This was the last wedding of the present generation of cousins in our large family. This was something we *had* to attend. Accordingly tickets were procured for Bandra - Bikaner Ranakpur express for the to and fro journeys, well in advance.
The four travelers were sister Nandini, wife Shyama, daughter Aditi and yours truly.
We were booked on the 1026 Pragati Express. It rained the whole night at Pune, so the station and surroundings were a wet mess. We departed exactly at time behind Kalyan WCAM3 # 21943 with the two-bar DC pantograph over the leading cab.
The Pune WDM2 # 18720 waiting at the exit of pf 3, as the 1026 was launched, looked like an ordinary power except that the sand boxes had been moved from the frame to the bogies. Earlier I believed that only rebuilt WDM2s had this modification and used this feature as an easy guide to differentiation between WDM2s and WDM3s. However this belief is not true anymore. At Jodhpur I was to see another plain WDM2 with bogie-mounted sandboxes.
As we accelerated out of Pune, we crossed a Daund-bound WCG2-hauled BCCN rake (bulk cement). A similar rake has crossed the 1026 at the same place on many occasions. This means that even freights have regular slots and regular links in the busy Mumbai - Pune corridor.
Apparently the 1026 rake was standing in the rain during the night with the windows open, for we had a wet floor which made things quite messy.
The deep and serene Indrayani river runs by the right side of the station at Kamshet station while facing Mumbai. I recollect a steel wire that ran across the river that could possibly guide a ferry across. This ferry would apparently carry the janata across to reach the Walvan dam rope railway. Not much is known about this railway that goes to the Walvan dam east of Lonavala. The Walvan dam stores the water that is used to generate electricity for the railway system in Mumbai. This steel wire across the river was absent and I thought the rope railway terminus was actually on the railway side of the river.
The 1026 was really fast at this stage and I could be wrong — however I need a confirmation whether the rope railway is indeed on the other side of the river as is widely believed.
There was a garbage can near the carriage door, which is a very welcome feature. The rest of the journey was routine including crossing 2027 Shatabdi exactly during the brake testing halt at Khandala, 1007 Deccan Express at Thakurwadi and the 6529 (behind thumping diesel power) at Shelu.
The ED diesel-hauled, KR-bound Mangala express ran parallel on the other platform as we crawled through Kalyan. At one time, the WDM2 on full dynamic brakes was faster than our train, but soon dropped speed to stop while we went at the same speed.
Reached Dadar exactly on time — got fleeced by taxi — too much of luggage — too many people traveling together.
Had a fantastic lunch with a dear friend and his family in Santa Cruz West (lives under the west-bound flight path).
Got dropped to the Bandra Terminus — had some tense moments as the road underbridge we were supposed to take across the railway lines was closed due to flooding as a result of rains. Had to take the detour via Mahim/Bandra road junction — took a wrong turn in the sprawling Bandra shantytown and arrived at BDTS with only 20 minutes to spare.
Not the sort of margins one likes to keep when traveling with family.
The BDTS has one island platform with one dead end and the other through to allow trains such as Swaraj express to work through from Mumbai Central for coach addition/subtraction.
Could not get the current timetable — not at BDTS and not ANYWHERE at any of the stations en route. So the entire journey was done without any sort of timetable guidance. Normally I carry Xerox copies of the relevant TTs so detailed timekeeping and notes can be maintained. Sadly I do not have the WR or NR TT from 2001-2002, which I assumed would be easily available in Mumbai etc.
Not getting a TT, when I want one, has only increased my systemically ingrained lust for these books. As we railway enthusiasts travel at a much heightened level of awareness, a zonal TT is as essential as the ticket itself. This trip was totally done with TT references from my feeble memory. I also missed not having a detailed zonal map to trace the path of the journey.
At the time we got into the BDTS, the 9601 BDTS - Gandhidham exp (the extended avatar of the Sayajinagari express) was just leaving from the dead-end platform while the 4708 rake was being backed. The 4708 rake was heavily dirt-stained on the outside, as if someone had actually taken mud and viciously rubbed it on the blue paint. After settling the family in the S9 coach (two lower, one middle and one top berth — on the right of the train), I went in the front to check the power that was to haul us till Ahmedabad. Huge (but disciplined) crowd waited patiently in a queue to occupy the general coaches right in the front of the train.
I was suffering from a bad throat so had lost my voice. This prevented me from even trying to think about an attempt at footplating. Would any driver allow a voiceless freak on their loco?
The loco upfront was the WCAM2 # 21866 with the DC panto over the leading cab. This loco, as most WCAM2s, had double headlights retrofitted in the original location. The 4708 rake was 20 coaches long, I think. Our own S9 coach was some 8-9th from the front so did not benefit from the loco sounds.
While walking the rake (many railnuts do this ritual), it was discovered that the train does not have any pantry car. We were assured that a long distance daily train such as this would have one, by the agent who booked our tickets, hence were not carrying any food — there was a child with us and we have to think of these things. Not only was there no pantry car, we were to discover that there was not even a food service where a person takes the order in the train and then the food is available at a later station.
This is a familiar scene on the WR line to Gujarat. NO FOOD is available on this and many other trains. While this situation is okay for fleet-footed janata who can get off on the platform and buy the food (mostly a lot of fried stuff), what about the not-so-agile who cannot walk the long length of platform (many of these are long trains as well) in the short time that the train waits? AND what about the sad janata who can walk but cannot talk :-)? I had to make movements with my hands and mouth to be understood.
The 4708 started exactly at 1500 hrs — I had matched my watch to the platform clock! The train crawled through the Bandra marshaling yard (BAMY) giving ample time to view the offerings. The washing/pit lines are right of the track as we moved while the Bandra diesel shed was on the left with a flock of orange WDS4 shunters roosting at their home.
There are entities in the IR which are not stations but have a code — these are yards to which goods are booked or equipment is homed. BAMY is one of them — Kankariya (KKF) at Ahmedabad is another. The BDTS side of the BAMY is not a serious shunting yard but more a repository of coaches that cannot be stabled anywhere else. In the sense that this is not a busy yard where formed rakes of freight wait for urgent loading, unloading or dispatch. This is more like a backyard of the railways. Interesting place to travel through, at a slow pace. There were many blue 'high capacity' parcel vans (23 t) as also many old non-integral coaches. A gem from the railways history may be found here.
There were many lines in the yard; at one time we were moving on one of the ten lines across.
The movement of truth arrived. Any train leaving the BDTS has to cross the Up lines and join the Down lines of the busy mainline. The 4708 had to pause at the exit of the BAMY for many minutes till the opportunity to do so. Even as the rake crossed the lines, I could feel the impatience of the EMUs (and their occupants) that were detained at the Santa Cruz station, on our account. Once on the mainline, the 4708 settled at a mild pace, not more than 50 kmph, maybe this was the speed for mail/expresses through Mumbai, maybe this was due to the poor hauling power of the WCAMx class in DC mode, maybe this was the driver gently exercising his throttle for the high-speed blast later. Maybe this is Mumbai division's way of lessening the risk of a derailment in the busy corridor. Drive slowly and there would be less accidents — universal truth.
The train ambled through Andheri without stopping. There is a long platform at ADH for precisely this purpose, but we did not stop. Gently paced to Borivali where a lot of janata boarded in the two minute halt. One must recollect the periodic notices of the WR in the Mumbai media where a list of PNR/ticket holders have to prove their identity for their tickets to deemed as valid. This is to check fraudulent practices and ticket black marketing — the Ranakpur express usually tops the list with maximum alleged fraud — much of these passengers travel to stations such as Jawai Bandh and Falna. Draw your own conclusions about the class of persons who use this train. So although I was slightly guarded about our fellow passengers, they were really sweet persons.
The top berth was vacant — the person did not arrive at BDTS, the other was a student from Pune going back to his hometown, Jodhpur. He had also come from Pune the same morning on the Pragati, got down at Dadar etc — only thing different was that he was not full of the delicious food that we earlier had my friend's place — burp! I dread meeting loud, aggressive persons or persistent smokers in second class travel, as there could be some confrontation — at a time when I had no voice! But nothing happened and we had a relaxed time as the train rolled due north.
A new bridge is being built parallel to the Naigaon bridge on the east side — additional piers being cast for the two additional lines till Virar. The process would take at least two more years. The 4708 was quite fast while approaching the km-long bridge but braked sharply to check the speed to a fast crawl for the majority of the bridge. We were informed by fellow passengers (on the return trip) that the crumbling old bridge is being retained so a road bridge for light vehicles can be built on the same infrastructure. This is at a proposal stage but is likely to be accepted. This would be a godsend to villagers in the areas, specially those on Panju island, through which the old bridge passes. Saw the CR line from Diva at Vasai — this has an entry on the North (Gujarat) side although there is no problem building a triangle/wye on the marshy land at the Mumbai end. The recent washing away of a bridge at Palghar highlighted the use of this line to reach the CR system from WR. All the trains using this track had to reverse at Vasai in both directions, something that can be avoided if the triangle existed.
Virar was crossed at a reasonable clip. Could not tell when the loco went into the dead zone and the OHE supply changed to the 25KVAC. The MEMU rake was standing some distance away from the VR platform as Shankar promised. The breaker's yard on right was busy with old EMU and passenger coaches. There was a strange-looking rake of condemned coaches without buffers or drawgear so they were spaced right next to one another.
The 4708 crossed the land that the Mumbai gang and I walked in May 2001 (the great dead zone trek) with some effort in a matter of minutes. The family was not impressed by my achievements — so what if you have walked this paltry distance, they said — when we did the trek, we were very exhausted from the many kms walk and the dreadful energy-sapping heat & humidity. Now how does one relate an adventure of this scale in sign language?
The Narangi creek bridge (which was crossed on foot on bare, shaky sleepers (looking down into deep green water below) — the most difficult part of the trek) was crossed in a flash. The creek itself seems to have moved closer to the tracks and seemed much deeper — there were shockingly large fishing vessels right by the side of the railway tracks.
While on the trek, we noticed many small upright boxes that emitted a tiny beeping sound. We could not figure out what these were. From the train, I observed that these boxes carry a stenciled note 'TTM machines do not pack here' — this is obviously a notice to the Plasser track (tie?) tamping machines not to do their magic here. Why? Change in soil resistivity caused by the compaction process may be the answer. Or maybe the brute force of the tamper could disturb the cabling/calibration of the unit.
Apart from a pair of boxes in the section there is also a hut next to the line associated with it that seems to contain more electronics and switchgear. My guess is that this equipment is a part of anti-corrosion measures for these boxes and huts are present at many locations that are all very near to the saline water. Each hut has the section marked on it like "VTA - VR" for Vaitarna - Virar. The area around the first hut was marked as with 'heavy saline pollution' on one line, while the other line declared 'heavy chemical pollution'.
Crossed the south and north Vaitarna river and settled down at a 80-90 Kmph speed. The WCAM2 did seem much more powerful in the AC section. The north Thane district is a backward region, quite remote from the prosperity of Mumbai. However there were plantations of cheeku, mango, jackfruit and banana — there might be many more produce of the land, but these were the ones I could identify.
As we were moving northwards, we crossed a number of rivers flowing from the east to the Arabian Sea. The train stopped for a short time at Palghar. After crossing into Gujarat, the first stop was at Vapi. There seems to be a free-for-all for the many chemical industries of the areas. For a comparison, chemical industries exist in our Pune also, but not this high level of visible pollution. Water of many hues flowed from pipes into streams. Maybe so many industries in the area have prospered due to the relaxed attitude of the authorities to the environmental toll.
The next stop was Valsad. Could observe the 'hemispheres' (as discussed in detail on the IRFCA in the past) that are present next to the tracks. These are apparently nothing but junction boxes for the track circuit wires.
Lovely old-styled railway houses on the left of the track. Valsad is a small town whose claim to fame is the large AC/DC loco (all the WCAM1s and WCAM2s) shed found on the right of the tracks before the station. The town used to be known as Bulsar and hence even today the station code of Valsad is BL. A few pure AC locos like TKD and BRC WAG5s and WAG7s were not seen with freighters.
