The International Steam Pages

Kriegsloks with everything – Poland 1987

Robert Hall continues his accounts of travel round Poland. You may want to look at the other accounts:

You may also want to read his Polish Steam Primer or view maps of the route taken.

For those who would like to see the kind of steam locomotive described here, Robert recommends the following galleries of Polish steam:

Robert has also written an epilogue, a two week trip to Poland in July 2010.

With a friend (“B.”, with whom some years later I went to India) I undertook a visit to Poland in April 1987, for the fortnight bracketing Easter. Essentially, this expedition was road-borne, using a camper-van; however, for a few days the two of us separated, and I did some touring by rail, using the invaluable Polrailpass all-line rover. There were doings which B. wished to witness, in the far south-west of Poland – an area which I had never really been sold on, and of which, in my view, I had had a surfeit in my first couple of visits to the country. In our planning beforehand, we resolved this matter by agreeing that early in the holiday, we would split up in Warsaw. B. would go thence, with van, to the south-west; I would train-grice the north-east for a few days, after which we would reunite in an early-morning rendezvous outside the station at Głogów, south-west of Poznań.

I had never previously got to Poland’s north-eastern corner, but had long hankered after doing so. Reports had indicated this area’s being a good one for steam; also, it exerted fascination for non-railway reasons. Until 1945, the area had been part of Germany: a section of the region known as East Prussia – early-World War I battleground, and subject of assorted subsequent geopolitical to-ings and fro-ings, culminating in the region’s being annexed from Germany immediately after World War II; a smaller northern part of it going to the USSR, and a larger southern sector to Poland. Plus, this part which became Polish, being a basically low-lying but scenically pleasant area, plentifully dotted with lakes (some huge) and abounding in natural beauties, and wildlife – think “Norfolk Broads on a dozen times the scale.” The feeling had to be, “worth a look at”.

My north-eastern (segueing into – as things worked out – heading further west) expedition, was a “much in little” exercise: essentially, three full days, and four nights. The mingled curse and fascination of the meagreness by British standards, of passenger services on PKP’s minor lines, meant that for the train-basher who wished to accomplish anything halfway worthwhile, nights in a bed were a luxury which had to be mostly dispensed with. So it was on this trip: the four successive nights were spent, one way and another, in transit. “No cross, no crown”, and all that... After parting from B. in Warsaw, I boarded an afternoon express for Białystok. A most-of-three-hours’ electric run through quietly pleasant flat greenness… for some strange reason, or none (considering that I was off to the land of heart’s desire) on this journey I got into a thoroughly melancholy mood. Intensified, likely, by the run into the junction of Małkinia, approximately halfway; with the line southwards from there to Siedlce, seen taking off from the junction and immediately crossing the (horribly polluted) river Bug – first station south, bearing the for ever infamous name of Treblinka. Białystok did nothing to promote a lifting of spirits. The branches south and east from here had been at least part-steam on passenger as per the most recent reports; however, from what found that April p.m., everything on these lines now appeared diesel-loco-hauled, and Białystok basically steam-free. Earlier intimations on our way by road from the western border to Warsaw, that PKP steam was now in retreat, confirmed.

The schedule called for (times approximate, I no longer having the relevant timetable in my possession) departure from Białystok about 0230, on a long-distance but not-very-fast train from Warsaw and points beyond, at last terminating about 0630 at Suwałki, running via Sokółka. On the whole, experience in Poland told that if you fetched out a camera, you were in trouble; but other manifestations of railway enthusiasm rarely seemed to cause authority any concern. For all that, certain locations had a reputation for a particularly high level of hostility to gricers, and Białystok was one such. Acutely conscious that time for my East Prussian circuit was limited in the highest degree, I did not wish to run the risk -- however remote -- of being pulled in by the Białystok station police as a suspicious character, and missing the “0230-ish” as a result of “assisting them with their enquiries”. Earlier parts of the night thus taken up by a run, in pitch darkness, out to a location (name now forgotten) on the branch heading south toward Czeremcha, and return on a balancing working – all behind diesel. If I’d had foreknowledge, I’d have skipped all this cold, dark and uncomfortable foolery, spent a restful night in a hotel, and got an early train on the direct main line to Ełk the following morning. As the Americans would say, enough with beating the “foreknowledge” dead horse…

