Telephone exchange in Engine Shed? Why?

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When several years ago an obsolete railway communication network was unquestioningly dismantled in Poland, one could still hope that few of the example exchanges will be saved and will find their second life as a museum exhibits. Plenty of emerging museum facilities devoted to railways made one assume that railway communication equipment will become as attractive souvenir of the past, as old steam engines and cars. Time has verified those assumptions – among all the interested parties only Skierniewice Engine Shed collected nearly complete set of equipment to prepare a fully-fledged historical telephonic exchange in working order. Except us, only Engine Shed in Wolsztyn decided to save for posterity a modest example of KATS railway exchange. A situation worth citing a classic: among his best friends, dogs devoured the hare.

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Siemens automatic exchanges shared the fate of engines class Ty2/42/43 (German BR52). Left after the occupant in large quantity and good working order, they become a common part of railway everyday life. They were still produced after the World War II, mainly from Czechoslovakia (Tesla works in Kolin obtained a license for Siemens & Halske communication solutions in the late 1930’s and 1940’s). Slowly the national telecommunication industry took part in the development of this exchange system, building new parts and equipment which were not involved in the basic imported version. After twenty years of modest involvement of Polish telecommunication factories (focused only on exchanges based on step-by-step switch 32A, incompatible with Siemens system) they started to pay closer attention to the railway needs. In the end of 1960’s a successful Polish construction of cross-switches allowed for design and production of end exchanges type CK-20 and CK-60 – fully compatible with Siemens system but requiring much less maintenance effort. This was actually the end of automation of railway telephone network, making obsolete the manual switchboards which one could still find even in major railway junctions. Even the appearance of licensed French Pentaconta exchanges was quickly followed by adapting them to work with Siemens “granddaddy”.

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Currently, a decade after full introduction of electronic exchanges at the State Railway telephone network, it appeared that no-one attempted to consider the old electro-mechanical exchanges as a national heritage. Not only the railway network suffered this fate. None of the postal town exchanges have been saved for posterity, not to mention the internal exchanges for large facilities. It is nearly impossible to find currently any example of automatic switchboards like PŁA912/923, ET25/50, AT100/200, FT100/200, CAA200/1000, CAGK, AG50, CK20/60 or even the common modules for town exchanges like 32AA, 32AB or K66. No proof has been left to support the fact, that there was a large telecommunication branch in Polish industry in the past. Only one can admire how differently the historical communication equipment was dealt with in neighbouring Czech Republic.

Forecasting the grim future for the old railway exchanges, many years ago we started collecting the communication equipment, we bought and transported to Engine Shed nearly complete Siemens exchange, both types of CK exchanges and less related to railway but still historically important switchboards of type FT (a descendants of type AT, the first automatic exchanges in PKP).

Now, it is time to assemble the collection into one functioning piece. In the adapted two rooms the Siemens exchange is taking shape. In the attached photos, you can compare our exhibit with the factory catalogue from 1939. Similar, aren’t they? Next in the queue for assembling are FT200 switchboard and CK20 and CK60 exchanges.

We invite to cooperation. Railway is not limited to trains and tracks…

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