Many container rakes were also seen. Some of the container rakes had bar coupling for a set for five wagons. At the end of the five bar coupled wagons was a regular CBC. More details later in the report.
After Valsad, the train powered past Billimora Jn. where the NG steam loco # 585 stands outdoors. The loco is apparently on the tracks and not on a plinth. This loco was at BAMY shed for a while (on a flatcar) but since has been returned to its home at Billimora. Up trains crossing us, especially the passenger trains were all very crowded with janata hanging from the doors, between the coaches (sitting on the buffers). I suppose these are short distance passengers who do not really have an alternative. Particularly heartbreaking are schoolchildren that travel dangerously to get their basic right of education.
The train crawled through Udhna Jn. to enter Surat station. All Indian cities are filthy but Surat can easily win the contest. However our Zubin assures that the ST town is quite clean. A hotel called 'Hospice' can be seen on the Surat skyline — India has many flavours of English and the word can mean something positive to the locals. Indian diversities are apparent only when you pass through cultural pools at a rapid yet savourable pace by the railways. These changes can be best felt in the magic of the open second class. Surat has a carriage works at a much lower level on the left of the main line — do not have an idea how the rakes arrive and leave the sunken area.
Surat platform has many vintage wrought iron pillars for the roof with the marking "geo.gahagan & co' — any idea of the origin? Surat is a textile town with many looms running noisily near the tracks.
While we were waiting at the platform, a TKD WAG5 brought in a container rake from the Mumbai end on a parallel line, only to violently brake and stop for no apparent reason. Surat was left almost on time — we had some dinner collected from the platform by now — oily puri bhaji in an old Gujju newspaper, cold batata wada with buns, 'Jome' brand flavoured milk, bananas and the saviour — sealed packs of 'Masti' brand dahi from Amul to neutralize the high incidence of oil in the food. A session of train-borne hogging followed, as soon as the scenario was visually palatable. Just in case you are wondering — all our stomachs held solid through the entire trip. Darkness was rapidly obscuring the scenery.
Even traveling in the dark night is a lot of fun. Small hamlets with dim lamps passed, janata sitting for the evening socializing looked up as our trains passed them.
A good run till the small town Panoli where we were stopped after our coach crossed the low platform. Actually our coach stood on a level crossing and we were being stared at (from some distance) from the waiting (and growling) traffic. We stopped for a good twenty minutes till we could hear the shrill and urgent horn of a rapidly speeding train behind us — the 2951 Rajdhani of course!
The train overtook us in a matter of a few seconds. This station is about 90 Kms from Vadodara, where the Raj must have arrived before time — read on.
We started from Panoli and then stopped for a few minutes each at Ankleshwar and Bharuch, although these are not official stops. Even as our 4708 pulled into the Vadodara Jn, the 2951 was pulling out. Quite a long stop for Raj — or was it before time at BRC?
Slept after BRC till the outskirts of Ahmedabad.
There was a mild police presence on the train, and no one came to force the windows closed, which was good news in the hot weather. This is complete contrast to the southbound trains out of Pune, where the police party forces closing of the window shutter, no arguments.
ADI looks very beautiful during the still night with many sodium vapour lamps casting shadows over silent buildings.
While we were waiting at the outskirts of ADI, a pair of Abu Road locos shunted across the lines adding to the magic of the moment. My sleepy mind thought that these was a WDM2 connected in multiple unit to a WDG3 or a WDM3A — I thought that one of the locos had a reversed seating arrangement. Soon we crawled into the ADI Jn where I donned footwear to check out the change of loco. Two YDM4s waited on the same track on the MG side of ADI station, idling in their high nasal purr. Spent a religious moment listening to these beauties.
Walked upfront past the full width of platform jammed with a small mountain of parcels. By the time I arrived at the end of the rake, the WCAM2 had already been detached and drawn ahead. The diesel loco, the Vatwa WDM3A # 14079 arrived in a few minutes, working short hood leading.
The crew was waiting on the platform to take over the loco. I believe the same crew worked this train from ADI to Jodhpur (0030 hrs to 1020 hrs: ~460 kms!).
By now, a WAG5-hauled BTPN rake arrived on platform 1 of the station, something of a rarity for me as the freighters are never diverted on pf 1 of Pune Jn. This one went one step further, by halting on pf 1.
Went back to the coach and waited for the train to start.
Train crawled through the ADI yard, the Sabarmati bridge and SBI yard after the river. Looked at the brightly-lit thermal power station by the side of the river. The lights receded as the yard ended and the WDM3A started charging in earnest. Went back to sleep. Woke up in patches at Palanpur, Mehesana, Rani etc.
Recollect vendors selling rabadi at Abu Road, but was too sleepy.
Crossed more trains with double ABR power, again the sleepy mind (without spectacles) seemed to see a WDM2 MUed with a WDG3A/WDM3A.
Woke up in earnest when the train arrived at Marwad Jn. Had a breakfast of platform-fresh omelet + bread wrapped in a newspaper, each egg was cracked, mixed, whipped and fried in a matter of few seconds each — this is a ritual seen on many stations. An assistant cook heated bread slices on the side and posed with an open newspaper to catch the hot omelet.
Lack of a pantry car is a great equaliser — all the passengers in different classes have to come to the same vendor to be served.
Had double shot of chai in kullad, which is a cheap baked clay cup, that is to be disposed after use in the most eco-friendly way — the clay just disintegrates into the trackside. The kullad imparts the delicate flavour of the baked earth to the chai. Brought back childhood memories.
The architecture of the area is amazing. Even a poor man's hut looked beautiful. The colour sense of items of everyday use, clothes, homes, reflected on the rich tradition of the area.
The day was beginning to heat up for we were at the edge of the Rajasthan desert. The train started and branched off on the Jodhpur track (NR) while the main WR track stretched northwards towards Ajmer. The JU branch carves a narrow path between densely packed buildings.
A truly delightful morning.
