Indian Railways Reports
2301 HWH Raj trip report NDLS-HWH - a spine chilling experience
After a long gap of three years I got a chance to hop on to the 2301 Raj for a journey to Cal. This trip was bit special for two reasons; first, this would be my first trip onboard an AC 1st…a long cherished dream since my childhood and second, ever since I simulated the Microsoft Train Simulator Del-Cal route and have been driving Raj/ Sampark Kranti/ Poorva (Thanks to Shanx for Poorva!), this was my first ride on a physical train! I have been especially looking forward to this since I could validate speed restrictions, track alignments, scenery, track curvatures (if possible looking at the white markers!) etc. It would be really exciting!
Cutting the intro short, this was 15th November. I reached NDLS with my wife with a queer feeling since though my ticket showed “Confirmed”, there was no coach number or seat number provided. I really don’t know why is this done for 1st AC. Well, with a sigh of relief I could spot our names in “H1”. The LHB rake entered platform 9 with WAP7 Gomoh 30220 at haul. H1 was right behind the generator car which meant we had a long walk ahead along with the train. As expected this was the “SAIL Rake”, while walking I could spot a few windows which were spared of the advts, probably were replaced with clear glass once they got damaged.
It was a two seater cabin, really good for privacy and comfort. The seats are big, wide but not really cushy to sit on- exactly like the rest of the berths in AC2/ AC3 but bigger in length and width. The little cabin had a painting on the wall, a deodorizer fixed on the roof, a volume control for the speaker (supposed to play piped music…but piped music is history now atleast in HWH/ SDAH Raj!), two foldable tables for the food items, nice reading lamp fitments and yes- a big window totally blocked with a SAIL ad.
I never knew that the ads could be that irritating. Even with reasonable sunlight at 4:30PM, Delhi evening, you could barely make out that there is a platform and not a track (for example) besides you. Leave alone even reading the station name. The sunlight falling directly on the window was making things worse since all the light was getting scattered. I came down to the platform and tried to use my nails to etch out at least a centimeter square sub-window – but these ads are pasted as if to last more than the coach itself. With the signal turning amber I left the hopeless idea and jumped on to the coach. Well, there was a clear window right outside our cabin and another by the side of the coach attendant chamber but both on non-track facing sides.
My only hope was standing at the door in order to examine the tracks. Anyways wary of my wife’s wrath, I scurried back to the cabin. The train jerked (thanks to CBC) into motion and soon we were treated with some juice. I would have more or less got into a mild depression looking at the SAIL-hue if not for the “Passenger Information System” fitted on the wall. This little box with a digital display is a railfans delight. It shows Present Station, Next Station, estimated arrival time at the next station and something coded as “SPD20”! I thought..it can’t be speed since I can’t be that lucky! But I was overjoyed to see the reading quickly change to SPD45. The speed is refreshed once every say 30 seconds.
We crossed the Yamuna Bridge at 50 and quickly picked up to touch 100 before Sahibabad. Anand Vihar station is almost ready with some trackwork still on. The feeder lines (double) to the station run parallel to the existing double tracks and are ready with traction structures and working signals (if you are wondering how could I spot the details despite SAIL, I checked it out today while returning by SDAH nonSAIL Raj). The train crossed Ghaziabad at 50 and started crawling at 10 after crossing Chipiyana Buzurg. The window was a write-off by now with the early winter darkness. Munching on the standard sandwitch/ samosa/ sweet/ tea I waited for the Raj to pick up speed. After some 15 mins, the train started to pick up speed real fast. It was a sight to see the indicator at SPD125 within few minutes (I should have timed it..!).
The train was soon hovering at around 128 to 130 range. With nothing much to do/ much to see except for the speed indicator I had no other option than to submit to the boring Rajdhani night journey. The train was glued on to 129 for what seemed like ages. I opened up a magazine and tried to concentrate. My wife just went out to the washroom and I was alone. The monotonous sound of the track suddenly changed into a roar. In a split second I thought that the train was passing over a freshly laid ballast patch. Very soon there were like a million stones flying from the tracks and hitting the coach underbelly. The indicator was at 129. The train started swaying and it was panicky. A train at such speed may actually get derailed with so many stones pounding the wheels. The stone firing continued at full force and looking at 129, I wondered why the hell wasn’t the driver applying brakes. The firing stopped abruptly and the brakes got into action. Meanwhile my wife rushed back from the washroom with panic written on her face – to find me in a jaw dropped posture. With the brakes clamped, the train huddled into a complete stop in the next few seconds.
