Posts Tagged ‘Robert Hall’

A return journey – part 10

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

by Robert Hall

The SKD when trains still ran to Wielichowo. Video by vicinalasvi.

At Poznan Glowny station, I found the same problem as recounted by Dyspozytor in his post, Customer Care Conundrum – the displayed timetables at the station did not seem to have heard of my train, supposedly scheduled to reach Stare Bojanowo at 15:42. Unlike Dyspozytor, I had the good fortune to have plenty of time at my disposal and I asked at a likely-looking Informacja window, where the chap on duty knew a little English, and was able to tell me the time and departure platform of my train. Stare Bojanowo was reached on time. I was met there by Dyspozytor and two of Smigiel line’s general manager’s daughters – one to take us around the railway; the other to drive the car. In fact the whole family looked after us splendidly throughout the whole action-packed 24 hours or so at Smigiel. The visit started with being taken round the overgrown and bordering-on-ruinous transporter wagon loading facility at Stare Bojanowo. I saw some forlorn-looking transporter trucks and learnt that they were last used in March this year. In view of later developments, the future of freight working on this line seems uncertain.

Dyspozytor was keen that I should meet up not only with the line’s management, but also with a representative of the line’s owner, Smigiel Town Council. A meeting with the mayor was duly arranged. Wth Dyspozytor acting as interpreter I tried to explain to the Mayor that a purely tourist operation is in many enthusiasts’ eyes, considerably less attractive than a real railway fulfilling a real passenger and / or freight commercial function. But the mayor was having none of it. His plan for the future of the line has already been covered on BTWT. The general impression that I received was that the best that can be hoped for, is for some of the line to survive as a purely tourist operation.

The dealings of Polish local government authorities nowadays, with narrow-gauge railways in their remit, seem on the whole to be characterised by a strong anti-railway mindset, and in that connection, mind-boggling spite and stupidity. It is to be hoped that such local authorities will eventually realise that a preserved narrow-gauge line is a wonderful tourist magnet and thus provides a big boost to the local economy and that, having done so, they will not actively seeking to thwart its doings and confiscate money from its coffers.

After the railcar trailer painting working party mentioned in the same BTWT post, I caught a mid-afternoon Wolsztyn Experience special run in one of the line’s Romanian-built diesel railcars. At Stary Bojanowo, I changed trains – I was bound for Poznan and an overnight run to the south-east of the country. At least I can say that I have twice done the 5 km Smigiel – Stare Bojanowo secion, that direction only, by MBxd2 : in 1993 and now in 2010. It would seem that Smigiel – Wielichowo will never be mine; but, as an old proverb tells us, You can’t win them all.

A local EMU took me to Poznan, from where I was to depart for the south-east, my target being there being the narrow-gauge Przeworsk Railway. I arrived at Poznan Glowny a little before departure of the 17:22 steam working to Wolsztyn – Pt47-65 on two single-decker coaches. Feeling that I have done justice to the Wolsztyn scene on previous trips to Poland, I had made no plans to look in there, on this tour. The 17:22’s departure was to be my only sight during the whole tour, of a steam loco in steam and in motion.

A return journey – part 9

Monday, 25 October 2010

by Robert Hall

Znin 0-8-0T with ‘home-made’ tender.
Photo Zninska Kolej Powiatowa archive.

(Click the image to see more vintage photos of locomotives on the Znin narrow gauge railway.)

The Znin line, operates what is by Polish narrow-gauge standards an intensive seven days a week summer service, though nowadays it runs in isolation from the rest of the country’s rail passenger network. Znin has to be reached by bus. Services, some of quite reasonable frequency, operate to and from various railheads. So, using the next available local EMUs from Krzyz to Poznan, and then Poznan to Gniezno, I was able to catch the 15:30 Gniezno – Znin bus.

