Polish Rail displaying non-passenger-friendly traits

Discussion in 'International Transport' started by Calthrop, 10 Mar 2018.

  1. Calthrop

    Calthrop Established Member

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    A recent brief rail-centred visit to Poland proved in some respects, depressing for me; i.e., its being hard to avoid getting the impression that those now in charge of railway matters in Poland are intent on, in various aspects, making rail passenger travel there as difficult to handle / inconvenient / disagreeable, as possible.

    There would seem to be a drive -- at least in the "mid-west" area of Poland around Poznan and Wolsztyn, visited in my recent trip -- to make railway stations, including those of some importance, as bleakly "basic" as possible as regards the requirements of passengers: ticket-booking window(s), toilets, and a small, grudging amount of waiting-room space -- no more, not even a money-in-the-slot coffee machine. This was the case at Wolsztyn (surely, with that location's steam operations, a potential visitor-magnet / showplace) -- which I remember as having had a quarter of a century ago, a fine station buffet; likewise at Zbaszynek -- while at only a small town, a prominent (even in these days) passenger junction: at Zbaszynek station, the sad sight of the row of "icons" for facilities -- over the subway between platforms -- having its "wine-glass = buffet" one with a diagonal "cancellation" red cross marked over it. The degree of facilities-abolition varies a little: Gorzow Wlkp. station had a small and rather pitiful "snacks-and-coffee-shop", with four or five spaces in a row at a counter (adjacent and open to the chilly station lobby) where one could sit and drink one's coffee. Largely, though, one was tempted to suspicions of a deliberate campaign re matters other than of actual trains, to drive potential passengers away.

    Another negative aspect of present-day train travel in Poland: minimal information facilities re train movements, other than that obtainable via the Internet. Bad news for "dinosaurs" like me, with only a computer at own desk at home in Britain; and, part of an apparent trend worldwide -- but in Poland, apparently taken to a most extreme degree. Station information offices re rail travel / workings, staffed by human dispensers of info, seem to be no more -- even at huge and important, and otherwise still quite generously appointed, Poznan Glowny station. Literally the only train-movement information readily available on the spot, to the travelling public, is on posted arrival-and-departures material at, and concerning, the station on which one finds oneself -- "paper" posters re same, or electronic info-panels. I encountered, for sure, absolutely no local timetable leaflets placed where people might take them; though did observe one fellow-passenger on a main-line local working south of Poznan, reading an item in his hand which was fairly clearly a timetable leaflet -- but how does one get such things?

    I had a wish to travel, one day, between Wolsztyn and Gorzow Wlkp. and return -- involving two local workings in each direction, changing at Zbaszynek. Wolsztyn -- Zbaszynek times could be got from the posted-up departures / arrivals schedules at Wolsztyn; but getting, at that location, Zbaszynek -- Gorzow Wlkp. times, was a poser -- especially as my Polish is minimal. I was lucky enough to get "speech" with a bright and helpful booking clerk at Wolsztyn, who responded -- in between selling tickets to "real people" -- to a written-out sheet which I presented to her, requesting all train times between Zbaszynek and Gorzow W: she looked the times up on her computer, and wrote them down for me. It would seem that a non-Polish-speaker confronted with a less kind, patient and co-operative railway employee, would likely not have fared well. Customer-friendly as regards rail travel matters, present-day Poland seemingly is not.
     
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  3. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    Poland is not a rich country, and PKP is not a rich organisation. So much of this is simply lack of funds.

    As for station buffets, in Poland as anywhere else these are operated for a profit. So if there is no profit to be made there will be no buffet.
     
  4. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

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    Hopefully the station buffets have been closed rather than demolished, ready for some future revival as at Sheffield Midland.
     
  5. Polarbear

    Polarbear Established Member

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    Can't comment about Poland, but buffets on SNCF stations away from the main centres & TGV network are also something of a rarity. Lots of big stations with either a hot drinks machine at best.
     