The “0230-ish” was electric-hauled to Sokółka junction, reached on time about 0330, diesel thereafter. Subsequent indications that things were coming unglued: the train crawling along at a funereal pace, punctuated by long unscheduled stops. Despite my minimal knowledge of Polish, it was often possible to pick up a good deal of the general gist of fellow-passengers’ conversation: was thus divinable that there had been an accident, which was messing matters up rather badly. The site of this mishap, far out in the wilds, was reached at long last; the passengers were ushered out of the train, and conducted on foot around the “nasty”, to reach and board an opposite-number passenger train on the other side – making a crossing as it were, and exchange of trains, with southbound travellers. It was by this time, early dawn – we were thus seriously late; the breaking light revealed the aftermath of a quite spectacular freight-train derailment: centrepiece, a Bulgarian State Railways wagon athwart the track pretty well at right angles. In the “oppo” train (diesel-hauled), we travelled on, less beset by delays; but irretrievable hours had been lost on schedule. A couple of steam passenger workings were noted during the run between accident-site, and Suwałki (one Ol49, one not determinable). 

The mishap to the freight train was detrimental to the first day of my bash; and it was discovered in addition, that the timetable in this general Suwałki / Ełk area had lately been radically revised, seemingly not in a way friendly to train-travelling railway enthusiasts. Even in a situation of arrival at Suwałki with exemplary punctuality, I would have been faced with a hard choice not envisaged when planning the tour as per schedules in the original timetable book. A potentially fascinating feature here, was the branch to Trakiszki, hard by the border with Soviet Lithuania – then, with a fairly good service by PKP country branch standards, all handled by the standard steam fare hereabouts, Ol49 and Ty2. Not many years thence, the Trakiszki line would change its status to that of a cross-border route to and from an independent Lithuania (attended by much smuggling and other skulduggery) – but numerous things soon to come, were undreamt-of in early 1987. (Technically, by the way, the Suwałki / Trakiszki area is not in former East Prussia; the pre-WW2 German border ran a little to the west of these parts.)

Returning to April .87: with the old train times, I could have taken an early-morning departure for Trakiszki, and returned in time for a connection westward which would have had me in Ełk nicely for lunchtime. However, the new ones (posted at stations, for the public’s benefit) would have meant either forgoing Trakiszki; or doing the branch, but then killing much time in Suwałki, until the next westbound departure at 1430, reaching Ełk two hours thereafter. (Or perhaps bridging the gap by taxi.) The very late Suwałki arrival meant a “worst of all worlds” deal. Trakiszki and return, would have got me back too late even for the 1430 – now the next train for Ełk, but still several hours away.

In the Communist era, many of Poland’s lesser towns bore an ugly and depressing aspect; and Suwałki in spring 1987 was the worst instance of this, that I ever encountered – the place struck me as basically like one giant building site. A number of hours in this dump, appeared to me unendurable: but having undergone considerable bother to get to the place, I was unwilling to pass up all steam action on the lines serving it. At least it wasn’t raining: a brisk walk suggested itself as a remedy. I set out on foot along the road south- westward out of town. Exercise had some of its wonted mood-improving effect; still, as I trudged, negative thoughts were uppermost – against sloppy Bulgarian carriage-and-wagon-works staff and malicious PKP timetable-planners, varied by wondering how badly irradiated this countryside was, as a result of the Chernobyl disaster a year previously.

Raczki, 19 km out, felt like the most probable destination at which to rendezvous with the eventually-gaining 1430; and that’s how it sorted out with that working, comprising Ty2-1143 and two coaches. This, though, was a terminally blighted day. The train – having arrived punctually at Raczki station – proceeded to sit there for the next fifty minutes. Single lines were the scene in this area, so “crossing something” was diagnosed. The “something” which finally showed up, was an eastbound passenger behind an ST44 diesel double-heading with an Ol49 – whose passage at last released our train to carry on to Olecko (reversal) and Ełk. The Raczki delay may well have been a consequence of teething troubles with the new timetable, particularly affecting – envisaged likeliest culprit here -- the 1217 departure from Ełk for Suwałki (originating at Olsztyn). The following day, the presumed 1217 (behind an Ol49, seemingly no diesel pilot) sat at Ełk station for an hour onwards from its scheduled departure time; when I left the station for a while, it was still showing no sign of going on its way.

Ełk at this time had a locoshed with Ol49 and Ty2, operating in various directions from this five-way junction; on freight, on most passenger north-eastwards, doing station-pilot duty, and handling short passenger workings at this end of the three routes between Ełk and the big rail centre of Olsztyn to the west. Original plans would – give or take the Trakiszki branch – have had me at Ełk many hours earlier than actually came to pass on this accursed day, on which “the town with the big-deer name” was reached about 1730, with little daylight left. Journeys in the light, so that “the traversed could be seen”, between Ełk and Olsztyn by two of the three routes (I ended up choosing the “north” and “south”, passing on the “middle”) were imperative for me; to achieve that on the morrow, departure westward was made not all that long after arrival, on the “most main trunk” route of the three -- the northernmost by way of Korsze. 

It has been mentioned concerning trips to Poland in earlier years, that by the 1980s on PKP, steam action on freight had become rather rare, and when it happened at all, was usually on local pick-up / trip workings. On this 1987 visit, while overall the steam scene was becoming noticeably worse, and more diesel-loco-infiltrated, than on previous bashes; more steam freight (virtually always Ty2 / Ty42) was observed, than on any previous Polish trip of mine. This applied to the far north-east, and south-west therefrom into the Toruń region; and also to some extent, in the areas yet further west, visited thereafter. Am uncertain as to whether the amount of steam freight had long varied, depending on which areas you went to; or whether as at 1987, despite the worsening in general of the steam situation, a minor steam freight renaissance was happening. Plus, this was my visit to Poland more than any other, outside the basic “summer” ballpark – it was acknowledged that the winter half of the year there, was better overall for steam (though far worse for daylight in which to enjoy it) … so many imponderables and possibilities; and if brutal honesty is exercised – from a 2010-ish perspective, who in their right mind, cares much…?

At all events – Ełk among other places, shared in the plenteous steam freight scene, in April ’87. I recall an impressive passage through the station by a long Ty2-hauled freight running south-to-north. In many respects, the north-east was the place to be… A secondary attraction at Ełk was the two-branch 750mm gauge system, running from its own small station close by the standard-gauge one, eastwards into the remote “outback”. This had been one of PKP’s first narrow-gauge sections to go all-diesel; by 1987, it had been so for upwards of a dozen years. Dieselised in what appeared a bit of a primitive fashion; it had no diesel railcars (which had long been widespread on the PKP narrow gauge) – all workings, passenger and freight, were hauled by little 0-6-0 diesel locos of class Lyd1. (Quirkily) diesel or not, a ride on the Ełk narrow gauge would have been a joy; but my acute shortage of time, with standard-gauge steam a higher priority, allowed only a quick call-in at the narrow gauge station on the two successive days on which I spent time in Ełk, witnessing the arrival of a train on each occasion. Although passenger services on the system were then generous by PKP narrow-gauge standards, my time-budget was desperately limited.

Reached Olsztyn on night train by way of Korsze; the “unsocial hours” of enterprises such as this, tended to exclude nights in hotels. This night was spent chiefly on trains, to take up time rather than to reach anywhere I wanted to go; until catching about 0400 the following morning, a diesel-hauled semi-fast from Olsztyn to Ełk via Korsze, my immediate goal. This train was jam-packed: standing in the corridor, was the only possibility – from which vantage point, at Sątopy Samulewo junction 53 km out, the early light of dawn revealed at an adjoining platform, Ty2-1269 plus one coach: the 0452 departure from Reszel. This 10-km branch boasted two workings each way per day, all running to / from Korsze. I might have baled out of the semi-fast here, and completed the journey to Korsze with Kriegslok haulage – keener Polrailpass-merchants would deride me as a wimp, but I didn’t: reflected that the single coach might be “wedged” with Reszelites off to work or school, presenting an even worse situation than my current one. In earlier times, the branch had continued eastwards from Reszel, rejoining the Olsztyn – Korsze – Ełk main line at Nowy Młyn – a section reckoned abandoned and never reinstated, following from the disruptions of 1945. Incidentally, the guidebook tells that Reszel was the last place in Europe where a person is known to have been condemned and executed for witchcraft; this occurring in 1811.

