Posts Tagged ‘Polish drivers’

A Ride on the Dark Track – Finale

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Dartford River Crossing, Tunnel and Bridge

Wojtek turned right, then second left, and we were out of the labyrinth. The sat-nav picked up our route, another 25 kilometres and we were back on the motorway. Now the struggle was to keep awake for as long as it took to get to Calais. (I took it as a matter of honour, and self-preservation, that I would try to keep Wojtek company and awake.) We nearly turned off the motorway one exit too early, but finally we were on the spur road to the car ferry terminal. The time was 4.30 am exactly 24 hours after we were at the start of our ‘by-pass route’ around the centre of Wroclaw.

We passed miles of rusty railway sidings. The unwillingness of SNCF to provide competitively priced stabling facilities for trans Europe freight trains is one of the reasons why so little rail freight passes through the channel tunnel. The other reason is the charging policy of Eurotunnel. Perhaps we should look at railfreight through the Channel Tunnel – or rather the lack of it – in a future post?

We arrived at the lorry check-in for the Dover ferry. Wojtek had planned a kip in the lorry holding area. He was out of luck, the next ferry sailed in less than an hour. By the time the French had checked our lorry for stowaways, the Brits had done the same, but much more thoroughly, and the Brits had checked our passports, there was less than 20 minutes to rest. Nethertheless we both slept.

On board the ferry we decided to try the driver’s restaurant. £4 bought a traditional English breakfast, but the standard was not as good as a traditional UK HGV drivers cafe. We snatched another quick nap and then we were rolling through the Dover ferry terminal – no security check this time – and onto the A2. We crossed under the River Thames at the Dartford crossing and soon the sat-nav was guiding us through the narrow streets of East London to our final destination. Wojtek had been on the road for 30 hours, of which a total of 6 hours had been spent resting.

My journey by lorry from Poland to England by lorry was quite an education, and I will return to some of the things that I learnt in future posts. Meanwhile there have been happenings in the Polish rail arena, particularly as regards the campaign to save the Krosniewice Railway. There have also been developments in Pyskowice and elsewhere. WATCH THIS SPACE !

A Ride on the Dark Track – part 3

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Hollandsch Diep Bridge, HSL Zuid High-Speed Rail Line

Dyspozytor is riding on a lorry from Poland to London to discover why so much Polish freight goes to the UK by road. The first part of his report was published on Sunday.

We pulled into a parking area about 10 am. “Half an hour”, said Wojtek. We slept for two. It was going to be our longest period of uninterrupted sleep before we reached our unloading point in East London. Wojtek had chosen the time for his passage through Germany well. We cruised past Berlin, Braunschweig, and Hanover. We drove through the centre of Bad Oberhausen. This strange 6 km gap in the German motorway network is the result of some nifty lobbying by local residents. They want a tunnel, not a Twyford Down style by-pass.

At 4 pm. we stop at another parking area for our statutory rest period. Several hours ago, Wojtek should have taken a compulsory 7 hour rest period, but by juggling the discs in his tachograph, he had created a second virtual driver that would pass any later inspection. We would be OK, provided we weren’t pulled up by the traffic police. During our 20 minute break we were entertained by the comings and goings of 20 policemen in bright fluorescent jackets looking at vehicles in the parking area on the other side of the motorway. They seemed to be concentrating all their efforts on inspecting the contents of small vans, rather than lorries or cars.

Half an hour later we were overtaken by a white van. The driver seemed to know Wojtek and signalled him to pull in at the next parking area. We stopped, handshakes were exchanged, and the van driver beckoned us round to the back of his van. Inside was an Aladdin’s cave packed with the latest consumer electronics. Perhaps Wojtek would like a plasma TV for his wife? The price was really competitive. Wojtek reluctantly shook his head. Was it something to do with my presence, or the prospect of taking the hot TV through the closely controlled UK border? I never did find out.

By 6 pm. we were cruising through Holland. The interesting feature of this part of the trip was the Hogesnelheidslijn Zuid (High-Speed Line South) – a brand new 300 km/hr high speed railway constructed through Holland and Belgium to connect a new route Antwerp and Amsterdam. The line was completed in 2007, but apart from construction and gauging trains, no services have yet run on the new railway. The villain in the story is the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS). But this is neither the place nor the time. I will deal with ERTMS in a separate post. The HSL Zuid has been constructed practically along the motorway hard shoulder thereby reducing environmental disruption to the minimum.

