Pesa Swing on Aleje Jerozolimskie in front of city skyline, with the WKD terminus on the left, and the city's main railway station behind the tram
It took me 12 years until I finally returned to Warsaw, although it is just a five and a half hour train journey from Berlin. After my previous and first visit in 2003 I actually wrote the first trip report which I published on my website. I read it again just before leaving and was quite surprised what impression the city had left. If you're interested you can still read it online here.
I always said to myself, I will go back to Warsaw as soon as Metro line 2 is open. There were some delays, and I meant to go there just after its opening which was then pushed back again and again, and when it finally opened in March 2015, I decided to leave my visit for later, as the weather was still quite horrible and I wanted to do some tram exploring, too. Eventually a gap appeared in my travel agenda so I booked a trip at short notice with the weather report already quite reliable, I mean, with a lot of sunshine guaranteed. So during the last four days, 16-19 August 2015, I managed to get loads of blue-sky tram pictures.
Exploring the Warsaw rail and transport system is quite easy, they have got a proper "Verkehrsverbund", i.e. all transport within the city is fully integrated, so on each day I got a 24-hour ticket for zone 1 for 15 Zloty, which is just under 4 EUR. This covers the entire city, which is fairly large with over 500 km2. There is also a 24-hour ticket for zones 1+2, if you want to get beyond the city boundaries, sold at 26 Zl., but watch out, it is NOT valid on the WKD local railway beyond Opacz! But the tickets are valid on all red (S-Bahn type services) and green KM regional trains, so even the airport lies within zone 1. Make sure to validate the ticket on the first ride, after that it is only needed to pass the barriers at metro stations, on buses and trams and trains just hop on and wait for the occasional ticket inspection. The tickets are of the small Paris/Madrid type and can be bought in advance from ticket machines at metro stations, but there are also machines inside trams (not sure about buses). So in the ticket/fares part, Warsaw gets a clear "very good", it's easy and cheap!
Back in 2003, I wrote very positively about the Metro, but was shocked by the local rail service then still operated by PKP. Well, fortunately this service has improved a lot. A lot has been done since the regional government of Mazovia (Mazowsze) county took over and introduced the SKM as a kind of S-Bahn service with completely new trains. What was especially shocking in 2003 was the look of the two central stations, the Centralna mainline station and the adjacent Sródmiescie suburban station (they should really carry the same name!). Both have been significantly improved, mostly just by changing the illumination, so they still preserve their particular style of the period when they were built, but in good light. Even the connecting corridor between them doesn't look that scary any more. The Centralna is still undergoing refurbishment and upgrading, especially in the main hall. Unfortunately there is still no direct connection to the Metro station Centrum.
Improved lighting on Warszawa Centralna platform
Improved lighting inside Warszawa Sródmiescie (suburban station)
Stadion station was also rebuilt for the European football championship in 2012, and it actually matches the design of the stadium. Warszawa Wschodnia (East Station) is in quite a good shape, too, while Zachodnia (West Station) is currently being rebuilt. Powisle could do with some modernisation, but it didn't look as desolate as in 2003, probably Ochota is the least appealing now of the city centre stations. I only rode the SKM line between Wschodnia and the airport, of the semicircular line S9 I only saw W-wa Gdanska, which was quite modern and this one indeed provides a convenient interchange with M1, something which is announced on M1 trains at Centrum, but there is nothing convenient here. At Stadion the new M2 Stadion Narodowy station is quite conveniently located next to the PKP station, but there don't seem to be too many people transferring there yet. W-wa Wilenska had not changed much, it is still hidden behind the shopping mall and has nothing which could be of architectural interest. The underground airport station is not bad, although a bit of a walk from the check-in area, but compared to other airports quite reasonable:
Lotnisko (Airport) station with S3 train ready to depart
Of all the SKM lines, however, I would only classify S2 as an S-Bahn as it offers a regular 30-minute headway. Line S1 is a bit confusing as it is actually made of two overlapping lines, and with an absurdly irregular headway. S3 only runs every hour and uses the mainline tracks through the city, so it does not stop at Ochota, Powisle and Stadion. And S9 has a rather irregular timetable, too. All routes are complemented with some regional services which may also call at all local stations. But I think that Warsaw has a good potential for a proper S-Bahn system. This would, of course, need some investment around Zachodnia station, but then all S lines should be bundled along the local tracks, thus creating a sort of east-west trunk route with trains every few minutes between Zachodnia and Wschodnia which people will perceive like a third metro axis. Additionally they should really create a ring line, although this would require the most investment at Zachodnia, and a couple of additional stations on the existing route, for example in Targówek in the east. Unfortunately, despite the new trains, the SKM service suffers from a lack of standardised platform heights. Often you have to step down into the train, and there is always quite a big gap. But for the airport, I can certainly recommend it, as there is a train departing every 15 minutes for the city centre.
All in all, the tram system is in quite a good shape. I did not manage to ride on the entire system, but about 75% of what was available, as some routes were closed for upgrading during the summer. I was especially pleased with the newer PESA low-floor trams, both the numerous vehicles of the Swing type and the latest Jazz trams. Both run very smoothly and swiftly on what are certainly not always new routes, they can go around curves without getting too slow, and generally speed up quite well. Here it is actually the older Konstal high-floor trams that make more noise and overall offer a much less comfortable ride. So while trams travel fast, the system's major problem seems to be the huge road intersections, where they are often held waiting too long:
Major intersection in the city centre: Aleje Jerozolimskie & Marszalkowska, as seen from the Palac Kultury tower
Maybe a faster traffic light cycle would help, because if you have trams coming from various sides, traffic light preemption would not help much either. But I felt that traffic lights stay on green too long, although often no more cars were actually passing, also annoying for pedestrians waiting to cross the street. In most cases, the respective stops are located before the intersection, so doors can remain open until just before the green light comes.
The largest parts of the system are on dedicated rights-of-way, often even with a ballast trackbed, which on the one had prevents people from crossing the tracks, but on the other hand may be perceived too much as a dividing element. Only a few older sections have street-running or marked-off lanes, and almost all stops have platforms. However, even the newest platforms don't fully match the tram floor height, there is always a 5 cm step and a small gap. A few stops are left with street-boarding, some in Kolo, and one which struck me particularly, the one at Stare Miasto. This one is really dangerous, as many tourists not familiar with this situation get on and off there, too. And what was most surprising, buses also stop in the middle of the street. Luckily, Polish drivers are used to that and respect the situation by stopping behind the trams. Apparently, as I was told, the problem is known and a solution is being sought, and I have to admit that I don't have an instant proposal either. Because besides the tram stop, there is also a pedestrian crossing without traffic lights next to it, so chances are very high that a tram, bus or car may run you over...
Street-boarding into Pesa Swing tram at Stare Miasto
All stops have timetables with a list of all stops served by that line, but there are no network maps. Some stops have electronic next-tram indicators.
In one aspect, the Warsaw tram system is still typically "Eastern", i.e. the large number of different lines, with generally several lines sharing the same terminus (they mostly have a separate loop track), from where they head in different directions through the city:
Typical line up at outer terminus, here Os. Gorczewska
The online tram map shows the trunk routes in the city centre in different colours, plus a fifth colour for all lines which can't be clearly assigned to one such corridor. But generally the lines tend to travel across the centre in a straight and logical direction and turn onto a different route in the outer parts, so it is pretty easy to understand after a while. Line numbers seem to change quite regularly, so at major junctions where underpasses connect the different stop positions, no line numbers are shown, but just the district where trams go to from that platform, so you need to be familiar with the city's geography a bit. Also, inside metro stations, there is a map showing all urban rail services, even with all stop names for the trams, but without any line numbers! At the moment, they have a line 79 which serves a stretch isolated from the rest of the network on Aleje Krakowska, using bidirectional trams as there is no loop at the northern temporary terminus Hale Balacha:
Newest tram type, Jazz, bidirectional providing shuttle service on the temporary line 79
Although Warsaw generally is a city with very good signage, both street signs with large letters and also direction signs for pedestrians outside the central area, e.g. to metro stations, the signage at the major tram termini is insufficient. At Mlociny, for example, there is a huge new tram station, but it is very difficult to find out where which tram departs or accepts passengers. A metro-style guidance system is needed there. At many other, more basic loops with several lines starting, there should be a screen announcing when which tram is leaving as any of them may be going to the place the passengers is heading for. Now you'd have to walk from one platform to the other to compare the small timetables. Most lines are served every 12 minutes during off-peak, which is o.k. considering that almost all branches are served by two or more lines.
Tram route on the lower deck of Most Gdanski
An interesting tram route is the crossing of the Wistula River on the lower deck of Most Gdanski, with a stop at either end. And the trams run through a tunnel next to the Old Town, just west of the Stare Miasto stop.
The drivers' cabs are particularly transparent on the old trams, and I often observed that a driver had a smartphone on his/her lap and earphones plugged in. Given the distraction of such devices, I think it should be strictly forbidden to use them on duty. I was also rather surprised to see a driver smoke inside the cabin at one of the loops!
As I said at the beginning, a primary motivation of this visit was to see the new Metro line M2. I had already seen many photos and I liked the design concept, so I was curious to see what it looks like in real life. I still think that it is great, I generally like colours and especially if each station has its own distinctive colour. And it is the only metro line I know, where the station's colour is even reflected in the station's entrances!
