FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Steam in Żnin

Posted in Poland, Żnin by folkestonejack on April 23, 2016

Our photo charter is taking place on one of the last operational 600mm narrow gauge lines in Poland, the Żnińska Kolej Powiatowa. The line today covers some 12 km running from Żnin to Gąsawa.

Px38 805 on the line between Wenecja and Gąsawa

Px38 805 on the line between Wenecja and Gąsawa

The impetus for the narrow gauge railway came from the large landowners in the area who could see the benefit of similar systems (such as the 600mm line established at Mecklenburg in 1888) for the transportation of agricultural produce to the factories. A report was drawn up and submitted to a vote at the district council meeting on 21st March 1893, gaining approval by a margin of 14 votes (27 votes for and 13 against).

The line was built with impressive speed and the first sections opened on 1st July 1894, running from Żnin to Rogowa (19.4km) with a branch from Biskupin to Szelejewo via Gąsawa (8.2km). Over the next thirty four years extensions brought the system up to its peak extent of 78km, adding connections to Ośno (1895), Ostrowce (1908), Obiecanowo (1911), Wola (1912), Grochowiska Szlacheckie (1912) and Żużoły (1928).

In an equally short time the necessary infrastructure was developed, including workshops, stations and a foundry. A round house for the growing fleet of locomotives was erected in 1912. In the first half of the twentieth century the railway had twelve locomotives in use and a considerable quantity of wagons and carriages.

At first the focus of the railway was the transportation of sugar beet to the sugar factory in Żnin, but the line saw an increasing number of passengers too. In 1911 the railway employed 68 staff and carried 82,105 passengers and 561,119 tons of cargo across the network. However, the global depression saw these numbers dramatically reduced to 45,000 tons of freight and 24,000 passengers by 1935.

The railway station, depot and chimney of the sugar factory in Żnin

The railway station, depot and chimney of the sugar factory in Żnin

A post-war boom saw a healthy recovery in traffic levels with an annual average of 800,000 tons of freight and around 40,000 passengers between 1945 and 1950. In 1949 the narrow gauge railway was absorbed into the Polish State Railway network (PKP) but the future was not as rosy as the figures might have suggested.

The expanding road network and switch to buses saw passenger levels drop on the railway, leading to a decision to suspend passenger services in 1962. Freight levels also reduced as farms acquired their own lorries and as industrial sites on the network wound down (one of the coal mines was exhausted around this time).

The railways fell into a spiral of decline, exacerbated by a reduction in the maintenance of the locomotives and the infrastructure. Most of the network was closed in stages between 1972 and 1995. However, the story for the line between Żnin and Gąsawa was rather different. A narrow gauge railway museum was established at Wenecja in 1972 and four years later PKP introduced tourist services on this stretch of line. Ownership of the line passed to the local district in 2002 and looks to be positively healthy today.

Another view of the depot at Żnin

Another view of the depot at Żnin

The Sugar Factory in Żnin was sold in 2015 and the real estate developer Grupa Arche plans to renovate the building sympathetically and convert it into a 450 room hotel and leisure complex at a cost of 100 million złoty. The impressive plans include a proposal for a Museum of the Old Sugar Factory as well as a cinema, swimming pool/tropical island, viewing platform and lakeside sports facilities.

The re-development of the site under the new owners could also see the railway extended on the lines of the former sugar beet railway and possibly re-connected to the sugar factory itself for shuttle services of tourist trains. A short film (in German) about the developments can be seen at https://youtu.be/puo8iJ2mrbM

Sources and further information

Steve Thompson’s Industrial Narrow Gauge Railway website includes some fascinating images of the railway in the sugar factory in the mid 1990s. More photographs of the line can be seen on the Lyd2 and International steam websites along with additional information on the history of the line and maps of the network. The museum book ‘Żnińska Kolej Powiatowa’ by Marcin Czaja (2008) was an invaluable source of historic detail.

The plans for the redevelopment of the Sugar Factory (Cukrownia Żnin) have been reported in Gazeta Pomorska (Za 3 lata chcą otworzyć centrum konferencyjno-wypoczynkowe “Cukrownia Żnin” – 20th November 2015), Naszemiasto Żnin (Hotel, muzeum, spa. Zobacz jak będzie wyglądała żnińska cukrownia – 19th November 2015) and on the Gmina Żnin website (W Żninie powstanie centrum konferencyjno-wypoczynkowe Cukrownia Żnin – 19th November 2015). Although the articles are only available in Polish they include images of the plans for the site which show the ambitious vision of the developers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: