Katowice

Silesia's Broad-Gauge Railway

07 Nov 2018
If you’ve ever taken a train across an EU border into the former Soviet Union, then you’ve experienced the difference between standard-gauge and broad-gauge railway lines. Take a train from Poland into Ukraine, for instance, and you’ll find your compartment being hoisted up onto a crane somewhere near the border while grim-faced, flannel-shirted, moustachioed railway maintenance workers with un-ashed cigarettes dangling from their lips swap out the wheels beneath every carriage. A surreal process that generally takes about three hours, you’ll remember it for a long time. Stalin embraced the broad-gauge rail system believing it would better protect his territories from invasion by standard-gauge trundling Western Europe. While former Soviet countries like Lithuania and Latvia have received money from the EU to standardise their rails with the rest of the European Union’s, countries like Belarus and Ukraine still ride on broad-gauge lines, easing transport east to Russia, but making travel to the west extremely difficult. The result of this incompatibility is a convenient rail transport barrier along the easternmost boundary of the EU and the Schengen Zone.

Which brings us to this rather alarm-raising discovery: a 400 km broad-gauge railway line running from Silesia to Ukraine and, thereby, Russia and the dreaded East. Called Linia Hutnicza Szerokotorowa (the Broad-Gauge Metallurgy Line, or just LHS for short), not only is this the westernmost broad-gauge line in Europe, it’s also suspiciously still in service.

The LHS had its beginnings in the 1970s when the then-new Katowice steel mill required great quantities of iron ore to operate. The main source of iron ore was Kryvyi Rih in the USSR (now Ukraine), so to ease the transport of materials the Poles and Soviets created this rail line running 400 km from Hrubieszów (just east of the Polish-Ukrainian border) to Sławków (25km east of Katowice), opening it in 1979. Used to import Soviet iron ore and export coal and sulphur from Silesia to the USSR, the traffic of the line has diminished since the 1989 fall of communism, but continues to operate. Purportedly used strictly for freight, our guess is the cargo of at least one of those cars must consist of trembling 14 to 20-year old Ukrainian girls, while another makes room for cigar-smoking Moscow mafiosos. As the easiest way to move rail freight in and out of the EU, the smuggling possibilities are literally limitless. Can’t get an EU visa? Take a ride on the LHS. Seeking political asylum, need to disappear, don’t have papers? Hop the LHS! Never has there been a better time to peddle your narcotics and firearms - come to the new borderless Europe today!

And who needs Uncle Sam's meddling military bases and missile defence system when we can mobilise our troops across the border all the way from Katowice through the Ukraine, striking like a swift knife straight into the ribs of Russia? Of course history would suggest something of the opposite being more likely, but we'll beat them to the punch. We've got some EU muscle to flex. Lwów (L'viv), you were once ours and you could be ours once again...

Okay, while LHS may not be at the centre of Europe's next conflict and there's no evidence of smuggling operations (our imaginations ran away with us there, apologies), LHS has claimed to be trying new schemes to increase profitability in the last few years. One of their primary stated advantages over their standard-gauge competitors is their ability to ship goods across the Polish-Ukrainian border without inspection or delay. They also boast of their unique ability to transport 'unusual,' 'extra heavy,' 'over-sized' or even 'dangerous' goods. Sounds perfect for using Silesian scrapyards as a dumping site for old Soviet warheads. Or maybe you'll just find Tuwim's ' Lokomotywa' going back and forth all day long. We'll stop ourselves there, but if you want more information, head to lhs.com.pl.
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