  6. Calthrop

    Calthrop Established Member

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    Thanks for thoughts. So this could well be a trend continent-wide; it's just that one feels that in a country such as Poland, with bitterly cold winters -- at stations, passengers should really be able to have comfortable waiting accommodation, and stuff to warm them up. (Polish trains themselves found, on recent visit, excellently heated.)

    It would appear that areas of stations, which areas now not in use, have just been blocked off; and at present anyway, would potentially be returnable to use if circumstances were favourable.
     
  7. smoky_bacon

    smoky_bacon Member

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    Is roughly around zero degrees a "bitter winter"? It's a common misconception when people think winters in Poland are almost like those in Siberia. In fact it's not much different to the UK, maybe less rainy days but more wet snow than proper snow which nowadays only happens once or twice between December and February and it's never certain to have "white Christmas".
    Although you are right about poor customer service and it's not exclusive but still worse than average on the railways. This industry, being state-owned for ages still has a lot of bad habits carried over from communism years. The "Passengers are for us, not the other way round" attitude if you know what I mean.
    You are kind of right that there should be accommodation etc. but the main problem here is the low potential profit, another thing is that waiting rooms in small locations would likely draw local homeless people, brainless window smashers, teenagers drinking before a night out etc. Trains are not very popular outside the main routes which is probably why the railways are not so keen on investing in some places.
     
  8. 306024

    306024 Established Member

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    Considering where Poland has come from in recent history, I'm not sure what you expected. My experiences have been somewhat different. Many younger Poles these days speak English, but always have your phrase book or Google translate handy (sorry if you dont want to use technology) and so long as you don't mind making a fool of yourself you should be understood. I've had helpful staff in both Poznan and Warsaw get me out of a fix when trains have been late.

    Wolsztyn may be Mecca for steam buffs, but it's only on a small branch line. The supermarket across from the station keeps you fed and watered. On which subject Polish dining cars offer basic fare but excellent value.

    As for Polish winters being like here, friends over there may disagree to some degree. Many degrees in fact.
     
    Last edited: 11 Mar 2018
  9. fowler9

    fowler9 Established Member

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    Sorry but Polish winters are nothing like UK winters. The central European area gets much colder and gets more snow than the UK. Regarding the stations, the services may be sparse but you will often find a shop nearby with much better services than in the UK and much cheaper.
     
  10. Redonian

    Redonian Member

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    Two weeks ago today in Wolsztyn the temperature early in the morning was minus 17c. It got up to minus 8 by lunch time. Indeed the whole time I was there it didn't get above freezing.
    Wolsztyn is a small town and quite simply a station buffet there is unlikely to make a profit particularly given that most of its passengers leave before 07:00. As has been said there is a supermarket almost immediately opposite the station if provisions are needed.
    Leszno Station does have a shop which also sells coffee so doubtless the bigger the place the more likely it is to find such facilities.
    As for finding out times for connecting trains The PKP website is very easy to follow and finding information from it is simple.
     
  11. Cloud Strife

    Cloud Strife Member

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    You missed it! It's located in the main hall in a glass box. I'm not sure exactly where it is as it moves around, but it's normally either next to the main doors or in the middle of the hall. However, most people (myself included) simply ask at the ticket window or at the PKP Intercity ticket offices (in Poznań Główny, it's located upstairs between the Biedronka supermarket and the shopping mall).

    Yes, the problem is that PKP S.A. have very unrealistic ideas of station rents. It's not a problem in big stations, but they have always been pretty horrible at property management. However, in somewhere like Gorzów, the problem is that the station is mostly used by local trains that aren't operated by PKP S.A., so they have little motivation to improve things beyond providing clean, functional stations.
     
  12. F Great Eastern

    F Great Eastern Established Member

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    That's simply the way that PKP are like - they are very much behind the times in many way, poor customer service, provide little information and are not very well developed and passengers really do seem to be an inconvenience to them.

