In April 2002, I made this image of a railfan’s excursion led by PKP (Polish National Railways) 2-10-0 Ty3-2 gingerly negotiating a disused line at Kozuchow. This trip covered a variety of closed lines southwest of the steam depot (shop) at Wolsztyn. For me, there is something romantic and compelling about old locomotives plying decaying infrastructure. Perhaps it’s a Byronesque inspiration, or an influence from 18th and 19th century art; paintings that depict vestiges of Roman ruins dotting pastoral landscapes which convey a nagging reminder of the great empire—centuries gone. Here we have the leviathan of another era, plying track barely visible through the grass.
Of course in Poland, there’s layers of complicated history behind such scenes. Railways in this part of western Poland are a legacy of the old Prussian state; while locomotives such as this one stem from 1940s German design. Following World War II, political boundaries were redrawn to reflect the desires of the victors, which placed this part of Germany back in Polish-territory. Cold war politics and economic stagnation combined with large supplies of Silesian coal, compelled Poland to sustain regular steam operations for decades later than most European railways. Following the collapse of Soviet control in the late-1980s, Poland re-adopted a capitalist system. As a result Poland’s railways, especially lightly used lines, such as the secondary route pictured here, suffered. Many lines fell into disuse. Like the fortresses, aqueducts, and amphitheatres of the old Roman Empire, disused Polish railways survived as vestiges of the earlier eras.
The process continues. While Poland has invested in its mainlines, its rural lines continue to fade. Recently, I learned that thousands of miles of lightly used Polish railways may be abandoned. I question the wisdom and shortsighted rational of such a transportation policy, but I cannot help but imagine the pictorial possibilities.