I rushed out of the cabin to fathom what just happened. It could be an animal getting cut as well, since I had a similar but much less dramatic experience on board the Kalka back in 1986. The coach attendant opened the door latch to find what happened. Peeping out behind him out in the dark, I could see the train crew was already examining with torches on. They confirmed it was a big Nilgai getting shredded under the wheels. Since the 1st AC was right behind the Generator car housing the Guard/ Train Superintendant’s (TS) office I was witness to all the heightened action which started unfurling. The torch bearing crew walked on by the track on the other side and examined the damage. The helpers, telecom people, TS, coach attendants all seemed like a big family. It was pitch dark outside. With the door open and the tubelight reaching out to the darkness, I could only see the trackside bushes. Quite a few insects from outside gathered near the tube. The shrill sound of wayside insects was overridden with the serious hum of the generator car alongside. There was an slight odour of raw meat all around. It was a bit weird to see how used to was the crew to this animal slaughter situation. One of them climbed up to the coach with a grimace – there was no big meat piece! What ever he could find was mincemeat on the coachgear! Normally they use some big knives in the pantry car to clean up the meat and have small feasts.
By this time, the guard cabin was the scene of all action since the crew was anxiously looking at the brake pressure gauges. The Feed Pipe pressure refused to rise above 2 Kg/m2 which should be at least 6 for healthy running of the train. Meanwhile we got an idea of the damage with the track crew informing that the brake pipes got disconnected at 5 points and a water pipe had burst open in one of the AC 3T coaches. It meant some wait at that point. One of the passengers complained that the window glass has been completely shattered after being hit by flying stones. I stood at the door, looked at the track behind and was slightly getting concerned since this was precisely the situation when Purushottam Express rammed into Kalindi from behind back in 1998. The attendant told that this was a distant possibility now with walky talkies around. By this time the TS was having conversations with the Sikandarpur staff (the nearest station ahead us). The train was to be parked and Sikandarpur was hesitating on ‘accepting’ a Rajdhani
After a wait of close to 30 mins, the pressure started rising and the train was ready to roll. As the train jerked into motion, I asked the TS about the LHB coupling problem. Its an acknowledged problem as per him and the final coupling design has already been passed by RDSO. In a hurry he was mentioning about the Tesile Strength of the material which has been worked upon now. I did not get further on this topic in the current situation. I headed back to my cabin. The train crawled at a constant 10KMPH. Too impatient to stay back in this situation I asked my wife to excuse me for some more time and went back to the area facing the Train Superintendant’s cabin. Hectic discussions were still on. I quietly asked about Sikandarpur. The crew told me that there was some damage to the loco and it had to be changed. The loco was hauling the train to the next stop Sikandarpur so that other trains behind could move ahead. The cow catcher had broken off and was dangling precariously near the rail. They could not manage to put it back in place or pull it off. It would be extremely risky to run the train with the same loco due to obvious derailment chances if the catcher fell off and came between the rail and the first wheel.
Sikandarpur is a way side station with two loop lines on either side of the up and down ‘through’ tracks (Another loop now being added on the Up line side related to the track tripling project). Our train stopped on the main line itself leaving the Down loop open for trains to cross by. The action and discussion was now around finding a suitable loco replacement. The first light behind the rake emerged at a distance and it was WAP4 hauled Bhubaneshwar Raj which swayed by on the loop. The TS was in discussion with CNB staff and insisted that though he could manage the train with a makeshift loco till CNB, he wont allow the train to leave CNB without a twin pipe loco. The LHB rakes need twin pipes since all washroom accessories run on the pressure only…and would cease to work if a single pipe loco is put on job. Meanwhile a WAP7 hauled LHB Patna Raj crossed us. I could notice at least 50% of all big windows were having some crack or the other. The Patna Raj was followed by 2 EMUs and a MEMU. Once all the traffic passed through, our WAP7 was disconnected and was taken back through the Down loop only. It was pitch dark and I could not really see the damaged cow catcher.
So here was the LHB HWH Raj was standing at Sikandarpur, pitch dark…locoless. The crew was not sure as to when we would be getting a loco. Meanwhile the telecom staff was getting absolutely mad since while detaching the engine, the pilot put the throttle before they could disconnect telephone lines which got severed! The attendant meanwhile advised one passenger to take his meal and go to sleep since nobody knew when would the train move! It was 8:30PM by that time. I thought of getting down to the track. But the attendant told me not to since there had been incidents in the past where passengers have been attacked by miscreants in such areas. It was a pleasant surprise to see the replacement loco (WAP4 Ghaziabad shed) approach us through the down loop.
There was relief as I got to know that this engine need not be changed at CNB and was fit enough to haul the Raj till HWH. The train started at last at around 9PM from Sikandarpur. The Information system started showing speeds of 110, 125 again. It was time for soup, dinner. We were feeling a bit low thinking about the Nilgai. The crew had told me back at Sikandarpur that it was a common affair and they are witness to at least one run over every week. Nilgais especially have a tendency to run towards an approaching light. The train crossed Aligarh, Hathras, Tundla and with the SAIL Ad on the window, I did not have scope of doing any thing much other than sleep.
Kanpur was crossed at 2AM when I realized that the train was over 4 hrs late by now. The next station in the display changed to Mughalsarai by now. WAP4 was doing a marvelous job and the train was sticking at 129-130 post Kanpur. Allahabad Yamuna Bridge was crossed at 80 and the train quickly accelerated to 130 by Naini. I kept dozing off and on.
