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Having free time from school, I'd been contemplating a trip. So when fellow teacher Paul Kochmanski proposed visiting a friend in Lithuania, I decided that tagging along might be interesting. I planned a route that, while not the most direct, would include some interesting lines. Here is the summary:
Wednesday, July 12, 2000
Train #52100 "Wieniawski"-0836 Bydgoszcz Lesna-Torun Glowny (47 km): The first leg of the trip uses this fast train, which is headed for Warsaw. We ride just to the second station stop. I don't have any notes on the consist, but it was a standard set of compartment coaches pulled by an EU07 electric.
Train #30037-0933 Torun Glowny-Olsztyn Glowny (163 km): The Torun station departures poster shows this train to be leaving from platform 3, but we walk over and find no train. I poke around a bit and find the train hidden in a small bay platform (3a?) behind a kiosk. We run and jump on just before it leaves. The consist is made up of four of the PKP's newer type of bi-level coach, non-articulated cars that feature a blue-and-yellow paint scheme, and is pulled by an EU07 electric. I quite like these cars as the ride is quiet, but the windows don't open far, and there is not much overhead space for luggage on the top deck.
The ride to Olsztyn alternates between sun and rain. The track speed is quite good, but the train loses time along the way, arriving about 15 minutes late in Olsztyn.
Train #51933-1209 Olsztyn Glowny-Elk (167 km): According to the PKP timetable, this train should use the set of equipment we came in from Torun, but a PKP employee on the platform indicates otherwise. So, we make our way to the next platform, where we find standing places in the full train consisting of compartment coaches. Actually, Paul and I do have one folding jump seat which we take turns using.
Just a few years ago you could travel from Olsztyn to Elk via three different lines. This choice has been cut to one now, the northernmost line via Korsze. Branches formerly radiated from Korsze station, but now it is just a stop on a through route. Arrival in Elk is a few minutes late.
Train #1815-1600 Elk Waskotorowy-Kalinowo (Turowo) (31 km): The last train of the day is chosen to provide an opportunity to ride the once-daily train to Turowo shown in the timetable. The timetable again proves its worth as a piece of "fiction" when we find there is no train to Turowo, only to Kalinowo (about 7 km short). (Apparently even last year the train was only running to Kalinowo!)
We buy our tickets and quickly board the train, which consists of a single diesel railcar. The railcar sets off with a full passenger load, including a few standees. The mix seems to be 25% normal riders and 75% tourists. The line is mildly interesting, but the very fact that this service still runs makes it worth riding. No passengers board along the way, although the non-tourists are deposited at various stops and farm crossings as the journey progresses.
Arriving in Kalinowo, Paul and I set off in the rain to the village center to find the PKS bus stop. We aren't there yet when we see the bus pulling away, but Paul manages to flag it down. We buy tickets to Augustow and sit down for the approximately 30 minute ride. We spend the night in Augustow and visit a friend of Paul's who runs a summer English camp there.
Thursday, July 13, 2000
Train #77101-1142 Augustow-Sestokai (Lithuania) (95 km): After spending the morning walking around Augustow, which is a nice town on a beautiful lake, we make our way to the station, quite distant from the town center. It's a pretty quiet place, with a few apparently-chartered Wars sleeping cars sitting on sidings. I manage to photograph a southbound train before our northbound train arrives.
The train has come from Warsaw and is quite full. Upon arrival in Suwalki, all but two coaches are cut off, and one of the PKP's Soviet-built "Gagarin" ST44 locomotives is tied to the front. This is a great surprise for me as I've never ridden behind one in passenger service before.
We continue from Suwalki to the northeast, heading for the border with Lithuania. The timetable shows just two fast trains over this line each day, so the intermediate stations no longer have service. It's pretty remote country anyway. The Polish border station at Trakiszki looks new. (I found out later that cross border traffic on this line commenced in July 1992, so it probably dates from then.)
Following a passport check, our Polish consist then continues to the actual border, where we stop and wait for a gate across the line to be opened. We cross, two Lithuanian soldiers board, and we're on our way. We continue on standard gauge track to Mackawa, where Lithuanian border checks are carried out, and we pass the Polish-bound counterpart of our train. Our train then continues, this time on dual-gauge track.
We finally arrive at Sestokai, which is the end for standard-gauge track. Across the border stands our next train, headed by a Lithuanian M62-class diesel, the same locomotive as our Polish ST44!
