Poland’s First Iron Horse
Ever wonder about transportation before the auto — about how people got around? Well, besides the bicycle and the horse, there was the railroad and it has an interesting history, especially in Poland.
The first railroad in the world was the Stockton-Darlington built in England in 1825 by George Stephenson. Freight cars were moved by steam engines and passenger cars were drawn by horse teams until 1833. In 1830 the first railroad to use exclusively steam engines started operating in England, France and in the United States. Germany had its first railroad in 1835.
Rail transport powered by steam was introduced in Poland, then under Russian occupation, in 1836. The line, only several thousand feet long, ran near the Vistula River outside of Warsaw. But, the idea of building a railroad primarily to carry freight and joining distant parts of the country, originated much earlier. Henryk Count Lubienski, a bank vice president, took the initiative in 1834 by commissioning Stanislaw Wysocki and Teodor Urbanski, two leading Polish engineers, to draw up a blueprint and cost estimates for a railroad line from Warsaw to the Prussian frontier at Silesia. The line was to run through an area where heavy industry was concentrated and link up with the Austrian railroad line to Vienna.
The two engineers submitted a detailed report in early 1835 laying out a longer route that would not require any large bridges and would cut down on physical constraints. Besides, the route linked all the large town along the way.
Since no decision was made on whether to use steam traction or horses, Wysocki was sent abroad in 1837 and brought back various models of tracks suitable for steam and horse traction. In 1838 the bank placed Wysocki in charge of the preliminary work. The Land and Water Transportation Office of Poland placed a number of engineers at the disposal of the bank. They began to stake out a line.
Henryk Lubienski and financier Piotr Steinkeller, a department store owner, set up a joint stock company called the Warsaw-Vienna Railroad Company, which was to finance the construction of the railroad. In January 1839, Tsar Nicholas I approved the plan and the bank contract with the company. The line had already been staked out and work began. Lubienski and Steinkeller were in London at the time, negotiating with English banks. They bought tracks for the railroad and shipped them to Poland.
In May 1839, Wysocki went to London taking the plans and materials to show them to Robert Stephenson, George’s son who, like his father, was a noted railroad builder. Wysocki also visited the railroads of Belgium, Leipzig and Vienna to help him in the construction of the railroad in Poland. Not finding Stephenson in London, Wysocki showed his plans to George Parker Bidder, Stephenson’s partner and friend and one of the most prominent British engineers. Bidder convinced Wysocki of the superiority of steam over horse traction.
In the early days of January 1840, Stanislaw Wysocki was named chief construction Engineer of the Warsaw-Vienna railroad. Work began in April 1840. It was then the longest railroad under construction in Europe. The work was done by Polish building contractors. The money ran out in 1841 when three-fourths of the road was completed and when a substantial number of the larger and smaller bridges were built. Work was resumed in 1844.
The first section of the Warsaw-Vienna railroad, running from Warsaw to Grodzisk=, was opened on June 14, 1845. The first train left Warsaw about 4 p.m. The flower-decked steam locomotive was driven by locomotive engineer Leon Miaskowski; it hauled 14 cars with 200 invited guests on board, who included the highest dignitaries of the country. The 36-mile distance was covered in 24 minutes, at an average speed of 47 miles per hour. The second train, composed of 24 passenger carriages and carrying 600 invited guests, left Warsaw at 5 p.m. Both trains returned that evening. Regular passenger and freight service began the following day.
Other sections were completed in 1846, 1847 and 1848 extending the rail line to the Vienna border. Finally the Warsaw-Vienna railroad was completed. Its length was 204 miles. However, there was additional work needed in the field of right-of-way. Work on the reconstruction of bridges was begun in 1850. Wooden bridges were replaced by stone construction.
Iron beams were also used for the first time in Poland in the construction of a 10-span bridge over the Warta River in 1856. A branch line of the Warsaw-Vienna railroad, joining Zabkowice and Sosnowiec and running to the Prussian frontier was built in 1859. The first completely iron bridge in Poland was built above the Czarna Przemsza River which flowed over the branch line.
The railroad also built a telegraph line in 1852, the first in what were then the territories iowan Russia. The line linked Warsaw with the European telegraph network.
How was it to ride in these cars? Well, picture tufted suede bench seats with overhead baggage racks, large windows on both sides with entrance doors. There was no passageway, no toilet, etc.
The Warsaw-Vienna railroad company also built a second railroad line in 1860-62 linking Lowicz and Bydgoszcz, which was then in Prussian occupied Poland. Called the Warsaw-Bydgoszcz Railroad, it linked Warsaw with the Prussian railroad system.
The Warsaw-Vienna railroad played an important role in the industrialization of Poland. A second track was laid in 1872-1880. Modernized and electrified, it still continues to serve the country. The old bridges were replaced by steel construction more than a hundred years ago. As the rolling stock grew heavier, they were replaced by bridges of more durable material. The old stations were torn down and new ones put up in their place.
The beautiful modern Central Station of Warsaw, built on the older railroad line of Poland, was opened in December 1975. It has since been renovated.
. . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .