PKP Intercity’s EuroCity 54 — Gdańsk Główny to Berlin Hauptbahnhof (9 November 2019)

Logo pkp ic.svg

EuroCity 54
The Berlin-Gdynia-Express

The Berlin-Gydnia-Express and its sister line, the Berlin-Warszawa-Express, were international train routes run by Polish state railway operator PKP Intercity and Germany’s Deutsche Bahn (DB Fernverkehr). Strictly speaking, both brand names are no longer officially used, but as the Berlin-Gdynia-Express is eponymous with the termini at both ends of this route, I will use it for the purpose of this article.

In the past, the Berlin-Warszawa-Express brand name was painted on train cars plying between Germany and Poland, and both rail operators provided carriages for the service. DB Fernverkehr provided the First Class carriage and restaurant car, while PKP Intercity provided the Second Class carriages. A few years ago, the decision was made for PKP Intercity to run the routes, so all carriages were to be provided by the Polish rail operator. Carriages with the brand names have since been painted back to the standard PKP Intercity livery.

An old picture of a Second Class carriage painted in the Berlin-Warszawa-Express livery. Carriages have since been repainted into the PKP Intercity livery.   /Photo: Wikipedia / Wikimedia-User Jivee BlauBerlin Ostbahnhof- auf Bahnsteig zu Gleis 7- Wagen des Berlin-Warszawa-Expresses 11.8.2009CC BY-SA 3.0

EuroCity 54 typically operates daily. Commuters should check out the PKP Intercity or Deutsche Bahn websites for more information such as ticket pricing and seat availabillity on their intended date of travel.

The major stations on the EuroCity 54 route, in chronological order, are Gdynia Główna, Gdańsk Główny, Bydgoszcz Główna, Poznań Główny, Rzepin, Frankfurt(Oder), and Berlin Hauptbahnhof. According to Deutsche Bahn nomenclature, Frankfurt(Oder) is the designated border station on this route.

I previously rode EuroCity 55 in the opposite direction from Bydgoszcz Główna to Gdańsk Główny and the report can be accessed here.

With the timetable change at the end of 2019, the line number for the Gydnia to Berlin train has changed to EuroCity 58. The Berlin-Gdynia-Express service now departs Gdynia and arrives at Berlin at a later time. It has also been given the name ‘Gedania‘. The arrival and departure times for EuroCity 58 are thus reflected below.

Station Arrival Departure
Gdynia Główna 08:52 AM
Sopot 08:59 AM 09:01 AM
Gdańsk Oliwa 09:04 AM 09:05 AM
Gdańsk Wrzeszcz 09:09 AM 09:10 AM
Gdańsk Główny 09:14 AM 09:17 AM
Tczew 09:33 AM 09:34 AM
Bydgoszcz Główna 10:45 AM 10:48 AM
Inowrocław 11:16 AM 11:17 AM
Gniezno 11:46 AM 11:47 AM
Poznań Główny 12:12 PM 12:17 PM
Zbąszynek 01:12 PM 01:13 PM
Świebodzin 01:25 PM 01:26 PM
Rzepin 01:49 PM 01:52 PM
Frankfurt/Oder 02:12 PM 02:15 PM
Berlin Hauptbahnhof 03:16 PM
The full route of EuroCity 54, the Berlin-Gdynia-Express, from Gdynia Główna to Berlin Hauptbahnhof.

From Gdynia Główna, the EuroCity 54 train runs on Polish line number 202. It will stop at Sopot, Gdańsk Oliwa, and Gdańsk Wrzeszcz before arriving at Gdańsk Główny. The train will then go on Polish line 9 for Tczew, before joining Polish line 131 for Inowrocław via Bydgoszcz.

From Inowrocław, the train will use Polish line number 353 for Poznań, and then line number 3 to the Polish-German border of Słubice via Zbąszynek and Rzepin. After crossing the border into Germany at Frankfurt (Oder), the train will then travel on the Niederschlesisch-Märkische Eisenbahn-Gesellschaft (translated as the “Lower Silesian-Marcher Railway” in English) to Berlin.