    The various bits of PKP that were spun off over the years to have their own management or that were operated at a long arms length achieved far more for passengers than as part of PKP - unfortunately over the last few years these parts have been merged back into the parent or are no longer at arms length and a lot of the things that were done by these parts have since been lost or reversed or not developed further.

    The real tragedy about PKP is they have had huge amount of taxpayers and EU money for the past decade, and still cannot get the basics right, they could be a vastly better railway company than they are with their resources, but the smaller operators with far far less resources have achieved more, although in the case of Przewozy Regionalne, were very quickly strangled by massive hikes to track access charges.
     
  13. dutchflyer

    dutchflyer Member

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    You seem to have missed out on one quite important aspect: PKP is NOT-since many years, the sole operator of trains in PL-it only runs the main intercity trains and thus its website is also so called now. A station like Wolsztyn does not even have any PKP-trains. Local trains are run by PolRegio or many local-provincial operators. PR (formerly przewoze regionalne) had indeed the intent to make all its own stops like bus-shelters only with all sales done on train. These trains are quite haevily subsideised by the local regions and these set the rules and what money they can offer. Many sudden changes are to be expected-up to complete closure of lines at a week or so notice.
     
  14. F Great Eastern

    F Great Eastern Established Member

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    What happened with PR was a lot related to the fact every time they innovated or started to offer the kind of services, initiatives and use of technology that PKP wouldn't, they had roadblocks placed in their way when it came to paths and overnight massive hikes in track access charges and station access charges among many other things. PR had barely a penny to rub together but really did do some innovative stuff, the problem was that PKP didn't take too kindly to it.

    In 2011 PR had real time information, online ticket sales, ticket machines, Wifi on-board, media streaming on board trains and many other things on it's flagship services, some of which PKP still have not invested in to this day. PR had plans to roll RegioEkspress out further but soon after rolling these services out they were suddenly met with pathing issues for said trains and massive hikes to access charges and capacity reducing track maintenance programs that always seemed to hit these trains as well.

    If you knew all of the fun and games that happened with the RegioEkspress Lublin to Poznan (via Warsaw) service where every trick in the book was thrown at PR by PKP including supposedly neutral ticket vendors denying RE services existed, no mention of them in timetable prints due to "błąd drukarski" (misprint by PKP) that happened suspiciously often. In the end RegioEkspress died and I'm sure PKP were very happy with that because they certainly offered many things that the passenger wanted that PKP were not bothered about.

    PR is effectively a dead horse now, it's been split into many different regional operators so many times and took so much punishment over the years from PKP that it's a shadow of what it could have been. I will always appreciate the fact they had little but they actually tried to improve the passenger experience and had ideas which were ahead of their time. As someone who traveled to Poland and back regularly for 5 years or so, it was always clear that PR gave a lot more of a damn about it's passengers than PKP ever did.

    You have to remember that when PR was part of PKP and then split out of PKP, virtually all of the profitable trains and even most of the break even ones were transferred back to PKP a short while later, PKP had all the cherrys and left PR with all of the dead trees and somehow PKP many years later is still not providing the kind of passenger services that you would expect them to provide, it doesn't surprise me though, as PKP always comes across as big and cumbersome and not very focused.

    Since TK Telekom were brought back in-house rather at arms length involving an outside party we've seen Bilkom ripped to pieces to the point where it changed from a multi-lingual passenger portal with updates, real time info and journey planning to a Polish only journey planner. We've seen the PKP app have the draconian requirement of not being able to be used without a Polish mobile number and again only in Polish. A lot of good work was done at stations between 2009-2013 before Dworzec Polski was then liquidated and it's functions transferred back to PKP whose station projects since have seemed to have been based around reducing station footprints and adding more shops rather than trains.

