Gujarat NG trip report

2004-11-09

by Vikas Singh

A NG trip to Gujarat had been in agenda for quite sometime. With 12 operative sections, Gujarat has the highest no of operational narrow gauge routes. However in terms of actual track length, Maharashtra with extensive network around Nainpur has a larger network. In recent years Nainpur has become a larger NG junction and Motibagh the largest NG diesel shed, but Dabhoi still remains a Mecca for all NG enthusiasts. Reached Vadodara on Friday morning by 2954 August Kranti Rajdhani. It was the LHB rake. I was traveling in this rake for the first time and it was a huge disappointment. Personally, I find the new ACII rakes of Prayagraj to be much better. We reached Vadodara on time at 0430 hrs. After freshening up at waiting room, left for Pratap nagar station.

The trip started with visit to the diesel shed. The shed is home to 14 ZDM 5s (Nos 501,503,505,506,510,511,512,519,520, 522,526,527,529 and 538) Apart from this the shed does POH for the following 6 ZDM 5s as well-Two from Bilimora section, one of Ankleshwar section, One of Kosamba section and two from Petlad section. In contrast the Motibagh shed is home to 36 ZDMs besides handling POH for 5 ZDMs of the Raipur section. Since it was early morning the shed was practically deserted. Three ZDMs were spotted.

Way back in October 1983, Railway reform Committee had recommended closure of all 17 NG lines in WR. Traffic was suspended between Aug 1990 and June 1994 in five sections (Kosamba-Umarpada, Ankleshwar-Rajpipla, Bodeli-Chotta Udaipur, Jagadia-Netrang and Dabhoi-Timba Road). Of these the first three were reopened last year and the last two are still non operational. In Dec 2000 WR received rail bus manufactured at Mysore workshop of SR for these NG routes. These were not unloaded till July 2001 and in Jan 2002; WR surprisingly decided against running these rail bus. All this resulted in loss of 0.97 crores to IR. It was later decided to transfer one rake to CR and one to ER. A rake of four buses bound for Katwa in ER could still be seen at shed.

With nothing more to see, it was time to pay visit to NG workshop. Surprisingly the RPF personnel were quite a tough nut to crack. It was only after lot of persuasion that they allowed me to enter the shed. Three ZBs could be seen there- Nos 73, 91 and the third had no number. All the three are in pretty bad shape and in dire need of fresh coat of paint. NG saloon of the erst while Baroda state railway RA 6 was there in the shed with the old crest brightly painted. No sooner had I started taking the photograph when the RPF jawan appeared and said without DRMs permission I could not take photograph. Had these RPF jawans showed same amount of enthusiasm the Godhra incident would have never happened. No amount of persuasion could convince him. Finally I gave up and proceeded towards the Pratap nagar station.

The station has three platforms but no waiting room. It has a computerized reservation office and a small bookshop. The stationmaster here was a very friendly guy. When I narrated the RPF incident, he immediately offered help and said he knew the asst. engineer there who could help me take photographs. He was even willing to come with me. I politely refused his offer as five-coach rake of 038 Dabhoi-Jambusar had just arrived. Power 506 was detached and fresh ZDM 503 was attached. Four coaches were newly built (1998,2002,2002 and 2003) by Kalka and Mysore workshop. The fifth coach had been built at Jodhpur workshop in 1993.The Pratap nagar Jambusar section is 52 kms and there are 11 stations in between. Save at Padra station, at all stations the guard sold tickets from his coach. The permitted speed on this section is 35 kmph and scheduled running time 2 hrs and 25 minutes. We reached Jambusar junction on time at 1300 hrs.

After a quick Gujrati lunch from a decent hotel in town, I was back at the station. For a small town like Jambusar there are two stations-Jambusar town and Jambusar Junction. The station had first class waiting hall though none of the NG trains in Gujarat have first class coach. The 016 Kavi-Bharuch was late due to speed restrictions. I spent away time chatting with the loco pilot who was supposed to take the rake to Bharuch. He was from Dabhoi and had been a steam pilot. His father a steam loco pilot himself had retired from Dabhoi only. He offered to show me around the station when I planned to visit the town on Sunday. I was told that the Samni-Dahej section was closed recently as no ticket had been purchased on this section in last three years! There can be no better example of socialistic outlook of IR. Three rake 016 powered by 538 finally reached at 1510 hrs, 90 minutes behind schedule. Two coaches had been detached from 038 and these were attached to 016. 038 rake proceeds to Bharuch as three-rake coach. The reason for waiting at Jambusar junction is that some passengers from Kavi coming by 016 can travel to Bharcuh by 038.However not a single passenger from Kavi boarded the Bharuch passenger. For a long time no ticket had been purchased at Jambusar station as the ticket cupboard lock refused to open. Even the stationmaster was surprised when I asked for a ticket. I was finally given Jambuasr-Kavi ticket with rate for Bharuch manually written by him on the ticket.

