Posts Tagged ‘British-Polish Railway and Industrial Heritage Partners’

Poland’s secret steam railway

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Hot work in the cab of Ty2-953
photo Michael Dembinski, W-wa Jeziorki blog

We really should have written about the Chabowka-Nowy Sacz line before, as PKP Cargo have been using it this summer to run ‘regular’ steam trains. Usually hauled by a Ty2, the trains run from Chabowka to Dobra-Kolo-Limanowej and back. Two trains ran in June, two in July and five are running in August. Chabowka publish an English language timetable giving details of all of this year’s regular steam workings. Fortunately, our memory was jogged by reading about a journey on the line on W-wa Jeziorki blog.

The place we stayed, an agroturystyka in a large village/small town called Dobra (between Nowy Sacz and Wadowice) was run by really lovely people, great cooking, flexibility at meal times and – at 50 zlotys (around 11 quid) for bed, breakfast, lunch and supper (40 zlotys for children) – a snip. Eddie noted that there was a railway station in Dobra, and given that the weather on Saturday morning was dismal, we thought it would be a good idea to stroll down there to take a look.

The walk through the village (small town really) was long; we got lost, had to ask the way, neared the station (up the hill) and as we neared it… the sound of a steam whistle! Eddie and I simultaneously broke into a jog (I’m delighted to say that this 50 year-old burdened with camera bag can still out-run his 12 year-old son up a steep hill). The whistling continued. Would we catch the train? We made it up to the station – and there it was – a 2-10-0 Kriegslok steam locomotive, manoeuvring around a rake of five two-axle coaches.

To our delight, it transpired that we were in good time for a steam train excursion from Dobra to Chabowka railway museum. A quick glance at the timetable showed that we were up for a three-hour steam-hauled trip with an hour’s museum visit all for the equivalent of ten quid! The line is spectacular (by Polish standards) for its mountain scenery. It was here that scenes from Schindler’s List were shot – both engine and coaches are 100% authentic for the period.

Chabowka itself for me was a sorry sight – lots of interesting exhibits resting and rusting, the owners (PKP Cargo) treating the whole thing as a bit of an embarrassment rather than a potential tourist goldmine (as heritage railways are run in the UK). I did not feel disposed to spend twice the price of adult museum admission to buy a film-and-photography ticket, so put my camera away during the hour’s (rainy) visit at Chabowka

Clicking on the photo on the top of this post will take you straight to the original article with all five of Michael Dembinski’s superb photographs accompanied by some well-researched captions. The extract is just a taster. I enjoyed reading this account of his steam trip, but we feel that his last paragraph (too many beers? too late at night?) lacks the accuracy and fair play that I have grown accustomed to on Michael’s blog. So, without any further ado, here is our redress.

Chabowka’s engines are looked after better than most of Poland’s steam engines. The steam centre carries out its own overhauls and boiler repairs, and Grazyna Sysiak, the General Manager, is justifiably proud of the standard of work achieved. Of course, the engines and rolling stock would be much better of under cover, but the lack of covered accommodation is a problem all over Poland, not just in Chabowka. In the meantime, the engines are protected as far as is possible with paint and thick grease. The ‘rusting’ exhibits are not Chabowka’s own, but are National Railway Museum engines, that have been recently towed to Chabowka from the infamous ‘skansen’ at Kreszowice. Until ownership or licensing issues are sorted out there is not much that Chabowka can do with them.

UK heritage railway volunteers will pull a wry smile at Michael’s comment that their lines are “tourist goldmines”. Yes, the biggest UK heritage lines have a £ million annual turnover from ticket sales and the all important ancillaries, but they also have a £ million annual expenditure and, if it wasn’t for a massive input of volunteer labour and donations from the members of their support societies, very few of them would last long. To put things in perspective, there are something like 2 million railway enthusiasts in the UK and around a hundred thousand are members of railway societies. In Poland there are a few thousand railway enthusiasts and only 200 or so are actively involved with any heritage railway.

Last of all, Michael jibes at having ‘to spend twice the price of adult museum admission to buy a film-and-photography ticket’ and decides to put his camera away while he visits the steam centre. I looked up Chabowka’s charges and compared them to those at Didcot, the nearest similar location to London.