As we left Marwad Jn., the sun climbed higher and the temperature soared. A few camels grazed in the arid bushes.
A sudden riot of colour can be seen at infrequent intervals — women folk with traditional clothes, small temples under large tree shade with high flags fluttering the hot wind, a small hut coloured brilliant blue, a narrow irrigation canal crossing in the otherwise arid land.
The train soon stopped at Pali Marwad station. Part of my voice had returned by now. The level crossing gate was being closed without a starter signal being given for our train, which meant that we were going to be crossed on this single line section. The station PA system announced that the train that was arriving was *not* the Jodhpur - Ajmer passenger but the Jammu - Ahmedabad express, the waiting janata who had begun to get ready, withdrew once more to a shady place off the platform. The JAT - ADI express arrived soon with a BGKT (Bhagat ki Kothi) WDM2.
The signaling between ADI - Ajmer etc is all three/four aspect colour lights (did not see any station with a double yellow for most of these stops are all very small in size). The signaling north Jodhpur is lower quadrant semaphore with ball token.
Our train left Pali Marwad and worked northwards to stop at Luni Jn. The MG line to Barmer and Munabao is on the left of the BG platform in the opposite direction. A YDM4 waited with a passenger rake meant for Barmer. The Hindi text refers to Barmer as Badhmer, which must be the correct local name.
Our fellow passenger, the student from JU was getting really impatient for his hometown to arrive.
A few rakes of D/BKM (also sometimes marked as just plain DBKM) could be seen — these are battle tank-carrying flats reflecting the high status of military alert around the border.
Then slowly the arid area begins to fill with small houses, canals, factories, camouflaged fuel storage tanks — then bigger housing colonies and then the Bhagat Ki Kothi station (where the diesel shed for JU is located).
We crawled into the JU station at last.
Were received by relatives on pf 2 — however we left the station only after I walked to the front and photed the Vatwa loco. The incoming and outgoing crews was arguing loudly about the fuel balance. As mentioned earlier, I think the same crew worked the train through from ADI, this is a mighty long run for them. The loco was waiting with the headlamp on at dim position for some reason. Even the next day's Ranakpur express had the headlamp lit at dim position. Must be some Bikaner division procedure. The NDLS - JU Mandore express rake was waiting on the adjacent pf 3.
Schoolchildren in the scout's uniform volunteered to provide drinking water to the passengers in the coaches.
The Ranakpur express runs quite empty in the last leg of its travel, between JU and Bikaner.
Spent the next few days in the wedding, voice had recovered sufficiently to participate in the singing and I could play my traditional role as a buffoon to the fullest.
We were put up at Megh Niwas guest house at 30 Ummed Club Road,Jodhpur 342011, tel (+91-291-510530/511617). Col. Megh Singh, who is a war hero and a veteran of many wars, owns this guest house. The spotlessly clean rooms are fitted with desert coolers, without which survival in the dry 44-46° C heat is quite impossible. This place was also the venue of the wedding. The guest house is located near the Rai ka bagh railway station.
The small Rai ka bagh station is after JU (Marwad Jn - Luni Jn - Bhagat ki Kothi - Jodhpur - Rai ka Bagh Jn) towards northeast direction. Note that the stations immediately before and after Jodhpur have 'descriptive' Hindi names, which is a point to ponder for the IR trivia aficionados.
For the non-Hindi speakers, Bhagat ki Kothi = Bhagat's bunglow/palace while Rai ka Bagh = Rai's garden — Rai and Bhagat could be honorific titles for the royalty. The famed Ummed Bhawan palace and the zoo + garden is located near the Rai ka Bagh station.
The tracks bifurcate north of Rai ka bagh towards Jaisalmer and Bikaner/Jaipur. The TAAG refers to Jodhpur as a junction, but the NR TT (correctly) refers to Rai ka Bagh as the junction. The signal box that controls the points for bifurcation are actually at Rai ka Bagh.
So guess where I went for my morning walks?
There is a lovely footbridge over the railway lines from where I could see an empty BOXN arriving from Jaisalmer branch with a BGKT WDM2B. This freighter was halted on the main line for the arriving Jodhpur - Bhopal passenger with a Katni WDM2, which took the platform road.
As mentioned earlier, the signaling system north of JU is lower quadrant semaphores. The city has apparently a high respect for law and order — seat belts are compulsory, as are helmets for two wheelers. The rickshaws cannot stop just anywhere; they have zones for them to do so. Stopping on the zebra crossing is a cardinal sin here. Some roads are well-laid out, with footpaths on both sides of the road with the same width as the road itself, many large playing grounds; low well-spread houses in rich sandstone colours and a grand view dominated by the majestic Meherangad fort.
Jodhpur has great sweets at a ridiculous price — chamcham, ras malai, milkcake, and many exotic sweets whose names I do not know also a lot of fried kachodi type foods.
Party of Punekars were warned to expect to be living the entire day (including drinking!) in one bucket of brackish water. However we found that there is NO shortage of water — a canal from neighbouring state of Punjab provides adequate supply. The power failed for just *one* minute during our stay. People are friendly and this is a great place to live, if you can put up with the 46° C temperature and the lack of industries.
Not much work gets done in the heat, it saps one of all energy and enthusiasm. The slightest effort would start a torrent of sweat, and one needs lots of cold water to survive here. We were told that when JU is 46° C places like Barmer and Bikaner are still hotter at 50° C. The administration in these places drags its feet about declaring temperatures above 50° C as this is an emergency situation, where schools and offices are closed and additional medical facilities are needed to cope with the heat stroke-type ailments. Hence officially the temperature is listed usually below 49° C, however the local janata knows better and dresses appropriately with the classic turban and loose light clothes as they move about in the dazzling white bright day.
Softies like us can manage some work before 0900 hrs and after 1700 hrs in such climes. Rest of the hot day is best spent lolling in the desert cooler breeze on the bed. Accordingly we did not see the tourist-oriented attractions like the fort and the palace etc. — however I did see the railway station three times and the ISO 9001-qualified sweets shop, four times :-). Such high heat did many unusual things to me — a sense of bravado and a high incidence of goose pimples, which should have happened only in the cold.