We left at 1510 hrs 90 minutes behind schedule. There are only two stations between Jambusar and Bharuch- Samni and Amod. From Samni there used to be a branch line to Dahej 40 kms away. Traffic on this section has recently been closed down. The speed restriction on Jambusar-Bharuch section is 20 kmph. A gatemen travels in the train At every unmanned LCs the loco pilot stops the train before the LC, the gateman jumps and runs till the LC, closes both the gates, puts a lock and then waves to the pilot to proceed. After passing the gate the pilot again stops the train, the gateman opens the gates, runs to the train and boards it. The train then continues it's onward journey. This routine is followed six times due to which the train further loses time. We finally reached Bharuch at 1820 hrs, full two hours behind schedule.

Bharuch junction is on the main Vadodara- Bombay line. The BG platform resembles airport hangar. The NG platform is small neglected patch at one extreme end. The station once had a beautiful fašade only to be severely defaced by mindless extension. Checked into a nice hotel near station- Shalimar. The Gujarati thali there was excellent.

Saturday morning saw me at Bharuch station at 0530 hrs for the 0555 Bharuch-Valsad fast passenger. We reached Miyagam-Karjan on time at 0655 hrs. The BG section at Miyagam has two platforms while the NG section has three platforms. ZDM 5 No 520 had bought the 023 Malsar-Dabhoi passenger and the five-coach rake was lying at platform No 2. Since the train was due to leave at 0755 hrs, I simply hanged around the station watching BG action.

In early 1850s Khanderao, the maharaja of Vadodara built a line between Miyagam Karjan and Dabhoi. It was on 2'6" gauge with rails weighing 13 lbs to a yard. The line was designed and constructed by A.W.Forde. A pair of oxen used to haul trains composed of 4-6 vehicles. In 1863, Khanderao purchased 3 steam locomotives built by Neilson and Co., Glasgow. These 0-4-0 ST locomotives proved to be too heavy for the rails. During the reign of Malharrao in 1971, the old rails were removed and new rail 30 lbs to a yard were laid. The 32.3 km Miyagam-Dabhoi line was reopened for traffic on 8.4.1973. Today this is the oldest NG line still in use. However for the history buffs the world's oldest NG line was built in 1869. It connected Portmadoc in North Wales with Festiniog and it's slate quarries. This line was closed down long time back.

We left on time from Miyagam. Miyagam-Dabhoi section is 33 kms and there are six intermediate stations. The scheduled running time is 85 minutes. Save for Kayavorahan station, all other stations were mere single board stations.The buildings have long been abandoned and passengers have to buy tickets from the guard. The Kayavorahan station is close to famous Lakushji temple visited by hundreds of devotees every year. We reached Dabhoi at 0945 hrs twenty-five minutes behind schedule. I had planned to explore Dabhoi station at leisure on Sunday and so immediately boarded the 029 Dabhoi-Tankhala passenger.

Powered by ZDM No 511 we left on time at 0955 hrs. The stretch till Chhuchhapura junction is in excellent condition. The wooden sleepers have been replaced by iron ones and ballast can be seen thru out. Because of excellent track condition we averaged 35-38 kmph on this stretch. The loco pilot was kind enough to allow me to footplate this entire stretch. From Chhuchhapura a section goes to Bodelli and onwards to Chhota-Udepur while one line goes towards Tankhala. There was crossing with Chhota-Udepur- Bodelli-Dabhoi passenger. The Chhuchhapura-Tankhala stretch is 38 kms and is in very bad condition. The speed limit is on some stretch 20 kmph and on some 15. The limit on all the six major bridges (On rivers Men, Ashwan, Heran, Unchh, Orsang and Narmada canal) is 8 kmph. There are six intermediate stations. I had been told that no lunch could be had at Tankhala, as there were no hotels near the station. The loco pilot instead asked me to take lunch at Naswadi, which was two stations before Tankhala. The pilot was on fast but still did wait for me for full twenty-five minutes till I had finished excellent lunch at nearby hotel. These small considerations can be found only on NG section. The loco pilot offered me opportunity to footplate, which I gladly accepted. Traveling at speed of 8kmph it was a very different foot plating experience. We finally reached Tankhala at 1350 hrs. True to it's reputation, there was no habitation or shop near the station, which seemed to exist in middle of huge barren land. There was small shed for the engine. There was nothing to do at the station save to talk with the railway man at the station.

