Hospet Jn. - Samehalli Branch
60 km. 22 September 1966
The two of us, myself and my Australian friend, on the 20 th. Sept., took the m.g. Guntur - Hubli Pass., hauled by a YP, dep. Bellary Jn. 21:04, some 15 mins. late, but reaching Hospet Jn. on time at 23:00. In the moonlight I could follow the adjacent, parallel b. g. line already laid from Guntakal Jn. up to Hospet Jn. for the speedy transport of iron ore from Hospet to Madras Harbour without transhipment at Guntakal. Goods trains were being hauled on the b.g. by diesel engines. The intermediate stations on the m.g. had a number long loops/sidings, as did the b.g. tracks, necessitated for the crossings of the long ore trains .
Booked into a room in a lodge about a km. from the station and spent much of the next day (21 st. Sept) at Hampi, 14 km. NE of Hospet. There, on the Sn. bank of R. Tungabhadra lay the ruins of Vijayanagar (1336 - 1565), still splendid in their scale and range. I had taken with me a copy of Sewell's "The Forgotten Empire", which made it possible for us to explore and appreciate every monument there.
A hill range, sometimes referred to as Ramandurga Hills, runs from Hospet for some 50 km to SE to Samehalli (now, Swamihalli). That ridge and adjoining hills, covering an area of about 50 sq. km., are actually piles of high-grade iron ore, etimated (now) at over 1.2 billion tonnes, which are roughly 9% of India's total iron ore reserves of about 13.5 BT., besides pyrolusite (manganese ore).
At that time there was a metre gauge line proceeding from Hospet, S. past the En flank of Tungabhadra Dam, to Gunda Road, 20 km. away. There it bifurcated: one branch ran SW along the SEn bank of the Tungabhadra reservoir up to Hagari Bommanahalli for 24 km. and then S. for another 26 km. to Kottur (now, Kotturu), bordering Devengere district. The other branch ran SE for about 30 km. from Gunda Road Jn. and then turned E for the last 10 km. to Samehalli, which is close to the Nn. tip of Chitradurga Dist.
The second branch to Samehalli ran close to the mineral ridge right through the middle of Sandur Taluk of Bellary Dist., which had been a native state prior to its accession to India in 1948. The ex-capital, Sandur itself was not touched by the line, which passed some 5 km to its SW. Nor did it touch Kudligi, another taluk hq., passing some 15 km to its NE. In fact it did not serve any population centres but only mines. It was an ore line, par excellence.
In 1966, when we went, there was significant mining activity all along the branch. Then, and till 1975, there were on that branch only two mixed, passenger services per week, on Mondays and Thursdays . Obviously, the railway did not expect passengers to travel daily to any of the places on the branch. But, then, why on those two days of the week - that remained a mystery that I could not solve, for there was no fair in any of the places en route on those days. Anway, it was good that the service existed, for it enabled us to travel this line. By contrast, the Hospet Jn - Kottur branch had a mixed service daily; Kottur was then a town of some significance. Now both the branches are closed to passenger traffic .
Hospet was still sleeping when we left our lodge at 05:00 and walked up to the station. The streets were empty and buses were not yet on the roads. Had a few iddlies at a small hotel near the station, but the stuff was so insipid that we decided not to carry any of it for lunch on the trip to Samehalli, preferring to run the risk of going hungry. At the ticket counter an announcement read "Tickets issued all 24 hours", but the counter opened only at 05:45. Fare Rs. 1:45 by class III. Expected the train to start from the single platform of the junction, but then found that it was stationed on track 2 which had no platform. And that was a long train of empty ore wagons with just two Class III carriages in front. Waited eagerly for some rare type of engine, but it turned out to be YG 4054 (2-8-2) that attached itself to the train at 05:55. There were only a few passengers to start with; most of them got down at the next station; in fact, people on this train seemed to travel from one station just to the next, and rarely beyond.
.. Hospet Jn (1520'). Just a single platform, aligned NW/SE, for the m.g. line with six long loops and 5 short sidings jutting out of the NWn end of the pfm. Beyond the m.g. loops to the NE were the b.g. line for the ore traffic with 4 long loops beyond, without pfms. d. 06:16. Our branch curved left just out of the station across a short stretch of lush green paddy and sugarcane, watered by the Tungabhadra low canal which was then crossed. More sugar cane, as we proceeded W. To the S, some 2-4 km away were some low hills and then the range. Proceeded towards a saddle in the terminus of the ridge that abutted the En flank of the dam, with a road close to our right.
(5) Tungabhadra Dam (1582'), a 06:30, d 06:42. A long loop to the right, served by a short pfm, with the road outside the stn. The loop extended into siding that headed for the dam site a few hundred metres away. Another long loop to the left of the main line. Just out of the station, made a hairpin bend to the left, crossing the canal and overlooking the En flank of the dam to our right. Running SEwds, started ascending the NEn face of the the hillock that abutted the dam behind, the gradient being generally 1 in 60 up. Then curved to the right, crossing the saddle, and ran nearly S on the level, overlooking the reservoir, which was briefly lost to the view. Past the saddle, continued to curve gently to the right, cleared the hillock and ran SW, edging close to the reservoir, now to our right just past the road. More small fields on both sides but hemmed in between low hillocks.