Whimsical thoughts passed through my mind. What if this about this situation had arisen twenty years earlier, when Znin was still on the standard-gauge passenger map? In fact, it lay on the 170 km-long west – east cross-country line from Krzyz via numerous rural junctions to Inowroclaw. The last section of this route to lose its passenger service, did so some half-dozen years ago. My 1990 PKP timetable reveals that owing to the sparsity and slowness of Polish branch passenger trains even in their heyday, I would have fared no better case then, than I did this summer. A Krzyz arrival at 11:38 would have meant that the next departure on the cross-country route would have afforded the joy of the eastbound run of the one pair of workings each way per day, which traversed the whole 170 kilometre line end-to-end calling at every station en route, departing from Krzyz at 14:08, and arriving Znin at 19:08 – far too late for anything to be happening on the narrow gauge, though the probable Ol49 haulage on my standard gauge stopping train would have been a fair compensation…

As the Znin line had not been on my agenda I did not have a copy of its timetable. Instead I trusted to luck and my awareness that in Polish n.g. terms, the line operated a ‘London-Underground’ style service frequency. Luck did not oblige: alighting at the 600mm line’s outer terminus, Gasawa, right on the bus route, I discovered that the day’s final train had departed some half an hour previously. From Monday to Friday, the line operates a busy schedule, requiring two train sets, but it starts late and finishes early. On a Saturday or Sunday, I would have been in time for the last inbound train, but this was a Tuesday.

I decided, that ‘when rail fails, feet must serve’, and set out to walk the 12 km length of the preserved line to Znin. This line has been on the preservation scene for a very long time – some 35 years – and I had travelled on it before, in 1983. Many memories were prompted by the walk, which in the event took me an unanticipated three hours. I am clearly not as fit as I might be. In 1983, the line – nowadays exclusively diesel-worked – was using an 0-8-0 tender-tank, Tx4-564, a delightful machine, to haul its tourist trains. This preservation undertaking is on an excellent wicket, serving as it does in its short compass, various tourists attractions. These include: the 600mm gauge railway museum at Wenecja; the meticulously-restored Iron Age settlement at Biskupin with, at a discreet distance, hard by the railway’s Biskupin halt, various tourist-bait – an ‘iron Age hut’ kebab joint, a ditto gift shop… (none of this was around in 1983); and Gasawa village is a beauty spot, with a nice church.

The Znin railway used to be a compact, but-complex, 600mm system, with numerous branches. Genuine passenger services were withdrawn as long ago as 1963, but freight traffic kept the line busy long after. For some reason best known to itself, PKP decided in the 1970s to make Znin, its 600mm preserved railway (at that time it still had 600mm gauge lines elsewhere with genuine passenger services), and initiated the Znin – Gasawa ‘museum trains’. In 1983, most of the system was still in use for freight – chiefly diesel-worked, though the PKP guide on the organised tour with which I visited the line, claimed that steam was still used for freight on a couple of its branches. The guide was a delightful fellow – an impassioned gricer and steam-freak to the extent that one sometimes suspected that he lived on another planet… All that is now gone. There remains only the tourist line Znin – Gasawa, and a short disused length of what was once a branch running west from Znin (Gasawa line runs due south).

Mercifully, I found a nice hotel found in Znin, with rooms available. Here I collapsed into bed with the minimum of formalities. I was up early the next morning, and I took a pre-breakfast wander around town, which allowed me to investigate the bus options for getting out of the place. I discovered that Znin’s standard-gauge station, adjacent to the narrow-gauge one, still has track down, coming in from the east, and in relatively good condition. There wereno goods wagons to be seen in or around the station, but you never know…

First 600mm train of the day out of Znin, was at 09:00. In theory, I could probably have had a token ride to the first halt, 2 km out, and walked back from there; but was still footsore from the previous evening, and had mundane things to see to before leaving town. Standard motive power on this line now seems to be class Lyd2 0-6-0 diesel locos – two seen at the station, ready for action – the timetable requires two train sets. Lyd2-57 took out the 0900, a few minutes late: one authentic 1950s bogie coach, plus half a dozen semi-opens created for tourists. Necessary tasks done, a refreshing beer, and then off on the 10:25 express bus to Poznan via Gniezno ex Elblag. I reached Poznan just after midday.