Within Polish territory (Gdynia Gł. — Rzepin), PKP Intercity lists this train under the Intercity (IC) and/or Express InterCity (EIC) category with the run numbers of IC/EIC 57000/57001/54. However, in Germany it operates as an international EuroCity (EC) train and PKP Intercity labels all Germany-Poland tickets sold on this train as EC 54. The EuroCity classification will thus be adopted for the purpose of this article.

Purchasing the Ticket for the EuroCity 54 Train

Tickets and seat reservations for PKP Intercity trains can be bought at their website. Alternatively, one may also get a paper ticket from the ticket counters in the train station.

There was only one daily, direct service between Gdańsk and Berlin — the EuroCity 54. This train was scheduled to depart Gdańsk Główny at 07:30AM and arrive at Berlin Hauptbahnhof at 01:16PM. The total duration of my journey was to be 5 hours and 46 minutes.

A few days prior to my intended date of travel, I realised that tickets for the EuroCity 54 train (the Gdańsk to Berlin section) on PKP Intercity’s website were sold out! I was also not able to buy a ticket from the German rail operator Deutsche Bahn’s website. After a conversation with the concierge staff at the hotel I was staying in, I found out that it was likely due to the high number of passengers travelling domestically within Poland on the EuroCity 54 train.

This made me very worried, because I really needed to be in Berlin on 9 November 2019.

Some creative thinking was therefore required!

A single Gdańsk to Berlin ticket would not have been issued by either train operator because the mandatory seat reservation would be applied to the entire trip, and there was likely no available seat left on the train between Gdańsk and some Polish city along the way.

I realised that I could get around this problem by splitting up the booking and purchasing two separate tickets from PKP Intercity — one for the domestic Polish portion from Gdańsk to the border town of Rzepin, and another for the international section from Rzepin to Berlin. This would make my trip possible due to the fact that seat reservations were compulsory for international sectors, but not for domestic sectors.

The PKP Intercity e-ticket for the Gdańsk to Rzepin sector on the train. It did not come with a seat reservation.

For the domestic section from Gdańsk to Rzepin, the ticket I purchased on PKP Intercity’s website cost 70 Polish złoty (approximately 25 Singapore dollars) and had no seat reservation.

For the Rzepin to Berlin section on the same train, that cost me 115.71 Polish złoty. As this was an international sector, the ticket was charged in euros, and that turned out to be 26.60 euros (approximately 40 Singapore dollars). It also had a reservation for seat number 88 in wagon 267, which was an aisle seat in the Second Class open-plan saloon car.

The Rzepin to Berlin Hauptbahnhof e-ticket and seat reservation issued by PKP Intercity.

It is interesting that the comparatively longer domestic section from Gdańsk to Rzepin, which took 4 hours and 19 minutes to cover 468 kilometres, cost so much less than the 1 hour 24 minute international section from Rzepin to Berlin. The expensive Rzepin to Berlin ticket is likely due to a tariff applied to the cross-border component of the ticket. When adjusted for time and distance, the domestic sector cost about 16.22 Polish złoty per hour of travel (or about 0.15 Polish złoty per kilometre) while the international sector cost about 82.65 Polish złoty per hour of travel!

It was possible to pay for both tickets by credit card on the PKP Intercity website. The Polish rail operator accepts credit card payments with Visa and Mastercard, but not those of American Express, JCB, or UnionPay.

One can also purchase tickets for this route on the Deutsche Bahn website. If purchased in advance, tickets for Second Class (under the Super Sparpreis Europa category) cost €29.90 while First Class (also under the Super Sparpreis Europa category) is marginally more expensive at €39.90. Credit card options accepted by the German train operator include Visa, Mastercard, American Express, and Diners Club International. In addition, Deutsche Bahn’s payment options include PayPal, paydirekt, and Klarna Direct Bank Transfer (formerly known as SOFORT).

The Train Station — Gdańsk Główny

Gdańsk is the capital and largest city of the Pomeranian Voivodeship and the most prominent city in the geographical region of Pomerania. The city is also Poland’s principal seaport and the country’s fourth-largest metropolitan area. The train station, Gdańsk Główny (Polish for Gdańsk main station), is located in the centre of Gdańsk, in the Śródmieście district, which lies near the heart of the Old Town and is only about a ten minute walk from its main street — Długi Targ.

