I was visiting Poland for the first time in May 2000. While part of the inspiration for my trip was to investigate steam operations at Wolsztyn and elsewhere, I also spent time wandering around cities in the western part of the country.
One morning, I explored Poznan, where I found an extensive electric tram system. The old part of the town had cobble stone streets and interesting architecture, while the post-war outskirts featured rows of austere monolithic high-rise apartment blocks.
I only rode a few of the tram routes, but my literature indicates that network extended for some 56 route miles. The tram pictured here is a standard Polish Konstal car of a type common to many Polish cities.
For me, Poland was like finding an unexplored realm, full of railways with something new at every turn. Over the last decade, I’ve made several subsequent trips to Poland, and numerous excursions across eastern Europe.
See earlier Tracking the Light posts for Polish steam photos:
As I mentioned in Polish Steam Working Disused Track (Published on March 6, 2013), eleven years ago I rode a enthusiast’s excursion from Wolsztyn to Zagan in south eastern Poland led by PKP (Polish National Railways) 2-10-0 Ty3-2. This trip covered a variety of disused lines southwest of the Wolsztyn steam depot.
On that day, the train stopped more than 25 times for photography. This image was made near the end of the run. We were at a remote spot, not far from Zagan. The track was fairly derelict. After we got off, the train pulled ahead making for some nice effluence from the engine. Spring was in bloom and I framed the World War II-era 2-10-0 in the blossoming branches of a hedge.
As a follow up to yesterday’s view of a 2-10-0 on disused track, here’s a view of a regular revenue train from that same visit to Poland in April 2002. On a scheduled run from Poznan to Wolsztyn, PKP Ol69-111 passes German-style semaphores on approach to a rural station. At this time, several of the daily passenger Poznan-Wolzstyn trains routinely operated with steam, with Ol69 class 2-6-2s being the most common type on them. This was a secondary main line, and although weedy, the track was in reasonably good shape. Chasing the trains on the road was a challenge.
I made this image with my Rollei Model T on 120 black & white film, hand processed using my preferred recipe. The combination of traditional subject matter and the classic camera with 75mm Zeiss Tessar lends to a timeless view. Only, the rake of East German-built double-deck passenger carriages might seem incongruous to un-trained eyes. In fact, these cars were standard in the late era and consistent with Polish passenger practice. In this picture they are dressed in a olive drab livery, however some were later painted in a dandelion yellow, which truly seems out of character behind steam.
Check Tracking the Light tomorrow for more on this theme!
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.