Steam Trains

Communism may have been a naughty thing, but it is also responsible for preserving many steam-hauled train services in Poland, both on narrow and on standard gauge tracks. Western Poland, formerly Eastern Prussia in the German Empire, has benefited from the huge investment in rail infrastructure.

Most of the regular steam-hauled services that still existed in Poland in 1990 have by now been closed or reduced to seasonal tourist services. The only proper steam depot servicing standard gauge tracks is to be found in the town of Wolsztyn, 75km southeast of Poznań. Partly thanks to the attempts of a dedicated group of English steam buffs, the services have been able to continue, and funds are available to upkeep the engines.

A dozen working steam locomotives are stationed in the depot. The trains are used to pull regular daily passenger and freight services over about 160km of tracks from Wolsztyn to Poznań, Leszno and Zbąszynek. The steam trains play an essential role in the area, transporting over 4,000 passengers per day, and about 2,000 tons of freight per week. As the engines age, it seems that one day these trains too will be scrapped and replaced by diesel.

For a morning of steam-packed fun, get up early and get to Poznań Główny (central) station in time for the departure of the 08:55 train to Wolsztyn from platform 4A. The train puffs away through pretty Polish landscapes towards Wolsztyn, where it arrives at 10:48. If you want to return by steam, you can hop on the 13:30 train back to Poznan, arriving at 15:26 on platform 4A. You can wander around Wolsztyn, visit the open air museum.
Note that the train carriages are not that quaint or comfy. You can also just plan to be at Poznań station when one of the trains departs or arrives, which is impressive and noisy enough.

A steam trip can also be combined with a nice walk in the Wielkopolska National Park. In that case, take the 08:55 train from Poznań and get off at 09:34 in Stęszew, the sixth stop. From here walk to the road crossing, turn left and follow the road straight ahead until you enter the park near Lake Witobelskie. You can walk all the way through the wooded and hilly national park following the blue trail to Mosina where you can catch a train back to Poznań, or alternatively you can turn left near the village of Łódź and walk to the Trzebaw Rosnówko station, where the steamtrain to Poznań departs at 14:48.

For true steam buffs, there’s much more fun to be had. Serious enthusiasts can call ahead to book a seat next to the driver - which means you get to see all the coal-shovelling and lever-pulling action. Tickets cost 150zł via the depot in Wolsztyn (ul. Fabryczna 1, reservations tel. 68 419 17 93). This is very popular though, and you may need to book months in advance.

The good news is that terminal steam addicts can take part in steam train driving lessons. The English Wolsztyn Experience organisation offers one-week courses that include training and a guaranteed number of rides, where you’ll be the one driving the train up to rattling speeds of 100km/hr. These courses, unique in the world, contribute to the maintenance of the steam trains and help keeping the steam service on the tracks.

If steam doesn’t turn you on, they also organise tram driving courses in Poznań. If you want to stay the night in Wolsztyn, they have set up a simple hostel right next to the train depot (tel. 68 419 17 81; 9 rooms for 1-4 people, 35zł/person) but you’ll have to book far in advance.

For more information on the courses, contact Wolsztyn Experience's Howard Jones at tel./fax +44 1628 524876. There's also more information online at www.bucksrailcentre.org.uk, also see the Polish steam-lovers website www.parowozy.com.pl (Polish and German only) and www.parowozowniawolsztyn.pl (Polish only).

Steam parade
On Saturday, May 1, train enthusiasts from across the world descend on Wolsztyn to watch the Steam Parade, with functioning steam trains from Poland, Czech Republic, Germany and Hungary. For more information, call tel. 68 419 17 81.

Steam train timetable
The following daily services on the Poznań- Wolsztyn line are steam-hauled. Apart from these, there are several daily diesel services on the line.
From Poznań to Wolsztyn:
08:55 - 10:48
17:22 - 19:20
From Wolsztyn to Poznan:
05:11 - 07:05
13:30 - 15:26 

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