The exterior of present-day Gdańsk Główny.   /Photo: Wikimedia; DerHexerGdańsk (DerHexer) 2010-07-12 016CC BY-SA 3.0.

With its rich architectural details and iconic clocktower, Gdańsk’s brick neo-Gothic train station is one of the city’s most visually stunning buildings. Completed in 1900, Gdańsk Główny was modelled after Gare de Colmar, a railway station located in Colmar in the Haut-Rhin département of Alsace, France. As the same design was used in the construction of both railway stations, the buildings are effectively ‘twins’ of each other.

The French railway station Gare de Colmar bares a similar design to Gdańsk Główny. Colmar was annexed by the German Empire in 1871 as a result of the Franco-Prussian War and incorporated into the Alsace-Lorraine province. Gdańsk was also previously part of Prussia and its train station was known as Danzig Hauptbahnhof. However, both Colmar and Gdańsk are no longer part of Germany since the Second World War.   /Photo: Wikimedia; Rolf KranzColmar, BahnhofCC BY-SA 4.0

At the end of World War II, Soviet forces razed the Gdańsk Główny station building to the ground and the entire structure had to be rebuilt after the war. There has been a number of upgrades made to the station ever since, and it is currently undergoing another round of thorough modernisation that will take a number of years.

Gdańsk Główny is just one of many railway stations serving the city of Gdańsk. But as its name suggests, it is the primary station for departures to other cities in Poland. Train services at this station are operated by PKP Intercity, Przewozy Regionalne (Polregio) and PKP Szybka Kolej Miejska w Trójmieście Sp. z o.o. (SKM Tricity).

According to Polish State Railways nomenclature, five standard gauge railway lines converge at Gdańsk Główny. The most important of the lines are Polish railway lines number 9 and 202 that connect Gdańsk with Warszawa Wschodnia (Warsaw East) and Stargard respectively.

There is also the double-tracked, electrified Polish railway line number 250, a commuter rail line to Rumia, which carry services by SKM Tricity. This double-tracked line runs parallel to line number 202 from Gdańsk to a station north of Gdynia, and it is of great importance for travel within the Tricity area (Gdańsk, Sopot and Gdynia).

A number of services are operated out of Gdańsk Główny. This list is not exhaustive.

Due to modernisation works, the main station hall was closed and the platforms were accessible via a separate underground passage. With the ongoing reconstruction of long-distance train platforms at Gdańsk Główny, the organisation of pedestrian traffic around the station and in the building may change in the future.

Station Plan of Gdańsk Główny.   /Image: Polskie Koleje Państwowe (Polish State Railways)

When the renovation of Gdańsk Główny is completed, the station will have facilities that cater to the needs of people with reduced mobility. There will be wheelchair-accessible toilets, sign language interpreter service, and a station map with information in braille for the visually impaired. There will also be dedicated parking spaces within the immediate vicinity of the station that are adapted to the needs of people with mobility impairments.

Although significant renovation works were ongoing, there was free wi-fi (network name: _PKP_WIFI) that could be used at certain areas within the station. Public toilets at the station were also available for use at the cost of 2.50 Polish złoty.

Getting to Gdańsk Główny

If you are heading to Gdańsk Główny from anywhere within Gdańsk Stare Miasto (the pedestrianised Gdańsk Old Town), it should take no longer than thirty minutes by foot. But if you are travelling further than you would care to walk, you may prefer to use the services of Neptun Taxi as their drivers are known to use the taxi meters.

Panoramic view of Gdańsk Old Town from the Radisson Hotel & Suites, Gdańsk.

Having spent a couple of days in the Polish cities of Gdańsk, Sopot, and Gydnia, I learnt about the 30 Jahre Mauerfall (30 Year Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall) commemoration event at Berlin’s Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) on 9 November 2019. It was on this day that the once-divided city celebrated 30 years of reunification after the collapse of communist East Germany, the end of the Cold War, and the Peaceful Revolution of 1989.