    We're in 2018 and we're still waiting for PKP to provide the same kind of customer service improvements that PR provided in 2011/2012. Providing Wifi on their so called premium fleet, providing proper real time information rather than trying their best to hide it, having an app that is accessible to all, ticket sales in English and properly rolling out their own ticket machines is not something that should be too hard.
     
    Last edited: 13 Mar 2018
  15. 175mph

    175mph Member

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    And the rare ones they do have are like first class lounges, I presume?
     
  16. Cloud Strife

    Cloud Strife Member

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    It's not such a shame. Polregio (as they're now known) has a dreadful reputation in Poland for the attitude of their staff. It's commonly perceived that the better staff ended up with PKP Intercity, while Przewozy Regionalne ended up with the worst ones. While I agree that PKP played all sorts of tricks on them, a lot was also self inflicted through the lousy attitude of the station and onboard staff.

    PKP Intercity on the other hand is a strange beast. Demand is such that it should become a reservation-only company - which it is sometimes in theory, but then they still sell (except for the EIP/EIC class premium trains) tickets "without a guaranteed place". That results in dreadful overcrowding during peak times, something not helped by the fact that students can take advantage of 50% discounts at any time. A walk-up fare from Świnoujście to Przemysł in summer for a student is only around 45zł - or around 11 Euro. The distance is over 1000km - and this causes huge problems as a result.

    The problem is that no government wants to really overhaul both local and national train operations. For instance - take the student issue. A simple solution would be to restrict discounted travel to routes between the student's nominated home station and stations within the university town/city. This would ease the dreadful overcrowding, as it would stop the large amount of cheap leisure travel that they take advantage of.

    Another good move would be to completely prohibit provinces from subsidising cross-province services, except to the first station in the adjacent province. This would end the horror of certain seaside services which tend to be completely packed, and would leave local services for local purposes.

    I could write on this topic for hours, but in my opinion, the only thing working about Polish railways are the provincial railway operators.
     
  17. F Great Eastern

    F Great Eastern Established Member

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    I don't agree about the staff, but really the staff wasn't my point. They were a forward thinking operator when it came to actually serving passengers. Some of the things they offered were many years ahead of PKP in Poland and PKP still don't offer Wifi on their premium services - almost 8 years after PR started offering it on theirs. As I said, RegioEkspress was many many years ahead of such a similar standard arriving on PKP.

    The current system is ridiculous I agree with that because PKP as one massive company isn't very focused and not very innovative, highly conservative and stuck in the past and sees the customers as needing them, rather than they needing the customers. But the government will do the best they can to protect them and the status quo, just the same as the shenangians going on with LOT and Low Cost Carriers in Warsaw. Too comfortable for a lot of people in PKP right now sadly.

    My point more was that after separation, PR came out with a number of innovations (Wifi, online booking, onboard streaming, ticket machines etc) TK Telekom came out with Real Time Info, mobile ticket purchases and the Bilkom App and Dworzec Polski did great work and plans on station - I'm not at all convinced a lot of that would have happened if they all remained under close control of PKP central management - indeed now we're seeing that since re-integration that the spirit of innovation in those divisions has been lost.

    The current situation with Bilkom is a prime example of why PKP is bad. A good APP based on Hacon/Hafas in multiple languages, journey planning, real time info and a web interface with real time information and a multi-lingual ticketing system under the control of TK Telekom has been dismantled by PKP Infomatyka with a ticket buying app that only works in Polish and requires a Polish mobile phone number, Bilkom has had all real time functionality removed practically and the ticket purchasing system is now also only in Polish.

    The stuff done by arm lengths divisions for the most part was much better than the stuff done by the parent itself. These parts over the last few years have been some of the positives. But instead of building on these things, we've seen a situation where many have been reversed, discontinued and we've gone back to the bad old ways 10-12 years ago with tighter central control whereas everything I've seen suggests that when they were given more independence they achieved far more - but I suspect PKP being conservative as it is, doesn't see the value in things like Real Time Info, Mobile Apps, English Language, Wifi etc.
     
