Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Wrocław: an early morning puzzle

Wrocław, 06:18; exactly eight hours after leaving W-wa Wschodnia on the night train, I emerge onto a cold, dark platform. My journey had been comfortable, the train punctual, and in one ticket I had transport and accommodation – a far more time- and cost-effective way of getting to a long-distance destination than travelling the day before and staying overnight in a hotel. The sleeping carriage was warm has toast (coal-fired heating!) but the water in the wash-basin taps had frozen solid so I was unable to wash in the morning.

And a travel tip for night-train travellers: when boarding the sleeper carriage, discretely ask the conductor whether or not there's a Poseł (parliamentary deputy, or MP) travelling that night. The sleeper carriages should keep a przedział poselski free, in case some Important Person needs to travel down to his or her constituency overnight. As it happened, there wasn't one booked to travel on this particular train, so for a small supplementary consideration, I was shown to compartment, which I had to myself.

So – Wrocław 06:18. It's -14C, dark, and busy. The station is being redeveloped (about which more later), so the usual entrance onto Al. Piłsudskiego has been closed off. The back way out leads me to an unfamiliar part of town. There's a row of taxis standing in the darkness. Unlike Warsaw, where each taxi has displayed in the passenger near-side window the price per kilometre, in Wrocław there's no visible clue as to how much the ride will cost when getting into the taxi. It's not far to my destination, so I walk instead.

Usual problem – lack of signage; there's one unlit street map across the road from the station. So I buy a plan of Wrocław from the Ruch kiosk, orientate myself and find my way.

I'm not a total stranger to Wrocław; and I speak and read Polish. Yet in the shoes of a foreigner, arriving at Wrocław station must be extremely daunting. How can one tell in advance, online, in English or German, for example, that the main railway station's main entrance is currently closed? Or know which taxi company you can trust to not to overcharge you? Or find your way to a given street in the situation that this or that thoroughfare has been closed for refurbishment? You can only do a limited amount of research online (Google Maps, for example), but there's no guarantee that the information you find will be up-to-date or accurate.

Many foreigners will be visiting Wrocław, Warsaw, Gdańsk and Kraków for the football in June, and I fear that a significant proportion of them will find themselves frustrated and unable to get to where they are heading without running into situations that can cause distress. Especially when, as will no doubt be the case, the transport infrastructure won't be ready in time. Imagine the tension, when, ticket in hand and seemingly with time to spare, a football fan discovers that there's no train to town from the airport, only an overcrowded bus standing in an immobile jam. Or working out where to buy a ticket at Wrocław Główny station should the refurbishment of the main hall not be ready in 121 days' time.

Above: Platform 1, where my afternoon train is waiting to take me back to Warsaw. Platforms 2 and 3 are still a mess. But despite the cold, work is under way. Much of the old Art Nouveau has disappeared from the platforms.

In case you want to know, it's round the back and about 100m away from the platform entrance. There are no signs saying 'Tickets' or even Bilety – only the Polish Dworzec tymczasowy ('temporary station/terminus'). From this respect, Warsaw – or even Kraków – is far advanced compared to Wrocław when it comes to preparedness of its main station.

The infrastructure chickens are slowly coming home to roost.

This time last year:
Life and Death in the Shadow of the El - A short story, part I

This time two years ago:
Transwersalka in midwinter

This time three years ago:
Work starts on the S79/S2 (still nowhere near ready!)

This time four years ago:
Crazy customised Skoda


kubala said...

I had that same feeling about Warszawa Centralna ;)

Arrived there after spending 6 months in Japan. Lady in ticket office was rude and had no change. Later, no single escalator was running so I had to carry all my 4 bags (2 x 20kg + backpack + laptop) down the stairs to the platform. I was looking for an elevator to tracks but the only one I have found was going 'up' :) Finally, standing on a platform - holding my 1st class ticket - I was wondering where the 1st class cars will stop. There was an announcement but only in Polish so if you're a foreigner you have to run to your car after the train arrives at station.

And yes - I'm a Pole and I do speak Polish and even so it was a nightmare.

John Savery said...

I travel to Wroclaw fairly regularly, having lived there for a couple of years a number of years ago. The station renovations have been going on for a couple of years now, and at least the information screens seem to have now returned to the platform. Before that, due to the lack of announcements, it was a case of shuttle running from the platforms down through the subway, and back to the ticket office to find out any information on the (late running) departures.

The main station itself is a jewel, with its castle like frontage (on the old town side), and large booking hall. I'm hoping that they do not sweep too much of the character away with the modernisation.

Sigismundo said...

I wonder if PKP has a feedback system or at least a way of letting the bosses know what problems they need to address. They should be amenable, after all Euro 2012 will reflect badly on them personally.

It's all very well complaining about the Polish railways, but is there a way of actually getting things to change?

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Sigismundo

I was discussing this yesterday with Andrzej K, in relation to the online purchase of InterCity train tickets. Andrzej posited several improvements that could easily be made to make the software more user-friendly - but does anyone at PKP care enough to enable users to submit suggestions?

Anonymous said...

Look to switch to 'Polski Bus', clean, on-time, cheaper, many options daily all around Poland and to some foreign destinations as well.

My wife's sister used it from Gdansk to WAW and was very happy. I have a trip to Gdansk planned in about 2 weeks and will take it up as well. Leaves from Wilanowska.

And no, PKP has no interest in hearing comments at all. Wrote them a letter a couple of years ago - polacony/return receipt and they never had the courtesy to respond at all. They will continue to be a third world enterprise for decades.


Anonymous said...

Forgot: http://www.polskibus.com/

Andrzej K said...

PS No doubt someone knows the answer why the 13.40 train from Wroclaw to Warszawa via Poznan is an EuroInter City service? Two possibilities:
1. It used to run from a foreign city and the route was partially cut.
2. It was a clever way of getting aroubd Kaczynski's ban on sales of beer in the Wars on domestic routes (now thankfully lifted).

The Warsaw service now offer real beer from the Konstancin brewery and the schabowy yesterday was freshly bashed and very tasty (well it felt that way after waiting for half an hour in the temporary departure hall in Wroclaw station (there are NO catering facilities, bookshop, newspaper stand or any other amenity available).

Oh and on arrival in Warsaw the modernisation has resulted in there being no Coffee Heaven which was such a God send till not long ago.