It is thus, impelled by an anticipation of being part of this commemorative event, I made the decision to travel to Berlin. This trip details my journey by train on EuroCity 54, the Berlin-Gdynia-Express, from the beautiful Baltic port city of Gdańsk, to Germany’s capital city — Berlin.

Do note that this trip took place in November 2019. The Berlin-Gydnia-Express line numbers have since changed to EuroCity 58/59, and the service has been given the name ‘Gedania‘.

As both Poland and Germany are part of the Schengen Area, there were no passport checks or border controls at the Poland-Germany border in 2019. However, with the rapidly evolving epidemiological situation, there may be travel restrictions, documentary proof of coronavirus-free test results, and/or quarantine imposed by the relevant authorities. You are advised to check the latest travel advisories and government regulations prior to embarking on cross-border travel even within the Schengen Area.

I stayed at the Radisson Hotel & Suites, Gdańsk, which is right along the Motława River, and it would have been a twenty minute walk to Gdańsk Główny. However, it was a cold, dreary morning in Gdańsk, with significant fog that blanketed the city. With luggage in tow, I elected to take a taxi instead of walking about two kilometres to the train station.

I checked out of my room about thirty minutes before my train’s scheduled departure time from Gdańsk Główny. The concierge staff at the hotel assisted by calling a taxi for me so that I could get to the train station easily.

Buffet breakfast at the Radisson Hotel & Suites, Gdańsk.
Naleśniki (Polish crepes with cottage cheese), a widely available and well-loved dessert enjoyed by many Poles.

My room rate at the Radisson Hotel & Suites, Gdańsk included a buffet breakfast, but breakfast service started slightly later on weekends and I would not have been able to enjoy it due to my early departure from Gdańsk. I was delighted to find out that the hotel receptionist had arranged a breakfast box to be packed for me when they learnt that my train was to depart Gdańsk early in the morning. That was a really nice gesture!

Boarding the Train

On the day of my trip, my driver dropped me off the station entrance three minutes before the train’s scheduled departure time. I rushed down the underground passageway at the station to access the platform.

By the time I reached the platform, the train was pulling into the station. It was drizzling, and a huge crowd was waiting to board the train. The moment the screeching and grating sound of wheels against tracks stopped, I rushed to get my luggage and belongings to the restaurant car of the train.

Without a seat reservation for the section from Gdańsk to Rzepin, I hunkered down in the warm confines of the train’s restaurant car. I was definitely not keen on hanging around in the train’s vestibules.

And with a loud clang, the doors shut. The train departed bang on time.

Setting off for Berlin

No sooner did the approaching hour of daylight become the gift for dawn as the clouds of darkness shed the land of its frigidness. Sunrise is a necessary concomitant of long railway journeys, like hard-boiled eggs, illustrated papers, packs of cards, and rivers upon which boats strain but make no progress.

The restaurant car attached to the EuroCity 54 train was full of passengers on this early morning service to Berlin. The hotel I stayed in Gdańsk had packed a nice breakfast for me, but I was keen on trying the food from the WARS restaurant car.

As the train made its way west, the sky, heavy with a descending layer of fog and imminent rain-clouds but still made bright by the strength of the sun, grew slowly from a deep bruised purple to a vivid azure blue; the meadows and fields, bereft of the crops cultivated in-season, were virtually glowing a rich yellow-brown colour. It was a glorious sight.

The light of day, with all the trappings of expected splendour, had inched its way across the horizon in the form of a soothing warm aura that sweeps the land, as though it were the result of an incantation of words, like the shades that plead with Odysseus in the underworld to give them life and body.

Then again, who am I to wax lyrical and serenade about the grinding pitter patter of wheels on steel tracks…

The Restaurant Car Onboard EuroCity 54

The restaurant car onboard EC 54, like other long-distance trains with restaurants cars in the PKP Intercity fleet, is staffed by WARS. Due to its relationship with state railway company PKP Intercity, WARS is one of the few Polish companies with almost full brand recognition in Poland.

Besides being a catering company that services PKP Intercity trains, WARS also has three restaurants in Warsaw. In their restaurants, they have an extensive menu with a wide range of healthy, varied dishes.

