Poland's old steam trains still on track

Hurtling down the rails, whistle blaring, huffing and puffing coal soot and steam, Beautiful Helena is a sight to behold as it proudly chugs along the passenger run it's made for 73 years.

At full blast, it hits 130 kilometres (80 miles) an hour - only half the speed of some modern bullet trains - but the much-loved Helena stands out as one of the few European steam engines still used for daily passenger service.

These vintage commuters - 13 in all though only three run regularly - all operate out of Wolsztyn, western Poland, which is also home to an annual steam engine parade that drew tens of thousands of railway enthusiasts, young and old, this month.

"Wolsztyn is unique in Europe because steam trains have been running here non-stop from 1907, so for 103 years," said Andrzej Jablonski, a senior railway man with Polish state rail firm PKP Cargo, organiser of the yearly event.

The old trains ply a regional track between Wolsztyn and Poznan, 80 kilometers (50 miles) away.

In all, 11 steam locomotives - Helena and seven others from Wolsztyn, one from Germany, one from Hungary and a Czech Republic model named Matilda - showed off their vintage might at the weekend parade but the three foreign models are today museum or show pieces, Jablonski said.

All are fully functional, however, and made the trip by rail at their own speed.

Kitted up in Poland's traditional navy blue trainman's uniform with a square-topped cap, Jablonski glows when he speaks of "Piekna Helena" or Beautiful Helena, Wolsztyn's pride and joy.

Designed by Polish engineers in 1936 and built a year later, Beautiful Helena - known to experts as a Pm 36-2 type engine - runs about 40 kilometres faster than other steam engines, which average 90 kilometres an hour.

- 'Steam trains have soul' -

---------------

It's top speed, in fact, is similar to the modern-day diesel and electric locomotives that replaced steam-powered engines in Poland during the 1950s.

But for Jablonski that's not what counts.

"Steam trains have soul, other locomotives, either diesel or electric, if they're standing still they're cold, but a steam train engine...if it's moving or if its standing still, we feel it has a soul," he said.

Engineer Czeslaw Janus, 56, concedes that "a steam engine is hard work," as he shovels coal into the glowing orange-red furnace of one of the locomotive he's driven for the last 37 years.

"On an electric train you just sit there and turn the wheel, but on a steam engine you have to shovel a couple of tons of coal, its hard physical work, but it's a real train," he said.

These workhorses powered Europe's 19th and 20th century Industrial Revolution - first in Britain then elsewhere in Europe - but started being replaced by their new electric and diesel cousins in the 1930s.

Despite the distance, Andrew Mullard, 40, a British trainman and steam engine fanatic from Kidderminster, near Birmingham in central England, grabbed the chance to see the vintage models in action.

"There's nothing like this in England," said Mullard, who can't get enough of the rhythmic choo-choo, the hiss of white steam, the piercing whistles and the clouds of black smokes billowing from these massive iron machines.

"It smells different, it sounds different, it feels different, it takes you back to an earlier time," he said wistfully.

In Wolsztyn, visitors can clamber over the engines and even blast the whistles in what Mullard said was a freer, hands-on experience than at similar exhibitions in Britain or other European Union countries.

Even the younger set was enchanted. A three-year-old named Pawelek perched in his father's arms covered his ears and gazed in wide-eyed wonder at the vintage engines chugging along.

"Its just like in that fairy tale," he grinned.

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Restaurant Manager / Sommelier

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Seasonal Placement

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced Hotel Receptionists...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Poole

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn