Gdynia at the North of the Trojmiasto (Tri-City) made up of Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia. The station has been magnificently restored to its 1950s pomp complete with relatively jolly murals for the period.
Gdynia station mural
Mural reflecting Gdynia's role which flourished when the city became Poland's Baltic port after the maps were redrawn post World War One.
Gdynia station mural
Beyond the chained doors is a big empty room with more spectacular murals
SM42 368 after backing onto a late running inter city train at Gdynia. When we arrived at Gdynia the next train down the spit to Hel was a unit. Our hearts sunk so we decided to hang on for a late running InterCity train. It took a long time to get anyone to sell us a ticket (given it was vastly more expensive than going on any of the local trains). It's a long trundle down the spit with every mile of the coast given over to holiday fun. We spent most of it in the restaurant car. More encouragement was to be had when it became clear that most of the local trains are still loco hauled and what a choice terminus Hel is.
SU42-525 approaching Hel
Like summer Saturdays in the old days in GB with the locals interspersed with dated workings from across Poland (including overnights)
SU42-534 blasts off from Hel bay platform
Double deck carriage in the rake.
Hel station sign
Detail from Krakow to Hel train carriage
All the way from southern Poland to the country's squally holiday coast
Claggy departure from Hel station
Not a great picture but shows the station lay-out. A head shunt extends beyond the station and to the right of where the photograph was taken are carriage sidings as well as tracks in the pine forest full of camping coaches
Points and carriage sidings
Poland's railways still in so many ways like Britain's used to be. Modern units are few and far between on the Tri-City corridor
Camping coach at Hel
In among the sandy Pines
Camping coaches and ECS
People drag their suitcases over the tracks to the battered camping coaches between which modern empty coaching stock is stabled. Silent other than the wind in the Pines and the passage of trains.
Hel station from the headshunt that crosses a road before slotting itself through the backyards of Hel
Headshunt in among the backyards
SU42-525 took us home on a local. We had a fitfully translated chat with the be-vested driver by some merry returning holidaymakers. He was clearly proud of his rusting steed.
Gdansk station clocktower
Gdansk station detail
1952 Gdansk tram
Gdansk operates tram tours on two routes on Summer weekends from a terminal behind the railway station. The 1952 tram on a city centre circuit and the 1970s tram does an excursion to Nowy Port Lighthouse (where the first shots of World War Two were fired) where the port of Gdansk meets the Baltic
Rainy but enjoyable express trip to the Port of Gdansk for an hour and a half visit to the lighthouse. Tram heading towards the stop to pick up excursionists to take them back to Gdansk station
ZKD unit approaching Mikoszewo bound for Sztutowo
The surviving sections Zutawska Kolej Dojazdowa (ZKD) narrow gauge railway runs along the tourist coast east of Gdansk. There's also an inland branch to Nowy Dwor Gdanski which sees a less frequent service. The service was recently extended a little further inland but services had to be curtailed again due to track theft. The network was originally much larger (223km in 1959). Even as late as 1989 the system had 146km of track, on which were carried 365,800 passengers and 89,944 tons of freight. There's some incredible pictures of what it looked like in its final years as a proper PKP railway in 1991 here: http://www.drehscheibe-online.de/foren/read.php?17,1174001
It was all over by 1996 until it reopened as a tourist / enthusiast concern in 2002
Mainstay of the service is this Romanian unit hauling some opensided tourist vehicles. However as it trundles through the undergrowth alongside the pine forests which line the coast it does give provide a taste of the authentic Polish narrow gauge backwater.
Closely observed trains
The driver picked up his sweetheart halfway along the route and they travelled in the cab together to the eastern coastal terminus at Sztutowo where the train turns round in service by means of a triangle. From Sztutwo it's a short hike through the sleepy settlement through the Pine forests to the Baltic
Afternoon westbound train leaving Sztutowo
Had meant to do the whole of the system by taking an early bus from Gdansk to get the morning train from the inland branch terminal at Nowy Dwor Gdanski but a cold and Gdansk bus terminal defeated me.