On PKP Intercity trains with a restaurant car, WARS has a mobile application for passengers to make food and beverage orders at their seat. When the order is successfully completed, WARS service personnel will deliver the food and/or beverage to the passenger’s seat. However, I did not test out this application as I felt more comfortable dining in the restaurant car.

Passengers may order meals to be delivered to their seat. Seen here is an example of the wonderful WARS onboard catering. This photo, which really does not do the food justice (it tasted amazing!), was taken on a previous ride in a PKP Intercity train.

In the restaurant car, fold-down seats were set up in a 2-1 configuration (with seats facing each other) and table service comes as standard. The restaurant car was also well-lit and heated, a true delight considering it was freezing outside.

While there was significant headroom above the overhead racks in the restaurant car, the rack is not adequately wide to fit large bags. It will probably not be suitable for anything bigger than a laptop bag.

A washroom is also located in the vestibule of the restaurant car. I was happy to find out that the cleanliness of the washroom was maintained throughout the duration of the trip.

Breakfast in the WARS Restaurant Car

There is probably nothing more fulfilling on a train than having a relaxing meal in the dining car, followed by dessert and washing it all down with an aromatic espresso. Most of the passengers in the restaurant car were Poles and Germans having their first meal of the day. It was truly an interesting sight seeing some of them pair alcohol with their breakfast!

The service attendant approached me with the WARS menu. I went for a set of eggs, bacon and sausages, which came with bread and butter, as well as a cappuccino.

A white table cloth and a set of cutlery were promptly laid before me, and my breakfast was served to me within fifteen minutes.

I was delighted to see that the food was freshly cooked in the restaurant car and not some reheated mix of food items from the microwave. It was nice to have some leafy greens, and the sausages went really well with the mustard and ketchup mix.

With breakfast wolfed down in a matter of minutes, it was time for more caffeine. Out went an order for a second cup of cappuccino, and the drink was delivered shortly with a small biscuit.

Sated with breakfast and content with my journey thus far, I took a sip of the coffee, which had a wonderful composition that was at once familiar and vibrant — a flavour I had come to know and love over the years. I then dipped the wafer in the coffee and raised the morsel to my lips.

 

A shudder ran through my body.

 

What was this sensation, this unbinding rising to the surface of a weird recollection triggered without conscious intention by a random cue encountered in daily life? An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses in this moment of travel, but it was truly a labour in vain to recapture this memory at that moment.

Clearly, as Marcel Proust wrote, “the only true voyage of discovery, the only fountain of Eternal Youth, would be not to visit strange lands but to possess other eyes, to behold the universe through the eyes of another, of a hundred others, to behold the hundred universes that each of them beholds, that each of them is […]”.

I was growing conscious to some enterprise from a distant past in which very little subsists to-day, but it was something that presented with such vitality and vigour, an all-powerful joy to strengthen me with unfaltering and unwavering fortitude.

 

Then again, this could have very well been the food coma presenting itself.

 

Certainly no one was expecting a mahogany writing desk with a quill or feathered pen in hand while writing a novel about the romance of travel. But gazing out into the wilderness of the countryside passing me by and pondering about the vagaries of life like Pushkin or Lermontov, the ride on this train came to me as a form of inviolable solitude.

EuroCity 54 Train Composition and Onboard Service

By the time I was completely done with breakfast, the train had passed the city of Bydgoszcz. Delays had begun to accrue as the train slowed down on sections of single track. Freight trains passed by at speed, and even with a well padded timetable that offered generous leeway for delays enroute, it was becoming evident that the train would not reach Berlin at its scheduled arrival time.

I made payment for my meal with my credit card. Cash payment with Polish złoty and euros were also accepted, and I did notice that most of the German-speaking passengers paid for their meals with cash. As the crowd in the restaurant car thinned out, I took a walk down the length of the train to view the various carriages.

The EC 54 train composition was made out of one First Class carriage with six seats per compartment, one restaurant car (operated by caterer WARS), three Second Class carriages that have six seats per compartment, and one Second Class open-plan saloon car with eight bicycle racks. All carriages were equipped with air-conditioning/heating and vacuum toilets. With the exception of the restaurant car and the single Second Class open-plan saloon car with bicycle racks, all other carriages on the train had power sockets (230V) that passengers can use.

