Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Polish railways in winter, 2014

On my way to work yesterday, I saw a story on the CityINFO screens on the Metro that a train had reached its destination 1,200 minutes late. Checking this in Gazeta Wyborcza, it turned out that indeed two trains had arrived a full 20 hours late - one from Gdynia to Wrocław, the other from Warsaw to Jelenia Góra. Twenty hours delay on journeys that normally take 13 hours and 14 hours respectively.

Yesterday, at the conference we were organising, the keynote speaker arrived 55 minutes into the event, having been delayed on a train (not so dramatically) from Kraków. Delegates from Katowice also arrived late (one phoning that his train was still standing on the platform at Katowice 45 minutes after it was due to depart). At this icy time of year, it's a risky business organising national conferences. On Friday, I'm due to speak at a breakfast meeting in Poznań, necessitating a 05:11 departure from Jeziorki. I am worried that I too may not make it on time.

Polish railways and winter together produce a binary outcome, zero or one. The 'one' is that everything runs on time and Poles are proud that unlike the UK where an inch of snow brings the infrastructure to a standstill, here its business as usual. The 'zero' is that everything goes wrong. This week, the latter has tended to predominate. Below: my train last Friday, 17 January. It's an EN57 electric multiple unit, the oldest of which have seen over half a century of service. As it began pulling out of Okęcie station, something went wrong and it came to a halt. The guard walked up and down the length of the train, trying to work out what was up, opened some valve, tapped something with a hammer - and after 12 minutes standing, we moved on.

The old stock breaks down often but it can often be fixed with a man wielding a hammer. New trains break down infrequently, but when they do, they are immobilised until a new thyristor unit can be flown in from Switzerland. Unless, as has been happening this week, the whole network collapses, as a result of freezing rain (see yesterday's post) brings down power lines.

The recently-appointed 'superminister' responsible for infrastructure and regional development, Elżbieta Biekówska was asked by journalist Kamil Durczok what she had to say to passengers of the train from Przemyśł to Szczecin that arrived 410 minutes late. Her reply would become an internet meme within hours. "Sorry, taki mamy klimat" ("Sorry, that's the climate we have"). PKP announced that across all of Poland yesterday, out of 4,000 services, 82 ('only 82'? or 'as many as 82') arrived more than an hour late. How many arrived up to 59 minutes late, we weren't told.

Below: screenshot of online timetable of services between W-wa Jeziorki and the city centre. Note the green ticks on the first two services. This means they're running to time. This is a huge advance over the old days. Especially when you have this timetable on your smartphone in the form of the Bilcom app. Standing on the platform, I can see exactly where the train is. But while the first two trains are punctually arriving at all stations towards their destinations, the next three services are shown with an exclamation mark within a red circle. The key at the bottom of the page explains that because of freezing snow across six voivodships, trains can be delayed by up to 120 minutes.

Yesterday, this pink panel at the bottom of the page read '... up to 300 minutes delay', with ten voivodships affected. Things are looking up.

This time last year:
Around Warsaw, in the snow

This time two years ago:
Music of the Trees

This time three years ago:
Studniówka - a hundred days before the exams

This time four years ago:
It's all in the mind - but where's that?

This time five years ago:
Roztopy - the big melt-down

This time six years ago:
The year's most depressing day


AndrzejK said...

Brings to mind Reggie Perin with the imortal excuses for train delays "badgers gnawing the line at Orpington" and "BR apologises for the delays caused by staff shortages - should stop employing midgets".

On a serious note at last the Warsaw authorities have announced plans to build a tram line to Miasteczko Wilanów along Sobieskiego. No problem here as the road was built with adequate space on the central reservation to take tram lines!!! One of the few advantages of the communist system was that city planners could ignore bleeding hearts and NIMBY's and allow for future expansion.

Anonymous said...

And if you wish in future to see what's going on on your train station - take a look at

It shows you the departure/arrival timetable for your particular station.

In that page I saw this many hundred minutes delay of the train from Warsaw to Jelenia Góra, as my work collegue arrived in Wrocław after over 21 hours in train. (23.05 from Warsaw ->20.00 in Wrocław).