I woke up in the morning at around 6 AM when the train was getting on the triple track section post MGS. It was generally a smooth run. Sone Bridge was crossed at 50. Getting out of the cabin and looking through the clear glass, I could see that this India’s longest rail bridge is soon going to be replaced by a triple track concrete bridge being built in parallel. More than 50% of all the spans are already in place. Piers are all ready. The WAP4 blasted its way through the double track section towards Gaya with even the infamous Dhaba bridge being crossed at 130. I headed towards the door post Gaya to checkout the ghat section.
At this point I made a blunder that I would regret for quite some time to come. Standing near the door, I could see the main Passenger Information System monitoring console fitted on top. This unit is supposed to be the main unit which is to be touched by the Coach Attendant. Seeing an on/off switch, I flipped it off (In don’t know why!). When I switched it on again, it started with an welcome screen and asked for a passcode! I rushed back to my cabin to see if the PIS in my cabin was still working as usual. Unfortunately, it was not showing anything much other than ‘welcome to Eastern Railway’! I asked for the coach attendant if he could fix it. He tried with the pass code without any success. I passed the ghat section without knowing the speed. PSRs on the track side were not clearly visible. There are different PSRs for Freight and Passenger. Even different PSRs depending on the number of wagons were written on a board….the text too small for me to notice in a train which was losing no time to accelerate!
The stretch from Dhanbad to Asansol is pretty interesting with the up and down tracks running seemingly unrelated to each other and following different route alignments and gradients. I managed to get the the PIS Console working back again with the TS ultimately putting the right passcode! The Speeds again came flashing. The system automatically updated itself to show the next station, current time, expected arrival time at next station etc. It was surprising to see the Raj doing almost the entire stretch at 128-129 despite the undulations and the curves. Even more stunning was high Barakar Bridge getting crossed at 129. I had put a PSR of 110 for this stretch and 80 for Barakar Bridge in my train simulator route which I would need to correct.
I was too tired standing at the door for this long and decided to come back to my seat when the train crossed Sitarampur to enter the quadruple section to Barddhaman. The BWN-HWH stretch was also done at 125+ speeds except for one or two speed restrictions. This was an eye opener since I always thought that Raj doesn’t touch 130 in this stretch since the tracks seemed a bit too wobbly in the past. All that has been reduced to a myth now with the PIS at our service! The train had a brief stop near Belanagar.
We entered HWH at 1:30PM 3Hrs30mins late. However it was an interesting experience and being in the 1st AC near to the Guard coach, I had an opportunity to be present in the thick of the action. The attendant had told me earlier in the morning that as per the train crew, we were really lucky. The Nilgai was unusually huge, the train sway was much higher than what is normally experienced in such situations. The LHB rake being lighter had a chance of jumping the rails at that speed and they were all standing tensed.
Two weeks later, I boarded the SDAH Raj back to Delhi yesterday and reached home sometime back. The return journey was not that exciting even though I had clear glass window (non SAIL) since there was no PIS fitted in the coach this time:(
A few pointers:
- Passenger Information Systems fitted in some coaches work remarkably well showing present station, next station, current time, expected arrival time of next station, current speed
- 1st AC services/ fitments not standardized. HWH had a painting, carpets, deodorizer, PIS and velvetted berths. SDAH Raj has none of them and normal rexin covered berths. SDAH Raj however has the coach attendant welcoming you with a rose:)
- It depends on your luck if you get a two person cabin or a four person cabin. I came back today with my mother but had to share the coupe with a stranger despite of paying for the privacy
- SAIL adverts in HWH Raj rakes have received huge number of complaints from passengers. But railways can’t remove them now since there is a 3 year contract with SAIL: HWH Raj Crew
- LHB couplings been redesigned and has already been approved by RDSO. A solution soon in the offing: HWH Raj Crew
- Barakar Bridge being replaced with a new parallel bridge being built
- Sone bridge to be replaced with new parallel tripple track concrete bridge being built
- BBSR(Bhubaneswar) Raj spotted with WAP4 Gomoh shed loco with an LHB Rake today (Was trailing our SDAH Raj since Gomoh)
- Trippling work is on from Aligarh to Ghaziabad. Earthwork mostly done. Traction masts have been put in place. Electrification to be done. Basic track ballasting is done for about 30% of the stretch
- Coach fitments seem substandard. The 1st AC coach we traveled today (SDAH Raj) was Feb 2008 make but still had rattling berths, emergency window handle was missing, the washroom had a gaping hole behind the commode through which you could see the stairs and the rail
- The speakers don’t play piped music anymore. In my childhood you could hear Indian melodies (sometimes the language changed with the region which was being crossed). That shifted to instrumentals a few years back. And now despite the lone welcome and goodbye announcements 17 hrs later or more, the speakers are silent.
Material provided by Shantanu Biswas, Copyright © 2009.