The legend of Beautiful Helen inspires Polish manufacturers to take on future challenges

Piekna Helena, in translation Beautiful Helen, is the pet-name of a prototype locomotive manufactured by PKP during the interwar period, which won the golden medal at the International Exhibition in Paris in 1937. The construction of Pm36 Class is representative for the entire Polish railway history, the story of Beautiful Helen intertwining with the fight and independence spirit specific to the Polish people. The decision to build a locomotive of the future was made by Polish authorities to celebrate 20 years since the establishment of independent Polish Railways which, before November 11, 1918, was part of Austro-Hungarian and Russian Railways, but also to prove that the domestic industry was capable to supply quality products, similar to foreign products.Although manufactured in a period when the steam locomotive era was fading, only two such locomotives being actually manufactured, Beautiful Helen has proven the capacity of the Polish railway industry. Since then, Polish manufacturers have refuted the supremacy of western production plants and are still refuting it through the ambition of domestic suppliers such as PESA or Newag, which carry on the tradition initiated by Pm36 by providing innovative products and using domestic technology. After the establishment of PKP, the company’s name remaining the same to these days, the problem of the locomotive fleet was raised. Through the treaty of Trainon acknowledging the country’s independence, Poland received 2,900 steam locomotives from Germany and 1,300 locomotives from the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the same time, the Polish government ordered the first foreign locomotives, the US Consolidation Class. The establishment of the first Polish rolling stock production plants (1923 – Chrzanowice) triggered also the first orders from domestic suppliers. To prove the capacity of Polish designers, the railway authorities decided to develop a prototype locomotive capable to reach superior speeds (over 130 km/h). The project was entrusted to Warsaw Technical University and Engineer Kazimierz Zembrzuski, who developed the model of an aerodynamic train in 1934. Beautiful Helen was later on manufactured at FABLOK production plant in Chrzanów, currently BUMAR-FABLOK, the project being finalized in 1936. The first prototype, Pm36-1, equipped with an aerodynamic body case, exceeded the expectations of designers on the return journey from Paris where it was awarded the golden medal during the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, the locomotive reaching a speed of 150 km/h on a special route of German Railways. A series of tests which aimed at studying the speed, the aerodynamics and the energy consumption was carried out. Prototype 1 was destroyed in 1942 during World War II, only prototype Pm36-2 with standard body surviving the war. This prototype was rehabilitated in 2005. It currently runs on a tourist route in Wolsztyn, a city hosting the only operational network for steam locomotives in Europe.

by Alin Lupulescu

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