The JU city had drainage problems, being on a flat surface, there is no place where the water can drain to, hence it often overflows on the street. I saw surprised to see a drain in the city being celebrated — I saw a certain 'RK Nalah café' in the Ratnada area — I did not see the RK nalah flowing near the café, however it was hard to ignore the smells!
The rickshaws in JU deserve a mention. These are diesel beasts made by Kerala Automobile Ltd and are based on the Lamberetta three-wheeler design of the 1960s. The traditional Rajasthani motifs and colour sense also be seen in these vehicle seat covers, a tad garish due to use of the plastic upholstery materials used. The roof of this rick is much higher over the driver than the passengers, sloping at a sharp, rakish angle. The passengers sit on a nice wide seat. Being a single cylinder diesel vehicle, the rick shakes nicely. All these organic vibrations give a comforting massage to the passengers' bums. The max speed is a safe 25-30 kmph and the engine emits a sooty, aromatic exhaust typical of low-grade diesels a la WDM2 and old Ashok Leyland buses — Sridhar are you with me on this point???
So as you tell a waiting rick driver, 'railway station chalo', he would invite you to sit and then to your confusion, rapidly leave the vehicle. Then he would produce a piece of rope, open the engine compartment under his seat, wind the rope on the pulley and yank! This is rope-start engine!!!! I was so impressed by the vehicle that I think I am going to buy one of these beauties for my personal use in Pune (fully decorated from Jodhpur) — when I can afford the price of one lakh rupees for these vehicles. Some of the studs in JU cost twice as much — they have luxuries such as fans, sound system, fluorescent lamps, television!
Back to the railways —> I went to the JU station the very next day at around 1030 hrs to check out the 'atmosphere'. Had an idea to walk the railway line, 3 kms between Rai ka bagh and the JU station, but the short time at hand prevented actually doing this — the spirit was willing (a sense of bravado, remember?). As I entered the station, the 4708 Ranakpur of that day arrived on pf 2 behind the Vatwa WDM3A # 18705R. As mentioned earlier, the loco was changing crew with the headlamp at the 'dim' position. The loco's token catching spike was in the open position.
I gestured a query about the open spike with my flipped arm to the friendly driver and he gestured back the reply — a ball formed by thumb and the first two fingers. This meant that the ball token was used in the section ahead towards Bikaner and also that the section used the spike to collect the token during the run. As the Ranakpur started, I was out with my camera and gestured with my arms upwards — the driver understood and the loco started with a boiling cloud of black exhaust smoke — I have pics.
The other platform (pf 3) had the rake of the Mandore express. Pair of MUed Abu Road WDM2s were doing all the shunting. This may be the Mandore express power which has to wait the entire day at JU. On another day, I saw yet another ABR pair doing the shunting duty on that day, so the ABR powers must be used as the station pilot during the day. The loco pair on this day was the 16840 (build number I 3389-03-2549 from Dec 1997) MUed to 17572. The locos had the ABR's patent cream livery with angular vermilion red chevrons low on the short hood — on the long hood, the reverse colours could be seen — a majority of vermilion red with cream chevrons placed low on the hoods. What a superb livery, easily my favourite in the entire IR. A hint of rich Rajasthani sense of colours is apparent in the ABR power's liveries.
Even the YDM4s from ABR had (sadly none exist today due to gauge conversion) the same livery. The ABR's shed locos carry a metal die-cast emblem on the hoods for shed code identification — so while the Guntakal shed can only manage a cheap plastic decal with an unimaginative diamond in a circle, the classy ABR locos have a horseshoe-shaped, three-dimensional shed code insignia with a vista of a triangular mountain peak (Mount Abu of course).
The 16840 had an additional fabricated sheet metal guard over the dynamic brake grid openings on top of the short hood. There seems to be a damper mechanism present in the WDM2s that normally keeps the dynamic grids closed from atmosphere. The damper opens only when the dynamic brake is engaged. The additional guard seems to suggest a irreparable failure of this damper mechanism and hence the need for the extra protection for the dynamic grid.
The 16840 was also was unusual in having bogie-mounted sand boxes although this was an ordinary WDM2A which was not even a rebuilt loco. From the city side, the JU station has the following platforms: Pf 1 is the first platform (obviously!) from the main entrance. It has a small dead-end VIP siding that can be entered from the Rai ka Bagh side. The same platform has a pocket siding open on the Bhagat ki Kothi side for parcel loading. Pf 2 & 3 are the island platforms used by most trains. The others platform 4 & 5 are used when the others are busy. After the platforms is a through track that must have been used by the freighters. The entrance to a large railway workshop is after this through track. Towards the extreme end are the three pit lines. The pit lines are almost at 30 degrees to the platforms.
Soon the ABR locos moved the Mandore express rake towards Rai Ka Bagh end and then backed the rake into the pit lines. All shunting was done at a rapid pace. A walk in the sun revealed the rake of the Howrah - JU express on pf 5.
There was a BGKT WDM3A # 17918R standing next to the HWH - JU express, so maybe this was the loco for this train. Not many janata venture out in the furnace-like temperatures, so I was highly visible to everyone and pictures had to be taken discreetly.
Pf 1 has a large (3 feet tall) crest of the erstwhile Jodhpur State railways in sandstone. There is also a memorial to Walter Home who was the manager of Public Works Department from 1882 to 1906. Pf 1 has a plate declaring the assets of the station — how many platforms, what size, how many sidings, how many footbridges (2!), material of the building etc. There used to be a small (NG or MG?) garbage/night soil railway running north of JU in the past. Old timers mentioned that this railway had stopped running in the late 1960s. They mentioned that it used to run to a place near Mahamandir located on the Jaisalmer branch. Even today, the general map found in the TAAG shows a small spur to a place called Fedusar. The NR TT does not show this line on the detailed map, hence it must be no longer in existence.