(11) Vyasankere (1720'). Three long loops, the last one on the right being served by a short platform. On the hill to the left (E), which was part of the main ridge, the rocks were being blasted to expose the iron ore which was brought down the slopes for loading at the yards . The slopes towards the reservoir to the right past the station were green with ample grass and short trees. Curved to the left just past the station, first 70 up, then 70 dn, then 100 up, emerging on a level stretch with the terrain sloping gently towards the reservoir to the right from which we veered away. Ran S on nearly level ground with tracts of paddy and jowar, with the ridge to the right a km away. It had rained the previous night and the soil was wet, reddish-brown in colour, vouching for its iron content. The speed ranged between 20 and 25 kmph much of the time. As we ran S, the ridge on the left (E) veered away into some distance.
(20) Gunda Road Jn. (1677'). The simplest layout possible, with just a set of points for the bifurcation of the line. Our branch curved to the left into SE, while the line proceeding straight S towards Kottur was served by a short platform. The small town lay in that direction. Running SE across some gently sloping land, but ascending all the while for about 4 km, we headed towards the SWn flank of the main ridge. Entered a fine jungle with a ravine on the left and the ridge some 500 m away, all covered thickly with fairly tall, though lean, trees and some grass.
(30) Ramgad (2014') a 07:47, d 08:12. Pfm at right (W) with water tank just past its Sn end. The village lay outside the station with its Dharmapur iron ore mines. The ridge was on the left past a loop and a siding with a scissors cross-over . We had ascended 337 feet, i.e., 103 m in about 10 km, a mean ascent of 1 in 100. A cluster of hills lay to the S.
Continued SE across a wide ravine with beautiful woods , and ascending gently with wide valley to the right (SW) with a range of hills some 6 km. away. To the left (NE), past a shallow valley cultivated with jowar and spotted with short, but densely foliaged, trees, was the ridge, concealing what lay beyond. Somewhere there was the plateau of Ramandurg, 3,500', said to be accessed by a winding road; lying within the esrtwhile Sandur state, it had once served as the sanatorium for the British troops in Bellary after it come under the British suzerainty in 1800. Crossed R. Narihalla by a 1 x 40' girder bridge and at once passed over the Bellary - Harpanahalli - Harihar highway, with Sandur some 5 km to NE and Kudligi some 23 km to SW.
(41) Yeshwantnagar (1997') a 08:32, d 09:02. A 30 min. halt here. A moderately long pfm. aligned almost N/S next to a loop at right. Two more loops to the left, with a turntable behind. The station was on a slight elevation, to the left of which was a gentle decline, then ascending to the 300' high ridge 400 m beyond. On the loops were quite a few ore wagons, all pasted with the poster: "EXPORT CARGO - Marmagoa Horbour - PUSH ON." Our engine did some shunting around. There was a small stall on the platform, selling coffee, pooris and bun. Bought six pooris for Re. 0:60 P., sufficient for the two of us.
As the line of the ridge to our left curved leftwards into a SEly direction, our line too followed it on a continuous, gentle left-curve. After about 2 km. passed Sundaram Benchi siding, with mining of manganese ore  in progress on the hill slope which had a ropeway to bring the ore for being loaded into the wagons stationed on two long loops to the left (NE), mostly by women.
The ridge on the left made a sharper curve to the left thereabouts, so it veered away from us. Another 3-4 km through some fine jungle, we crossed by a 2 x 20' girder bridge R. Narihalla. Again Narihalla? That is what the board read, but this must have been another Narihalla, different from the one crossed some 7 km behind. Having completed the gentle left-curve that commenced just after Yeshwantnagar, we settled into a ESEly run. The ridge was over 3 km to the left, but the terrain slightly more rugged, with rocks and stones strewn about; a little paddy and maize was being grown. Climbed gently and, as a low hill appeared to the left
(52) Passed another siding, where manganese ore was being loaded on wagons.
Continued through less impressive shrubland on rugged terrain overlooking the gentle SWward slope of the valley to the right; as the ridge on the left terminated somewhat abruptly, we entered, in almost Ely direction
(60) Samehalli (2427') a 09:55, some 25 mins. ahead of sch. Had ascended 430', i.e., 131 m, in about 19 km.
The station, with just a single, 30 cm. high pfm. on the Sn side had a small office for the station master and booking. There was no stall. There were two long loops to the N, with the second one having a short loop at the base of the ridge, which sloped gently up for some 20 metres and then steeply up for another 60 metres.
