Most unexpectedly in 2009 I went on a three day trip to see trains! Steam trains in particular. We started with some wonderful, typically Polish, meals in Poznan – authentic beetroot soup, wonderful gnocchi with crisped bacon pieces, onion and cream cheese, I can remember it even now, two years later!
I was on my way to Wolsztyn (pronounced Voltzteen), a mecca for steam railway enthusiasts who flock to see the only regular steam hauled service in Europe, possibly the world. (The only other known regularly steam services are in China, mostly mining sites taking miners to mines with some routes up to 40 miles long!)
Steam trains between Wolsztyn and Poznan are scheduled twice a day, seven days a week, taking 4,000 passengers, including commuters, per day and about 2,000 tons of freight per week.
On the first weekend of May each year, train enthusiasts from across the world descend on Wolsztyn to watch the Steam Parade, with more than a dozen steam trains from Poland and Germany in operation around the depot in Wolsztyn, along with some rather special parades of steam locomotives. The spectacle of steam trains racing through the station is a highlight of the event. Apparently the event is so popular it is known for accommodation in the town to be booked a year ahead.
When we took the steam train 70 kilometre to Wolsztyn a huge locomotive had been commandeered into service to replace the usual engine which had been hired out for a private trip. News of the change in loco, the Tr5 65, had aroused a lot of interest and train enthusiasts with cameras were on many of the station platforms we passed through. In view of its age our loco’s maximum speed was only 60 km an hour.
As soon as we left Poznan station a flood of memories returned from my childhood – we used to go to the south coast for summer holidays … the smell of burning coal, the hissing steam, the sound of the hooter, the clouds of black smoke. The notices on the sash windows DO NOT LEAN OUT OF THE WINDOWS reminded me of my mother vividly describing how I would lose my sight if a hot coal smut burned my eye … sufficiently alarming to prevent me from disobeying!
I remembered the sepia photographs in wooden frames of the English country and seaside scenes above the seats and being bounced up and down by the seat’s strong springs. I remember too the slam of the doors, the brass handles and the leather sashes with holes you used to move the windows up and down, or was that recall of the Lavender Hill Mob or David Lean’s Brief Encounter? Whatever, I was swept back to the 1950’s!
The train reached Wolztyn on time and we stared at the rows of engines, not so much mothballed as just shunted into line like a row of dusty old elephants. Further on at the Wolsztyn depot, home to a large number of abandoned and withdrawn engines moved there from now closed steam locomotive depots all over Poland, it’s possible to examine these at close quarters – a trainspotters/enthusiast’s dream! I found it all rather sad, but for enthusiasts absolutely fascinating.
The Poles are very proud of the steam train facility and once a year Children’s Day on 1 June a five hour, 250 km trip to Kolobrezeg is organised to raise awareness, eight carriages take up to 500 children for a delightful experience.
We watched our locomotive refuelling and rewatering. A long, labour intensive process with the odd moment of unexpected drama. The hot cinders being raked out from beneath the firebox on to the ground below glowed red that generated huge clouds of steam when water was poured on to cool them. The smell, and sound were high pitch. The coal had to be replenished using an old creaky crane and the water tank refilled with an exciting (for the children and photographers!) moment when it overflowed all over the rear of the engine like a waterfall.
Then the engine was turned to face the other direction for the return trip. We had a ride on the turntable and walked round the worksheds with their inspection pits and rows of tools to perform all manner of different repairs and maintenance.
It’s possible to hire a steam engine with carriages of your choice for a personal trip. How about a wedding reception on a train moving through the countryside with the steam blowing and whistle sounding, what fun waving at people at stations especially for kids!
Book with Fundacja Era Parowozow www.eraparowozow.pl
For more information about Wolsztyn Steam Trains go to www.polandpoland.com/wielkopolskie.html and click on Wolsztyn in the place names list. That webpage also gives information on renting a holiday apartment, Polish translation, Polish Ancestry Research, Guided Tours of Poland.
For details of Footplating Holidays in Poland organised by a UK company see this link
I flew from Stansted to Poznan via Ryan Air.
The trip was organised by Polish National Tourist Office http://www.poland.travel:80/en-us/pot_front_page#
Photography © Pintail Media
All photographs © Pintail Media