and associated industries being long-established. Railways were built to serve the area in the 1840s, but they did not do much to assist the basic needs of the industries – transporting raw materials between the mines and foundries.

In 1845, Gebruder Oppenfeld in Wroclaw put forward a proposal for a local railway to serve the industrial needs. The engineer was Rosenbaum, who was also engineer for the Oberschlesische Eisenbahn Aktien Gesellschaft, which had built the standard gauge railway linking Wroclaw with Upper Silesia. The project brought forth protests from those who carried the freight by road, while there were also problems with funding the project.

In 1846 the gauge of the proposed railway was set at 30 ‘inches’ – being approximately equivalent to the 2ft 6in gauge lines that were built in areas of British influence or the much later 760mm gauge of the Austrian empire and the 750mm gauge which was popular in Germany in later years and the ‘norm’ for narrow gauge railways in Russia. However, the formation of the German state, let alone standard units of measurement, was still some years in the future and the Prussian equivalent of the inch was the ‘zoll’, being 26.154mm. 30 zoll therefore created a gauge of 785mm.

The OEAG, no doubt being concerned at the intrusion of another railway into its area of influence, also applied for construction of a narrow gauge railway, but on the condition of significant financial contribution from the state. Oppenfeld announced the intention to commence construction at their own cost and this seems to have forced the OEAG’s hand – whatever the case, Oppenfeld seems to have withdrawn and OEAG proceeded with construction without state assistance; the company was granted a concession for construction and operation of a narrow gauge railway on 24 March 1851, although it seems likely that construction had commenced the previous year.

In 1852 it seems that a curious proposal emerged, whereby a double track, horse worked railway was to be built, with the ‘inside’ rails of each line being spaced and constructed such that they could be used as a single line with mechanical haulage. Not surprisingly, this proposal (if it was ever seriously contemplated) was soon dropped and the first sections of line may have been opened for traffic in 1853.

The first section of the ‘main’ line opened in 1854 from Tarnowskie Gory through Bytom Karb to Bytkow, about 21km, together with a number of branches and sidings to serve individual factories etc. Remarkably, a significant portion of this line is still in operation today, between Bytom and Tarnowskie Gory, although the only traffic now is seasonal, providing a link between the city of Bytom and the recreational area near Miasteczko Slaskie, north of Tarnowskie Gory – Upper Silesian industry has declined steeply in the last 20 years and the urban areas are now severely depressed. Theft of rails, fixings, rolling stock and other equipment for sale to scrap merchants has become a severe problem for the railway, but it soldiers on, albeit with diesel traction today, still on a gauge of 785mm.

By 1860 a number of extensions, branches and sidings had been opened and the main network extended to over 60km of route. Initially trains were hauled by horses, but traffic was growing quickly and the gradients of up to 1:40 and curves as tight as 40m radius proved problematical. In 1855 two steam locomotives were introduced and by the end of the following year there were ten locomotives in use, although there were still 150 horses employed on sidings. By 1858 there were 1830 wagons and the railway carried 580,840 tons of freight. By comparison, in 1873 the Festiniog Railway (widely regarded as the most significant British narrow gauge railway) carried 144,091 tons of slate.

The locomotives were built by W. Gunther of Wiener Neustadt; the same firm had already built, a year earlier, two similar locomotives for a 900mm gauge railway leading from Wiener Neustadt to Fischau. The OEAG requirement was for a locomotive to haul 100t gross on a gradient of 1:60 at a speed of 11.25kph. They were 2-4-2T locomotives, with the dimensions varying somewhat between the initial two and the later eight. A drawing can be found at the head of this article.

It is difficult now to establish how well these very early narrow gauge locomotives (built almost a decade before the introduction of steam haulage on the Festiniog, the first narrow gauge locomotives in Britain) performed – the fact that two were delivered in 1955 with another eight the following year suggests the OEAG must have been relatively satisfied with the initial results. However, developments in operation of the railway led to them having a short operational life, at least in Upper Silesia.

In 1856 the horse traffic on the lines was leased out to Rudolf Pringsheim, a banker from Gliwice, and on 1 January 1857 the OEAG railways were taken over by the state. Pringsheim aspired to take over all traffic and it is difficult to know now, to what extent problems with the locomotives may have affected the state railway’s actions. However, from 1 October 1860 Pringsheim took over all operation of the narrow gauge railway, under a 12 year lease; the state was responsible for maintenance of the track and installations, while Pringsheim paid a toll based on the ton-miles of freight carried.

Pringsheim soon disposed of the steam locomotives and reverted to 100% horse haulage. By 1870 traffic had increased to over a million tons per annum and when his lease was renewed in 1872, for another 12 years, he had to make the investment of introducing steam locomotives again. By this time technology had advanced and the 0-4-0T locomotives produced by Krauss and Hagans in that year were relatively straightforward designs. Subsequently, the Upper Silesian narrow gauge saw locomotives develop through 0-6-0Ts, 0-8-0Ts, various forms of articulation of 0-10-0Ts and the ultimately quite numerous 0-10-0T form and, from the 1960s Romanian-built 450hp Lxd2 diesel hydraulic locomotives which served until the end of freight traffic in 2001 and still haul the ‘tourist’ trains today. The narrow gauge system also developed in extent, reaching a total of over 230km of lines, plus of course many more kilometres of sidings. In 1955, probably the peak year of operation, the system carried over 6 million tons of freight and, on the Gliwice – Markowice line almost 1.8M passengers were carried.

But what of those original locomotives? All are believed to have been sold in 1862-3. Subsequent histories are not documented, other than it being known that one locomotive survived on the Faxe Kalbruk railway in Denmark until about 1920 – Denmark appears to have had a number of 785mm gauge railways.

The question therefore arises – just how successful were these original locomotives? Surely there can’t have been any immediately apparent defects, if the first pair in 1855 were followed by another eight? Yet the state railway seems to have tired of operating the narrow gauge line and handed over the operation to Pringsheim, who disposed of all the locomotives within about seven years of them having been built. Yet again, if the locomotives had been that problematical, why did one of them survive for another 60 years in Denmark? The evidence suggests that they had the potential to be useful machines but perhaps were not capable of dealing with the growth of traffic being experienced on the Upper Silesian system at that time and possibly the state railway wanted to divest itself of a comparitively minor operation and Pringsheim didn’t have the capability to deal with them.