Train #94TJ-1415 Sestokai-Kaunas (94 km): This is the first time I have ridden on broad-gauge track in ex-Soviet equipment. It's immediately apparent that the railway here is different than the European standard: instead of "open" boarding where you just open a door and get on, these cars have American-style "trap" doors where the door must be opened and then a platform folded up. This is done by the car attendant, who also checks tickets as you board. The interior of the cars was quite roomy, with wider aisles and larger compartments than Polish equipment. Everything was clean and modern, and we then noticed that the car had been overhauled by the railway repairing shop in our hometown of Bydgoszcz!!!
The ride was interesting, and I kept thinking how "American"-looking the railway was. The signalling was the first thing that struck me. Signals were sparse in comparison to most European railways, and the signals themselves looked like something off the Nickel Plate Road (long hoods) or the Santa Fe (searchlights). The railways were fasted to the wood cross ties using traditional plates and spikes, rather than concrete ties, screws and clips. Many switches seemed to be hand-thrown, and very few signal towers were visible. Add to this rolling stock with knuckle couplers and no buffers, and I felt very much at home! There seemed to be very little traffic. I think we passed one local train and perhaps one freight.
As we neared Kaunas, we passed over a river on a long bridge. Both ends of the bridge were guarded by soldiers (or military-looking railway police) with rifles with bayonets on their shoulders! I ruled out that spot as a photo site right away! Arrival in Kaunas was on time, and we were met by Paul's friend Ovidijus.
We spent the rest of the day with Ovidijus, walking through the town and enjoying dinner with his wife at their apartment.
Friday, July 14, 2000
No train rides this day! Paul and I spent the day walking around Kaunas. The city is very pleasant, and features a long main street that has been turned into a pedestrian mall. The street was lined with many modern shops and restaurants featuring sidewalk dining. This was the only rain-free day of our trip, and we made the most of it.
We visited the military museum and learned more about Lithuania's history, and then visited the cobbled streets of the old town. At this point, Paul and I split up, as he wanted to visit some more museums, but the trains were calling me! I rode a trolley-bus to the station to see what I could find.
For a major city station, there wasn't much going on. The timetable showed a couple pairs of trains a day down the line towards Sestokai (a few only going as far as Marijampole), perhaps 15 pairs of trains to the capital of Vilnius, and a few trains to other destinations. Out on the platform, I found a couple electric multiple units waiting to leave later in the afternoon, but nothing due to move in the next hour or so. After a short time, a single diesel railcar arrived, unloaded passengers, and then pulled into a storage track.
As I wandered, I noticed that there was a diesel depot visible in the nearby freight yard. It looked interesting, so I searched out the road leading there and decided to try my luck. Not knowing any Lithuanian, I wandered in and went right to the depot office. There I pointed at my camera and asked "Photo? Ok?" and received a nod of approval! So, I went right to work. There were several Tem2 class diesels sitting around. These are what I call "Russian Alco's"--almost direct copies of American Alco road-switchers. I quickly photographed everything in sight, said my thank you, and left feeling like I had really accomplished something!
I returned to the city center and met up with Paul, and we went for dinner at a Lithuanian folk restaurant. We then slowly walked back to the hotel down the main street, witnessing a fireworks display to mark the opening of a new food store in the center.
Saturday, July 15, 2000
We wake to the sound of pouring rain. We give up on our idea of rushing to the train station to take a train to Vilnius and instead have a leisurely breakfast before taking a bus to the capital. The bus takes about 90 minutes, the train two hours.
Once in Vilnius, the rain continues. We walk through the old city visiting a few churches, including my first Orthodox church. We visit the cathedral then walk down the main street to visit the KGB museum to learn a bit about history.
Lithuania was an independent country from 1918-1940, and again after 1990, of course. It's interesting to see their take on the communist years. Time and time again you see reference to the "period of the Soviet occupation"--no reference to being a "part of the Soviet Union"! After WWII, there were Lithuanian partisans fighting the Soviets up until near 1960! The KGB museum is located in the basement of the former KGB headquarters building for Lithuania. Many partisans and political prisoners were held here, and some executed. We were given a tour in English by the son of one such prisoner. At one time, the KGB had 1,000,000 agents and soldiers!
Following this, Paul and I split up again in the rain, and I search out the museum of the Lithuanian Railways. It's located on the ground floor of the GL headquarters building. It's not a large display, but there are a few interesting artifacts, and a little counter selling some GL souvenirs. I pick up a map, a pin, and a little photo book.
From there I head to the main station to do some photography. The heavy rain continues, but I do manage to photograph a Moscow-bound train leaving.
Train #???-1740 Vilnius-Kaunas (104 km): We decide to return by train, a four-car electric unit. The interior is very spacious, with seats for three on each side of the aisle. There are very few passengers, and the train doesn't set any speed records on the way to Kaunas. There seems to be considerably more freight traffic on this line segment. Entrance to Kaunas is via a tunnel, also guarded by those soldiers who look like they mean business!
Sunday, July 16, 2000
We meet Ovidijus and his wife for breakfast and good-bye's before heading to the station.
Train #93-1100 Kaunas-Sestokai (94 km): Our return consist mirrors the train we arrived on: an M62 diesel and three coaches. On the way, the car attendant offers snacks for sale. I decide to have some tea, hoping to find some genuine GL china for my collection. Alas, the tea is served in glass, but it's a generic "no-name" cup. Oh, well!
We slowly make our way to Sestokai. We find our PKP connection waiting there, but today it's pulled by a common SU45 diesel.
Train #77114-1403 Sestokai (Lithuania)-Bialystok (Poland) (120 km): The sun peeks out from behind the clouds for most of the trip, so I spend a good deal of the way hanging out the window. The border formalities at Mackawa and Trakiszki are carried out quickly, and we soon arrive in Suwalki. There I pop off the train to get a drink, and Paul is alarmed when the two cars are pulled out of the station right away! I'm not worried, though, as I know they are just being switched onto another set of equipment to make up a longer train to Warsaw.
The rest of the trip to Bialystok was pretty uneventful, and we were deposited in Bialystok's dismal train station in the late afternoon. Paul searches for a bus to continue onward to the Bialawieza national park, and I search for accommodations in Bialystok for the night. I'm successful, and after checking in I spend a few hours walking around the city. There's nothing memorable to see, so I turn in.
Monday, July 17, 2000
Today's plan is to head south from Bialystok, then ride west avoiding Warsaw and eventually ending up in Lodz. The key objective of the trip is Line #604 from Lukow to Skierniewice. Service on this line can be cancelled at any time, so I want to ride it before this happened. Of course, it is pouring with rain again.
Train #88720-0835 Bialystok-Czeremcha (78 km): The first train of the day was a local to Czeremcha, a town near the border with Ukraine. The train is led by an SU45 and consists of a four-car, double-deck articulated set. We set no speed records along the single-track line. The train is scheduled to cover the 78 km in just under three hours, leading to an average speed of 26 km/hr (16 miles/hour)!
Train #88432-1134 Czeremcha-Siedlce (91 km): At Czeremcha, I look for my connecting train but only find a train to Brest in Ukraine. My fears of timetable error are calmed when a PKP employ assures me it will be along shortly. The train shows up and is made up of another double-deck articulated set led by an SM42. We're on double-track all the way to Siedlce, and it seems pretty well maintained, so we make good time. At Siedlce I have some good dumplings in the station buffet while waiting for my next train, contemplating the rain, and watching the departure of a Brest-bound train made up of Ukrainian Railways equipment. The coaches are externally identical (except for paint) to the Lithuanian cars, but the interiors have no compartments and only wood benches for seating.
Train #8839-1420 Siedlce-Lukow (28 km): To reach line #604, I take a local train running on the Warsaw-Brest main line. The train consists of two EN57 electric units, and the trip is unmemorable. At Lukow, there is a full-scale downpour, so I wait out most of it in the station buffet drinking tea and watching cartoons on the buffet television. I do venture out to record the passing of the all-sleeping-car "Vltava", carrying sleepers from Russia to various European countries.
Train #80222-1606 Lukow-Skierniewice (160 km): The object of my long trip slides into the station. The train is made up of one EN57 electric unit. The special bonus today is that this is one of the EN57's with hard plastic bench seats. It's going to be a long ride.
The train sets off at a leisurely pace which it maintains throughout the entire trip. There's a fair amount of passenger business, which surprises me. This line was cut from five to two pairs of trains with the May timetable change, and the remaining two are marked "runs until announced". There are no major on-line towns, but the line is double-track and in quite good condition. I suspect that there may be a good deal of freight traffic using the line, but we didn't pass any freights during the entire trip. We pull into Skierniewice on time.
I dash to the ticket office to upgrade my ticket so I can take a fast train to Lodz. The old Skierniewice station is closed off and appears to be under renovation, and the ticket office is housed in a nearby building. There is no way to get there undercover, so a dash through the rain is called for, including dodging numerous deep puddles on the platform.
Train #22113-1957 Skierniewice-Lodz Fabryczna (67 km): My last ride of the day is on a Warsaw to Lodz service, and I'm impressed. The compartment coaches on the train have been recently rebuilt and are clean and comfortable. The toilets even feature hand towels, toilet paper, and soap. To find all three in stock at any one time is incredible on the PKP! A glance at the timetable reveals that Warsaw-Lodz services run on a clock-face schedule, departing at the same time each hour, every hour, from early morning until late evening. Wonderful! Arrival in Lodz comes all too soon, and I'm deposited out into the rainy night to find my way to a youth hostel.
