The International Steam Pages
The Żnińska Kolej Powiatowa – the Żnin District Railway, 2012
James Waite writes of his visit to Żnin in April 2012.
See also his reports of other Polish narrow gauge visits:
The narrow gauge line which runs southwards from Żnin in central Poland must now be the country’s last 600mm gauge railway with a working steam loco. It’s an intimate affair as it squeezes through the towns and villages and hugs the contours as it makes its way through the rolling countryside and past the lakes which characterise this part of the country. You know that it’s going to be a little different from many of Poland’s narrow gauge lines as soon as you arrive at the narrow gauge station in the town and look at the sharp right hand bend leading to the station throat – a little like the start of the Ffestiniog at Portmadoc only the bend is, if anything, even sharper!
The first stretch opened between Żnin to Rogowo (19.4km), along with a branch from Biskupin through Gasawa to Szelejewo (8.2km), on 1 July 1894 as what was then called the Żnin Kleinbahn, this part of the country being occupied by Germany until 1918. On 9 June 1895 the Rogowo line was extended by 12.3km to Osno on the main line northwards from Gniezno. A branch eastwards from Rydlewo to Ostrowce opened in 1908 followed in 1911 by a lengthy line westwards from Żnin to Obiecanowo. In the following year another branch opened from Uscikowo on this newest line southwards to Wola and in 1913 the Szelejewo line was extended to Grochowiska Szlacheckie. With the opening of a final short extension from Obiecanowo to Zuzoly in 1928 the system’s total length became 78km.
In 1976 the PKP began to run tourist trains in the summer from Żnin through Wenecja to Gasawa, 11.75 km away, and these have continued ever since. In addition to the Wenecja museum these trains also ran past an important archaeololgical site at Biskupin around which a flourishing museum has been built. There's consequently been a constant flow of passengers for the tourist trains. Passenger numbers have remained consistently above 70,000 per annum in recent years. Control of the line passed to the two local authorities through whose districts it runs after the PKP withdrew from all narrow gauge operation in 2002 and it became known once more as the Żnińska Kolej Powiatowa. A majority stake has recently been acquired by the Magna Polonia Fund, a private concern whose main business is in telecommunications. Fears that this could be part of an asset-stripping operation have proved unfounded. The new owners have invested in overhaul of the stock, including the remaining steam loco, and conversion of a redundant building at Żnin station into an attractive bar and restaurant.
Regular steam operation continued until the late 1970’s or early 1980’s after which numerous Romanian-built Lyd2 0-6-0 diesels arrived and took over, mostly second-hand ones made redundant by closures elsewhere. The working steam loco now is 0-8-0T+T Px38-805 (Chrzanow 727/1938) It was built for the Wrzesinska Kolej Powiatowa (Wrzesnia District Railway) as their no. 5 and after moving home several times under the PKP arrived at Żnin in 1983. It ran for some years in a somewhat gaudy version of the PKP’s green paint scheme but was withdrawn in 2008 in need of major boiler repair. It returned to traffic, newly overhauled, in 2011 and now looks delightful in its authentic PKP black livery.
Most of the line’s coaches are rather obviously ex-freight wagons adapted for tourist use and are, perhaps, less than photogenic. Happily the line still has a good collection of freight stock mostly still in its old PKP condition and these make for an attractive train for the not infrequent charter operations on the railway. These photos are from a FarRail Tours event in April 2012. Several authentic- looking coaches survive at the Wenecja museum and just maybe some will return to active service one day.
The narrow gauge station at Żnin today makes an impressive sight. It’s located on the opposite side of a main road from the main line station. The principal building is an ornate brick-built affair, much more impressive than its main line equivalent which, incidentally, seems to have fallen into more or less total disuse since passenger services there came to an end a few years ago. One track continues across a side road to reach an attractive 7-bay roundhouse beyond which are the standard gauge transhipment sidings, heavily overgrown and probably completely out of use now. Once clear of the town the line soon starts to climb towards the hills to the south with distant views over the town. Near Wenecja the first of several lakes comes into view. After Biskupin the lakes are left behind and the line continues through woods and fields to the terminus at Gasawa.