A typical First Class carriage in PKP Intercity’s fleet. This photo was taken during a previous trip and is for illustrative purposes only.
This is the interior of a First Class open saloon-type carriage in PKP Intercity’s fleet. This photo was taken during a previous trip and is for illustrative purposes only. The First Class carriage in the Berlin-Gdynia-Express EuroCity 55 only had seats within compartments.
A Second Class compartment onboard a PKP Intercity train. This photo was taken during a previous trip and is for illustrative purposes only.

One of the Second Class carriages with compartment-style seating had a single compartment for passengers on wheelchairs. This particular carriage also has an additional large restroom for wheelchair-bound passengers. As a result, the carriage has a reduced seating capacity of 56.

For Polish rail operator PKP Intercity, their IC/EIC fleet is made up of rolling stock that is either new or has been refurbished through an extensive upgrade programme. As a reflection of its premium categorisation, EIC trains require a compulsory seat reservation supplement. A First Class ticket entitles passengers to a hot or cold drink (coffee, tea, mineral water or juice) and a sweet snack, while passengers with a Second Class ticket may get a bottle of mineral water. EIC trains also have cars with facilities for those with mobility impairments, as well as bikes or skis racks.

The train was hauled by a Siemens Eurosprinter ES 64 U locomotive, classed as the EU44 Husarz in PKP Intercity’s fleet. While Poland utilises 3 kV DC, this particular locomotive type is able to operate into Germany as it is capable of running on 15 kV 16.7 Hz AC. It can also technically operate into the Czech Republic’s 25 kV 50 Hz AC system.

EU44 Husarz in PKP Intercity livery. Both Germany and Poland use 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in) standard gauge. This photo was taken during a previous trip and is for illustrative purposes only.

The interoperability of this locomotive makes it a truly versatile machine that can haul carriages across Europe. This ability to operate across borders is especially important for this route as it removes the need to change locomotives at the Polish-German border. It saves resources for PKP Intercity and cuts down the time needed (about ten to twenty minutes) for the journey in each direction, making cross-border rail service more competitive to flights between the two countries.

The EU44 Husarz locomotives are capable of hauling carriages at up to speeds of 160km/h in Poland. As with other locomotives in the Siemens Eurosprinter family, musical-sounding notes, said to resemble an alto saxophone, are produced when a train is moving off. This sound comes from the locomotive’s traction converters. This photo was taken during a previous trip and is for illustrative purposes only.

PKP Intercity operates ten such EU44 Husarz locomotives. Other trains hauled by the EU44 Husarz include the daytime services operated between Warsaw and Berlin, ÖBB Nightjets, and a handful of cross-border EuroNight trains between Poland and Germany. When the integration of Polish rail lines with the European railway network is complete by July 2023, it is expected that more international train routes will connect Poland with its western and southern neighbours.

Modernisation of Polish Railroad Infrastructure in the 21st Century

Here is where I think Poland has made huge strides in upgrading its rail infrastructure over the past decade. When I was previously in Poland in 2010, PKP Intercity had just received suitable locomotives to haul carriages at high speed but it still lacked the rolling stock to do it efficiently and effectively at capacity.

Now, new or modernised trains constitute almost 70% of the PKP Intercity rolling stock, and these investments were made possible by funding from the European Union. Poland has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the EU Cohesion Policy Fund, which provides the financing for the construction of trans-European transport networks and infrastructure projects to reduce socioeconomic disparities and promote sustainable development.

The Polish State Railways has improved the line speeds for many arterial lines connecting major cities.   /Image: Polish State Railways (Polskie Koleje Państwowe)

Along with investments made in rolling stock, the European Commission has committed to investing €487 million to modernise Poland’s railway communication system. EU-funded works will replace outdated technology and set up a modern communication system stretching across 14,000 km of railway lines throughout Poland. In addition to improving passenger safety and reducing travel time, Poland will move towards introducing the European Rail Traffic Management System, which will integrate Polish rail lines with the European railway network. An alignment of communication systems with other European nations will allow rail operators to avoid switching locomotives or onboard equipment at border crossings. This project, which will be operational from July 2023, will further interoperability and make rail transport in Central and Eastern Europe more efficient.