Tuesday, July 18, 2000
Train #15102-0954 Lodz Kaliska-Bydgoszcz Lesna (225 km): A city tram takes me from the hostel to Lodz's other station, Kaliska, for my final ride of the trip. The new, modern Lodz Kaliska only opened five years ago, but it's a mess. The exterior floor tiles are cracked and coming up, tiles are falling off the exterior walls, which have had to have protective netting covered, and concrete stairs are crumbling. A massive rebuilding project appears to be underway.
My train is a standard fast train consist of compartment coaches and a Wars buffet car. We are delayed on the first leg of the trip, as we have to wait for a late southbound train to pass on the single track. After that, we reach Bydgoszcz almost on time, and I step out of the train to find it's not raining!
In the end, I rode on 14 different trains covering a total distance of 1,497 km. Despite the rain, it was an interesting trip, and I hope to get back to Lithuania again sometime to do some further exploring.
||The view from the narrow-gauge railcar between Elk and Kalinowo.|
||The conductor of train #1815 ponders the track ahead, and perhaps the line's future, as the railcar approaches Kalinowo.|
||Kalinowo is the end of the narrow-gauge line from Elk. The track beyond, to Turowo, is out of service.|
||The signboard on the side of the car helps you find the right train. (Of course, since there's only one train, it's pretty easy!)|
||The Kalinowo "station" consists of a platform and concrete shelter.|
||Augustow is a resort town on the water, and at the entrance to the Augustow Canal.|
||Heading for Lithuania, a PKP ST44 leads two coaches.|
||With the train safely on Lithuanian territory, the border gate is closed across the track.|
||End of the standard gauge: the train from Poland (left) has reached its limit, and it's time to transfer to a Lithuanian Railways train.|
||Downtown Kaunas: clean, modern and upscale.|
||Lithuania? - or US? An outside-braced boxcar sits on a siding in Kaunas.|
||An AR2 class diesel railcar heads for a storage siding in Kaunas.|
||Electric units such as these are used on Kaunas-Vilnius local trains.|
||Lithuanian Tem2-class diesels sit outside the Kaunas roundhouse.|
||A Schenectady product? Perhaps indirectly. This diesel, though, was built in the USSR.|
||A 2M62 class diesel set waits in the Kaunas yard. These units are permanently coupled together.|
||There's not much work today for these units waiting on the ready track.|
||A trio of Tem2's wait on the roundhouse tracks in Kaunas.|
||Tem2-2760 is ready for service in Kaunas.|
||Except for the bright colors, this scene could be somewhere in the US 30 years ago!|
||Tem2-1870 sits parked, waiting for a call to action in Kaunas.|
||Diesel multiple units such as these are used for local trains on non-electrified track in Lithuania.|
||The old town in Kaunas features many shops, restaurants and cafes.|
||The old town hall in Kaunas is now used for weddings.|
||A 2M62 class diesel set leads a train out of Vilnius stations. All car attendants stand at attention in the vestibule holding a flag out until the train is out of the station.|
||The interiors of the Orthodox churches, such as this one in Vilnius, are beautiful and filled with incense.|
||The old city in Vinius.|
||This is a cell at the KGB Museum in Vilnius. In the late 40's and 50's, you might find 20 people in this cell.|
||From this observation post, the KGB guards could watch anyone trying to communicate with prisoners.|
||In the basement of the museum is the execution room--the glass panel on the wall covers bullet marks in the wall.|
||At the Lithuanian Railways' museum, there are a number of old artifacts on display.|
||The museum has nice presentations of photos and artifacts, but there is no rolling stock.|
||A TEP60-class diesel of the Lithuanian Railways waits in the Vinius station.|
||Another TEP60, this one of the Russian Railways, prepares to depart Vilnius with the overnight train to Moscow.|
||Is this Lithuania, or Kansas? Our Polish-bound train rounds a curve near Mariajampole.|
||At Sestokai, we transfer back to a PKP train to travel to Suwalki and Bialystok.|
||Our southbound train to Czeremcha passes a northbound counterpart at Lewickie.|
||One passenger is let off at Zimnochy.|
||At Siedlce, train #8839 prepares to leave for Lukow and Brest.|
||The Vltava, an all sleeping car train, approaches Lukow.|
||A Moscow-Kosice (Slovakia) sleeping car carries a name board for the old "East-West Express".|
||Train #80222 prepares to leave Lukow for Skierniewice. Ahead: 160 km on a hard plastic seat!|
Please visit my Polish Train Page for more photographs of Polish railways.
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