A return journey – part 8

Sunday, 24 October 2010

by Robert Hall

Miedzyrzecz Station before WW II.

(Click image to see a larger version on the strefabiznesu.gazetalubuska.pl website.)

Miedzyrzecz Station today. Photo Maciej G, Kolejowy Wroclaw.

(Click on image to see more photos by Maciej G of Miedzyrzecz Station on the Kolejowy Wroclaw website.)

The depressing condition of secondary standard-gauge passenger lines earlier in the tour, had lessened my enthusiasm for exploring them (Rzepin – Miedzyrzecz was a much-desired exception) so a change of plan was called for, I would visit some interesting preserved lines, even though I had visited the lines concerned, on my earlier Polish trips. My initial idea was to head north to the Gryfice – Rewal – Pogorzelica metre-gauge preserved railway, which runs every day of the week in the summer season.

The gricing gods proved to have other ideas, as I was to experience in the ensuing hours. Miedzyrzecz’s somewhat basic bus station, essentially the railway station forecourt, seemed at first sight almost as desolate as its rail counterpart, and not inspirie me with great confidence. I began to doubt whether the purported 08:50 Gorzow replacement bus would actually show up. When just before 08:00, a bus – seemingly not heralded by any displayed list of departures – rolled in, I queried the driver as to its destination. When he replied, Gorzow, I got on board and found myself at that town’s rail station, not quite an hour later.

Düwag 6ZGTW tram on ul. Sikorskiego, Gorzow Wielkopolski, April 2005.
From a photo by Macdriver, pl.Wikipedia.

(Click on image to see original photograph and for details of licensing.)

Gorzow, a medium-to-large-sized town, and not a usual destination for conventional tourists, has a modest standard-gauge tram system, which most properly has an offshoot to the station, with a balloon loop right in front of the building. Unfortunately, I had no chance to ride on the trams, my priorities were to take the first chance to grab some breakfast, and to see to my onward travel arrangements to the seaside and its metre gauge. At first, it seemed that the unexpectedly early bus would allow departure for Krzyz, by a train two hours earlier than that envisaged. However, to rephrase the words of the Navy chap in World War I, There’s something wrong with our bloody trains today.

Present-day rail travel around Poland is less easy than in former times, because of the continual state of flux in which passenger services seem to find themselves in nowadays. Often, what actually happens, is not reflected by the arrival-and-departure timetables posted up at stations – is sometimes, in fact, not shown on them at all. And, especially if one does not know the language – and is not helped by announcements over station loudspeakers – it is impossible to determine whether the differences from the displayed which occur are official long-term changes of train timings, or simply quirks of the day’s operation. Thus – for whatever reason – instead of the expected 09:47 departure from Gorzow, I found myself on a train, working in from further west, which left at 10:24.

This service, running over the unelectrified west-to-east line through Gorzow, was formed of diesel loco SU42-504 hauling three single-deck coaches. It was a nice change from the ultra-modern railmotors which seem to predominate nowadays on non-electric passenger lines. These vehicles, though they do their job perfectly adequately and give quite a comfortable ride, but with their space-ship looks, are visually most unappealing. An hour and a quarter’s all-stations run through undramatic but pleasant terrain, brought me to Krzyz, but a four-way junction today, a glorious seven-way junction in the 80s.

Soon there were further indications that this was not going to be a good day for achieving what I had planned to do. Thinking myself highly clever in expediting my onward progress, I had bought at Gorzow, a ticket to Szczecin via Krzyz. The guard of the Gorzow – Krzyz train, alerted to my intentions while checking tickets, informed me volubly but incomprehensibly, that there were some problems ahead. Polish word-of-mouth having failed, he kindly sought me out subsequently, and by dint of his few words of English, sign language, and his copy of the timetable book, conveyed to me that because of some mishap, services on the Poznan – Szczecin main line north-west of Krzyz were disrupted, and a replacement bus service was operating over part of the route.