A vast amount of railroad modernisation works in Poland have been conducted with EU funds.   /Image: Polish State Railways (Polskie Koleje Państwowe)
Poland has been a major beneficiary of European Union infrastructure investments.   /Image: Polish State Railways (Polskie Koleje Państwowe)

In November 2020, the European Commission further approved an investment of over €46 million from the Cohesion Fund to buy 21 electric trains and modernise the depot at Warsaw. This is expected to improve public transport in Warsaw as well as increase in-house maintenance capabilities and efficiency of the transport provider, and is part of broader EU efforts to develop interoperable and high quality rail transport in Poland.

A non-tilting Pendolino trainset at Gdańsk Wrzeszcz station. These trains are equipped to work on 25 kV 50 Hz AC, 15 kV  16.7 Hz AC and 3 kV DC, and thus able to operate in Poland, Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic. However, certification for international operation is not seen as a priority. This is because the trains are restricted to domestic services for an initial ten years under the terms of a grant from the EU Cohesion Fund, which covered 22% of the project cost. PKP Intercity operates this high-speed train service under the Express Intercity Premium (EIP) brand name.   /Image: Polish State Railways (Polskie Koleje Państwowe)

With significant investment over the years, the standard of railway operations in Poland has dramatically improved. Gone are the days of overcrowded carriages and Soviet-era locomotives. The quality of rolling stock and track infrastructure is expected to improve further over the next few years, and Poland will certainly reap the benefits of a high quality rail network.

Returning for Lunch in the WARS Restaurant Car

After the walkabout, and spending about an hour lounging in one of the Second Class carriages, I returned to find the restaurant car completely empty.

I was absolutely certain that I needed to have a good, final meal on Polish soil. And so began indulgence session 2.0.

For a restaurant car, WARS sure does have a comprehensive menu.

I ordered a Lipton peach tea, a mushroom soup (which happened to be the “soup of the day”), Polish pierogi (dumplings made with cottage cheese, potatoes, and spices), a ‘traditional pork chop’ (akin to a breaded schnitzel), and a szarlotka (a traditional Polish apple pie) for dessert.

And as always, my excitement for dessert was visceral.

Onboard Connectivity

After I was done with lunch, I took out my laptop and decided to make good use of the sturdy table in the restaurant car. The staff in the restaurant car were more than happy to allow me to sit there even though I had finished my meal.

There was mobile connectivity for a significant part of the journey on Polish soil, so I tethered my internet connection from my mobile phone so I could access the internet on my laptop. I was able to get some work done on my laptop, and even make a hotel reservation for my time in Berlin. As I was using a Polish SIM card, my internet connection terminated at the border with Germany.

Crossing into Germany

After the last Polish station of Rzepin, the EuroCity 54 train crossed the Oder River south of Słubice, making its way into the one and only stop in Germany territory before Berlin — Frankfurt (Oder).

Crossing the Oder River from Poland to Germany. This river demarcates the border of the two countries.

Frankfurt an der Oder is one of those places like Gdańsk or Strasbourg, in that the city has been shaped by the borders moving around it. For many centuries, this Hanseatic river port was deep in what was previously Prussia, until the Potsdam Conference cut it off at the Oder River and made it a border post. With both Poland and Germany in the Schengen Zone, border controls are no longer in place and passports need not be stamped. But the historical legacy of this city being at the edge of Germany lives on in the train station — signs remain in both Polish and German languages.

The train stopped for a brief moment at Frankfurt (Oder), but it did not seem like many passengers boarded this train for Berlin. I reckon Frankfurt (Oder)-originating passengers bound for Berlin would prefer the more frequent and cheaper Regional-Express RE 1 service by DB Regio Nordost.

