Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Posting on the go... a traveller's tale

It's a busy week - Monday Opole, today Wrocław, tomorrow Radom. Many interesting lessons learned, which I'll share with my loyal readers.

My journey from Opole was somewhat fraught - I turned up at the station in good time to catch the 15:58 service to Katowice, to find that it was running 40 minutes late. Given that according to the timetable, I had 43 minutes at Katowice before the departure of my scheduled train to Warsaw, the chances of catching it were slim. So I boarded a local train from Opole to Gliwice (itself 20 minutes late departing Opole), paying an extra 16 złotys. This old-school clattery elektryczka EN57 got me to Gliwice with ten minutes in hand to cross platforms and catch another local train on to Katowice (5 złotys). This was a new PESA train in Koleje Śląskie colours; it was punctual, clean and crewed by polite and efficient staff. As soon as I was aboard, I felt confident that it would get me to Katowice in good time to catch the connecting train to Warsaw - which I did. A big thanks to Paweł in my office who kindly SMS'd me train times from Gliwice, sparing me uncertainty and anxiety.

In cases like this, a little local knowledge of alternative connections is useful. There are two routes from Opole to Katowice - one via Kędzierzyn Koźle (105km), the other via Strzelce Opolskie (72km). Guess which route the inter-city train (from Wrocław to Kraków) takes? Yes, the long one. It takes two hours to cover that distance - a mere 65 miles. Moral - when travelling by train in Poland, assume nothing, check and re-check timetables, work out alternatives and don't be a passive victim of lengthy delays.

Now I'm writing to you from the to Wrocław. As I've written before, Wrocław may just as well be in another country to Warsaw, as after 68 years, Poland's rulers have failed to connect the city to the capital by road or by rail. Things are not likely to improve much by the end of this decade; still no promise of a direct rail route, or of a motorway link. [Correction: the S8 should offer an expressway linking Warsaw to Wrocław by next spring, thanks for the observant comment, Anon.]

There are only three direct InterCity rail services a day between Warsaw and Wrocław, and three direct rail services a day between Wrocław and Warsaw. The fastest takes 5hrs 11mins, the slowest just under six hours. Cheap rail operator TLK does Warsaw-Wrocław too, (seven services a day) but these go an even slower way, managing to occupy nearly eight hours to get you from A to B.

You can fly. But unless you book weeks ahead, you either end up paying some vast sum (800 zlotys), or find that all the flights have been fully booked.

If you want to go to Wrocław for the day on business (as I'm doing right now), therefore, the options are limited... And then along comes - the game-changer. The journey time is 5hrs 50mins, in other words comparable to InterCity, two hours shorter than TLK. Price-wise, my ticket booked online the day before departure, cost just 62 złotys return (12 quid). This compares to 268 złotys (52 quid) second-class return by InterCity.

How's the journey? The first impressions were entirely positive. Comfortable leather seats, free (though somewhat patchy) Wi-Fi  and power socket by each seat means you can work the whole journey, and, on routes served by the bigger 89-seater double-deckers, a free on-board snack service.'s two Warsaw terminals are both by Metro stations (Młociny and Wilanowska), both of which are (now) very close to the expressway/motorway network. And so minutes after leaving Młociny, the Wrocław-bound bus (which calls at Łódź) was heading south along the A2. Great! One hour and 25 minutes after leaving Młociny... ufffff... we re-join Polish reality at Stryków, turning off the A2 and into dense rush hour traffic heading for Łódź city centre. Leaving Łódź, the road for Wrocław is busy, bumpy, narrow and slow. is a great success story; the firm will have 75 buses in Poland by the end of this year. The new market entrant is shaking up the bus and rail operators, by offering a high quality of service at a low price. As Poland's motorway network improves, journey times between cities will plummet, and road transport will give inter-city railways some fierce competition.

I doubt it's business model leaves much in the way of profit; carrying 60 passengers (100% capacity is 70) each paying 31zł one-way gives a revenue of 1,860zł, from which fuel, crew, bus terminal access, back office,  IT, and all taxes have to be paid. As well as the leasing of the bus. But the growth model is working, and after two years, the big red buses have become an everyday sight on Poland's trunk roads.

Below: beyond Łódź, the roads get... bouncy. The bus goes via Sieradz on the DK14. Here's a tip - don't sit to close to the front of the bus - it goes up and down like the prow of Viking longboat weathering rough swell. This bit of the journey is slow; the road goes through village after village and is busy.

The wi-fi is not all that good. I could not visit my own blog, which was blocked by the server's administrator. Annoying. On the way back to Warsaw, it was working about 40% of the journey (good at the beginning and end, rather rubbish in the middle).

This time last year:
One for the record - hot September day (30C)

This time three years ago:
The half-closed airport

This time four years ago:
Last of the summer bike rides to work?

This time five years ago:
My own Polish Adlestrop

This time six years ago:
Laurie Anderson's chillingly prescient 'O Superman'


Unknown said...

this is an example of route one takes definatelly by car

Anonymous said...

*Never heard of an EN-57 being called an "elektryczka". "Kibel" is the standard term.

*TLK trains are InterCity trains. Same company. The three fast trains are EIC (Express InterCity).

Strange that Polskibus is doing so well, when the attempt to do this about a decade back (PolskiExpress) went bankrupt.....

Michael Dembinski said...

"Elekryczka" - a Russicism :)

PolskiExpress didn't go bankrupt - the owners (National Express Group from the UK), changed their global strategy, focusing on English-speaking markets (like Australia). Here, they did go bankrupt :) was masterminded by the same Brit who brought National Express to Poland, hence the higher standard of staff training...

Michael Dembinski said...

@ unknown...

From home to my destination (Wrocław airport) is around 400km; 800km round trip. My Yaris burns 5.3 litres per 100km on the open road, 42.4 litres for the round trip, @ 5.75zł per litre makes 243.80 zł. Which makes driving the distance four times more expensive than taking the bus.