Tricity is a tight metropolitan area with people commuting every day in all directions, from one end to another or from outside to the centers. What’s interesting, is that all the cities and its surrounding towns are situated mostly along the coast. If you were to connect them all like dots on a paper, you would end up with a slightly S-shaped line. That’s exactly what was done after World War II when the adjacent cities of Tricity became part of one country and the SKM (Fast Urban Rail) got established.
In the early 50s, Gdansk and Sopot got connected with Gdynia following shortly, together with other smaller cities in the vicinity. The best way to show you how important of a role it plays in the lives of citizens today, we will embark on a journey with Matylda, a graphic designer, on a typical Friday.
Matylda lives in a town just outside of Tricity. It takes her almost an hour to get to work in Gdansk. When the train arrives at her station, there are usually some free seats even though its already passed through some other towns in the suburbs. If she’s lucky, she’ll get to travel in one of the new Newag trains. There’s only two of them so far. If not however, the oldest one is 40 years old. On average the trains in operation are the oldest in Poland.
The train arrives at one of the main station in Gdynia and by this time, there are no places to sit. It’s hard to imagine that 40 years earlier, the number of people commuting by SKM was more than double and peaked at 100 million per year. Nevertheless, current numbers put the popularity of Tricity’s rail at third place in Poland. At this station Matylda’s colleague, Adam gets in and they usually discuss work matters for the remaining 40 minutes of the ride. They watch from a window as long strings of cars go in the same direction. The increase of car ownerships in Poland after the end of communism might explain the opposite trend in the popularity of public transportation.
The train stops at the University station in Gdańsk. As the name suggests, it’s where the biggest higher education institution in northern Poland is located. In the past few years, the area saw a rapid development of office spaces and is now the main business hub in the Tricity. It’s not Matylda’s stop yet, though she can’t wait until all the sleepy students and dressed up corporate workers (actually it’s hard to distinguish who’s who these days) unload from the coach. The rest of the ride is comfortable with room to breathe. Station Gdańsk Główny means it’s time to get out and head to the office.
After work, Matylda hops back on the train. Before getting home, she sometimes stops in Gdynia to see her best friend for a coffee at the beach. What a way to start the weekend. She can’t stay too long though. By 6pm, she rejoins her boyfriend at home and gets ready for a night out.
It’s a trip the same way as the morning, but this time the destination is Sopot: the nightlife epicentre of Tricity. She meets her friends and everyone is having a great time, going from one bar to another and ending up in their favourite club. The partying gets slightly out of hand and Matylda returns home a bit later than planned.
"No matter if you go to school, university, work or to meet friends, there’s a big chance you’ll get there by SKM’s singular railway."
Fortunately the service is running overnight on the weekends. Some passengers are still having a good time, but some have definitely called it a night. Hopefully they’ll wake up in time as it’s a long way back from the final station to e.g. Gdynia. Our journey ends where it has begun. Let’s say goodbye to Matylda and let her rest from this busy day.
Most young adults living here can definitely relate to this story. Our urban rail line really is the backbone of the Tricity. No matter if you go to school, university, work or to meet friends, there’s a big chance you’ll get there by SKM’s singular railway. It’s far from perfect, but changes are on the horizon.
Every year at least one station is being refurbished and by 2023, all stations in the Tricity are supposed to be modernized. Similarly, work is being carried on the older trains which are being fitted with new interiors. Bigger infrastructural investments can also be notices like the new Park&Ride underground facility in Gdynia Chylonia. Hopefully more and more people will see this mode of transportation as a viable alternative to cars.
One thing is certain, the SKM is the strongest link which brings the people of Gdynia, Sopot, Gdańsk and surrounding towns closer together. The SKM reunites citizens into feeling like one incredibly interesting and diverse metropolitan area, the Tricity.
Words & Pictures by Michał Malinowski