I had spurned Ty2-1269 and its single coach, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer. A “must” for me on this trip, was the 15 km passenger line from Korsze to Skandawa. Having reached Korsze, I found that the 0625 for Skandawa was a continuation of the working from Reszel. I duly boarded, and it was off to Skandawa, and then back again, behind the “Kriegie”. This line was a fascinating one, by reason of its being one of the few rail links (in those days, all such were freight-only) between Polish southern East Prussia (officially, Warmińsko-Mazurskie Voivodeship) and its Soviet northern opposite number (officially, the Kaliningrad Oblast’). On the Polish side, passenger services finished at Skandawa; but the line was a busy freight artery to and from the USSR. Ran on to cross the border a little way to the north, and continued for some kilometres further to the handover point 1435 mm / 1524 mm gauge (PKP handled everything 1435 mm) with the Soviet Union’s rail system at Zheleznodorozhny. (Meaning in Russian, “Railway-town” – in German days, the place went by the far more manageable name of Gerdauen.)

In the late 1970s, Britain’s “Continental Railway Journal” coined the expression “Polish Trundlebahn”, describing a phenomenon often encountered in Poland in that era. To wit, a PKP local passenger service involving a 2-10-0 (usually one or another type in the “Kriegslok” family) on a couple of coaches, or even just one, travelling at a snail’s pace two or three times in each direction daily, over a rickety and profusely overgrown country branch line. To British eyes, the “Decapod on tiny branch train” combination looked grotesque, and the ultimate in “over-powered”. An element of not totally fair insular prejudice can perhaps be seen here. The German class 52 ordinary Kriegslok (PKP Ty2 / Ty42) was, despite its five pairs of driving wheels, designed to go anywhere and do anything, including on the lightest and flimsiest track. PKP had these robust, well-performing machines in huge numbers – in terms of the situation which then obtained, using them on extremely minor branch trains made a certain amount of sense.

My only first-hand experience ever of travel with the perceived pinnacle (or nadir) of this scene, 2-10-0 plus one coach, was the Korsze – Skandawa return run. This could not be said to attain the purest “Trundlebahn” qualification, because the line to Skandawa and onward was in good repair, with its being an important freight link to Ivan’s realm. It can be assumed that the Sątopy S. – Reszel branch itself, merited the title “with oak leaves and bar”: its two daily return workings were scheduled to cover the 10 km branch in forty minutes – surely a record, even for PKP in the ‘80s. A journey on the branch would have been an experience to cherish; but, the recurring lament in respect of this bash – “so little time, such infrequent services, so many competing attractions.”

One of East Prussia’s many potential “pluses” was a PKP class concerning which I always had a great fancy but little luck: the Ty51 heavy-duty 2-10-0. Occasional suspicions harboured, of PKP deliberately taunting and tantalising gricers by stationing this class in sensitive border areas. Well into the 1980s, Korsze depot had a substantial Ty51 allocation, which performed particularly on freights to and from the USSR via Skandawa. The reports informed that as at 1987, the class was on the way out at this venue, but not yet finished. I hoped to see a dreg or two of Ty51 action on this scene: in the brief time available, “dregs” is truly what is was. A couple of the class were seen around Korsze -- in steam, light engine, but not hauling anything. Also, some ten or twelve Ty51 noted dumped, at the shed. In the twenty minutes’ early-morning layover at Skandawa between the passenger train’s arrival and departure, there was a long freight train halted in the station, waiting to set off for points north; but headed by a penny-plain Ty2, not a tuppence-coloured Ty51. A spell of some days based in Korsze (which would have been wonderful, had it been possible on this trip) would quite likely have delivered train-hauling action by class Ty51; as things were, though, great luck would have been needed for such to be seen in the relative “blink of an eye” available to spend at this centre.