    Last edited: 14 Mar 2018
  18. Calthrop

    Calthrop Established Member

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    I indeed did this at Zbaszynek, with a couple of hours' wait in the middle of a freezing-cold day: in a mood of some desperation, walked off along the road toward the town centre. After a few hundred yards, found a small supermarket where one could buy machine coffee, and drink it on the premises. (I landed up buying more things in that supermarket, than had originally been intended !) As you indicate, "there are ways" -- but I can't help feeling that "in a better world", it would be good to have more passenger comforts on the spot.

    Have called self, not altogether in jest, a dinosaur: train information per computer / Net is fundamentally not to my taste -- especially when I'm out and about, with no computer-or-equivalent gear of my own to hand, to try to use. Being keen on travelling around by train, I greatly value "tabular timetables", which are becoming rather a rarity anywhere, in any form, these days -- so far as I could tell in "mid-western" Poland, virtually non-existent there -- the electronic "enter from where to where, you wish to travel; and approximately at what time" routine is unsatisfactory to me: it makes complex planning, and comparing different options, far more difficult. (I have a friend who feels the same way for similar reasons, although his thing is chasing after trains by car, purpose artistic photography. I will concede that many who are not railway nuts; but just ordinary folk who wish to travel from A to B; likely find the electronic business as described above, more user-friendly, than they would the old-style "Bradshaw and Friends".)

    I saw the "i" icon betokening Information -- but when trying to follow it, could see only ticket windows -- no "pukka" information office. My frame of mind didn't help: it was just then, in the mould of "crazy country !" (in the most affectionate way) -- prompting jumping to the conclusion that signs notwithstanding, there WAS no information office, and so prematurely giving up.

    I'd had hopes that at a large-city main station, there was a good chance that at a true information office, the language barrier might be more easily overcome. And, I wonder whether it might have had local timetable leaflets for the taking?

    Although my devotion is, to what one participant on these forums calls "spottery wibble" -- I'm not a student of modern railway commercial and managerial practices and "put-together"; I was aware that nowadays, Poland's rail passenger services are handled by an assortment of different "train operating companies" -- used "Polish Rail" in my thread title, as a kind of catch-all figure of speech. I've made a fair number of railway-interest visits to Poland over the past four-decades-odd -- mostly "way back", when there was still genuine steam over and above the Wolsztyn scene -- last visit before this year's, was in 2010. In the fairly restricted area of my travels on latest trip, I did receive the impression that things had become bleaker for the rail passenger in Poland, than I'd known before.

    F Great Eastern and Cloud Strife, thank you for some highly educational posts.
     
  19. Cloud Strife

    Cloud Strife Member

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    Yes, it's true. PKP as an overall company is good at delivering infrastructure works, but not much else. Even with this, there are a lot of strange decisions being made above their heads, such as the Poznan-Warsaw line renovation which will cost a huge amount of cash and will only deliver marginal improvements in journey times.

    I wouldn't say bleaker, but rather different. The provincial train companies are doing a very good job, especially in Wielkopolskie and Dolnoslaskie but not only. The larger, richer provinces are developing their networks nicely, and they're also heavily involved with reopening closed connections. PKP Intercity is constantly upgrading their fleet to modern standards, too. International connections are however a disaster - but this is a problem all over Europe.

    The big problem from my perspective are journey times. Even once the huge renovation of Poznań-Wrocław is complete, it will still take nearly 90 minutes between the cities. With such large and expensive works taking place, it should have been the goal to reduce that time to 60 minutes (it's around 170km).

    But as F Great Eastern says, it's also heavily political. A good example is with the TLK class trains, which are disgusting and normally overcrowded. A good move would be to introduce compulsory seat reservations, but if people couldn't get to the seaside on peak Fridays/Saturdays or to the mountains, there would be outrage among many in society. As a result, these trains tend to be very uncomfortable - and because of the ridiculously low fares - also filled with very anti-social people at times.
     
