Posts Tagged ‘Krakow Glowny’

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Two new metro stations in Poland!

Thursday, 2 April 2009


New metro station. BTWT photo.

Two more Metro stations opened in Poland in December. They are not part Warsaw’s proposed metro line 2. So where are they? Here is a clue. One of them is situated in a tunnel built sometime in the 1970s. Still guessing? Read on.

Poland is riddled with old tunnels. Wawel Castle has a secret escape tunnel. In the middle ages merchants living in towns along the River San built extensive cellars under their houses to store their merchandise and provide escape routes in times of danger. During WWII, Hitler had an extensive network of tunnels built using slave labour in the Owl Mountains. After World War II the Poles started building an East – West metro under the River Vistula.

Poles have a love affair with their tunnels. They are the very essence of myth and legend – a dragon lived under Wawel Castle; the German’s were working on an anti-gravity device under the Owl Mountains; the costs of the tunnel under the Vistula bankrupted original efforts to build the Warsaw Metro, but everybody knows somebody who actually walked through it to cross under the river.

Even Polish railways have their underground romances. Wroclaw Railway Station is said to have a twin, directly underneath the original. A complete train loaded with treasure looted by the Nazis resides in a blocked off tunnel that lead to Hitler’s nuclear bunker under Furstenstein (Zamek Ksiaz). And Cracow has had a metro station since the 1970s!

The Cracow Metro project dates back to 1956, when the local party bosses, not wanting to be outdone by their Warsaw colleagues, came up with a plan to connect Cracow to the new satellite town of Nowa Huta with a metro line running from East to West. The idea made little economic sense – a reserved track inter-urban tram line running through the open countryside already connected the two centres. However, the idea of a Cracow Metro refused to die completely and when the rebuilding of Krakow Glowny railway station commenced in the 1970s space was left under the railway tracks for a road tunnel and metro station.

In the 1990s it was decided to utilise the metro tunnel for the Krakowski Szybki Tramwaj (KST) (literally Krakow Fast Tram) a semi metro, combining aspects of both tramway and metro practice, running North-South (see map below). The KST was built in fits and starts; construction was not helped by the original contractor going out of business half-way through the contract. The first section from Kurdanow to ul Wieliczka was opened in 2,000, the second section incorporating two new underground stations, Krakow Glowny and Polytechika, opened on 11 December last year.

Interestingly, the Cracovians are not calling their tram tunnel part of a ‘semi-metro’, but rather part of a ‘pre-metro’, so it looks as if the idea of one day building a Cracow Metro has not yet completely been abandoned!


An East – West metro tunnel used for a North – South fast tram (routes 50 and 51). Map MPK Krakow)

(Click to see original high resolution image.)

Don’t miss tomorrow’s exciting instalment – BTWT’s intrepid reporter goes to Cracow to investigate!

… to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive…

Saturday, 24 May 2008


PKP Intercity train from Zakopane to Cracow (Michael Dembinski)

My old friend Mike, who occasionally posts on rail topics on Wwa Jeziorki, takes PKP to task for its Cracow – Zakopane service, ‘147 km in 3 hrs 45 min’. His post leaves me in something of a dilemma.

I could adopt a contrarywise position and defend PKP, pointing out that that: most fast trains take about 3 hrs 30 min to do the 150 km journey; the fastest journey of the day (by a slow osobowy service) takes only 3 hrs 15 min; 10 minutes is a reasonable time for a driver to stop at a station, uncouple all his connections between his engine and the train, run round his train, recouple the engine to the train, check the braking system, establish that it’s safe to do so and then start off again; a thirty minute wait at Plaszow (a combination of 20 minutes recovery time for the train coming in from the Ukraine plus 10 minutes additional waiting that day to hold the connection) is quite reasonable; and that if he was in such a flaming hurry why didn’t he hop out at Plaszow and take the next train to Krakow Glowny?

But to do so, so my conscience tells me, would be skipping over everything that is wrong with PKP. And there is much that needs to be put right. Should I then agree with Michael, adding for good measure that PKP management culture is Neanderthal and that the customer feedback mechanism dates back from when the Polish railways were an extension of the Soviet military control system that held half of Europe in its grip – freight trains had priority and long distance passenger trains travelled at night.

But either approach would be nerdish and miss the whole point of traveling by train. Travelling by train across Poland is an experience to be savoured. Like a good wine or a good woman, Polish trains are not to be hurried. Polish express trains have compartments which once upon a time all proper trains used to have. The PKP Intercity restaurant cars have helpful attendants who make smashing scrambled eggs and always have some illicit bottles of beer or ‘something stronger’ for their special customers. Guards will, if there not to busy, happily talk to you and pour out their hearts on what is wrong with the Polish railway system. So, if you want to relax, forget any question of ‘How long does it take?’ Take a good book, be prepared to talk to learn about Poland from some interesting companions, and enjoy the Polish countryside rolling past your window.

On the other hand if you like being stressed, you could do your long distance travel across Poland by bus or car, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

‘The destination may be the goal, but the journey is the reward’

W-wa Jeziorki

Monday, 19 May 200

Also, it takes much longer to get up north, the slow way*

Zakopane to Krakow. By road or by rail? By road, traffic jams. The road between the two, the Zakopianka, where 100 km can take 10 hours on a Sunday evening, is one alternative. The other is the railway. The romantic in me quite fancies a picturesque railway journey. Surely the train must be the better bet?

As it happens – no. The train winds its way, without undue hurry, taking three hours and 45 minutes to cover 147 km. Average speed less than 25 mph. Three times along the way (at Chabowka, Sucha Beskidska and Krakow Plaszow), the engine uncouples from the front of the train, attaches to the rear of the train, and proceeds out of the station the same way it came in.

The train leaves Zakopane at 12:00 and arrives, on schedule, at Krakow Glowny, at 15:45. At least it was cheap – the ticket cost me 13 zlotys (three quid). Five zlotys less than the bus, which, on the way out on Friday lunchtime cost 18 zlotys (just over four quid) and took two and half hours.

State railway PKP is its own worse enemy. It does not know how to communicate with passengers and potential passengers. Everyone knows the bus is better, even though the Zakopianka is one of Poland’s most notorious roads. The train was running nearly empty – I had an eight-seat carriage to myself all the way. Why isn’t the service scheduled better? 10 minute wait at Chabówka to put the engine at the other end, a similar wait at Sucha Beskidska – then half an hour (!) at Krakow Płaszow to attach the train to another, coming from Przemysl… and Kiev (!!). The journey would have been better had someone told me to jump off the train at Krakow Lagiewniki station, 10km/6miles from Krakow Glowny, and taken a taxi or public transport. The last 10km took 50 minutes (!!!).

Much of PKP will disappear because of the uselessness of its management. Here’s a transport problem (getting tens of thousands of people out of Zakopane, through Krakow and onto the outside world) waiting to be solved. And PKP management is asleep at the wheel.

Original post on W-wa Jeziorki blog.