He had been posted at that station for the past 10 years. He lamented the fact that collections had dropped down from a peak of Rs.30000 per month to Rs.250 per month. According to him the long time taken to travel, inconvenient timings and excellent road network was responsible for decline in rail travel. We left Tankhala at 1435 hrs and reached Dabhoi at 1845 hrs. The journey of 128 kms took 8 hrs and 40 minutes. No wonder people preferred road to rail. Since the next train to Pratap nagar was due at 2000 hrs, I took a bus from the depot nearby and reached Vadodara in under an hour. Checked into hotel Revival as it it's rooms overlook the famous mini track of Sayaji gardens. More on this track later.

Sunday morning saw me at Pratapnagar station. Five rake 039 Pratpnagar-Bodelli passenger powered by ZDM 512 left on time at 0630 hrs. There are three stations in between. All the station buildings have been long abandoned and there was hardly any traffic. At all LCs the loco pilot would stop the train, blow whistle, start the train and then cross the LC. Because of this the train loses time. We reached Dabhoi at 0800 hrs, twenty minutes behind schedule. A journey of 28 kms covered in 90 minutes! 512 was detached from this rake at Dabhoi and attached to 019 Miyagam karjan-Chandod passenger. Two more coach was attached to 039. Power 519 was attached at one end. 039 now was a seven-coach rake with 519 at one end and 526 at the other end. This rake goes in this fashion till Chhuchhapura. From there a two-coach rake goes to Chotta Udepur while five coach rake comes back as Bodelli-Dabhoi passenger. We left for Chandod at 0830 hrs. There are only two stations between Chandod and Dabhoi. We reached Chandod at 1015 hrs, a journey of 17 kms covered in 45 minutes. This picturesque town on the bank of the Narmada, at the confluence of three rivers- Narmada, Orsang and Gupta Saraswati, is an ancient seat of Sanskrit learning for Brahmins. The ghats leading to the pure waters of Narmada and the temples make it a sacred place for Hindus performing the rituals after death. Gandhiji's ashes were immersed at this triveni and the urn in which ashes were carried can be seen today in Vadodara museum. Chandod station has a long covered waiting hall with big banyan trees growing all round. No one boarded the train when we started the journey back. It is a very sad state of affairs to see railways still runs such a loss making train. We reached Dabhoi at 1015 hrs. This five-coach rake later left Dabhoi as 024 Dabhoi-Malsar passenger powered by 510.

My train back to Pratapnagar was due at 1240hrs. I had full 2 hrs 30 minutes to explore the town and station at leisure. Hired an auto rickshaw that also proved to be a good guide. The fort of Dabhoi is one of the rare surviving examples of Hindu Military architecture, based on the shastri traditions described in various Vastu scriptures. There are four gates in the town, one in each cardinal direction, having indirect entry, located in the middle of each side of the fort wall. It was altered during the time of Visaldev and the Muslim rule. Hira Bhagol, the most exquisitely carved gate named after the architect, Hiradhar, is in the east, Vadodara Gate in the west, Champaner Gate in the north and Nandod Gate in the south. Within a short span of 45 minutes I had seen all the four gates and was back at the station.

Dabhoi station has six platforms and a small over bridge. There is a shabby first class waiting room and two small stalls selling foodstuff. Only one of these on platform five sells tea. So if one wants to have tea he will have to use the over bridge, go to platform 5 and then have a dark brown concoction called tea. Compared to Dabhoi, the other NG junction worth reckoning, Nainpur handles 24 trains daily. Dabhoi in contrast handles twenty trains though it is a bigger junction in terms of the lines that branch out. Nainpur has computerized booking office, excellent restaurants, good dormitory and an excellent waiting room. Also I could see that Nainpur handles larger no of passengers than Dabhoi. The old loco shed at Nainpur is still well maintained though as a diesel shed now. At Dabhoi the shed has been completely destroyed. Clearly Nainpur junction is on higher priority for IR than Dabhoi.

Five lines branch out from Dabhoi. In the North to Timba road, in Northeast to Chhuchhapura, in Southeast to Chandod, in South to Pratapnagar and Southwest to Choranda. The total NG network in Vadodara division is:

SectionLength in Km.Comments
Dabhoi- Chandod17 kms
Dabhoi-Choranda junction42kms
Choranda-Malsar29kms
Choranda-Motikoral18kms
Dabhoi-Jambusar junction80 kms
Jambusar junction-Kavi26kms
Jambusar junction-Samni junction24 kms
Samni junction-Dahej40 kmsServices temporarily closed
Samni junction-Bharuch24 kms
Dabhoi-Chhuchapura junction21 kms
Chhuchapura junction-Chota Udeipur50kms
Chhuchapura junction-Tankhala38kms
Dabhoi-Timba road105 kmsServices temporarily closed
Nadiad-Bhadran59 kms
Kosamba-Umarpada61 kms
Ankleshwar-Rajpipla62 kms
Total696 kms