Whilst in spring 1987, Polish steam in general was visibly on the skids: if you were discerning over where to head for, and weren’t too fussy about class variety, the scene could still be wonderful. Korsze was – given acceptance of a virtual Ty2 monoculture (this venue did not “do” Ol49s) – “cloud nine” then, with its large Kriegslok allocation buzzing around like bees, on passenger on the sundry branches feeding into the junction; station-piloting; and hauling freights to and from the Soviet Union and elsewhere. Korsze had a long history of being a busy and interesting place; in German times, it had been the intersection-point of two lengthy main lines. I would have spent longer there if, in addition, class Ty51 had been more obliging. 

As matters were, though; and with there being other things in East Prussia which also cried out for seeing; it was away eastwards from Korsze on the 0940 diesel-hauled semi-fast departure, for a run through the attractive lake country to get back to Ełk, the train’s destination. Branches heading northwards from the main line, sadly without the time to stop off and experience; Kętrzyn – Węgorzewo: a steam passenger, almost certainly Ty2, glimpsed at the former location. At Giżycko, further on – junction for the short branch to Kruklanki – a Ty2 was noted, shunting: confirmation of the journals’ reports that between passenger turns, the branch’s assigned Ty2 did pilot work at Giżycko.

Ełk was reached about noon -- in round figures, a hundred kilometres in about two and a quarter hours. As remarked elsewhere, PKP semi-fasts were liable to be more “semi” than “fast”. While lunching in Ełk’s station buffet, I was approached by a glum old chap who spoke excellent English, which he had learnt while in Britain in the free-Polish forces in World War II. For whatever reason (if vouchsafed at the time, I have forgotten it) he returned to Poland after the war’s end, and subsequently regretted it. He discoursed about the wretchedness of life under Communism, adding in summation that he was old and would soon be dead, and that would be the end of the whole sorry story. I took it that he was a more nominal than serious kind of Catholic – otherwise he’d not be seeing death as the end, and would presumably have had a lively concern with what would happen to him afterward; but I refrained from “going there” in the conversation: looked likely to get into realms best avoided. Wondered a little, about the old guy’s willingness to “talk treason” to a foreigner in a public place. Maybe by 1987, the writing was on the wall for Communism, and the effort to stifle free speech had been mostly given up; maybe Mr. Doleful reckoned that he was three-quarters of the way into the grave anyhow, so whatever might happen to him from now on, basically didn’t matter. Maybe (imagination running riot) he was a secret-police agent provocateur, practicing his skills (and his English) on a Western tourist to whom basically the worst that could be done, was summary ejection from the country. I felt for the old fellow; experienced also, the sentiment that this encounter was in tune with the general rather melancholy tone of the whole bash.

The acknowledged star of Ełk’s 1987 show was the 1521 all-stations on the “southern” Olsztyn route, terminating 113 km away at Szczytno, and always steam-hauled. I duly took this train, behind Ol49-102: a delightful three-hours-odd through the East Prussian backwoods, including crossing of a Ty2 on an eastbound pick-up freight. Arrival at Szczytno was a little late. The timetable did not guarantee the theoretical connection here, with the train (diesel-hauled) on the long, long run on the now-defunct PKP table 520, from Białystok to Olsztyn via Ostrolęka. I had entertained notions of crew of the T 520 working, and station staff, saying “if they can’t keep time with their bloody old tea-kettle, to hell with them – we’re off, on the dot”. Happily, it wasn’t so – the (uncovenanted) connection was held, and transfer was made to the Olsztyn train – which encountered between Szczytno and end of its journey, a couple of Ty2-hauled freights. Another night spent on trains going “here and there”, and ruminating on where to head for next (the morrow’s departure, to whatever goal, would be of an earliness such as to rule out the hotel option).

The final day on my Polrailpass travels was a bit of an “anabasis” – the old story, “if I had it to do over again”, or “hindsight is 20/20”. I’ll blame my PKP “King Charles’s Head”, class Ty51. There had been reports in the fairly recent past, that Toruń depot had some of the class, which worked freight generally to the north thereof – Brodnica was mentioned as a possibly good place to encounter the “big guys”. Poor Ty51 luck at Korsze; so I hoped for perhaps more, further south-west; and fancied a look at scenes new to me. Out of Olsztyn in the small hours, down the main line south-westward as far as Iława. There was a convenient secondary-line working leaving Iława at 0620, running via Brodnica back to the main line at Jabłonowo Pom. I took the 0620, figuring that if the area around Brodnica yielded Ty51 activity, I could disembark and “value” same – otherwise, stay on board and rejoin the “main” at Jabłonowo.

No Ty51s – in fact, not a single steam locomotive – seen from what indeed proved to be the “Ił – Brod – Jab” through journey. Non-steam interest came about, however. PKP in Communist days made some use – as did, at some time, virtually every railway system in Europe – of diesel railcars. However, some countries fell in love with the internal-combustion railmotor and made great play with it (France comes to mind – also, from my brief time spent in those places, Austria and Czechoslovakia); others didn’t. Poland, it would seem, basically didn’t – on the standard gauge at any rate (narrow gauge was a different story). Standard-gauge railcars on PKP were uncommon-ish, and tended to be concentrated in restricted areas, and to work on fairly “up-scale” lines – PKP’s sleepy back-of-beyond standard-gauge branches were loco (steam or diesel) -hauled-coaches territory. The dense net of secondary lines north-east of Toruń was a railcar “patch”: the 0620 from Iława was thus powered. Rather weirdly, railcars very often hauled standard single-deck coaches – this vehicle was towing two of them. Making the most of the rare experience, I made sure of riding in the railcar – and thus landed up back on the main line at Jabłonowo Pom. at 0755.

Next main-line passenger (diesel-hauled) to Toruń, taken; passing a couple of Ty2 freight workings in the slightly over an hour’s journey. A large slice of the day was spent at and around Toruń – a big player on Poland’s “normal tourism” scene: historic university city on the Vistula, with an Old Town celebrated as an architectural gem. Things felt for a spell, while here, to be going rather sour on the gricing front – I might almost have been best advised for a few hours, to abandon railways and do the conventional tourist bit (or at least explore the metre-gauge tram system). No joy here with the elusive Ty51 class. It would seem that either they were finished at Toruń; or any still active there, were few in number and with better things to do that day, in other places, than entertain a vagrant British railfan. Ty2 continued in abundance, including a couple witnessed working freight through one or another of Toruń’s various stations of various magnitudes. “Kriegsloks rocked”: nonetheless, the disappointing extreme scarcity of their bigger and newer distant cousins, had me beginning to feel just a little weary of the ubiquitous German machines. From a twenty-first-century perspective of common-carrier “real” steam essentially extinct in Europe, such a sentiment seems astounding in its lack of gratitude and appreciation; but “this is now, that was then”.

Feelings of gloom, and driving-home of the realisation “the great days are gone”, occasioned by a brief excursion decided on, upon a whim, after finding Toruń seemingly Ty51-free. Basically throughout the 1980s, the secondary lines radiating in four directions from Sierpc were a wonderful resort for railfans, and a dependable steam stronghold: all local passenger unfailingly Ol49 / Ty2. I decided on a return ride on the line of this “cluster” heading out of Toruń towards Sierpc – travelling some stations out, to a point (name not recorded at the time, and now gone from memory) at which an opposite-direction local could safely be transferred to. Initially, all seemed well with the world, in context of the day’s apparently unvarying Kriegslok diet: Ty2-1224 was on the 1108 Toruń – Sierpc. The working back again, though, 1114 Sierpc – Toruń, showed up behind an ST44 diesel. Shock, horror – I had never before heard of an instance of diesel-hauled local passenger, on any of this whole web of lines. Disconsolately back to Toruń behind the “growler”, which also took out the next local eastward to Sierpc.

Reports as at a couple of years later, told of the Sierpc lines still being found solidly steam on local passenger: whence, my ST44 encounter could well have been just a rare fluke – a bit of bad luck, in an overall not particularly lucky tour. In more recent times, this Russian-built class has acquired many devotees among gricers. ST44s (nicknamed in Poland, “Gagarins”) are the Polish version of the Soviet M62 Co-Co type, supplied to the railways of a number of the USSR’s satellite nations. A dwindling number of them still perform on freight workings here and there in Poland, as these words are written; rarity, and relative antiquity, have made them an object of nostalgic affection. The type has received general acclaim wherever it has worked in Eastern Europe, as a well-performing and reliable machine – that rare phenomenon, an outstandingly good product of Soviet engineering. A couple of decades ago, however, steam-lovers visiting Poland harboured no fondness for class ST44. They were the infiltrating and interloping enemy, moving in on previously-steam venues in ever-increasing numbers, and we hated the stinking things with a passion.