Fedusar cannot be found in any of the maps of the area, so must be really tiny in size, maybe it is the garbage dump of the area! Information just received on the IRFCA reveals that the Fedusar (which has a quarry) line was built in the 1930s to provide material for the Ummed Bhawan palace. The grand palace was built as a drought relief project! The line was MG and fellow IRFCA member Ajay Banerjee has seen the abandoned line recently and the rails are still in place!
After doing the station, I went on a walking tour of the area near the station — was trying to locate a shop that sold maps of the city and the state. After walking the entire area, the map seller was eventually found right outside the station. Maps are also available in the Tourist office building next to Hotel Ghoomar (see below).
The day of the marriage had an early start — we represented the bride's side and the groom + barat party were to be received at the station. The barat was 50 strong and was traveling on the 4859 overnight express from Delhi that arrives JU at 0540 hrs. The train was more than 30 minutes late, so there was some time to assimilate the morning 'atmosphere'. The 4859 was due on pf 5, while the rake of the Jaisalmer - JU express was standing on pf 3 with a Itarsi WDM2 # 16216 at the Rai ka bagh end for shunting. The JU - Jaipur intercity express made a spirited departure from pf 1 — the train had a Katni WDM2 at the head end and an ABR power at the rear end for some mysterious reason.
The barat party arrived, was received and was transported to their hotel (Hotel Ghoomar on the High Court road), which is on the other side of the railway lines across the Rai ka bagh railway station. This was a late night north Indian-style traditional wedding. One of the duties I had to do was to drive members of the groom's family between the Megh Niwas guest house and the Hotel Ghoomar. This was delightful work, as a pair of WDG3As were shunting some coaches right opposite the hotel.
The barat party told me that they would take only fifteen minutes to get ready but took almost one hour. While they were apologetic for making me wait, little did they know about my private perversion and how much I enjoyed the extra wait.
In the good old north Indian tradition, the wedding ceremony lasted through the night to end after 0400 hrs.
We were booked to depart for Mumbai the same day by 4707 Ranakpur express that departs JU at 1500 hrs. Pune party had a hurried lunch, said (tearful) goodbyes to family and arrived at the station with a few minutes to spare.
Again too tight a clearance, especially when traveling with family. I was relieved to know that the 4707 Bikaner - Bandra was late by 30 minutes. Made the shy, hard-working coolie's day by stating that our heavy suitcases actually contained stones — he could not stop smiling after that.
So pf 2 it was once again. While the family sweated it out, even in the shade, I went to have a last look at the JU station. Even today there was a pair of MUed Abu Road powers that were being used for shunting rakes in and out of the pit lines. The locos seen on that day were ABR locos 16793 and 16794 (successive numbers!!!). The plain-liveried BGKT power 16003 stood in the heat waiting for some duty.
The 4707 Ranakpur arrived 40 minutes late behind Vatwa power 18716R which was long hood leading. We boarded the S11 coach where we had one lower, two middle and one top berth. We were seated to the left of the train, which was good news considering that the sun did not directly come on our berths. All-pervasive heat, still air, flies everywhere — particularly detestable is the large, heavy rainbow-hued variety that can be found near piles of ****.
We were moving soon, rapidly past the outskirts of Jodhpur — was delighted to see a Pune WDM2 waiting at the small station, Hanwant with the Bangalore - Jodhpur weekly express, long haul for the beast — it could be hauling the train from SBC itself. The loco of our train had a nice double transition kick — it would perform the unloading with a healthy jerk, a silent pause, then the loco would jerk once again with a strong pull.
The train ran at 80-90 kmph, not very fast at any section. The load was 20 coaches. The 4707 had a smart train superintendent who would travel from Bikaner to Ahmedabad, why not the whole journey?
Arrived at the blazing Luni Jn, where the afternoon departure to Barmer was waiting on the MG siding — the lower quadrant semaphore starter signal was already given, the token was being taken to the YDM4 loco by a khalasi. It was too hot to hold the bars outside the door, putting the elbow on the window frame could result in a nasty thermal shock.
The afternoon wore off with stops at Luni, Pali Marwad etc. The coach did not have water in the tanks at one end. Even when the tanks did have water, the washbasin did not work at any time.
Stopped at Marwad Jn. — back in WR territory. The late Ahmedabad - Ajmer passenger waited on pf 2 with a BGKT power. Another BGKT power with an eye catching purple livery and a 'rising sun' shed insignia waited on the middle through road. I had to actually catch the khalasis filling the water at Marwad Jn. and direct them to the empty tank that they had somehow missed. By the time the water filling started, the starter went yellow and the train started, yanking the rubber pipe from the side filling, spilling water.
The train worked into the evening — Rani, Falna, Jawai Bandh, Sirohi Road — deep red desert sunset. Lovely, tall mountains with interesting rock formation as we approached Abu region. Actually this area is visibly less arid with a number of rivers, canals, dams etc. I believe that the name Jawai Bandh refers to the dam (bandh) on the river Jawai (info gleaned from the many maps I collected during this trip).
Crossed a freighter with tanks from MG BTP wagon clamped on BRN class BG flat wagons for carrying drinking water. The loco for this freight was the Ratlam WDM2A # 18653R.
Towards the end of the rake were MG coaches on the BG flats and the crowning glory, a Wankaner shed YDM4 — the bogies had been separated from the body. Since when did Wankaner start homing YDM4s and for whom? — the track between WKR - Morbi- Dahinsara- Maliya Miyana has been converted to BG and trains such as Rajkot - Gandhidham intercity use this route. The MG hardware must have been transported to Ajmer or Phulera for overhaul, while the MG water tanks on a BG flat is a good method of recycling resources. Water-hauling trains are seen regularly in these areas.
The coach was filling up with extra passengers as the night approached. There were a number of soldiers returning homes for a short break and we could sense their impatience to get ahead. Some of the soldiers had a really unfortunate leave of one week during which they would spend 2 days + each way in traveling. The railways should have done the courtesy of attaching an extra coach to this train so that the soldiers can travel somewhat comfortably.
We were detained for a long period at Morthala at the outskirts of Abu Road for crossing with the ADI - NDLS Swaranjayanti Rajdhani express. As we arrived into ABR station, the ADI - NDLS Ashram express arrived from the other side. I was delighted to find the 9-coach DEMU (with three power cars of 700 HP each, runs between ABR-ADI) stabled at ABR — products designed by yours truly are used to maintain engine safety in this design.