With Poland’s rail passenger workings, things do not on the whole happen very quickly. My snap judgement was that the delays likely to be involved would reduce my chances of making the connection further north, which would be vital to getting some action on the metre gauge that day. A rendezvous with friends and allies at Stare Bojanowo (the railhead for Smigiel) was already scheduled for 15:42 the following day. With my not having that appliance owned by almost every inhabitant of modern Poland – a mobile phone – attempts at making contact to alter arrangements, were a potential nightmare, to be reserved for acute emergencies; grices going wrong, were basically not in that bracket. I made an Instant decision to forget the visit to the metre gauge railway at Gryfice, and to substitute a preservation venue more in striking distance both of where I then was, and of the Smigiel area where I soon hoped to be. My new destination was to be the 600mm line at Znin.

A return journey – part 7

Saturday, 23 October 2010

… the continuing story by Robert Hall of his nostalgic return trip to Poland

Disused platform at Rzepin station. Photo Roland Semik.

(Click image to see a gallery of Roland Semik’s photos of Rzepin station on Rzepin.net.)

…continued from: A return journey – part 6

I reached Rzepin a little before 16:00 hours on Mon. 19th July. Plinthed by the station was 2-10-0, Ty51-37. Appropriately – this class is strongly associated with this venue, in a ‘graven on the heart’ way. These big, powerful post-WW II Decapods were a class which always fascinated and attracted me, and with which I had little luck.

By the time I first got to Poland in the 1980s, this class was in retreat – on the whole, heavy freight was an early priority for dieselisation by PKP. The locations where steam still handled such traffic, became few and far between. In the endless war between gricers and PKP, paranoia became a trait discernible on both sides. Some railfans were convinced that PKP, indulging their sadistic impulses, deliberately concentrated their dwindling numbers of active Ty51 locos in sensitive border areas where attempted photography, or even too obvious an interest taken, would land the enthusiast in deep mire. (The fact that pre-the 1990s, all Poland’s neighbouring countries were supposedly friendly Soviet-bloc allies, was neither here nor there.) This was the case at Rzepin. Up to beginning of the 80s, the Warsaw – Berlin main line’s electrification ended at Zbaszynek. For the 80-odd kilometres from there to the East German border at Kunowice / Frankfurt-Oder, most freight was hauled by Ty51s based at Rzepin. Early in the 80s, the wires were extended west from Zbaszynek to Rzepin, but for a few more years, the dozen or so kilometres from Rzepin to the border remained unelectrified, and the Ty51’s stayed in business bridging this short gap. I saw the magnificent machines on freight duties in this area, on entering and leaving Poland in 1980 and 1984; but was aware that breaking off my travels to take an interest in their so doing, would be an enterprise which I would likely have cause to regret deeply. Well, it is all over now – rest in peace, Ty51-37.

Rzepin – not high on Poland’s must-do list of tourist attractions – was on my agenda because of one particular line. The one-time cluster of branch lines north of the east-west main line, all the way from Poznan to Rzepin, was one of Poland’s last areas to use steam on a regular basis – mostly in the form of class TKt48 2-8-2Ts, working from the Miedzyrzecz depot. I saw a little of this scene in the 80s; but never travelled on the 66 km line from Miedzyrzecz to Rzepin, which stayed TKt48-worked till 1990 or so, and retained diesel-hauled passenger services for some years after that. Quite astoundingly, in 2008 – probably ten years or more after passenger services were suspended – the Miedzyrzecz – Rzepin line was reopened to passengers under the auspices of the provincial government. I had always thought of the line as an archetypical useless-in-the-modern-age super-rural Polish branch line, of the kind on which passenger services were slaughtered by the scores and hundreds, in the early 1990s. Ever since I knew that – should I ever revisit Poland – this is one line that I must do, if by a miracle it would still be running when I got there. I did; it was; so a date was made with the 06:10 Rzepin – Miedzyrzecz on Tuesday 20th July.

I had spent the previous night at Rzepin’s Park Hotel, within easy reach of the station – comfortable enough, and very inexpensive. Not many people beat a path to Rzepin. I was at the station in comfortable time for the 06:10. The revived passenger service on this line is very meagre – I had very little choice regarding workings. The day before, I had witnessed the 16:41 arrival from Miedzyrzecz. (There was no return working on that day.) This was formed by a modern railmotor, SA 105-104 – a four-wheel single-unit job, tiny as this range of vehicles go – branded as operating for Lubuskie province. The same railmotor worked the 06:10 on the 20th. The departure was punctual, and was followed by an hour and twenty minutes’ run through attractive, well-wooded countryside. Calls were made at nine intermediate stops. We left Rzepin with about ten passengers, and arrived at Miedzrzecz with twelve or thereabouts – a fairly high degree of passenger turnover en route. Once again the total lack of freight action, gave a melancholy tone to the scene – deserted, overgrown goods yards, and lineside factories once clearly rail-linked, but with the sidings to them now severed. Nevertheless it was a journey which I was highly pleased to get in the bag. Could I but have travelled on the line two or three decades earlier, behind a 2-8-2T and with the whole set-up busily functioning; but alas there was never enough time or money to do anything like the amount of Polish steam-bashing, that could have been accomplished.

As already mentioned in part 2, Miedzyrzecz station in 2010, in contrast with its appearance in 1980, was a sad and desolate sight. The more so, owing to the lack of my planned rail connection onward. Checking a few days previously on a website which gives up-to-date information for train times and journeys in Poland, I discovered that the 07:00 Zbaszynek – Miedzyrzecz – Gorzow Wielkopolski train – which would have made a very neat connection with the 06:10 ex Rzepin – was not running: a substitute bus departed Miedzrzecz for Gorzow at 08:50. [The current timetable does show a 07:00 working, but it is a bus. Ed.]

The Zbaszynek – Gorzow route was, way back then, the nearest thing to a main line, which the branch network focusing on Miedzyrzecz had. It and the Rzepin – Miedzyrzecz route are the only lines of that complex, which nowadays carry passenger services – or did, anyway. Certainly, on 20th July, there was no sign of the 07:00 ex Zbaszynek. I am not in a position to know whether it was just that particular rail working which had been cancelled (and if so, whether temporarily or permanently); or whether the line’s entire passenger service has been ‘bustituted’. [All the direct workings appeared to be ‘bustituted’. Ed.]

Miedzyrzecz railways. Google Maps & Railmap – Kolejowa Mapa Polski

(Click on image to link to Railmap – Kolejowa Mapa Polski.)

The earlier parts of Robert Hall’s journey:

A return journey – part 2

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Przewozy Regionalne railbus at Miedzyrzecz station owned by Lubusz province.
Photo © Tomasz Nowak.

(Click on image to see more photographs taken at Miedzyrzecz station by Tomasz Nowak.)

The second part of Robert Hall’s return trip to Poland after a break of 16 years.

My journey would now take me over some of the northern reaches of the Magistrala Weglowa (Coal Trunk Line), opened in the 1930s to link the Upper Silesia mining and industrial area with Poland’s then only port at Gdynia. Some of the route between Gdynia and Koscierzyna was 1930s new build, other sections made use of the pre-World War 1 Prussian State Railways network. An hour and a quarter’s run through pleasant gentle hills brought us to Koscierzyna, and a neat connection there with single-unit SA 106-104, representing the 15:24 departure southward. This vehicle carried the markings of Kujawsko-Pomorskie province, whose local rail passenger services are at present operated by Arriva.

As we set off, my attention was unfortunately distracted from Koscierzyna railway museum’s steam locos outside the MMPD by an altercation with the railmotor’s guard. It appears that the Polrailpass no longer covers all of Poland’s passenger services but only those operated by PKP Intercity and other PKP subsidiaries. At first we headed due south along a Magistala Weglowa section opened in 1930, called at a couple of stations including Olpuch, then at Bak branched off south-westward on a line which was also new post-WW1. A pause of some length at Czersk, where connection is made with the Pila – Tczew cross-country route (once Prussia’s main line between Berlin, and Gdansk and Kaliningrad (formerly Konigsberg). As we waited for the connecting train I saw a loco-hauled train of single-deck stock, and a modern railmotor. At last, SA 106 moved on, to Szlachta junction where I was to change, and thence further south – though whether to Wierzchucin or right through to Bydgoszcz, I was unable to determine.