Admission charges
Didcot Railway Centre Chabowka Skansen
Adult non-steam day
£5-00
Adult ordinary day
4 PLN (£1-00)
Adult special event
£8-50
Adult Parowozjazda
FREE!
Child non-steam day
£5-00
Child ordinary day
2 PLN (£0-50)
Child special event
£7-00
Child Parowozjazda
FREE!
Photography non-steam day
FREE
Photography ordinary day
10 PLN (£2-50)
Videoing non-steam day
FREE
Videoing ordinary day
25 PLN (£6-25)
Videoing & Photography
special event
FREE
Videoing & Photography
Parowozjazda
FREE

I have no doubt whatsoever that, even with the extra charges mentioned by Michael, the Chabowka Skansen offers excellent value for money. It does rather seem that Chabowka’s charging policy is aimed at making the steam centre as accessible as possible for Poles, while trying to get Western railway enthusiasts to pay a little bit more through the videoing and photography charges.

Incidentally, although no charges at all are made during the Parowozjazda steam gala, I have over the last two years always left a donation of several hundred zloty in return for the excellent hospitality received at Chabowka by members of UK heritage railways that I have taken to the event.

This year, I am guiding another trip organised under the aegis of the British-Polish Railway and Industrial Heritage Partnership. We meet at Cracow airport on Friday afternoon 5 September, spend two days riding trains and photographing engines at Parowozjazda, visit a couple of narrow gauge railways and the steam centres at Jaworzyna Slask and Pyskowice and say our fond farewells at Cracow airport on the afternoon of Thursday 11 September. There are a couple of places spare, if you would like to join us do contact me at:

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First the good news…

Friday, 27 June 2008


David Morgan addresses Polish Heritage Railway managers in Poznan in 2007

(click to see photo on Fundacja Era Parowozow website)

One of BTWT’s reliable sources reports on a meeting that took place on 25 June between David Morgan, President of Fedecrail, and Juliusz Engelhardt, Under Secretary of State at the Ministry Of Infrastructure, responsible for Poland’s railways. Fedecrail is the European Federation of Museum and Tourist Railways and has been working with a number of Polish heritage railway organisations, as well as the British-Polish Railway and Industrial Heritage Partnership, to assist in the creation of a national umbrella body for the Polish heritage railway movement. In Great Britain, such an umbrella body, the Heritage Railway Association, has existed since the 1960s and Mr Morgan is also its chairman.

Mr Morgan came to Poland to tell the Minister of Fedecrail’s concern about the closure of the Krosniewice Railway. At Fedecrail’s Annual General Meeting, which took place in Salzburg in April this year, a resolution (pdf file) was passed urging the Mayor of Krosniewice to reopen the railway. Mr Morgan also raised the matter of the imminent end of the steam haulage of ordinary scheduled trains at Wolsztyn and the prospect of the sale by tender and scrapping of much of Poland’s railway heritage.

Mr Engelhardt, explained that it was his understanding that the Krosniewice Railway had been closed because of lack of cash. Although he could not offer financial support he could offer moral support to efforts to reopen the railway and help set up meetings with the local authorities.

All BTWT activists who wrote a letter to Barbara Herman (the Mayor of Krosniewice who was responsible for closing the railway) and then copied their letter to Cezary Garbarczyk (Mr Engelhardt’s boss, the Minister of Infrastructure) can now give themselves a pat on the back.

…then the bad.

With respect to Wolsztyn, Mr Engelhardt said he recognised that Wolsztyn was now probably unique, not only in Europe, but also in the whole world. It would certainly continue as a steam shed servicing steam locomotives for special events like the Wolsztyn Steam Gala and for special trains. The only aspect over which there was a question mark was the continuation of steam-hauled ordinary service trains, because the operation of railbuses was much cheaper.

This confirms our worst fears about the future of scheduled steam at Wolsztyn. We will be consulting all the key stakeholders, and then recommending what the best course of action is for BTWT activists.

Mr Engelhardt concluded by saying that he had no knowledge of the sale by tender of railway heritage items to which Mr Morgan had referred and that his view was that items of Polish railway heritage should stay in Poland.

Mr Morgan will be asking Polish railway societies to follow up in detail with the minister a number of the specific points that had been raised at the meeting.