  20. F Great Eastern

    F Great Eastern Established Member

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    I once stood all the way from Krakow to Warsaw on TLK in the very narrow corridors outside the compartments for the whole journey in a very very old train. Pretty much there must have been approx 100 people standing in the corridor and literally it was having peoples arms and legs digging into you as tightly as possible for the whole journey - worst train ride of my life.
     
  21. duesselmartin

    duesselmartin Member

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    Had a Paddington to Cardiff journey like that after signal failure. Maybe it was a similar disruption in Poland?
     
  22. F Great Eastern

    F Great Eastern Established Member

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    No - it was a regular occurrence according to friends who lived there.

    Just became pretty obvious that you may as well pay another 15-20zl on a non TLK train.

    Plus it's far worse in compartment corridors than open plan ones in exceptionally ancient stock that felt 40+ years old and in a condition to match.
     
  23. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    If they go compulsory reservation without increasing the service it'll just end up like India where you book weeks or even months in advance or you don't go (unreserved second class aside, which makes the TLK train you describe seem empty).
     
  24. Calthrop

    Calthrop Established Member

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    Reading recent posts, I feel that I was fortunate lately, to be travelling chiefly on branch lines -- where the actual accommodation-on-rails was agreeable enough, even if the infrastructure left a lot to be desired !

    I'm rather a dilettante, un-versed in such things as TLK; but I do recall a rail journey from Jedrzejow to Radom in 2010, on which I was fortunate to be able to travel first class: looking into the second-class portions of the train, revealed what appeared to me to be a nightmare scrum. On my describing this to local friends, they replied, "That's nothing, compared to how it sometimes gets".
     
  25. Cloud Strife

    Cloud Strife Member

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    It wouldn't be a bad thing. These trains are in terrible condition, and the overcrowding makes them even worse. I'd also start by only selling full price (non-discounted) tickets for the first period of reservation so that ordinary people have a chance to travel, with discounted tickets only becoming available 14 days before departure. There are already reservation-compulsory IC trains, so it's not like the concept is unfamiliar to us.

    Of course, a simple solution to begin with would be to restrict discounted student travel. Most students have the so-called ELS (electronic ID), and this can be easily encoded with details of restrictions. For instance, during July and August, student discounts should not apply unless a student is on approved university business, such as conducting field research in a certain location. Many of the packed trains during this time are a result of students taking advantage of ridiculously cheap travel - the longest train in Poland from Świnoujście to Przemyśl (1000km+, taking between 13-14 hours) for a ticket bought 21 days in advance can be as little as 37PLN - or about 7.75GBP. Students can earn in the worst jobs at least 10PLN/hour, so you can see how the train service suffers when such discounts are widely available.

    Consider yourself lucky! Generally speaking, PKP Intercity is divided into two groups - the "Premium" trains which are EIP/EIC class and are comfortable, while the TLK/IC branding is used to differentiate between old and new/renovated trains. IC trains are fine, though can be overcrowded in 2nd class - while TLK trains are usually mostly broken and disgusting.

    Local trains are also massively hit or miss, and even the provincial railway operators can have a mix of new comfortable trains and old wrecked ones.
     
  26. F Great Eastern

    F Great Eastern Established Member

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    TLK by design though is a charge cheap as chips fares operations that squashes in as many passengers as possible without any real limits. I have even seen people laying on luggage racks and in the toilet and in vestibule doorways.

    TLK used to stand for Tanie Linie Kolejowe (Cheap Railway Lines) before they renamed it Twoje Linie Kolejowe (Your Railway Lines) to try and make it sound a little less obvious it's a slam them all in as tight as possible situation.
     
  27. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    It occurred to me yesterday that it might be worth them looking for some cheap used open coaches and installing either tightly packed 3+2 seating or narrow 2+2 with a large aisle for standees?
     

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