The pleasure of leisurely railmotor journeys over a quite intricate system of rural lines was marred for me by one big difference from my 1994 visit – all these country lines now appear to be devoid of freight services. Every station at which we called that afternoon, sported a grass-grown, disused goods yard – big or small according to the magnitude of the place concerned – with not a single goods wagon in revenue-earning service. I had observed the same on the Hel branch the previous day. Sixteen years previously, although very many lines had by then lost their passenger services, plentiful local freight action had been in evidence.

I find rural railways carrying no freight at all, and seeing no use other than by local passenger services, intensely saddening. In the Beeching era in Britain, some railway enthusiasts expressed the sentiment that they would rather see lines closed, than the trains on them running empty. My journeys in Poland this year bred similar feelings. My gut-reaction was that these lines were in a condition of death-in-life, hanging on by a thin and rather ludicrous thread, and that I would prefer to see the railway administration put an end to the farce, sweep the whole thing away, and do an honest job of ripping the tracks up and ‘having done’. I admit that this is an emotional, illogical and unfair reaction. All the services on which I travelled that afternoon, had a reasonable number of passengers. In fact, from Gdynia to Olpuch, the railmotors were positively crowded, thanks to a large contingent of Scouts-and-Guides, who disembarked at the latter point. The lines are seeing some use, but in a context which put me of wanting to undertake much further standard-gauge-branch-exploration in the days ahead.

One of the two saddest sights for me this year – both for the same basic reason – was the station at Szlachta, where I had an hour’s wait between workings. Szlachta was once a four-way junction, today three of the original four lines still meet here. Szlachta is a spacious station with four platforms and five platform roads. It has a large goods yard, now weed-grown and utterly deserted. There was plenty of grass growing over the passenger tracks, too. All this is protected by an elaborate array of semaphore signals, which are still solemnly operated for the passenger workings. The station building is decaying, with no public access except to the neglected waiting room. A notice on the former booking-office window stated, if I interpreted it correctly, that from a date in 2009, tickets would no longer be issued at Szlachta station; all ticket business to be transacted on-train. At the time of my visit, Szlachta still had a stationmistress; there for operational matters – dealings with passengers would appear to be no longer part of her remit.

I found the scene most horridly depressing and as my hour in the grave-like quiet of Szlachta junction wore on, disquieting fantasies began to set in. Was I to be marooned forever in this doleful spot? Perhaps my departed SA 106-104 was the last service ever to call here? The sight of a double-unit SA 134 coming into view from the east – the 16:36 ex Laskowice Pomorskie to Szlachta – to become the 17:39 return working. This working (again, operated by Arriva) waited for a while beyond its scheduled departure time, for a late-running railmotor to pop-in-and-out-again on a northbound counterpart working of my 15:24 ex Koscierzyna.

The other truly heartbreaking sight was Miedzyrzecz station, a few days later – de-staffed and seemingly deserted, all in very dilapidated physical condition. There was a big overgrown and totally empty goods yard. The only activity on rails was one just-arrived railmotor terminating there. A painful contrast to how things were at Miedzyrzecz on my isit there in 1980. The place was then a busy country junction, a focal point of an intricate net of branch lines, with a loco shed whose inhabitants – chiefly class TKt48 2-8-2Ts – worked those routes. Almost everything was steam, with frequent comings and goings. There was plenty of freight action. There were staff everywhere. Everything ran quite smartly, though in the rather dispirited fashion which was the norm in Communist days. The scene thirty years later, was a most wretched come-down.

As regards scenery, Szlachta to Laskowice Pom. was a delectable run of some 40 km through gently idyllic scenery, often traversing thick mainly-conifer woodland, and calling at a succession of sweet little towns. What a superb preserved steam line this could make, if such matters could be arranged in Poland, as they are in Britain. My aversion to dead railways, with nothing left except meagre railmotor services, was so acute that I decided against my original plan of travelling on yet another branch – the line from Laskowice Pom. to Grudziadz. The idea had been to stay overnight at Grudziadz, sample its metre-gauge trams on the morrow, before proceeding southwards on the secondary line which serves the town. I felt, though, that I had had enough of moribund branch lines. so I baled out at Laskowice Pom. on the Gdansk – Bydgoszcz electric old main line. An opportune southbound local emu showed up quite soon, and delivered me to Bydgoszcz at a not too late hour.