The food contractor at ABR does serve meals for passengers on this train provided a coupon has been purchased from a person selling them on the train. This facility is found only on the Mumbai-bound Ranakpur express. I guess this is the initiative of the base kitchen contractors in various stations. Many Rabadi vendors can be found on the ABR platform.
After ABR was the time to turn in. The floor was packed with extra passengers. A soldier slept in the space between our berths — he had an AC 2 military warrant but the train was absolutely full. Slept fitfully at night, a number of passengers boarded the train at Palanpur and Mehesana, where the train was running about 15 minutes late.
Some arguments about the luggage space under the berth. On average, each passenger carries two pieces of luggage and the space is not sufficient for that ratio. I did not realize when the train arrived at Ahmedabad. But as I woke up, getting out of the coach to check the loco being changed was quite impossible with the janata lying everywhere, so followed natural instinct and went back to sleep.
Daybreak and we were still at ADI! We were told by fellow passengers that there was a derailment at Vadodara and this caused serious traffic obstruction. The Karnavati and 9012 MCT express were canceled and many other shorter distance trains were being 'regulated'. Now this is a dreaded word, meaning that your train would not travel further and you would be refunded the money for the rest of the journey without deductions (big deal!). Ranakpur express was lucky in being allowed to proceed.
We departed ADI at 0630 hrs instead of 0130 hrs. Crawled through Mani Nagar and Vatwa. The ADI area is impressive with huge railway facilities. I observed many times that the traffic patiently waiting well before a road under bridge while a train passes over it — nasty surprises from above?
First of the long halts was Nadiad Jn. In each of the long halts, the train waited for one hour + period while two, three or even four down trains crossed us. Trains that should have arrived in the middle of the night at ADI were crossing now at Nadiad. A packed MEMU crossed as at the platform.
The delight at Nadiad is the NG from Bhadran — could phot a few standing NG rakes while the morning train arrived behind a ZDM5. Later the NG rake was backed with the same power under the command of a lady shunting master who stood on the footboard and directed the shunting with her red and green flags. Have pics of this unsung symbol of equal opportunities backing her train.
Long detention at Anand Jn. — crossed Shanti express (Indore - Gandhinagar), 9031 Kutch express to New Bhuj, and a BCN freight etc. Long detention at Vasad Jn where the Anand - Vadtal - Bharuch Anand passenger, Mumbai - Rajkot Sausarshtra Mail and Valsad - ADI Gujarat Queen crossed us.
Next stop was at Bajva which has a large refinery and a lot of petrochemical-oriented railway traffic. We were detained here for a good 2 hours. The more adventurous passengers ventured into the street across the station to get fresh bananas. The vendor must have been overwhelmed at the great sale that he did in a very short time. Again a spate of crossings — BOXN rakes, BCN rakes, BTPN rakes, light WAG7s, etc. The down line traffic was too massive to keep track of — however the trend continued — three to four down trains while our train waited.
The long halt at Bajva gave ample opportunity to check out the rake — there were many small posters of protest pasted on the exterior of the coaches that said "Return the Gandhidham - Rajkot Express working to Gandhidham" signed "WREU, Palanpur, AII division. I failed to see the relation between the issue and the Palanpur janata (WREU = Western Railways Employees Union) who was protesting for they are quite some distance apart from the scene of the action.
The train started once more from Bajva (applause from the passengers), which is located at the outskirts of Vadodara. Noticed that the double WR line to Mathura has a single branch towards Bajva also — i.e. a triangle or wye exists.
As we crawled into BRC, I spotted a red WDP3A waiting at a distant shed on the left. This is the Trivandrum Rajdhani power from Golden Rock that works the train between BRC and TVC. An accident relief two-coach DMU (tool van + air-conditioned hospital) stood in the yard at BRC.
Once on the BRC platform, I went in search of a STD phone from which I could call folks at Pune to inform them of our late running. There was a heavy crowd at the STD booth outside the station with the same message from all the callers — late running of the train.
Through the journey from JU till Pune we consumed 18 liters of water + 2 liters of carbonated drinks between the four of us. However things were quite pleasant at BRC with some rain. The Jammu - Jamnagar express arrived at another platform with a BRC WAP4, this loco had a yellow pantograph, this train would reverse here. I doubt if any passenger train actually bypasses BRC station and works north directly via the Bajva triangle. An eunuch appeared at our seats with the usual aggression, touching etc. from which we all cringe. A small (verbal) confrontation followed in which the eunuch threatened to disrobe and dance in that state if not paid — however he/she gave up seeing that the threats were not penetrating my thick skull.
Crawled through the exit of BRC, crossed the small station of Vishwamitri, could not see any evidence of the NG lines that are supposed to cross the BG lines at right angles either over or below the lines. I did not see any NG anywhere near Vadodara — is it all gone?
Crossed a passenger train headed by a Kazipet WDM2 hauling a dead WCAM1 in tow — the diesel guy cheered, later I was to find out that ALL the down trains were plying with dead electric locos with diesel powers as the OHE had been shut off due to the massive derailment that was just ahead.
More waits on open line for almost 45 minutes before crawling at a walking pace. A rake of TORX four-wheeler wagons had derailed at Makarpura station. This location is adjacent to the ABB factory that can be seen from the train. Around twelve four-wheelers were lying by the side of the rails, pools of black furnace oil filled the ditches near the rails. The derailment was being tended by breakdown specials from Ratlam, Kankariya (Ahmedabad), Vadodara, and Udhna. There were at least three 220 t Jessops/Gottwald diesel cranes, two eight-wheeler DETCs and many four-wheeler ERU class OHE maintenance vehicles. The derailment could not happened at a better place, there were four lines across, this was near a station and at the outskirts of a major railway junction. The accident collected many unlikely locos working together, WAG7s from Kanpur and Ajni, WAG5s from TKD and BZA, WDM2s from Ludhiana, Guntakal, Kazipet, Pune, Ratlam and Abu Road.
