Sunday, 20 November 2011

Kraków-Warsaw by train

A post to show the ups-and-downs of Polish State Railways, how much has been achieved, how much more needs to be done.

After speaking at our PPP seminar in Kraków on Friday, I was dropped off outside Galeria Krakowska, in ample time, I thought, to catch the 16.45 to Warsaw. I made my way through the shopping mall to the place between Carrefour and McDonald's where, from memory, there was a passageway to the railway platforms.

Not a bit of it. There is an entrance to the new underground tram station - but that's it. I had to loop round through the mall to another passageway, one that did lead to the railway station.

Point One. No Proper Signage. How are passengers from out of town expected to know which exit is which?

So. Down the a passageway that led to the platforms. Hurray! Now for my ticket. A booth proclaiming itself to be 'Przewozy Regionalne' (i.e. not the company that operates my train home, PKP InterCity). From previous visits to Kraków Głowny station, I remembered that this booth will not sell InterCity tickets, and that after getting to the front of the queue, you'll be sent away with a flea in your ear. I missed, however, a small sign saying "we [now] sell tickets for all train operating companies". So I pressed on to find another place to buy tickets. I found one - at the far end of the narrow tunnel, half-closed off by building works. Again, run by Przewozy Regionalne. This time, the sign saying 'all types of tickets sold' was more prominent. I join the lengthy queue.

Point Two. No Proper Signage. How are passengers from out of town expected to know where they should buy the right ticket?

Let me return to the narrow tunnel. It's about three metres (10ft) wide. By every platform entrance, there's a timetable. Around every timetable, there's a cluster of anxious passengers looking for information. They are blocking the narrow tunnel. And the timetables are printed in a tiny font, which many people (including myself) need reading glasses to make sense of.

Point Three. Make timetables bigger; put them where they won't disturb passenger flow. Timetables are an essential part of signage and passenger information; they must be clear and visible.

While I'm in the queue, there's a passenger announcement that the Warsaw train will, unusually, be departing from track #*, platform @'. The message is repeated. "Track #*, platform @'."I strain my ears to decode the number of the track and the platform. I still can't make it out.

Point Four. Ensure that public announcements can be heard in every corner of the station. Train the announcers to speak clearly, slowly, not to garble their words. Put up the right number of loudspeakers. Ensure they're all working properly.

Point Five. Get rid of the stupid track and platform numeration system (Tor 23 przy peronie pierwszym - 'track 23 by platform 1'). It is highly confusing and entirely unnecessary. Each track should have its own platform number. I koniec.

I get to the front of the queue knowing there's no way I'll catch my train. I buy a ticket for the next one, an hour and eight minutes later. I wonder around the mall, killing time; at last I make my way to track 18 platform 5 to discover... that it has its very own ticket booth, also operated by Przewozy Regionalne, also selling tickets for all trains. Now... if only I had known that earlier...

Points One and Two. See above.

I board my train. Carriage 26, seat 111. Second class. LUXURY! Six seats to the compartment, a power socket for every seat. I can open my new Samsung notebook and spend the journey writing! And when I got hungry, the Wars restaurant carriage, just a few footsteps away, is offering old-school pork chops with potatoes and cabbage and a glass of Konstancin Brewery beer for less than six quid! And the train arrives in Warsaw on time! All right, 3hrs 18 mins for 300km is really rather poor given that 440km between Madrid and Seville takes 2hrs 20 mins, but at least PKP InterCity train kept to the advertised timetable.

So - Kraków station is really quite appalling [see Dysposytor's post on the station]. Not as abysmally appalling as W-wa Zachodnia (the worst station in the civilised world), but a long way behind W-wa Centralna, also in mid-refurbishment right now.

But - I was pleasantly impressed by PKP InterCity. The ticket, at 125.50 zł (25 quid) cost almost double what a TLK (Tanie Linie Kolejowe - 'Cheap Rail Lines') one does, but it was worth it.