Arriving at Berlin Hauptbahnhof

After Frankfurt (Oder), the train sped through the eastern suburbs of Brandenburg and Berlin, and then entered the Berlin Stadtbahn line. The Stadtbahn line is an elevated rail line with viaducts totalling eight kilometres in length, carrying four tracks in two pairs. It also crosses the German capital in an eastern-western direction. One pair of tracks is reserved for use by the Berlin S-Bahn, and it is electrified using a third rail carrying 750V DC. The other pair of tracks is used by Regionalbahn, Regional-Express, Intercity, EuroCity and Intercity-Express trains, and is electrified using the German standard of 15 kV at 16.7 Hz AC, supplied by an overhead catenary.

The EuroCity 54 train made an unscheduled stop at Berlin Warschauer Straße station due to congestion on the line.

Despite the quadruple-tracked Berlin Stadtbahn line, there was a long delay in getting through the last few kilometres to Berlin Hauptbahnhof.

The train took the Berlin Stadtbahn, an elevated line of track in Berlin.

The line was heavily congested, and the train finally pulled into Berlin Hauptbahnhof on the elevated, upper level about half an hour behind schedule. Had the train used the Berlin North-South mainline, it would have ended up in the underground section of Berlin Hauptbahnhof. But using the Berlin North-South mainline comes with its own terms of access, such as the requirement of trains to have a retention toilet system and the prohibition of eddy current brakes.

The sprawling expense of Berlin Hauptbahnhof with a row of shops. The train arrived at the elevated track above the row of shops.
At Berlin Hauptbahnhof, tracks 1 to 8 are underground and are used for regional and intercity services on the Berlin North–South mainline. Tracks 11 to 14 are elevated and are used for regional and intercity services on the Berlin Stadtbahn. Tracks 15 and 16 are elevated and are used for S-Bahn services on the Stadtbahn. The shops at Berlin Hauptbahnhof are sandwiched between the elevated and underground sections of tracks.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof is an impressive train station. With information counters and a Reisezentrum (Travel Center), passengers are able to buy tickets and make seat reservations easily at the station. Platforms at this station are step-free for barrier-free accessibility, and there are also luggage lockers and free wifi available.

Passengers may also check the departure and arrival times of their trains through an online platform.

Well-designed and airy, the extensive use of glass in the design also allowed for a lot of natural light to fill the station. An excellent plan of the station can be accessed at this link.

There were limited rooms available in Berlin as many tourists came to the city to take part in the 30 Jahre Mauerfall (30 Year Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall) festivities, and I was fortunate to secure a room at the Steigenberger Hotel Am Kanzleramt, Berlin, which was a two-minute walk from Berlin Hauptbahnhof. It was somewhat pricey, but I was glad to have a place near the train station.

Later in the afternoon, I boarded a U-Bahn train at Berlin Hauptbahnhof for Brandenburger Tor, where I managed to attend the festivities.

Conclusion

This journey on EuroCity 54, the Berlin-Gdynia-Express, gave me the opportunity to review Polish rail operator PKP Intercity and WARS’ service offering onboard one of their international lines. It also allowed me to get to Berlin in time for the 30 Jahre Mauerfall (30 Year Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall) festivities, which I enjoyed thoroughly.

Trains, such as the EuroCity 54, provide a competitive alternative to flights in Europe. Train stations in Europe are mostly located in the city centre, while the local airport may be some distance away from the city. The fact that there were no non-stop flights between Berlin and Gdańsk in 2019 shows that travellers may prefer a six-hour train journey between the two cities as compared to a flight by a legacy or low cost airline. In Poland, there is also no minimum check-in time at train stations (unlike taking an aeroplane) and security formalities are non-existent.

 

Medium and long distance train journeys in Europe are making a comeback.   /Image: Polish State Railways (Polskie Koleje Państwowe)

Significant investment into railroad infrastructure and trains are paying off, and rail journeys are now the optimal choice for green and sustainable intercity travel.   /Image: Polish State Railways (Polskie Koleje Państwowe)

For short to medium-distance travel in Europe, taking a train is the way to go. It is the future of sustainable mobility, and with trains offering the transport of bicycles onboard, door-to-door journeys in Europe will be cleaner and greener. You will minimise your carbon footprint, and it is a more rewarding, low-stress alternative to flying.

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