Bydgoszcz was another place that I had last visited in 1980. On exiting from the city’s Glowny Station, I was concerned to see tram tracks in the cobbles, but no masts nor wires. Had the city’s metre-gauge tram system been axed. In fact, the trams are still busily functioning, but the branch that ran right to the main station, has been axed. Next day with a morning to kill in Bydgoszcz – a nice enough city, but not prime tourist-bait – a tram ride was duly had, choosing a good long route from the centre, out to start of countryside on city’s eastern edge. Then a post-lunchtime departure on a Gdynia – Katowice through express, to reach Lodz early in the evening. I kept a sharp lookout on the run southward, for traces of the ill-fated Kujawy 750mm gauge system, but saw nothing – the tracks, were too overgrown to pick out in passing.

…to be continued

More photographs of Miedzyrzecz:

A return journey

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

by Robert Hall

A  lightweight DMU comprising two permanently coupled railcars awaits the ‘right away’ at Koscierzyna Station in August 2007. From a photo by Leinad.

(Click the image to see the original on Wikipedia and for details of licensing conditions.)

Robert Hall, one of BTWT’s guest writers, was a regular Poland gricer, making 8 trips to the country between 1980 and 1994. Now 16 years later he returns to the country to make one last trip. This is what he found.

For assorted reasons there was little opportunity to make elaborate advance plans. A high priority for the bash was – not entirely for gricing reasons – was to take a look at the Trojmiasto (Tri-city) area on the Baltic coast: Gdansk – Sopot – Gdynia, which I had not visited before. At the last-minute I decided to go to this venue first. With the short notice, finding somewhere to stay for the first night would just have to take its chance. A mid-afternoon arrival by air at Poznan meant an early evening express train departure for Gdansk, arriving there just before midnight; and ultimately, the rest of night spent at and around Gdansk Glowny station. Happily all further nights of the tour, were to be spent in greater comfort.

Come the dawn, some time was spent in orientation, and then exploring Gdansk’s prime tourist honey-pot, its architecturally exquisite Stare Miasto (Old Town). This area has been rebuilt after being almost completely destroyed by Allied bombing during WW II. After a walk around, and a call at the monument outside the shipyard area, to those killed in the 1970 disturbances in the city; it was off to Gdynia, which seemed a better bet for accommodation, and is the appropriate launching point for secondary rail services from the Trojmiasto.

The three cities are linked along the main line by the frequent, running from early to late, blue-and-yellow EMUS of the Szybka Kolej Miejska (Fast Urban Railway), serving some dozen stations in the conurbation. One such delivered me to Gdynia Glowna station. Gdynia pleasantly surprised me; I had expected an ugly, no-frills busy port, but in fact much of the town is emphatically a well-frequented seaside resort:, which struck me as more relaxed than its frenetic neighbours. The Dom Marynarza provided adequate accommodation for the next couple of nights. It was close by the sea and about 2km from Gdynia Glowna station. While Gdansk has trams, Gdynia has trolleybuses.

At a Gdynia quayside, moored as a floating museum, is the destroyer Blyskawica, a vessel which had a heroic career with the Free Polish forces during WW II. As I had relatives, interested in such matters, in Cowes, Isle of Wight – where the Blyskawica was built, and where she distinguished herself in counter-measures against an air raid in 1942 – I simply had to go round the ship. It was fascinating to get the feel of how things must have been in a WW II steam-driven warship. There were memorabilia from the ship’s WW II career, and much information about the general history of the Polish Navy. Sadly nearly all of it was all in Polish, I wish I had been able to understand more than a small fraction of the written material.