Our route left the HSL Zuid for a while, only to rejoin it again on the other side of the Holland – Belgium border. I decided that the graciously curved catenary supports in Holland were much more attractive than the traditional straight variety installed along the Belgian section of the line. Antwerp, with its long underwater tunnel, was passed without a hitch. Then some 50 km later, the turn off for the motorway to Ostend was closed. Wojtek switched on his sat-nav and I kept a close look out for road signs. Our diversionary route was signposted some 20 km later. So far so good, Wojtek’s sat-nav and the road signs were in perfect agreement. But then after 15 km, our diversionary route was coned off. We had to take a diversion off our diversion! We found ourself driving through an elegant residential area, small bungalows with large gardens. The road was barely wide enough for our lorry! Then we reached a spot where the sat-nav said “Straight on,” and the road sign said “No through road”.

A Ride on the Dark Track – part 2

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Lorries coming off the Calais ferry at Dover Harbour

Dyspozytor is riding on a lorry from Poland to London to discover why so much Polish freight goes to the UK by road. The first part of his report was published yesterday.

My driver said call me “Wojtek” and we shook hands. By now there was a little traffic on the roads. A number of lorries flashed their lights at us. Was there a police checkpoint ahead? Then the radio barked, “Switch off that bloody halogen”. “I haven’t got any halogens,” muttered Wojtek under his breath. We rolled along newly asphalted roads for a few hours. The air became heavy with a strong smell of diesel fumes. “Wroclaw” explained Wojtek. We turned off the main road and proceed a long a narrow road little better than a farm track. Another lorry coming from the other direction had to wait while Wojtek pulled over onto the side of the road. We turned right into a slightly wider road, after a time there were regular street lights and tram tracks running parallel to the road on our right.

It seems that the Councillors of Wroclaw, in a display of environmental conciousness that’s rare in Poland, have decreed that lorries with an overall weight of 18 tonnes or more are banned from the streets of their city. Poland being Poland, there is a slight hitch – Wroclaw is on the direct route from Warsaw and other parts of Poland to the German autobahn system, and – there is no Wroclaw by-pass. So Wojtek, and many other drivers like him, have invented their own bypass. The substandard tracks get them half way round the city, so reducing the chance of a meeting with the traffic police by 50%. By performing this manoeuvre at 4.30 am. in the morning, Wojtek had reduced the chance of such a meeting to insignificant proportions.

We drive along a cobbled street with a tram track in the centre that is in the course of being lifted. Was this part of an EU-funded track refurbishment programme, or a reduction in the City’s tram routes? It was difficult to tell. We drove into an all night petrol station and Wojtek bought a gas cylinder for the small portable stove that he cooks on. Then he checked his lights. The offending light was a fog lamp that seemed to be wired up in parallel with the main headlights. Wojtek put down a tarpaulin on the muddy ground and crawled under the cab. 10 minutes later he had disconnected the rogue foglamp and we were on our way again. We drove over a concrete flyover constructed in the 70’s. Cracks in the asphalt betrayed serious structural problems. A weight restriction sign said 10 T. “Don’t worry”, said Wojtek, We’re only 18.5 tonnes. The bridge is regularly crossed by lorries with weighing 45 tonnes or more.”

Not far from Wroclaw we joined the A4 motorway. Curiously, this recently constructed section of the Polish motorway system has been built without a hard shoulder. I guess that the official who drew up the specification and the contractor who built this section, both benefited from its omission.

Wojtek began making a strange snorting noise and I guessed that he was fighting hard not to fall asleep. It was about 6pm. After another hour he gave up the unequal struggle and pulled into a lorry park cum shopping area to catch “half an hours sleep”. A couple of hours later, with both of suitably refreshed, we set off again. We crossed the Polish border about 9 am. Poland has entered the Shenegen zone so there were no border formalities, but Wojtek did have to stop and buy a 95 euro ticket to pay for his transit via the German motorway system. “We’ll stop in a little over an hour and have a decent sleep,” promised Wojtek. “We’ll arrive in England, whenever we arrive. There’s no rush for this load of furniture.”

A text message brought about the only occasion when I heard Wojtek almost swear. “Cripes! This load of cardboard furniture is wanted in England tomorrow morning!” 1,500 km to go.

The third part of the journey is available here.