Travelling to Poland by Train in the Sixties and Seventies

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To Kraków in Poland by train in the sixties.

To Poland by Train in the Sixties and Seventies

Kraków Cloth Hall in the main market square

You can read this article in Polish via Google Translate.

A long time ago, in the sixties and seventies, you could travel to Poland by train and not have to change trains – almost.

London To Kraków in Poland by Train in the Sixties and Seventies

Can you imagine catching a train in London and getting off the same train in Kraków? This direct journey was possible in the sixties and seventies, and I travelled like this to visit my family many times. The journey to Kraków took approximately 24 hours.

Of course, there was no Channel Tunnel, so you still had to cross the sea to continental Europe by passenger ferry.

To make the journey today from London St. Pancras International to Kraków would involve three train changes, and the trip would take at least 24 hours. Arguably, your journey now would be far more comfortable as you would travel in modern railway rolling stock.

Your itinerary today would involve catching a direct Eurostar train from London St. Pancras International to Amsterdam-Centraal, where you would change to a direct train to Berlin Hbf. At Berlin Hbf you would change to a direct train to Kraków.

St Pancras International Station.
St Pancras International Station

Przemysław Sakrajda, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Fregata Chartered Railway Carriages to Poland

The following journey recounts the route from Liverpool Street Railway Station in London to Kraków.

This is how it worked if you had booked a ticket through the Fregata Travel tourist agency in London. You could book one ticket with a seat reservation to cover the entire journey to Kraków.

Liverpool Street Railway Station in London

At Liverpool Street Railway Station in London, early in the morning, you would be met by a Fregata rep who would accompany you for the entire journey.

You deposited your luggage on your departure platform, and railway staff loaded it onto the train.

Liverpool Street Railway Station.
Liverpool Street Station in 1981

The Basingstoker, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Harwich Parkeston Quay Railway Station

Your train would depart for Harwich Parkeston Quay Railway Station in Essex, and you would be seated with just your hand luggage in a dedicated Fregata chartered railway carriage.

Upon arrival in Harwich, railway staff ensured your luggage was transferred to your ferry for the 6-hour crossing across the North Sea to Hook of Holland Harbour.

Harwich Parkeston Quay Railway Station in 1982.
Harwich Parkeston Quay Railway Station in 1982

Phil Richards from London, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hook of Holland Harbour Railway Station

Upon arrival at Hook of Holland Harbour Railway Station in the Netherlands, your luggage was unloaded by railway staff and waiting on your departure platform. It was up to you to load your luggage onto the chartered carriage of your Poland-bound train.

The Fregata rep would direct you to your chartered railway carriage, where you would remain in somewhat cramped conditions, accompanied by your luggage for the rest of the journey.

Hook of Holland Harbour Railway Station.
Hook of Holland Harbour Railway Station in 1959

Het Utrechts Archief, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Once settled in your railway carriage, you could enjoy the scenery on the direct journey to Kraków.

All this was long ago, and I cannot remember the exact train route. However, I remember that the train passed through Hengelo in the Netherlands and Bautzen in what was then East Germany.

Hengelo Railway Station in the Netherlands

Hengelo, I remember well as at the time, the town was twinned with Mitcham in the county of Surrey, just south of London, where I used to live.

This twinning was removed (either by the London Borough of Merton or Hengelo), and the removal is mentioned in the London Borough of Merton Estates Local Plan dated 2018.

Source: London Borough of Merton. PDF. Page 220. Accessed 29 September 2023.

Hengelo Railway Station in 1951.
Hengelo Railway Station

Het Utrechts Archief, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stopover somewhere in the German Democratic Republic

East Germany was memorable because in the evening our chartered carriage was decoupled from the train and shunted onto sidings, where we remained for approximately 6 hours.

This event was always the signal for the four passengers in each train compartment to retire for the night. The four couchettes were pulled down and readied for sleep, at least for those who could sleep through the clatter of trains on the nearby railway tracks. I never got a wink of sleep during this stopover.

Map of German Democratic Republic.
Map of German the Democratic Republic

Blank_map_of_Europe_1956-1990.svg, derivative work: Alphathon /’æɫfə.θɒn/ (talk) derivative work: StalwartUK, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At dawn the Journey Continued to Poland

At some stage at dawn, there was a clonk which signalled that a shunting engine had engaged with our carriage.

Shortly afterwards, the carriage would be shunted and coupled to a locomotive, often a steam engine, which pulled a new set of carriages bound for Poland.

Steam hauled passenger train in Poland.
Steam hauled passenger train in Poland

ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv / Fotograf: Bärtschi, Hans-Peter / SIK_03-036065 / CC BY-SA 4.0 creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>
via Wikimedia Commons. (Cropped from original)

Bautzen Railway Station in the German Democratic Republic

During the short stop at Bautzen Railway Station, I observed that the platform station name signage was in German and Sorbian.

This dual language signage is still the situation today, at least on the facade of main station building, as can be seen in a relatively recent associated photograph showing the station name signage of Bahnhof Bautzen in German and Dwórnišćo Budyšin in Upper Sorbian.

Bautzen Railway Station in 2015.
Bautzen Railway Station in 2015

Mariusz Paździora, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Bautzen region in Germany has an ethnic Sorbian minority. The Sorbs are a Slavic people numbering approximately 60,000 people in the area.

Source: Germany – Sorbs at the Minority Rights Group website. Accessed 29 September 2023.

Bautzen is quite close to the Polish border, and if I remember correctly, the journey time to the border took approximately 1 hour.

Passport and Document Checks Throughout the journey

Flags of countries passed through on train journey.
Flags of countries passed through on the train journey

Officialdom through the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany was marked only by one visit per country by Dutch and West German passport controllers. This situation changed markedly once the train crossed into the German Democratic Republic. I would say the controls in East Germany verged on intentional harassment, as the passport controllers visited multiple times to check passports, announcing themselves gruffly as passkontrolle!  Once the train crossed into Poland, there was one check by Polish passport control and customs. If you were unlucky, the customs official would ask you to open your luggage and possibly question you about the contents.

Arrival at Kraków Railway Station in Poland

Arrival in Kraków was always memorable as I knew a family welcoming committee would be waiting to whisk me home for, by then, much needed rest and food.

Having caught up with family news, and been well fed and watered, it would be time to retire. After the thrill of the railway journey, dreams were sweet and full of anticipation of coming adventures with family.

Kraków Railway Station in 2010.
Kraków Railway Station in 2010

Axe, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Image cropped from the original file.

Appeal for Information

It has been decades since I experienced these journeys, and I may have forgotten some points. If you notice any errors in this article or you can offer me new related information, I will be grateful. My contact details are at the foot of this page.

Comments are welcome. Did you make this journey to Poland by train in the sixties or seventies or back from Poland to the UK? Is there anything I have missed?

Link to YouTube version of this article.

London to Poland by Train in The Sixties – Watch on YouTube

This article has recently featured on South Coast View’s YouTube channel.

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