By JoAnna Berendt
WALBRZYCH, Poland — A group of explorers has begun digging in southwestern Poland in a quixotic search for a buried Nazi train said to be filled with stolen gold, gems and artworks — despite experts’ doubts that the train even exists.
The excavation, involving heavy equipment near a railway line between the cities of Walbrzych and Wroclaw, started nearly a year after two treasure seekers, Piotr Koper and Andreas Richter, created a frenzy by claiming that they had located the train. According to local lore, it disappeared in 1945 in a secret tunnel system as the Soviet Army advanced west toward Germany. Geologists and engineers at the Krakow University of Science and Technology expressed profound skepticism.
“We intend to find a railway infrastructure, an inlet to a railway tunnel, and inside this tunnel, we hope to find the train,” Andrzej Gaik, a spokesman for the treasure hunters, told reporters at a news conference here on Wednesday. “But what we will find on the train — that, we don’t know.”
The local authorities, who have grown somewhat wary of the hubbub since the initial rush of excitement, allowed the explorers to fence off the site, clear away rubble and cut down some trees, but not with public funds.
Mr. Koper, a Polish owner of a construction company, and Mr. Richter, a German geologist, have refused to be deterred. Over the last few months, they assembled a team of experts and collected the necessary permits to start the excavation process.
The highly anticipated search — involving 64 people, including engineers, geologists, chemists, archaeologists and a specialist in military demolitions — began on Friday and is expected to last at least 10 days.
Just before the digging began, six teams of surveyors used ground-penetrating radar to scan the site.
Two yellow earthmovers could be seen on Wednesday morning near the spot where the explorers believe the train is buried. From a nearby viaduct, several people observed the excavation.
The explorers are focusing on three sites inside the fenced-off area. Tomasz Siwiec, the coordinator of the project, said in an interview on Wednesday that excavations of two of the sites had to be halted on Tuesday afternoon when the team encountered rocks that could be removed only by a jackhammer.
But during the third dig, Mr. Siwiec said, the team came across some materials that struck them as odd. “We have found pieces of decades-old porcelain, which may come from a porcelain factory that used to be here before the war, as well as some lake clay,” Mr. Siwiec said. “There are no lakes in the vicinity.” He speculated that the debris and clay had been used, along with dirt, “to bury the tunnel we are looking for.”