Time for some gricing. A trip beckoned, to the place which had launched a thousand bad trans-lingual puns – Hel, at the end of its 30km narrow spit of land sticking out into the Baltic, at the end of its branch line, diverging from the main line at Reda. Hel local trains originate and terminate at Gdynia Glowna; I caught the 11:57 departure. It was a pleasant discovery and for me a trip down memory lane. Nowadays it is fairly rare to find a Polish standard-gauge non-electric line with passenger services, where the trains are anything other than the recent generation of modern railcars or railbuses. The Hel branch, in high summer anyway, is an exception: all of its quite frequent local services appeared to be made up of classical railway carriages hauled by medium-size Bo-Bo diesels of classes SP32, SU42, and SM42. Long-distance trains along the branch were also handled by these classes, sometimes double-heading. Furthermore, all local services appeared to include a unit or two of double-deck coaching stock. Purest nostalgia-fodder for me… in the days of real steam in Poland, double-deckers featured frequently on local trains in the steam areas. On lines with mixed traction, sometimes if one were unlucky and a particular train were diesel, there was no alternative to – in order to get to the necessary next point of tour – enduring a run behind ‘the enemy’. In the old times, I got a fair few trips in diesel-hauled double-decker stock, preferring always to ride on the upper deck, for the grand commanding view of the Polish countryside.

Gdynia – Hel locals take two hours or a little more, for their journey. The 11:57, behind SM42-114, delivered me to Hel at 14:15. I had had the notion of travelling out by rail, and returning to the Trojmiasto by one of the boats which in summer ply between various points thereof, and Hel; but it transpired that I was too late – all such boats were booked-up, except for one due to arrive Gdynia at 2030: later than fitted in with my plans. I had just a couple of hours to take in Hel’s seaside attractions before catching the 16:20 local service back to Gdynia, hauled by SP32-202.

I was slightly disappointed by the run. The Hel spit has been generously afforested, to stabilise the sand-dunes of which it is made up; consequently, for much of the journey, one can’t see the sea for the trees. Such views of the sea which there are, are mostly of the landward Zatoka Pucka to the south, rather than of the open sea to the north.

The following day, it was time to leave the coast and head southwards. As far as passenger services are concerned, there has been a butchering of lesser standard-gauge lines over the last 20 years – today’s rail passenger map now looks miserably thin compared to its 1990 counterpart. However, the axe has been wielded more vigorously in some areas than others. South-south-west of the Trojmiasto, there are still sufficient passenger services, on enough secondary and branch lines for it be possible to emulate the intricate itineraries of those zealous 1980s bashers who, armed with a Polrailpass, roamed the PKP network twenty-four hours a day non-stop in search of steam.

I had had an elaborate day’s plan worked out for a rambling journey south, involving an early-morning departure from Gdynia. However, what with the weather that week being punishingly hot, and with my not being as young as I once was, I felt wrung-out on getting back from my journey to Hel, so I decided to bow to the inevitable and cut one line out of my would-have-been itinerary. I got up late, had a leisurely morning, and set out southward on the 13:46 Gdynia Glowna – Koscierzyna.

Most passenger action on surviving standard-gauge secondary lines in Poland, is nowadays provided by the basically new-as-of-this century, generation of modern diesel railcars / railbuses (often four-wheeled, sometimes articulated in pairs) with the to me hideous-looking glassed-in “A4-like curving” ends. As I’m not a techie, and am vague as to the most precise and correct name for the vehicles, I shall rom now on refer to the vehicles concerned as ‘railmotors’.

The 1346 was formed by two-unit railmotor SA 132-005, blue and yellow like the SKM trains, and marked as running under the auspices of Pomorskie province. It bore me off into the unknown: I had never before visited this area of the one-time “Polish Corridor”. This was a region almost never touched on by railfans in the 1980s, because its passenger services had gone predominantly diesel at quite an early stage. Koscierzyna’s depot with its allocation of Kriegsloks (a type found boring by many), used mostly on freight, or on passenger on now-closed lines east from that location, attracted little attention until the very last years of PKP steam, when the soup was getting thin, and remaining steam action of any kind, came to be cherished.

…to be continued