Thursday, 30 January 2014

Protecting Poland's railways - or not

Regular travellers on Poland's railway network will have observed the railway guard - Straż Ochrony Kolei - a strange institution - neither police force nor military formation, and you may have wondered - what are these guys doing? Are they protecting the travelling public? Making the railways feel more secure?

I don't really know. To me, it's another Polish institution long overdue for reform, in need of real purpose, a jobs-for-the-boys machine. Trains should feel safe - in general they do (with one exception I'll return to). But I posit that they feel safe because of a general improvement in social trust since communist days, rather than because 3,100 SOKists hang around the network.

Are these guys here to prevent graffiti being sprayed on trains stabled overnight in depots? Or to prevent overhead power lines from being stolen? Or to prevent terrorist attacks on Polish railways? I don't rightly know. From SOK's website, it's hard to fathom what this body is all about.

Below: reminds me of the communist-era joke: why do milicjanci hang around in threes? One who can read, one who can write, and one to keep an eye on the dangerous intellectuals. Back in Cold War days, this force existed to protect the Red Army's railway supply routes safe from NATO paratroopers - and Polish saboteurs. Today, this threat has disappeared, yet these guys still act as though it were 1952. But in hi-vi vests.

Below: why is it that drinking and smoking is tolerated on Polish suburban lines? Each three-carriage unit has a guard's compartment at the front and rear. A six-carriage set will have four such compartments, three of which (not occupied by the guard) form a drinking club for Pan Heniek and Pan Ziutek returning home from work in Warsaw (or other agglomeration) to Radom, Grodzisk Maz., Żyrardów or some other distant dormitory. In these compartments, smoking and drinking are de rigeur, despite clear notices to the contrary. Smoke wafts into ordinary passenger carriages, the atmosphere is often boisterously aggressive. Guards and ticket collectors rarely venture in. This is an everyday occurrence. Where are the SOKists?

The Polish parliament was all set to reform this outdated institution, reducing the number of its ranks and making it fit for purpose for today's needs. That was five years ago - since then - no change. I suspect another PSL sinecure. What's needed is a professional body that will genuinely assess risks to the network and to the traveller and act accordingly. Until the smokers and drinkers are removed from the no-smoking, no-drinking suburban trains (or else the law is amended to permit smoking and drinking in designated compartments), I will not take SOK seriously.

This time last year:
The end of winter? So early?

This time two years ago:
How much education for the nation?

This time three years ago:
To the Catch - short story

This time four years ago:
Eternal Warsaw

This time six years ago:
From the family archives


AndrzejK said...

Of course London Underground and the mainline railways in the UK have their own police force (unless Gordon Brown disbanded the forces whilst I wasn't looking). This of course and the rather twee Special Constables.

Problem with the Polish police is that look like bodyguards these days and frighten the living daylights out of innocent citizens.

Alexander said...

I have seen this police force, and a demostration of their technical capabilities at the Warsaw West station yard two years ago. And I think it is a good thing to have a police force that knows something about the railways in case of emergencIES.

In The Netherlands there was a de dedicated railway ploice too. This force has been abolised.
Now any police man can be called to any incident at the railways without knowing anything about what is going on. The security function on the stations has been taken over by G4S. A lot of their people on duty at the railway stations in Holland do not even speak proper Dutch !
I think you will miss them if they get axed in Poland.

Regards, Alexander