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Bieszczady Forest Railway
A train on the Bieszczady Forest Railway

In the mid 19th century, the territory that would form present day Poland was divided between the Empires of Austria, Russia and Prussia. Construction work started in 1835 on a line from Warszawa (Warsaw) to Kraków, lying mainly in the Russian Empire. However, financial difficulties meant that the first operational railway was in Prussia: in 1852 a line opened between Breslau (present day Wrocław) to Ohlau (present day Oława), the first section of a line to the border of the Austro-Hungarian Empire near Kraków.

The first railways in the territory were built to standard gauge (1435mm); however, in 1866 a new line opened from Warsawa to Brest-Litovsk (present day Brest). This was to form part of a through route to Moscow, and so was built to the Russian standard gauge of 1520mm.

Subsequent development was to a mixture of these gauges (as well as numerous narrow gauge lines in rural areas). However, following the border changes after the Second World War, almost all main lines were to 1435mm gauge and, apart from a few short cross border lines, 1520mm gauge disappeared. Then, under Soviet influence in the late 1970s, a new Russian gauge line (the LHS) was opened to facilitate freight interchange with the USSR. The line remains open today.

In 2022, a new authority, Centralny Port Komunikacyjny (CPK), was created to oversee an ambitious national transportation project, which would include up to around 2000km of high speed railways. In January 2023 CPK signed an agreement with Ukrainian Railways to prepare a feasibility study fo a new 1435mm gauge high speed railway from the proposed CPK hub near Warszawa to Lviv and Kyiv in Ukraine.

National Railways

The national railway system has been partly privatised or decentralized to local government, but the following group remains under state control:

Standard Gauge Passenger Operators

Standard Gauge Freight Operators

Narrow Gauge Railways

KD = Kolej Dojazdowa (Local Railway)
KP = Kolejka Parkowa (Park Railway)
KW = Kolej Wąskotorowa (Narrow Gauge Railway) or Koleje Wąskotorowe (Narrow Gauge Railways)

Mountain Funiculars


Hand, pedal or motor powered trolleys for hire on sections of old railway line.

Metros, Trams and Urban railways

Railway Scientific & Technical Centre

Research laboratories and test facilities located in Warszawa, with a test track at Węglewo, near Żmigród.

Ostróda - Elbląg Canal

Inclined plane on the Ostróda - Elbląg Canal

The picture above clearly illustrates why a canal is of interest on a railway page. In a stretch of less than 9km, the canal descends over 100m to the valley of the Elbląg River, by means of five inclined planes which involve floating the ships into a cradle and transporting them overland by a water powered, cable hauled railway. The canal, with its inclines, opened in 1860, and remains in use to this day carrying both passenger and freight traffic. It is believed that the inclines are the only ones of their type currently in operation anywhere in the world.

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Bieszczady Railway photo image by Michał Derela from Wikimedia Commons
Elbląg Canal photo image © Żegluga Ostródzko - Elbląska