Sick of the way things had shaped themselves at Toruń, I wanted to head off elsewhere; but was a bit puzzled as to exactly where to go. Making straight for Głogów, rendezvous point with B. the following morning, would get me there far too early. An idea dawned; there lay to the south, PKP’s single biggest narrow-gauge system, running hither and yon for a couple-or-three-hundreds of kilometres over the Kujawy plainlands. This network’s northernmost outpost had been visited in 1980; now, by way of variation, the acknowledged system headquarters at Krośniewice, way to the south, beckoned. The system – equipped for years past with numerous diesel locos, though not to the point of eliminating steam -- had been reported as recently also invaded in fair strength, by the new Roumanian-built class MBxd2 railcars which were at that time flooding on to PKP’s narrow gauge lines; it was reckoned possible, though, that some action on the part of railcars of more elderly kinds, and / or Px48 0-8-0s, might still be happening. And Krośniewice was very close to the Warsaw – Poznań main line, busy 24/7 with passenger workings, and ideal for heading “west-south-west”. Embarkation on a mid-afternoon southbound local on the line to Ostrowy and Kutno, electrified a couple of years previously, took me away from Toruń. The 750 mm gauge system ran hereabouts basically north-to-south, joining the Kutno line at northernmost n/g point, Nieszawa. I no longer have the 1987 PKP timetable; but going by ones “bracketing” it – and at that time, PKP narrow-gauge schedules changed little over the years -- an 0630-ish departure from Toruń that morning could have delivered me, changing at Nieszawa (750 mm thenceforth) and at Dobre Aleksandrowskie, to Krośniewice late-lunchtime (with the infrequency of Polish narrow-gauge passenger, the day’s only possible n/g option for the journey) – but that is in the realms of the vulgarism about the anatomy of one’s aunt…

Real life offered arrival and detraining, an hour and a half from Toruń, at Ostrowy standard-gauge station – adjacent to its 750 mm counterpart (utterly “basic railway” – one terminal track, catering to railcars only – freight was handled at the next station), terminus of the 9 km branch from Krośniewice. All that lacked, was a railcar to take me to “Kroś.” earlier than in two / three hours’ time. Assorted considerations, including Ostrowy’s shortage of obvious attractions to amuse the stranded traveller, caused me to decide to make for Krośniewice on foot along country roads – a pleasant hour-and-a- half’s walk on a warm spring early evening. Within view, a lot of the time, of the branch line between the two – giving me the sight of the MBxd2 which formed the 1737 Krośniewice – Ostrowy (and then stood at Ostrowy for a long, long while before its return journey); and later, in the distance, a Px48 hauling two standard-gauge wagons on transporter trucks down the branch.

Krośniewice station and adjoining yard (the small-scale “Crewe” of this system) yielded three more new Roumanian MBxd2, an Lxd2 diesel loco, and an old railcar on what was clearly a working for railway staff. Rail services (passenger and freight) from this hub carried on, in an ever-dwindling fashion, for slightly more than twenty years after the date of this visit – under other management after PKP’s 2001 relinquishing of all ado with the narrow gauge. The last remnants of activity ended early in 2008, with much to point to “dirty work at the crossroads” on the part of the local municipality, being involved in their demise. (At the time of writing, a possibility is seen of something in the Krośniewice area being revived for tourist workings; but it would look as though the holding of one’s breath is contra-indicated.) Passenger trains on the 750 mm system’s line south to Ozorków had been Px48 until not long before my visit, but a melting-pot situation had been warned of; and sure enough, the working from Ozorków arriving about seven in the evening, and setting off again for there a few minutes later, proved to be another MBxd2 plus one of the matching trailers / passenger coaches. I took this southbound railcar working as far as Krzewie Wąsk., the first halt, and interchange point with the Warsaw – Poznań main. Much of this 5 km run was along the periphery of a large cemetery – another thing appropriate, I felt, to the overall gloomy and things-worsening tone of much of this bash. The Poles “do” cemeteries and graves with considerable exuberance... 

Rob Dickinson