A visit to Wenecja museum is a must. It’s located alongside the railway and there’s a station there though there’s no physical connection to the running line. As with most if not all the Polish railway museums the exhibits are displayed out in the open air which can’t be doing them any good in the long term but does make for some attractive photos. Many of the locos are 0-8-0T’s from various Polish lines and from a variety of builders along with three of the Feldbahn 0-8-0T’s which stayed on in the country after the First World War. Others include an attractive OK 0-4-2T from the Naklo Sugar Factory. At least three of the locos, no’s. T49-114, Tx26-422 and Tx4-564, ran on the Żnin line in everyday service in its steam days.
Undoubtedly the most unusual exhibit is a Tubize-built Pacific “Charles” (Tubize 2179/1934) which came to the museum from Chełmica sugar factory where it had been withdrawn from service in 1970. It was one of six similar locos built for the Brussels World Expo of 1935 as miniature Pacifics. The fair closed in November 1935 and in 1939 the locos are reported to have seen further use at a trade fair in Liege. The Liege fair appears to have been something of a commercial disaster on account of the approaching world war and when it closed some at least of the locos were acquired by Frateur, a construction company which had been involved in building the fair buildings, in settlement of unpaid bills.
It seems that Frateur soon began the process of reconstructing the locos as normal narrow gauge ones with enlarged cabs and raised chimneys and boiler mountings. In about 1942 or 1943 most of the them were requisitioned by the occupying German forces and handed over to the infamous Organisation Todt for use on construction projects around Europe. “Charles” saw use in 1945 on a trummelbahn, a temporary rubble-clearing line at Stettin/Szczecin, after which it worked at Ostrowa sugar factory until its system was converted to 750mm gauge in 1952 when it moved to Chełmica. One of the other locos, “Adolphe” (Tubize 2177/1934) was stripped down by Frateur, possibly to escape the attention of the Germans. It was still at the company’s premises at Boom when it went into liquidation in 2002 and subsequent disputes ensured that all the company’s railway equipment and plant remained there until Mr. Frateur, the former owner, died in 2010 . The Stoomcentrum Maldegem preservation society mounted a rescue operation including its listing as a national monument which ensured that it could not leave the country. This turned out to be a wise move as the highest bidder at the subsequent auction, a German gentleman, withdrew after the effect of the listing became apparent. It moved to Maldegem on 9th November 2010 and the society intends to restore it to its original miniature state. (See http://www.stoomcentrum.be/EN/SmalspoorEN/SmalrollendEN.html, link dead by April 2015)
Wenecja museum exhibits at April 2012
Locos at the Brussels World Expo 1935:
Żnin 2012 Timetable
The Belgian Pacific. The loco to the right in the first picture is Żnin sugar factory 0-4-0T no. 5 (LKMb16028/1950), very much a local engine.
0-4-0T no. T2-71 on the left (Henschel 24115/1939) which worked from Żnin shed towards the end of its PKP career. On the right is 0-4-0T no. T1-009 (OK 12595/1935), another ex-PKP loco but not one which ran at Żnin in its working days.
0-8-0T Tx26-422 also worked on the line at least in the 1970's in the last years of regular steam working. It's positioned in the museum at the head of a short passenger train carrying Żnin carriage boards and which, I guess, may well also have seen regular service there.
0-8-0T Tx6-502, the Chrzanow loco plated as Oberschlesische Lokomotivwerke Krenau 8/1944. This was a trading name of Henschel who took over the Chrzanow works during the Second World War. Towards the end of the war the senior Polish staff started hiding the technical documentation for the locos being built there and moved them completely out of the plant in January 1945 to prevent the Germans destroying them during their retreat from the country. After Poland was liberated they played an important role in getting production at the factory back on its feet quickly.
Photographs of Px38-805:
Px38-805 stands at Żnin station. Note the fine station building in the background.
Night shot of Px38-805 at Żnin shed.
Px38-805 a short distance out from Żnin soon after sunrise.
View of the train between Px38-805 between Żnin and Rydlewo
Approaching Rydlewo station.
Alongside the lake near Wenejca.
At a level crossing near Biskupin
Between Biskupin and Gasawa
End of the ride. Px38-805 takes a rest at Biskupin station.