Howard Jones, the founder and director of “The Wolsztyn Experience,” which for 25 years allowed railfans to run steam locomotives at speed on Polish main lines, died on June 25, of heart failure. He was 71 years old.
More than 2,000 people partook in the Wolsztyn Experience since its founding in 1996. At the time, Poland was one of the last places in Europe to see steam in regular service and Jones joined a group of English enthusiasts on a trip to Wolsztyn in 1995 to experience railroading as it was. Impressed with the experience he had there, Jones — who had worked in the airline and travel industries — decided to help bring other railfans to Poland, and founded the Wolsztyn Experience the following year. Through the Wolsztyn Experience, railfans from across Europe and North America could spend a week in Poland as student locomotive engineers and firemen, operating steam in regular service at speed. It was a program unlike any on earth. Jones eventually moved to Poland to help the program grow.
Since 1996, Wolsztyn’s student engineers and firemen have logged more than two million miles in the cabs of Wolsztyn-based locomotives. The program also helped keep the steam locomotives in service, even after diesel locomotives had replaced them on most regular runs.
In 2006, in honor of his service to British railroad enthusiasts, Jones was bestowed with the honor of “MBE” or “Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire” by Queen Elizabeth II.
“Howard was a man of amazing vision. His impact on the world’s railfan community has been most profound,” wrote Carl Franz, a friend of Jones and the U.S. representative for the Wolsztyn Experience. “For many steam fans, Howard Jones made our lifetime dreams literally come true. And for that, we are all very grateful.”
Franz wrote that U.S.-based Steam Locomotive Operation Group, Inc., hopes to continue the Wolsztyn Experience in the future, but admits that “without Howard, it will be very difficult to accomplish.”