The old railway buildings in depilated condition could be seen near the Dabhoi station- NG workshop, Pit line, Loco foreman's office, Boiler charge man's office, Shed office, wagon sheet depot and Goods godown. The timings for steam engines to leave the shed could still be seen painted on black board. These were for the period 1988 and several rooms in the old shed office had them painted on the walls. However all the buildings are in very bad shape. The old loco shed at Nainpur still retains all the old time grace and charm. The one at Dabhoi seems to have been meticulously destroyed. To be very frank, I was quite disappointed to see the station and buildings in such a bad shape. Whoever I talked to was proud of the fact that Dabhoi was once the biggest NG junction. But the present was quite a different picture altogether.

Powered by 526, the 056 Bodelli- Pratapnagar passenger reached Dabhoi left at 1245 hrs and we reached Pratapnagar at 1405 hrs. Went to DRM office nearby. 603 T class steam loco (4-8-0) built by Bagnall and Co in 1925-26 for GBS railway is plinthed outside. After taking a few snaps of the engine and the beautiful office, left for Hotel Revival.

As I wrote earlier, most of the rooms in Revival overlook the tracks of famous toy train in Sayaji garden. Ranjitsinh Gaekwad received a priceless gift on his fifth birthday some 60 years ago from his father Pratapsinh Gaekwad. The gift was a fully functional toy train, complete with a steam engine and three coaches. It ran on rails with ten inch gauge The young prince and his siblings used the train to travel from Laxmi Vilas Palace to the palace school, which incidentally is now the Fatehsinh Museum. Pratapsinh Gaekwad had the train specially made by a London based company, Royal Locomotives. The royal family gifted the entire train in 1958 to the Vadodara Municipal Corporation so that all the city's children could enjoy rides on it at Sayaji Garden. Bollywood history buffs may remember that it was on this train that Shammi Kapoor sang the memorable song 'chakke pe chakka, chakke pe gadi' in the film 'Brahmachari'. In 1993 the train's engine was declared unfit for further use and mothballed in a shed at the Sayaji Garden; the train still continues to run, but it is hauled now by a diesel engine. The original steam engine is now on display at the Maharaja Fatehsinhrao Museum. I was not aware of this shift of engine and it was a big disappointment. To add to woes even the diesel powered train was not running, as it was a holiday. Instead I visited the museum and the picture gallery built in the Indo-Saracenic style of architecture inside the garden. By this time it was evening and I retreated to the hotel.

Monday morning I visited the Fatehsinhrao Museum only to be told that museum is closed on Monday. So I had to finally give up chasing the toy engine. Next went to the Railway staff college. The college was founded in 1930 at Dehradun and then shifted to it's present regal sylvan surroundings at Vadodara, in 1952. It is housed in the Pratap Vilas Palace (built in 1914 AD) surrounded by lush green lawns and designed by C.F. Stevens in the renaissance style. Indian Railways employs over 6.0 lakhs group 'D' staff, about 9 lakhs group 'C' staff and 15,000 group 'A' and group 'B' officers including over 3000 medical officers. The training of non-gazetted staff is organized at various System, Technical and Divisional Zonal Training Schools on the Zonal Railways itself. There are 169 training centers located across the railway system for meeting the training needs of non-gazetted staff. Training of officers is conducted at six Centralized Training Institutes (CTIs), e.g. Indian Railway Institute of Civil Engineering, Pune for civil engineers, Indian Railway Institute of Signal and Telecommunications Engineering, Secunderabad for engineers of S&T department, Indian Railway Institute of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, Jamalpur for mechanical enginrs. Indian Railway Institute of Electrical Engineering, Nasik for Electrical Engineers, RPF Academy Lucknow, for officers of Railway Protection Force and as the alma mater the Railway Staff College, Vadodara functions as the apex training institute for the officers of all departments in general and Accounts, Personnel, Stores, Traffic and Medical departments in particular. Railway Staff College runs training courses for officers of all disciplines and all grades right from Probationers to prospective General Managers.

The college is equipped with a beautiful mini railway model room showing different types of railway operations including track signaling. This model room is definitely a must see for all those into serious rail modeling and those interested in finer nuances of signaling. After spending a good three hours in the model room, I was back at the hotel.

Saw a movie in recently opened Cineplex and later took the 2200 hrs Rajdhani for Delhi.

Material provided by Vikas Singh, 2001.
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