With the world's third-largest sporting event (only the Olympics and the World Cup draw bigger crowds than the European football championships) due to start in just seven months, will Polish railways and railway stations manage to get their act to cope with hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors? And what impression will they leave - of Poland a country that's rapidly catching up with the west, or a country stuck in some post-communist nightmare of inefficiency, indifference to the customer and technical backwardness?

This time last year:
Warsaw Blogmeet

This time two years ago:
My fixie reconfigured

This time four years ago:
Not In My Back Yard


Sean said...


We were left stranded in Zyrardow becaues we bought a ticket for another train company. The inspector insisted we buy a full ticket or get off.

The announcement for the train sounded like this -

Andrzej K said...

Taxis will drop you off at Krakow station on the concourse above the platforms. Although there are staits down to each of the platforms there are NO indicators, nor a timetable to show which platform your train departs from. If you go down the wrong steps the only option is to climb back up and try another staircase.

Never mind that there is no sign on the concourse or on the platforms where you can buy a ticket. This means a further descent from the platform to try to find a ticket office.

Another nonsense is the fact that although you can buy a ticket on line for PKP Intercity you cannot buy a ticket for PKP Eurocity. Try also to change the train you want to travel by (if you decide to change to a later train less than 2 hours before departure of the train you want to travel on you cannot make a change on line and need to queue up at the passenger service desk (if there is one) to get a crediton the old booking. You cannot just buy a new miejscowka at the ticket office as you also need to buy a new rail ticket. If you are changing the miejscowka on a ticket which you bought at a ticket offices the procedure is that the employee first cancels your original ticket and your old miejscowka and then issues a new ticket and a new miejscowka. More often than not by the time the old tiocket has been cancelled there are no seats available on the train you do want to travel on. For some reason known only to the geniouses at PKP each station ticket office only has access to a few of the carriages.

I have on 2 oaccsions been refused a miejscowka at Gdansk on the grounds that the train is full only to find that on getting on the train 2 carriages are full with the rest being relatively empty.

Until recently the online timetable for an enquiry of trains between Warsaw and Krakow would show a routing involving ten changes to a village in Austria which bears the name Krakow!!

And don't start me on the subject of TLK.

Anonymous said...

"And what impression will they leave - of Poland a country that's rapidly catching up with the west, or a country stuck in some post-communist nightmare of inefficiency, indifference to the customer and technical backwardness?"
It's a good question. But if I even don't worry about the opinions of foreign visitors, I wish our railway stations had a proper signage.
Uf. Fortunately I don't travel too much.

Andrzej K said...

PS Why is it that most stations have only three (usually unlit) name boards located in the middle and either end so that, particularly at night, you have no idea whether you have got to your your station. OK on Intercity the train driver usually makes an announcement but what if the train stops at an unscheduled station? Never mind poor foreigners who would never guess that Dworzec Centralny is the main station or that it is a through station and not a terminus?

Anonymous said...

Michal - agree with points 1-5 100% - it slays me to see this feckless means of operation. Euro 2012 is going to be a fiasco in many ways - this is a good example.

Same recently was the lack of warning dots on the platforms for blind folks on the metro and the time it took to finally put them in.

I fear this is the tip of the iceberg. As I have said often - 'they can never connect the dots' - we know 'who the who' is/are.


Michael Dembinski said...

@ Bob - the dots at the platforms' edge on the Metro were the result of a blind guy nearly losing a leg after falling under a train. Before that incident, just a lot of shoulder shrugging.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Sigismundo said...

The platform/track number fiasco is my pet bugbear. The solution is childishly simple, yet even freshly renovated stations are sticking to the old confusing and apparently illogical platform numbering systems.

I've talked to a number of PKP staff and many agree wholeheartedly that things should change. Unfortunately, there are a hard core of staff responsible for moving stock who don't really give a damn about the customer, only for their own job convenience when routing trains through stations. The problem is convincing management that this really *needs* to be changed.

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