How to Travel By Train / Rail Throughout Poland?
In our previous article we covered driving in Poland, but there are also other ways to move around the country. In this article we will focus on train travel along with its various aspects. Read on to find out more.
Train travel (podróż pociągiem) in Poland has a very long tradition, with the first railroads going as far back as the former half of the 19th century. The first line within the territory of Congress Poland, the predecessor of the country which gained independence following World War I, was the Warsaw-Vienna Line (Kolej Warszawsko-Wiedeńska), opened in 1848. Since those times the rail network continued to develop, and covered most of the current territory of Poland, with the total length of the railways reaching just over 15,000 miles.
In general, Poles love train travel, but over the last two decades they have also been given ample chance to hate it, too. Why, you would ask. Well, there are at least several reasons, with the most important one being the inability to manage the system effectively by the state (sole owner) and the board of the major carrier (PKP – Polskie Koleje Państwowe – Polish State Railways). The PKP has suffered continuous underinvestment, with antiquated rail tracks, control systems and rolling stock, leading to serious issues in terms of travel duration (it currently takes longer to cover the same distance than was the case 50 years ago) or safety (serious head-on train collision of last year, killing 16). People also hate the PKP for its excessive charges for the standard offered (length of journey, amenities on board, etc.).
On the plus side it has to be added that Poland has recently received significant funding from the European Union to modernize its rail network and purchase new rolling stock. Works are currently underway to adapt the major transit routes to allow train speeds of over 125 miles per hour. However, this may take up to a decade to bring all of them to the required standard, and trains will have to slow down along specific stretches to ensure that works can be safely continued. With this information in mind, however, let’s consider the various available options for train travel in Poland. First and foremost, it is good to know that Warsaw offers rail connections to most, if not all, major cities in the country, as well as several international connections, including Prague, Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam, Moscow, and others. Before you hop on board a train check the online schedule (works very well) to make sure you find the connection of your choice. Tickets (bilety) are available online, from train stations and ticket machines (biletomaty) to be found within and close to the stations in larger cities. You can pay cash (gotówką) or with your credit card (kartą kredytową), so no worries there. Most of the passenger services (pociągi pasażerskie) will offer either one or two classes of travel (klasy podróży), with 2nd class cars (wagony klasy drugiej) available only on ordinary, commuter lines (usually electric multiple units), or 1st and 2nd class cars (wagony klasy pierwszej i drugiej) available on fast and express intercity trains (usually compartment or open cars). Obviously 1st class travel will be more comfortable, but also more expensive; however, do not expect too much in return, although you can count on AC sockets and free Internet. No free refreshments, though. You can get your tea (herbata), coffee (kawa) or simple meals (posiłki) from the dining car on longer routes, and the prices will not make your heart beat faster.
During the winter season (okres zimowy), especially during the Christmas holidays and the winter break you can expect some delays (opóźnienia) – these may range from 20 to 30 minutes, or be as schedule-shattering as 15 or 20 hours. Should the latter be the case, you are entitled to claim a refund (domagać się zwrotu), but make sure that the train conductor (konduktor) endorses the reverse of your ticket before you alight from the train. It is not unusual to experience some delay troubles over the summer vacation season (okres wakacyjny) too, mostly as a result of the rickety tracks coming apart in the hot sun.
Overall, train travel in Poland may be a bit of a challenge, especially when you consider the potential delays and the standard offered by the carrier, but if you wish to move quickly between the major cities, such as Warsaw, Krakow, Poznan or Katowice (Gdansk temporarily excluded from the list because of the ongoing modernization of the line), there is no better option than to get on whatever train, not caring for the baggage or the ticket, as the famous Polish singer, Maryla Rodowicz, would put it... (wsiąść do pociągu byle jakiego, nie dbać o bagaż, nie dbać o bilet...)