My naive love affair with Polish trains blossomed when I was an exchange student in Szczecin back in the day. I totally fell for a transport system that appeared to me to be full of romantic wonder and unlimited pleasures. The vis-a-vis carriages in which you sat with your fellow passengers face to face, chatting endlessly, establishing true connections albeit for fleeting moments. The train tracks that carried you through the whole country conveniently to every nook and cranny and for a very low price indeed. The brusque and unfriendly ticket seller ladies made me smile with the knowledge I was dealing with a true remnant of the yester-year commie past. The no-nonsense train conductors with their starched shirts, leather sachets and floppy mustaches added to the real mccoy charm. I loved the hard to reach luggage racks that stored even the most cumbersome backpacks (feeling my upper arm satisfaction every time I lugged up a hefty 20kg pack with ease). The sleepers that provided you with the joy of being refreshed after catching an all nighter. And I even loved the smelly toilets seldom having enough toilet paper to accommodate the traveling. To me these toilets seemed so quaint and rustic in their metallic simplicity.
Yes, I was in love. Or so I thought. Like a first boyfriend, this love was nothing but mindless romanticism, a minimum demand met when not really knowing what one wants out of a train, or a boyfriend. I was a naive fool. Today I think, a bloody idiot.
After doing some growing up and living here as a full-fledged local, I have decided to be mature and thus have severed all my ties with Polish Rail. I now despise the institution. I actually hate everything about it. It drives me bonkers with madness. It refuses to undergo any form of modernisation. There are fifteen million subsidiaries instead of the one company dealing with the whole rail system. There is a separate company for the train carriages, a separate company for the railway tracks, a separate company for the stations, a separate company for the cargo, a separate company for the catering on board, and a separate company for the annoyingly unfriendly staff who refuse to bend to commuter demands. You cannot buy train tickets online if you have connecting trains, because chances are that the connection is provided for by a different company and not available in the online system that is owned by the first train connection company . With so many subsidiaries and really only the one product on offer (and no real privatisation), one does not have to be an economist to know that the system simply does not work.
You cannot pay to take your bike with you on the train, stick it in cargo and sit comfortably in a reserved seat with the rest of the passengers. Oh no. You have to sit with your bike on a ten hour journey praying that there are no other idiots traveling with you and their bikes, because there will be a large possibility that you will not have a seat for the entire trip. Just like in the 50s, you sit with your bike like you once sat with your cow. The train tracks have not undergone any modifications or restorations, so the average trip is that of a speed of a snail. To catch a train from Krakow to Szczecin (some 700km), you’re looking at a twelve hour train ride! The trains are constantly late, especially in winter, when the whole system pretty much shuts down because it cannot handle the cold and the snow. Last year there were delays of up to five hours for inter city train connections. The transport minister was thrown out for his incompetence in the matter, only to be restored days later because no other fool was able to take on the job. The average age of a PKP employee is about 53. Non profitable lines are becoming extinct, whilst the popular and mostly frequented ones are so expensive that it is becoming cheaper to fly domestically. And if you happen to be blind, in a wheelchair, with a pram or with an amputated leg, well suck a massive fart – you are not going anywhere.
Deutsche Bahn, come and save us. Buy it all!