The Lavender Line
On Saturday 22nd February seven of the railways regular working members and crews embarked on an adventure that would see them swap the quiet rural countryside of Sussex to the noisy Urban towns of Western Poland as the Lavender line goes on tour.
For the past 10 years working members of the Lavender line have ventured out to Wolsztyn in Poland to drive and fire working steam trains in an experience like no other in the world of railways. These are not steam charters or preserved railways, these engines are real workhorses, the last known public steam standard gauge railway in the world. These steam trains pick up and take home commuters in the morning and the tourist by day, they are in steam for weeks at a time clocking up thousands of miles each year on steam runs to both Poznan in Western Poland and Leszno to the South of Wolsztyn.
The Wolsztyn experience was launched in the mid 1990’s by two brothers including founding member Howard Jones who has negotiated a unique deal with PKP (Polish state railways) to ensure that steam and the tourist attraction to Polish railways stays alive. The company went from strength to strength and by the Mid 2000’s there were regular steam trains to both Poznan and Leszno. The Lavender line has been regular customers with the Wolsztyn experience for many years and as such have built up a great friendship with the regular steam crews in Poland with banter and evening drinks always popular, even if the language barrier can be an issue!
This year there were two working steam engines at Wolsztyn, OL49- 59 and OL49 69 4-6-0. Due to the engineering works at Poznan steam was limited to the more leisurely Leszno run but this didn’t bother anyone, the Leszno run consisted of 36 miles, 12 stops, steep inclines and a maximum line speed of 65mph! The steam services run 7 days a week from Wolsztyn to Leszno with the first train and 6.07 and the second at 13.16, both with a two hour lay over in Leszno.
As with all great things they soon come to an end and after 7 nights in Poland the Lavender line crews have returned home after a week of driving and firing Polish steam engines ready for the railways season ahead, but after driving and firing working steam trains at speeds of up to 65mph its back to reality with the Lavender lines more sedate 15mph!
For more information on the Wolsztyn experience please visit their website at www.thewolsztynexperience.org