Entrance to the "green" M2 station: Stadion Narodowy
Besides the metro logo, I think the entrances should also clearly show the name of the station, maybe in a similar way Madrid adds the name to the logo. Of all new metro lines opened recently, it is probably the one with the strongest personality, I mean, from any photo you will always be able to tell immediately that this is Warsaw's M2, quite a relief after the global uniform station design of recent decades, using just glass, stainless steel and bare concrete! I was, however, a bit disappointed by the feeling of spaciousness in some stations. While the more shallow stations Rondo Daszynskiego, Rondo ONZ and Dworzec Wilenski are fine, with the stairs almost at the end of the platform and just one row of columns, especially the deep-level stations, from Swietokrzyska to Centrum Nauki Kopernik feel a bit too small, with two rows of columns and the stairs and escalators interrupting the view of the platform. The colour purple found in Nowy Swiat-Uniwersytet station may appear a bit too much, but maybe this fact actually makes it great, and being a devoted Deep Purple fan, I like it, of course, although my favourites are probably Rondo Daszynskiego and Rondo ONZ:
Homage to Deep Purple: Nowy Swiat-Uniwersytet
Current western terminus: Rondo Daszynskiego
Swietokrzyska provides interchange with line M1, but I think the two lines are not very conveniently connected for a system which was actually planned from scratch. On the M2 platform, the corridor towards M1 is at the very western end, hidden behind the western exit shaft:
Narrow gateway leading to M2>M1 interchange at Swietokrzyska
Once there you will find a narrow gateway not even 2 m wide leading to a slightly larger kind of vestibule, from where a lift and a 2 m wide staircase leads up to an intermediate level, from where, finally, three sets of escalators lead up to the southern end of the M1 platform. No problem during off-peak when I was there, but I dare predict that this interchange will cause real traffic jams during peak and when M2 has been extended at both ends. So I wonder why, when all other accesses to M2 were built quite generously, this primary interchange was designed at such a low scale. Because besides being too narrow, the absence of escalators on the lower part will create more jams as people have different speeds when climbing stairs. So some interchange traffic may have to be diverted via the upper mezzanine instead...
The second station designed as a future interchange is unfortunately a complete nonsense, a missed opportunity, for whatever reason! I'm talking about Stadion Narodowy, of course. The present layout is that of two separate lines with two individual stations which happen to be located side by side. So any transferring passengers would always have to change lines going one level up and then one level down again when it would have been so easy to design a perfect future-proof interchange here with cross-platform interchange as the station was built in a totally empty terrain where space restrictions could not be taken as an excuse. Although the eastern leg of what would become line 3 to Goclaw seems to be quite a good alignment, I never understood the route M3 was supposed to take into the city centre, and looking at the priorities being presented by official sources, only the Goclaw branch is high up on the list. With a "proper" junction at Stadion, this branch could have been operated also as an M2 branch, and if not, at least with convenient cross-platform interchange to continue the journey, although then the train reversing problem would come up. So, ideally, I guess, M2 should be using the outer tracks, and M3 the inner ones. But as I heard, even locally, M3's route across the Wistula River is under review, so the M3 part of this station may never be used anyway (welcome to Berlin!). Given all these uncertainties, I also find it impossible to understand why the M3 part of the station was fully furnished? A lot of money was wasted not only in tiles and cladding, but a lot of money will still be wasted to maintain the station, especially as it is clearly visible to everyone. Why didn't they just leave it as a shell hidden behind some temporary wall?
Appealing station design with useless but fully furnished island platform in the background at Stadion Narodowy
Certainly, the main design feature of the station, those tree-like supports in the middle, would not be properly visible then. So has the architect's vanity won over pragmatism?
Talking of M3, for me the more "natural" alignment for a third line would be from Goclaw to the Eastern Railway Station as planned, then to Dworzec Wilenksi (M2), then west under the river to serve the Old Town (Stare Miasto), intersect with M1 either at Ratusz or the missing Muranów station, then turn south via Rondo ONZ to the Central Station and south from there wherever needed.
When I visited last in 2003, the first metro line (now labelled M1) had only reached Ratusz-Arsenal in the city centre, so the northern part of this line was also new to me now. Although not as impressive as M2, all the stations have some interesting features, more or less visible at first sight. Plac Wilsona, of course, strikes most with its elliptical ceiling above the southern exit area. Of the four northern ones, with their side platforms I probably prefer Slodowiec because it has a more distinctive wall pattern:
Slodowiec: subsurface stations with side platforms were built along the northern stretch of M1
Lying just below street level, they all feature an interesting entrance building with tickets gates separated for each direction. It would have been nice if they had left some openings in the station roof to allow daylight to fall into the station, a feature already quite popular in other cities during that period. All stations on M1, also those on the older southern part, are in a very good shape, very clean and well maintained. Just the logo outside sometimes looks faded through the sun and needs replacement.
