Scheduled steam services will continue to operate from the world-famous depot at Wolsztyn in Western Poland for at least the next two years, under an agreement between the depot and the Marszalek (Marshal) of the Wielkopolskie province, who comes from Wolsztyn and is determined to see steam working continue.
There had been fears that the twice daily services to Leszno on Mondays to Fridays and two Saturday returns from Wolsztyn to Poznan would finally come to an end on Saturday, 27 November this year, after which there is the usual seasonal break in services until mid-January.
With the working fleet at Wolsztyn reduced to just one loco since the expiry of the boiler ticket on 2-8-2 Pt47-65 last month, there will be a planned five-day halt to steam working from 28 October to ensure that 2-6-2 Ol49-69 can see out the final weeks of this year’s operations.
Arriving by a PKP InterCity electric service from Wroclaw at Leszno you are reminded what a remarkable survival this service really is when the steam loco arrives under the wires hauling its two authentic olive green coaches and passing modern day PKP rolling stock.
For anyone yet to sample the delights of the world’s last scheduled standard gauge steam service, there is a pleasant surprise when it comes to buying a ticket, with the single fare for the 46km (29 mile) 80 minute journey to Wolsztyn costing less than £2.50 (PLN 12.90) and just £1.85 (PLN 9.67) for the over 60s.
By far the busiest of the weekday steam services on the Leszno route is the 06.00 departure from Wolsztyn, which begins its journey almost empty, but picks up large numbers of school children at the 11 stops on its journey and is “full and standing” with more than 120 passengers on board by the time of its 07.18 arrival in Leszno.
While funding has secured the principle of continued steam working there are nevertheless real concerns about loco availability, with local rail operator Koleje Wielkopolskie apparently reluctant to timetable steam services from mid-January unless Wolsztyn depot can guarantee that it has two working steam locos.
A massive PLN 1.2 million (£220,000) boost to the finances of the depot at Wolsztyn will come in early December when a deal with the brewer Tyskie will see Ol49-69 painted red and embark on a pre-Christmas tour of major Polish cities to promote the beer, before the loco is returned to its original black in time to resume scheduled services in the New Year.
While it remains to be seen where Pt47-65 will be overhauled and Wolsztyn’s third working loco (Ol49-59) remains under repair at a workshop in Wagrowiec north of Poznań, one short term option being considered would be for the depot at Wolsztyn to borrow one of the two working locos from the museum depot at Chabowka, south of Krakow.
Chabowka depot undertook the previous and extremely lengthy overhaul of Pt47-65 and its two locos – a Ty2 2-10-0 Kriegslok and a Tkt48 2-8-2T tank engine – see little regular use from the depot and would both be suitable for operating the two-coach Leszno and Poznań services from Wolsztyn.
Under the terms of the steam operating agreement, local rail operator Koleje Wielkopolskie (KW) is required to run 50,000kms of steam services a year, with the current pattern of services to Leszno and Wolsztyn totalling around 1,300kms a week, which was reduced for nine weeks during the summer when there was just one weekly return to Poznań.
One enforced change to the current pattern of steam workings will come in March 2022, when the 15km (9.4 mile) section of the Poznan route between Wolsztyn and Rakoniewice is closed until the end of the year for re-laying the track and re-building the two intermediate stations.
This will be the final section of the 80km (50-mile) route to Poznan to be upgraded, and is likely to see more steam services operating on the Zbaszynek-Leszno route during most of 2022, probably also including weekends.
For regular updates on activity at Wolsztyn depot, take a look at www.parowozy.com.pl and for details of the renowned footplate courses run by the Wolsztyn Experience, go to www.thewolsztynexperience.org