Hired in Goggles loco at Elk
In 2014 we headed inland for the back of beyond North East corner of Poland via the remarkable Gdynia to Katowice train takes seventeen hours to describe a long slow arc around Poland. It goes such a long way round it sets off in the opposite direction from Katowice. The staff on the melancholy under patronised restaurant car work eight hour shifts on and off as the train rolls at a steady pace across the Polish plains. Never quite sure why Polish trains move at such a stately pace given the lines are straight and flat but the lack of frenetic speed and the compartment stock is perfect for dozing. The section through the Polish lake district between Korsze and Elk is particularly bucolic - and also diesel hauled with hired in Czech traction doing the honours. Unfortunately beyond Elk line closures both permanent and 'temporary' (for the Rail Baltica high-ish speed project) meant that we had to use buses and coaches to move onwards to Vilnius after exploring the backwaters of Poland's Suwalski province.
Stork nest in yard lights
In 2013 having enjoyed the many delights of the relaxed Tri-City and Hel peninuslar we then chose an obscure way to continue along the Baltic to reach the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad by rail. Unfortunately the through train from Gdynia to Kaliningrad no longer runs. According to Today's Railways (Nov 07) the train used to convey a sleeping car from Berlin and stopped for border checks at Barniewo (Poland) and Mamonovo (Russia). The PKP loco took the train from Braniewo to the border where it stopped at a double fence. After a few minutes Russian soldiers arrived, opened the gate in the two fences and clean the rails which are covered with sand to detect the footprints of illegal emigrants or immigrants. The train slowly passed the fence and stopped for a second time sand is swept across the rails again and the gates are securely locked. Now most people take a coach. We took two trains, a taxi, a lift and a bus. The first train was an inter-regional from Gdansk to Olsztyn Zach to change for the very infrequent single car unit to Braniewo through the deep rural back of beyond of North East Poland on a line that served some classic rural halts in various states of picturesque decay.
Braniewo border railway station
The home grown Polish unit at the deserted border railway station of Braniewo. Something exciting about borders. They exercise a magnetic pull - especially the EU/CIS border where things really are different on the other side. And something enigmatic about former border posts. Now only served by these occasional units from Olstyn the station is still kitted out like the real thing. Border guards sporadically tour the platforms but all else is deserted except for a staffed toilet from which an elderly woman eeks out some kind of income. But although passenger trains to Kaliningrad do not currently pass through - freight certainly does.
Border control building at Braniewo station
Not doing much these days.
Freight train at Braniewo heading for the Kaliningrad border
Braniewo station water crane
German built water crane with wagons passing in the background
Braniewo depot and marshalling yard
Tearing ourselves away from this impressively obscure freight hotspot we rang for a taxi and soon we were being taken to the border by an unemployed teacher who didn't have the paperwork to get us across. Instead he managed to persuade a car load of not immediately convivial hot hatchback driving youths to get us across. The queue at the pine forested border (first to get out of Poland and then second to get into Russia) hardly moved. Unless you had a Russian plate where you sped by in the fast lane. The Poles were crossing over to get everything that's bad for you - petrol, cigs and alcohol. The Russians come the other way for decent food apparently. Our plans to get the local train from Mamonovo (the Russian town on the other side of the border) into Kaliningrad looked to be in trouble. However, my companion managed to do what I would have assumed to be impossible. He charmed the Russian border guards into allowing our Polish hosts to jump the queue (suddenly transforming our popularity as hitchers). They dropped us at Mamonovo station where we stumbled about through the sidings to find we had missed the train due to us miscalculating the time zone changes. Fortunately the local bus service was still running and having been bossed about and sold a ticket by the borderline goth clippie (who twirled her rolls of tickets round her various fingers in a rather alluring way) we dozed our way to downtown Kaliningrad and definitely felt back in the ex-USSR.
Typical Baltic weather and a not untypical Kaliningrad scene. What was the charming Prussian capital of German Koningsberg was obliterated by the RAF and then Stalin and is now a Russian city with only fragments of the old city restored.
RZD unit at Svetlogorsk
The Kaliningrad Oblast has several coastal resorts which can easily be reached by train from Kaliningrad. Stations and trains are in good shape and the journey passes through plenty of overgrown and disused agricultural land. When the Russians took over Kaliningrad from its German population the enclave's main purpose was to be a military base - farming was not a priority. Svetlogorsk is a pleasant and relaxed clifftop resort still with some German villas in the pine trees.
Eurorunner on mixed freight through Klaipeda
Hypnotic, Ur-industrial heavy freights of the Baltics rolling and clanking relentlessly on. Endless series repetition of the same wagon types: grain hoppers, mineral wagons, oil tanks, box vans. Laid back Klaipeda lies at the other eastern border with Kaliningrad. A major Baltic port for the Soviet Union and still generating serious freight traffic.
2 x Eurorunner on oil train at Klaipeda
Industrial design not dead in Germany. Something very sleek and sharky about the Eurorunners. Red and black suits them too. Compare and contrast with the ghastly front ends of a Class 66 or Class 70 in the UK
TEM TMH shunter easing a mixed freight out of Klaipeda docks
Built by the marvellously named Russian Transmashholding company these modern shunting and light mainline locomotives are the norm in these parts for anything that doesn't need a Eurorunner.
TEM TMH shunter on short oil trip working
TEP70 clagging out of Klaipeda en route to Vilnius
TEP70 on Klaipeda to Vilnius express at Siauliai
Heading east out of Kaliningrad to Klaipeda meant a coach or a very long detour away from the coast. Passenger rail connections have also been severed between Lithuania and Riga so in 2013 we took the morning express from Klaipeda to Vilnius and bailed at Siauliai for a tight bus connection to Jelgava in Latvia and a unit from there to Riga
The Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia all have different traction policies. Lithuania has invested in stylish Siemens Eurorunner ER20s, Estonia has second hand US locos and Latvia sticks with its ex-USSR traction. Standard traction throughout the region on remaining long distance passenger services are the TEP70s. There's a British connection as the TEP70 emerged after the USSR bought a redundant prototype British 'Kestrel' locomotive built in Loughborough as a joint Brush / Sulzer venture
Short freight working through Kaunus station
In 2014 we returned to England via Kaunus airport. Needed a little longer in Kaunus than we had to fully get to grips with the freight action.
Jelgava to Riga unit at Jelgava station
Like most of the Baltic states passenger services are restricted and have been severely cut back. Jelgava has lines coming in from all directions but only the service to Riga now operates (I think). But it's a good service with the trains and stations in good condition
Riga has a first rate public transport system - including a varied fleet of trams and trolleybuses. Route 15 takes you to the enormous marshalling yard complex at Daugmale
Hump shunting at Daugmale
The Riga Daugmale marshaling yard complex is enormous. So long that it is served by three separate stations on the through line that passes alongside it. It also includes an active hump shunting yard. One of the few modern locos to be seen is pictured climbing up the hump from one of the handy pedestrian overbridges that straddle the complex as well as providing access
Wagons free wheeling down the hump shunt
Rolling thunder: 2TE10M-3425 enters Daugmale sidings
According to Todays Railways 149 these Soviet monsters can shift 6,000 tonne trains and there were 10 in the Latvian fleet in 2006.
Loco line up at Daugmale
According to Today's Railways as well as their heavy fuel consumption availability of the fleet can be as low as 50%. Even when these things are ticking over they make the ground shake.
One of the footbridges was out of action so locals just walked right across the marshaling yard. So we did too
TEP70s and a 2M62 at the fuelling point at Daugamale
The TEP70s probably off overnight passenger trains
ChM33 3353 at Daugmale
The heavy duty shunter is another widespread locomotive type in the former Soviet Union
Double 2M62 at Daugmale
In 2008 (and probably not changed) the Port of Riga was the most important freight flow for LDZ (Latvian Railways) and most of that is Russian oil and coal for export. A conveyor belt of Russian raw materials. The oligarch's income stream.