The M1 stations I like least are a few in the central area, Politechnika, Ratusz-Arsenal and above all, Swietokrzyska. While the first two are simply too simple, lacking any appeal in their simplicity, the latter is really a shame, as it looks like a very cheap station, with the walls simply painted in a dark green, not a very appealing colour anyway, and the pillars clad in tiles found at a marked-down price in the local do-it-yourself store. The station appears even more unattractive when you change from the brilliant yellow M2 station below. So hopefully, this station will deserve a major restyling soon to bring it up to the standard of the rest of the line:
Cheap finishings at M1 Swietokrzyska station
My favourite on M1 is probably Pole Mokotowskie, because of its clear layout, the stairs at the very ends of the platform, nothing obstructing the view over the platform, a nicely repainted vaulted ceiling and the red colour used cautiously on the walls and suspended lights:
Pole Mokotowskie: plain though elegant station design
The stations further south beyond Wilanowska (which is certainly a nice station with its galleries) make me think of Munich's U-Bahn, although unfortunately the wall pattern is often a bit too dark, maybe some sort of indirect lighting would help here.
The Metro, especially M1 has one funny feature I have never seen anywhere else: with a small photo symbol, the next-train indicator even announces which type of train will arrive next! Certainly this is not a feature particularly provided for urban rail enthusiasts, but rather for passengers in wheelchairs, for example, as the older Russian-type trains require a higher step into the train, whereas with the newer Alstom Metropolis and Siemens Inspiro boarding is stepfree. On a hot summer day this information may also be useful for other passengers, as the old trains don't have air-conditioning, although even on the new ones, it may get quite warm inside if the train is packed (and they are during rush hour!):
Metropolis train arriving next!
So, on M1, you can now see four different types of trains, although the older two are basically the same, but the second series can be identified easily by a more modern front (which made me believe that they are refurbished first-series trains...). Announcements are very good and clear to understand.
When Siemens presented the Inspiro at Berlin's Innotrans a few years ago, I was quite disappointed. After having delivered excellent trains to Vienna or Oslo, what was supposed to become a new standard metro train looked cheap and ugly. But having seen them in real service now, I think they are not that bad after all. Even the strange train front looks good, especially on the modern M2, and inside they are quite pleasant, although a bit low. But fortunately, they got rid of the monitors which on the prototype were mounted on the centre poles, obstructing the view through the train. There are now two monitors, one mounted on each side next to the doors, much better. The noise level is acceptable, especially as the wheel-rail noise is overshadowed by the noise from the air-conditioning system (which was, however, very appreciated - and I missed it yesterday when I had to use the U-Bahn in Berlin...).
Ticket inspections may also occur on metro trains, despite the access gates, but for whatever reason, in many stations one of the emergency gates is always open, certainly seducing people to avoid the ticket gates. I guess, most people use a season ticket anyway as Warsaw is said to have a rather high share of public transport users (there are still lots of cars, too!).
I didn't see much of the WKD system, the local railway that runs from Warsaw to some villages to the southwest of the city. As the central portion was closed for some track work, I only rode it from Zachodnia to Aleje Jerozolimskie. As said before, combined zone 1 tickets are only valid up to Opacz, actually the first stop outside Warsaw, but zone 1+2 passes are not valid on the rest of the line, you'll need to get a special WKD ticket! The two more urban stations, Ochota and Sródmescie, have not changed at all in the last 12 years, and honestly, look quite pathetic. Hopefully some real modernisation will happen soon. At Centralna the corridors leading to the WKD terminus Sródmescie are currently being refurbished, so a restyling of the WKD platform would be much appreciated, too.
Temporary WKD terminus at W-wa Zachodnia (West Station)
Not too long ago, they purchased new trains with low-floor access, but looking at what is available elsewhere for this type of regional light rail (e.g. Badner Bahn in Vienna), those trains look clumsy and heavy. In fact, I would suggest to convert this line into a proper tram-train using lighter vehicles and connect them to the urban tram system, for example, by looping around the city centre, and thus improving access significantly while at the same time making the other urban stations like Reduta Ordona, which lies next to a huge shopping complex, more attractive from the Warsaw end, too. I see that up until the 1970s, the line actually entered the city like a tramway.
So, all in all, the Warsaw urban rail system is developing quite nicely, the tram system is being upgraded and hopefully the last high-floor trams will be withdrawn soon, the extension of M2 in both directions with three new stations on each side is underway, with contracts expected to be awarded before the end of the year, and hopefully, the SKM system will be expanded and upgraded into a real S-Bahn system, too.
ZTM (Warsaw public transport)