A n.g. balance ropeway brought buckets of the ore down the hill from where mining actually went on at some height, for being loaded manually, mostly by women workers, on the wagons stationed on the loops. Another, longer ropeway, supported on iron posts, stretched from the En end of the loops, up the ridge to the mine, said to be open cast, nearly a km. away past the bend of the hill and invisible to us. Occasionally, buckets clattered down the rope with a big noise raising a lot of dark brown dust. What was being loaded here was manganese ore, mined by the Sandur Mining Co., hq. Yeshwantnagar.
Where the loops ended, the line made a sharp V curve to the left, into the N past the terminus of the ridge, with a triangle beyond. There was continuous, manual sorting of the lumps of ore before being loaded in the wagons. The activity was said to proceed from dawn to dusk. We were told that there was at least one ore train every day, to transport the wagons with the manganese ore (containg a little iron) from the four sidings lying below Yeshwantnagar. There were only a few houses around, but no big settlement in the vicinity. It should be around the bend of the hill, for nearly a thousand people were said to be employed in the mines and other works.
The engine did a lot of shunting, taking its own time; most of the empty wagons were left on the loops and for the return journey it had a smaller number of ore-loaded wagons to haul. We departed at 11:55, some 75 minutes behind schedule. Since we were descending, the going was good. Stopped at Sundaram Benchi siding to let a couple of workers detrain. Stopped at Yeshwantnagar for 45 mins., the engine doing more shunting and gathering loaded wagons to haul. Got a couple of sweet buns at the stall. Quite a crowd got in here, including many women and children, besides men carrying loads of firewood. More got in at Ramgad. Reached Hospet Jn. at 13:45, almost on time. Had a coffee and waited for the 17:20 passenger for Gadag.
- The b. g. line was conceived and laid for ore traffic before 1966, it was not opened to passenger traffic till for more than a decade.
- The April 1979 time table read differently: the mixed service between Hospet and Swamihalli became a daily service, while the Bellary - Rayadrug daily service became a bi-weekly affair, on Mondays and Thursdays! What warranted this sudden switching of service frequencies between the two branches is not clear.
- Gauge conversion of Hospet - Swamihalli line effected in 1995 and that of Gunda Road Jn - Kottur branch in March 1996. While the former is now open to goods traffic, the latter does not transport goods; it has not been allowed to open for passenger traffic due to the non-provision of catch sidings, insisted on by the Commisioner of Rly. Safety due to the steep gradients (vide, CAG Reports on Rlys., 1999). The Kotturu - Harihar b.g. project has been sanctioned, but is yet to get going.
- The old open cast mine near the station has been closed; MSPL has a larger, mechanized iron ore mine some 3 km. away from the railhead. SMIORE manufactures ferro-manganese and silicon-manganese alloys at a plant near Vyasankere.
- The Bartholomew 1:4 000 000 map of India, published in 1973, shows a railway branch running E from Ramandurg (Ramgad) to Sandur, but I saw no evidence of it in 1966.
- These beautiful woods existed there when I saw them in 1966. I must forewarn intending visitors that they might all have become denuded now, what with the large scale mining going on and the attendant pollution by the red ferric dust which settles down on everything.
- The mineral ridge past Yeshwantnagar contains more of manganese ore. The Sandur Manganese & Iron Ores Ltd. (SMIORE), incorporated in 1954 by the erstwhile princely family of Ghorpade of Sandur, is the major company mining manganese ore, besides iron, along the line from Yeshwantnagar to Samehalli.
- The Donimalai mine, adjoining Ranjithpura, owned by the National Mineral Development Corporation, and producing high-grade iron ore, was commisioned in 1977. Though falling within the Sandur taluk, it is served by the 30-km long Tornagallu - Ranjithpura b.g. branch, open only to ore traffic, off Tornagallu, midway between Bellary and Hospet. Most of it is exported to Japan via Madras and Marmagoa harbours. When that deposit runs out, others in the belt will have to be exploited. India extracted 75 MT of iron ore in 2000, of which 37 MT, i.e., nearly one-half was exported. From Karnataka alone 22.2 MT of iron ore (including from the Kudremukh mines) and 0.14 MT of manganese ore were exported in 2004-05 (Lok Sabha Answers, 7 March 2006).
Now the destinations include China and South Korea, the former posing particularly avid demand. With the global prices of high-grade iron ore (>65% iron content) having gone up from $ 17 per tonne in 2000-01 to $ 55 in 2005-06, its increased exploitation is understandable. What is dismaying is the fact that, as against 70 licensed iron ore mines in operation in Karnataka as on 1-4-05 with lease areas averaging 200 hectares, there are about 12,000 unregulated, private mines, averaging less than 2 ha. Mining for iron has proved more profitable than agriculture. Workers dig out by hand small quantities of iron ore that "float" near the surface. (Frontline, June 3-16, 2006). As these 'mines' are away from railheads, the ore is transported by road, its fine dust causing extensive damage to the environment and to the respiratory systems of persons in the community.