Polish rail travel has come a long way since 2005 – the first time I travelled by train in Poland.
I’d like to say that those were the days, but Polish rail travel back then was something of a chore rather than a pleasure.
In this post, I write about how PKP Intercity has developed since 2005, from the development of the low-cost express train fleet (TLK) to the modernisation of the Polish rail network with the aid of EU funding.
I also share some of my memories travelling on Polish trains, and pictures from the modern Express Intercity Premium (EIP) category of trains.
POLISH RAIL TRAVEL AS I REMEMBER IT BETWEEN 2005 AND 2007
The first time I travelled by train in Poland was in the summer of 2005 from Gliwice to Wrocław.
My friend Paweł drove me from his quaint southern Poland village of Mszana Dolna to the Silesian city of Gliwice. From there, I caught a train to Wrocław with the aim of staying with some people I’d met when Paweł and I travelled by bus from Nottingham to Kraków.
Coincidentally, it was in 2005 that PKP Intercity (a company of PKP Group responsible for long-distance passenger transport) witnessed some of its most noticeable developments as a company. First of all, PKP Intercity signed a credit contract with the European Investment Bank to the tune of EUR 50 million to finance the purchase of modern rolling stock.
Perhaps the most significant sign of progress for PKP Intercity back in 2005 was the development of the Twoje Linie Kolejowe (TLK) brand.
TLK trains are still in operation. As I remember them, TLK trains were not much slower than the Intercity (IC) trains, just they were less comfortable, looked dirtier and were cheaper. The chance of coming across “unsavoury” characters, football hooligans and alcoholics was much higher on TLK trains.
I can safely say that the situation is much different now, and any hint of anti-social behaviour tends to be nipped in the bud quite swiftly by rail officials.
So, yes, I tended to travel on TLK trains. My most frequent journey was from Dębica to Kraków. On this particular route, things haven’t changed much. Even the journey times and prices are still very similar to what they were back in 2005:
It occasionally happened that I had to stand in the aisle in TLK trains because they were so overcrowded. This was often the case before public holidays. The situation on TLK trains may still be quite similar now, but travelling first class and booking a seat reservation can diminish the possibility of standing up in a second class carriage. Travelling first class never appealed to me all those years ago as standing for a few hours didn’t bother me that much.
TLK trains provide compartment-carriages with eight seats. It can make for quite an intimate atmosphere when you’re in a tight compartment with other people. I never used to mind this as I’d sometimes strike up a conversation with other passengers.
POLISH RAIL TRAVEL ON A ROLE
From roughly 2009 onwards, one could say that Polish rail travel began to really bear the fruit of increased EU funding. Moreover, a “customer first” approach began to take over PKP Intercity’s business model.
Here’s a summary of just a few of the major improvements Polish rail travel has seen since 2009:
- 2009 – the first ticket machines appeared at Dworzec Centralny, in Warsaw
- 2012 – passengers can present tickets to ticket inspectors on any mobile device
- 2014 – the first Express Intercity Premium (EIP) Pendolino train set off from Kraków at 6.05am. Final destination – Warsaw
- 2016 – PKP Intercity introduced new international connections, including services to Grodno in Belarus
- 2018 – In April, PKP Intercity signed an agreement agreement with the Centre for EU Transport Projects (CEUTP) in support of a new project entitled “Railway for good connections – modernisation of carriages and engines for PKP Intercity”. PLN 402 million was set aside for the project
- 2018 – An agreement was signed between PKP Intercity and French Rail transport company, Alstom, to install wireless Internet on EIP trains. The first train equipped with wireless Internet was launched in December
One more improvement to add is the impressive clarity of the PKP intercity online ticket sales system, as I discuss here.
THE EXPRESS INTERCITY PREMIUM (EIP) PENDOLINO REVOLUTION
It was in 2011 that Intercity signed a contract with the French multinational company Alstom worth EUR 665 million for the delivery of 20 Pendolino trains.
Manufactured by Alstom, and first launched in Italy in 1976, Pendolino is a high-speed tilting train. On conventional tracks, Pendolino can reach speeds of up to 250km/h, thus the need for specially laid tracks is eliminated.
In Poland, Pendolino trains typically run at 160 km/h. This is certainly true for the Warsaw-Gdynia route as I’ve noticed the speedometer clocking 157-159 km/h plenty of times on my way from Warsaw to Gdańsk.
Now then, I’ve just come across an article which cheered me up no end. PKP ran a test train at 200 km/h on the Warsaw-Gdańsk railway line overnight from 11 to 12 January. I won’t go into the ins and outs of the safety systems involved. I will just say that anything less than the three hour journey currently in place between Warsaw and Gdańsk will be terrific for me. Not that three hours is a disgrace, of course.
On EIP Pendolino trains, all passengers are entitled to a free cup of tea, coffee or bottle of water. There’s also a dedicated Quiet Zone covering the whole of carriage number seven (second class) on each EIP train. I haven’t reserved tickets in the Quiet Zone yet, but I’m sure that I will in the future as I like my peace and quiet.
A PEEK INSIDE A PENDOLINO TRAIN
As the following pictures show, Polish rail travel is now typified by cleanliness, modernity, comfort and convenience:
In 2006, Polish rail travel was typified by eyesores like this:
Now the same stop looks like this:
Need I say any more?