Train Travel Safety in Poland and Beyond – Things To Know

Safety on trains has been a hot topic for years. If you search the internet, you’ll find countless threads discussing thieves, robberies, and pickpocketing. Opinions vary widely – some people describe groups of thieves targeting TLK trains, while others dismiss these fears as paranoia. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.

Let me say, as a personal preference, I avoid traveling on polish TLK night trains to steer clear of drunk or suspicious people. Instead, I choose to spend the night at one of my favorite railway stations. But sometimes, there’s no other choice.

Make sure you read this article too, I mention there the most scenic railroad lines in Poland: A Guide to Poland’s Rail Network – Map, Routes and Train Tickets

Methods of Theft

I think it’s worth mentioning that you can encounter a thief anywhere – in the city center, on the promenade, or at the train station. On daytime trains, the most common method of theft is sling theft.

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Here's how it works: the thief boards the train, hangs their jacket next to the victim's jacket, and after a few minutes, pretends to search for something in their pockets. In reality, they're rummaging through the victim's jacket. Then, they either leave the train or move on to their next target.

Pickpocket Caught Red-Handed

I can tell you about an incident where police officers and security officers caught a pickpocket who robbed a train passenger. They found freshly stolen documents and money on him, and he was sentenced to 5 years in prison for the theft.

The pickpocket was spotted on the Wrocław-Katowice train. When he saw the officers, he threw his wallet away and tried to run. However, the police detained him and found a large amount of cash, ATM cards, and an ID card that didn’t belong to him. The pickpocket was known to Katowice police for targeting trains and had been involved in similar thefts before. He likely used the sling theft method, described earlier.

During my college years, I encountered sling theft multiple times. Thieves even tried to rob me, but I caught on quickly. These thieves can be individuals or groups of middle-aged men who create distractions (e.g., arguing loudly about smoking in a non-smoking compartment) while another member searches the pockets of passengers.

In Upper Silesia, there used to be thefts without a specific name: a passenger would place a backpack or bag next to them, and when the train stopped at a remote station, the thief would quickly grab the backpack and jump off the train. Before the passenger could react, the thief would disappear into the forest or a nearby housing estate. However, those were the days when mobile phones didn’t exist (or were the size of bricks), and the police were not as responsive to such thefts.

You may also want to read this article later? Is Poland Safe For Living and Traveling? A Comprehensive Guide

Train Robberies – Then and Now

Back when mobile phones didn’t exist, robberies on trains, often involving dangerous weapons, were a much bigger issue. Thieves would board the train at remote stations, intimidate passengers, and extort money by threatening to beat them up. They’d then get off at the next station, never to be seen again. Nowadays, with the ease of summoning the police and stricter penalties for robbery, such incidents are rare.

However, the Warsaw-Tłuszcz line is still considered the most dangerous daily train connection in Poland due to frequent criminal incidents.

The Law and its Consequences

According to Art. 280. Robbery, anyone in Poland who steals by using violence or threats can be imprisoned for 2 to 12 years.

If the perpetrator uses a firearm, knife, or other dangerous objects, the minimum sentence is 3 years. While many penalties are limited to 3 years of imprisonment, some criminals may serve only half their sentence. Courts may also decide not to impose an absolute imprisonment sentence, opting for a suspended sentence and a high fine instead.

Modern Train Thefts – Myths and Reality

There are legends about thieves using sleeping gas to knock out passengers and then search their luggage for valuables. I am not sure how much truth there is to this, as I have not personally encountered such a method.

However, I can tell you that „sleeper” theft has become a common practice – the passenger sleeps soundly while the thief discreetly steals electronic devices, cash, or entire backpacks. The thief doesn’t use violence against passengers, and searches the stolen bags in one of the train’s restrooms.

How Sleeper Theft Works

A group of passengers boards the night train, acting unnaturally. One of them frequently walks along the corridor, scouting the area. Then, the others step in. Before entering the compartment, they shine flashlights in the passengers’ eyes to make sure everyone is asleep.

A nimble thief searches the luggage, while two well-built bodyguards stand nearby. If a passenger wakes up, the thief stops stealing and may even leave a banknote as an apology for interrupting their sleep. The thieves then move on to another compartment and repeat the process.

It’s worth noting that not all unusual activity in the corridor is related to theft. Sometimes, it’s just smokers stepping out to the restroom for a cigarette break. For example, when I traveled on the night TLK Rozewie train from Wrocław to Poznań, the restrooms were constantly occupied by smokers.

Non-uniformed Railway Protection Guard officers may also shine flashlights into passengers’ eyes. The reason for this remains unclear.

Most Dangerous Train Routes in Poland

Night trains often attract professional thieves who specialize in identifying victims and committing thefts. These criminals come in all ages and appearances, making them difficult to identify. Some particularly dangerous train routes in Poland include:

  • Bydgoszcz – Tczew (TLK Pogoria, holiday trains, also Tczew – Gdańsk)
  • Konin – Września (TLK Szczecinianin train)
  • Trzebinia – Lubliniec (TLK Przemyślin train)
  • Zawiercie – Gliwice (TLK Karkonosze train in timetable 2014/2015)
  • Kielce – Skarżysko-Kamienna – Radom (various trains)

Trains with the highest risk of common crime are night trains running through the Czech Republic, such as TLK Chopin (Warsaw – Vienna with wagons to Prague and Budapest) and TLK Silesia (Krakow – Prague with wagons to Vienna and Budapest).

How to React to Suspicious Behavior on Trains

If you notice suspicious behavior on a train, it’s best not to confront the individuals involved. Instead, report the incident to the police station at the end of your journey. Don’t expect the train managers team to take action, as they may be intimidated or unwilling to put themselves at risk.

Suspicious individuals or theft can be reported to the Railway Protection Guard (SOK). However, there are limited SOK (Straż Ochrony Kolei) officers available, and they are often unable to ensure safety on all endangered trains. Additionally, some thieves may know the faces of SOK officers and simply avoid them.

Railway Protection Guard (SOK) in Poland | Source: PKP Poland

In the past, there were rumors of conductors cooperating with thieves, such as leaving a cracked window next to a compartment that was worth robbing. However, the situation has improved, and PKP Intercity is actively looking for any conductors involved in such activities.

However, when we attempt to deal with situations ourselves, we risk facing severe repercussions. Apart from the consequences of potential conflicts with strong aggressors, even small-time thieves have extensive experience and knowledge of criminal law. In the examples below, I will demonstrate how they can defend themselves in court:

Situation #1

The thief wanders through the train, observing compartments and passengers. For some, it’s clear what they’re dealing with.

Legal interpretation: Intent isn’t punishable until preparation is proven. If you can’t prove that the thief observed passengers in preparation for theft, they’ll be acquitted, because it can be explained that they were looking for an open spot in the compartment due to fear of traveling with a drunk person or thieves. Even if a thief openly admitted to being a thief, they couldn’t be punished for it.

Situation #2

The thief enters the compartment with sleeping passengers. One passenger awakens, and the frightened thief flees.

Legal interpretation: Debatable. If the thief merely entered the compartment and ensured everyone was asleep, they wouldn’t be punished. However, if they rummaged through pockets or reached into a backpack, it’s considered a successful attempt, and they can be held accountable under Art. 14 of the Penal Code, although the punishment is usually lighter than for completed acts.

In this case, there’s a problem. If the attempt wasn’t recorded, the court must decide based on „word against word,” meaning which witness is credible. Now imagine – two other guards are waiting in the corridor for a thief searching through travelers’ luggage.

Only one of the four passengers who just woke up saw the thief in action. They testify against the thief alone, while the thief has two friends. They’ll back up the thief’s testimony, so the court must evaluate the three-witness version against the one-witness version. Who will they believe?

Situation #3

A thief steals a passenger’s backpack. They quickly exit the compartment, search the backpack, and give the loot to an accomplice. Coincidentally, the passenger wakes up, notices the missing backpack, and catches the thief with the backpack at the end of the car.

Legal interpretation: While the case seems easily won, the thief can claim that they merely found the backpack and intended to return it. If officers don’t find stolen items on the thief during a search, and the thief doesn’t report the accomplice, there’s no chance of conviction. They can only be detained for 48 hours.

As a last resort, if the case goes to court, the thief can claim they experienced a spiritual transformation in prison, now working to prevent theft and ensure passengers feel safe, and therefore wanted to return the stolen backpack. Likely to be acquitted.

By trying to administer justice yourself, you expose yourself to criminal liability. It’s different if you have many passengers willing to testify in your favor, connections in the media, or you’re a well-liked member of the ruling party. However, as an ordinary passenger, it’s better not to intervene, as you’ll only expose yourself to criminal liability. Here are some examples:

Situation #4

You see a suspicious person. You approach them in the corridor and say, „If I see you here again, you’ll see what I’ll do to you”.

Legal interpretation: By saying these words, you expose yourself to criminal liability under Art. 190 § 1, because you have used a punishable threat. A punishable threat involves causing justified fear in the victim before its fulfillment, regardless of how the threat is expressed. Remember, if you’re ever accused of criminal threats, emphasize that the victim wasn’t afraid of your threats. In Polish law, even the most dangerous and real threat is not a punishable threat, unless it aroused justified fear of its fulfillment in the aggrieved party. This offense is punishable by imprisonment for up to two years.

Situation #5

Four passengers sleep in the compartment. The thief enters, steals a phone from a sleeping passenger, and you catch the thief in the act. The police arrive and find a stolen smartphone from another sleeping passenger in the thief’s jacket. All you witnessed was the phone being stolen from the sleeping passenger.

Legal interpretation: Theoretically, we have a thief caught red-handed, which means they should be punished. However, the thief can argue that they were one of the sleeping passengers, and you gave them the phone and the other passenger’s smartphone. No one saw the incident but you, so if the thief can create a plausible reason for you to blame them, you’ll be charged under Article 235, and the thief will be acquitted.

Situation #6

The thief watches the compartment, and you notice them. You go into the hallway, warn the thief, and lightly hit them. You say, „You know what for”.

Legal interpretation: Such action is a classic example of violating bodily integrity. If the thief decides to report it to the police, you will be liable under Art. 217. It’s better than assault, as you can receive up to three years for assault, even if the thief is caught in the act and there’s no doubt they committed theft.

Also, be cautious with your statements or writings about thieves on trains. Words like „break their hands” or expressing approval for lynching such individuals can result in a criminal case, provided the thief is audacious enough to report the fact to the prosecutor’s office.

These examples are basic, without a detailed analysis of legal provisions, jurisprudence, defense strategies, etc. This is not a legal portal, so I have only provided the essential risks you may face when trying to react to thieves on night trains. It’s better to leave matters to the services established to combat crime, but they often don’t want to engage.

If we must react, it’s better to throw a firecracker in the corridor that wakes up other passengers (ensure it doesn’t harm anyone), or start shouting „thief” (though other passengers might think you’re a paranoid individual with mental health issues).

If you’ve been robbed, report it to the conductor team and visit the nearest police station upon reaching your destination (avoid Saturdays and Sundays, as they usually don’t accept reports). Reporting a crime takes several hours, and the police will reluctantly accept the report, as it worsens their statistics.

The case will likely be dismissed due to the perpetrator’s failure to be identified, but if many such cases occur in a given area, the police will have to take action. Therefore, all victims of train thefts should report the incidents to the police – this can be done even after returning to your city, on any day, and the proceedings will be conducted through legal aid.

Many people fear they’ll have to travel long distances for additional interrogations at a police station. However, you can always request a hearing at home through legal aid.

Protecting Yourself From Theft

No method can guarantee complete protection from theft, just as avoiding going out doesn’t guarantee complete safety from other dangers, like gas explosions. Staying constantly vigilant against pickpockets may not be enough either, as they may strike when you’re preoccupied with a train delay. However, there are some tips that can help reduce the risk of theft on night trains:

  1. Avoid sleeping on trains if possible, as professional thieves typically target sleeping passengers.
  2. Sleep with your backpack under your head or stomach to make it harder for thieves to access your belongings without waking you up.
  3. Consider using a travel bag that can be attached to a door handle, which can alert you when someone tries to enter your compartment.
  4. Locking the compartment with a chain or padlock may provide a sense of security but can also hinder escape during an emergency.
  5. Don’t accept food or drinks from strangers, as they might contain sleeping pills or other drugs.
  6. Be aware that fellow passengers might be thieves, so stay vigilant even in the presence of seemingly trustworthy individuals.
  7. Try not to view everyone as a potential thief, as this can lead to misinterpretations of innocent behaviors.
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Train Thefts in Other Countries

Theft on trains is not exclusive to Poland. Here are some examples of train theft in other countries:

  • Night trains in the Czech Republic and Slovakia are targeted by thieves.
  • Pickpockets operate on international Intercity trains between Belgium and the Netherlands.
  • Night trains in Croatia, particularly during the off-season, have a higher risk of robbery and theft.
  • A gang of thieves targets the night train between Budapest and Belgrade.
  • Night trains in Romania have similar theft risks as in Poland.
  • Robberies have been reported on night trains in Bulgaria, including in sleeping cars.

In contrast, night trains in Austria and Spain are generally considered safer, with monitoring and security measures in place.


Although the information presented here may seem alarming, night train travel is not always fraught with danger. Using common sense and staying aware of your surroundings can help mitigate risks. In addition to thieves, other threats to consider include intoxicated passengers, erotomaniacs, and repeat offenders. While some may enjoy the party atmosphere on certain trains, others may prefer a quieter experience. It’s essential to balance the potential risks and rewards of night train travel, without demonizing or downplaying the threats.