Our train was diverted on the down line and worked slowly till the next station. Once on the correct line the Ranakpur Express just flew — top speed,cleared from all unnecessary stops, charging at full speed through even crowded, wayside stations.
Saw the busy NG station of Miyagam Karzan where at least three NG rakes were waiting with their ZDM5 locos at either exit of the station. The Ranakpur is a Bikaner division train, which means that the same rake returns from Mumbai on the same day. So the down Ranakpur could not have been started from BDTS till this rake arrived. This is after the rake undergoes a pit inspection and cleaning (not quite sure about this bit :-)) which would take 2-3 hours after arrival.
While crossing the Gujarat Narmada Fertilizer Corporation (GNFC) factory at the north end of Bharuch, I saw some shunting locos inside the premises. Have uploaded the cropped scans of these in the photo area of the IRFCA on yahoogroups under the GNFC folder.
The ADI-bound Navjeevan Express from Chennai waited at the Bharuch station with a Vatwa WDM3A. A lovely girder bridge exists over the Narmada just after Bharuch station with a parallel road bridge also of metal girders — saw the abandoned railway line running parallel to the river bank on the southern bank of the river — there is even a loop from the main line that leads down a slope to join this river side track. This has been discussed in the past on the IRFCA.
Powered through Ankeleshwar and so on till Surat. The train entered Surat disturbing a cloud of flies on the track bed. Only five minutes halt at ST, janata not anticipating the small duration of the halt got left behind on the platform, their friends halted the train using the alarm chain — more delays at the exit of the ST platform. Noticed that the Udhna - Jalgaon line (double at the north end) has a single line exit at the south end — hence a triangle/wye exists for this line also. The line appears to be pending for electrification.
Next stop at Valsad — exotic varieties of tea was being offered (kali bhais ke doodh ki chai — tea made from the milk of black buffalo) — also offered were baskets of Valsad special mangoes. The Mumbai - ADI Shatabdi rake was stabled here, after being presumably 'regulated' in the morning. I could get good pics of the CONCOR-owned container rake (as mentioned before) as we waited. This rake has two types of flat wagons — the BLCA has a normal CBC at one end to couple to the loco and other 'normal' wagons, the other end contains a simple bar coupler that is connected to a BLCB wagon. The BLCB has bar couplers on both sides. The set consists of BCLA — 5 nos of BLCB-BLCA. There are many such sets in a rake. I have uploaded scans of the BLCA and BCLB in the photo section of the the IRFCA on yahoogroups under the CONCOR folder. The CONCOR BLC rakes are homed to TKD.
I thought there was a loco change at Valsad — the coach brakes did a whoosh sound sometimes in the middle of our 10 minutes halt. I may be wrong on this conclusion. I was way too back in the rake (and too well settled in my seat) to investigate. The loco from ADI was a WCAM1, and the loco as seen at BNDT on the way out was also a WCAM1, maybe the same loco. I did not find any difference in the hauling power of the WCAM1 and the WCAM2 in the AC section. Even with a supposedly inferior, ageing loco like WCAM1, the Ranakpur was flying.
Rain now started in earnest as the train sped towards Mumbai. A few seconds halt at Vapi and we were off again. A small halt at Palghar brought in many Mumbai-bound commuters in the train. Crossed the Dahanu-bound MEMU from Virar at Palghar. The heavy rain had flooded the area from Boisar. The tall mountains near Vaitarna - Virar were obscured by low flying cloud, the sodium vapour lamps on buildings at the summit were lit *inside* the clouds. The rain delighted the soldiers traveling with us were returning from the desert after a long and tense tour of duty. A simple gesture like holding out an arm till it got soaked captured the delicate emotion of the moment.
The train now entered the DC section and slowed down to 50-60 kmph. Worked through Virar, Naigaon etc. — the windows of the coach had fogged slightly due to the condensation. Stopped briefly at Borivali and much of the train got emptied. Did not stop at Andheri and finally diverted into the BDTS siding at around 2115 hrs. Saw additional signals labeled as 'SPI 1' or 'SPI 5' near the shunt signals at BDTS yard — these have the same sized lens as the regular three window shunt signal but this has only two vertical white lenses — no idea of the function of this SPI signal.
Crawled to the through line platform at BDTS at 2130 hrs. The coolies were happy to see us — they did not have much business through the day due to cancellations and rescheduling of the trains. The BDTS - BKN 4708 Ranakpur was rescheduled at 0130 hrs. The Up Ranakpur was hauled into BDTS by Valsad WCAM1 # 21871 or 21824 (could not be sure of the number as had to run with the coolie).
For most of the passengers, the BDTS was the end of an epic journey, while we still had to make it to Pune, so the tension was still on for us. Misery at the exit of the BDTS — ankle-deep water, drizzle — got scalped by a taxi who left us at Dadar taxi stand — taking a train at this time was quite out of question.
At Dadar we hired one of the illegal but comfortable Tempo trax that took us to Pune (including intra-city drops for my sister at her place in Kodhwa and our own house at Prabhat Road) via the expressway. So while it cost us about Rs. 900 to travel 1000 Kms from Jodhpur to Bandra, it cost us more than Rs. 1200 to travel the 180 kms from Bandra to Pune. As per the planning, I had visions to taking the 1009 Sinhagad Express (Rs 54 each adults) and be back in Pune at 1900 hrs. That was possible if the Ranakpur had arrived Bandra at the correct time.
I had some apprehensions about taking an illegal mode of transport, but this was very comfortable — we had so much luggage which could be carried out of rain in a large vehicle like the Tempo Trax. These vehicles are cheaper than the regular taxis or the air-conditioned 'cool cabs'. The expressway has taken the challenge out of Mumbai - Pune road travel, so once you enter the concrete strip at Panvel, you exit at Wakad without realising the ghat or feeling much bumps.
The taxi had to pay Rs. 200 as toll for the 3-hour journey, so I feel the driver did not earn all that much. We arrived to our lovely, rainy, cool Pune at around 0200 hrs — home delivered!
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