Grass covered halt at Rzymolowo Halt courtesy of Phil Marsh

Polish Beeching Rail Closures 50 years on?

Published 11th March 2013

Polish rail closure proposals announced – but daily steam trains carry on at Wolsztyn.

Polish Railways, PKP has said it is looking closing around 1,300 miles of rail routes following what could be called ‘Beechingski’ Mark 2 as it comes 50 years after the UK’s Beeching report.

The proposed closures are the proposals made in a report just published which took six months to compile looking at a third of the total rail network, split into 458 sections covering 4500 miles. Three proposals were made from major shutdowns to the less severe plans to close 90 sections and selling 50 stations hoping to generate savings of up to £20m a year.

Tracks closed but not lifted

This will be put towards keeping other busier routes open as resources will not be put into closed lines but the track will remain. In the UK, track has been lifted with undue haste in previous years which meant that lines could not be re-instated as the land was often sold off. Poland has a long history of closing lines but leaving them intact for a decade just in case they become viable again to open.

As with The UK, there are about 2500 stations in Poland but only a quarter are open leaving just under 200 which could be sold or transferred to local authority ownership. 2012 saw 58 going to local government and the process is planned to accelerate this year. Again, as with the UK’s railways in the 70s and 80s, unused stations and other buildings could be demolished if no use can be found for them.

Modernisation Plan retains daily steam services!

Polish Railways has seen a dramatic transformation in the last 10 years with modernisation continuing as their EU membership drives business. Poland was, and still the only place in the world where enthusiasts can drive and fire steam locomotives on daily scheduled trains at speeds up to 62mph. Up to a few years ago, heavy freight services were also available to drive and fire but these opportunities have now finished.

These trains run from Wolsztyn which is about three hours east of Berlin. The engine shed, a half roundhouse is home to the operating fleet of locomotives and attracts people from around the world. These trains have been operated by PKP in conjunction with The Wolsztyn Experience who arrange the loco courses. These trains comprise of a large engine and up to four double decker carriages and passengers think nothing of it when a steam locomotive heads up the train!

Steam train on fire

However, one of the steam carriages regularly used on the steam services caught fire at Wolsztyn and was pretty much destroyed but the fire brigade saved a second carriage. Because the train is steam heated and not enough carriages were available, steam services were cancelled the following day (Feb 26) and a railbus was used instead.

The steam service has suffered from locomotive failures and track faults in the last few years but still clings on despite weekend trains being cancelled by the rail authorities with the introduction of a new timetable and the high cost of running steam. The most popular route is the 100 mile round trip between Wolsztyn and Poznan which takes two hours each way and the route into and out of Poznan is on the electrified Berlin-Warsaw-Moscow main line and a fantastic ride on the engine!

Government support?

In a letter to The Wolsztyn Experience, the local government of Wielkopolska wrote that it is currently working on a project to set up on the basis of the existing facility the Wolsztyn Locomotive Shed Company, whose shareholders would include, among others, other local governments.

The main object of the company would be tourist operations such as organising and running of steam-hauled specials and tourist trains as well as the operation of the locomotive shed. It is planned that the new organisation would operate scheduled timetable services as well as special services, particularly the operation of various kinds of chartered trains. The range of operations is intended also to include the provision of passenger services in the area of Wielkopolska.

2013 Steam Specials

This year’s steam footplate courses are available to anyone who has completed five courses at Wolsztyn or are experienced on the footplate as traincrew elsewhere. Prices vary depending on the distance and route chosen ranging from £400 to £800 and details can be found by calling 01842 860436. Long distance Steam services by Turcol, supported by the Wolsztyn Experience.

April 13th Poznan - Torun - Bydgoszcz - Torun - Poznan

April 27th Poznan - Wolsztyn - Poznan (parade special)

June 1st Poznan - Kolobrzeg - Poznan

August 3rd Poznan - Szczecin - Poznan

Written by Phil Marsh

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