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.

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
News
i100
Sport
footballSporting Lisbon take on Chelsea as Manchester City host Roma
News
people
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Mystery man: Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in '‘Gone Girl'
films
News
businessForbes 400 list released
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
News
peopleSwimmer also charged with crossing double land lines and excessive speeding
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

    Management Accountant

    28,000 to 32,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our client, a hospitality busi...

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive

    £20 - 24k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Analyst / Marketing Executive is needed t...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    Day In a Page

    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy