Nagpur Trip - By Road!

by Apurva Bahadur


Photos from this trip can be viewed here: Nagpur Trip

Last week, I and a colleague had to go to NGP urgently to sort out some problems in a diesel genset panel that has been designed and manufactured by yours truly and his company in Pune.

Initially there seemed to be more time at hand, the easy going Nagpur janata who were to install and service the genset told us "come at your convenience" - so we arranged to go by train - we even got confirmed 2 AC tickets for 5th May for Maharashtra express - the return was by the newly introduced Nagpur - Pune bi-weekly express (22nd on wait list - 2nd class!).

Then we learned from our Pune based customers (with installation at Nagpur) that "come at your convenience" meant yesterday! So we urgently junked the train travel plan and sought bus tickets to travel on the Volvo bus to Nagpur on the very day 4th May 2004.

The rear engined Volvo bus is large, spacious, comfortable and eats miles of Indian roads without tiring out. One feels cocooned by the muted, air-conditioned interiors, shielded from the bumps by the air suspension and isolated from the very rear danger that exist on a road. But after seeing the near misses and dramatic swerves by the horsepower rich Volvo driver from the extra large windscreens, you begin to wonder if you would be safer in the second class of the Indian Railways sleeper. It is only a matter of time when one of these stunts of the roadhogs would go wrong and those luxuriating in the chilled cage of the bus would come face to face with a nasty situation.

Nice touches in the Volvo B7R include air-conditioned comfort for the driver (which would contribute to his alertness, no doubt), pull down screens between the driver and the passengers - these prevent the glare of the oncoming traffic from dazzling the passengers trying to sleep. The reclinable seats are excellent with firm lumber support and good legspace.

There was heavy rain and lots of road repair work, which meant that the progress out of Pune was quite slow and we were running late.

Dropped off in a tired stupor in the middle of a Bollywood tripe on the bus video to wake up much later. A notable roadside stop is a place called Chikhli which arrives at 0300 hrs - this is the midway mark - the two drivers who work the Pune - Nagpur run change shifts here at Chikhli. There is nothing in this place but petrol pumps, tyrewallahs, auto electricians and dhabhas. The brightly lit, flashing light festive place it'self is very surreal when you suddenly arrive in the middle of the night - there is earsplitting bhangda music playing with dhabha's loose haired Sardar sloshing boiling tea from one pan to another. As you start to move out, just as suddenly, the Chikli town ends and you are in the darkness once more.

As many IRFCA members have mobile phone, they remain in touch by voice calls and SMS. Accordingly Zubin Dotivala ("will bring cheese sandwiches in the morning") and I arranged to meet at his native Amravati at daybreak - our Volvo went through a bad patch of road (the "short cut"!)and arrived quite late at AMI well past 0730 hrs.

The passengers for AMI were dropped off at an outskirts stop. The bus then powered through at high speed at the regular city stopping point at Chaparasipura as there were no passengers meant for that stop. I could see Zubin waiting on the road and looking very surprised when the bus did not stop - a mobile call explained the situation. Zubin did not give up - he exchanged his scooter (on which he had arrived at the bus stop) with his friend's car (which was also nearby).

He chased the fast Volvo bus some 25 Kms to deliver those sandwiches when we stopped for a morning break! Such are the bonds between IRFCA members.

We arrived at NGP almost one hour late and checked into the "Orange City" hotel.

The city is very clean, well laid out and civic. My belief that Pune is the number 2 (or even number 1!) city in the state of Maharashtra, followed by relatively primitive Nagpur crumbled rapidly - Nagpur is a great city, with excellent planning only let down by the terrible weather.

It is unbelievably hot in this season - impossible to touch building walls in the day - it is difficult to touch even panels of window glass from inside the air-conditioned hotel room - it is very hot and very dry. The nights too are blazing.

After freshening up, we were taken to the work site. Thus is on the roof of a hotel in the Sadar area that housed the genset (and the cellular tower which needed the backup power). The roof had absolutely no shade but the great view of the city made up for the lack of comfort. I could see the Nagpur Jn station in front of me. I could also see the tracks bifurcating towards Itarsi and towards Durg. I could see the 'X' crossing as well as the Narrow Gauge lines. Trains and after trains came and went - a great number of BOXN rakes with coal arrived on the Itarsi line one after another - most were powered by twin WAG 5s or a single WAG 9s. I could see a bright shiny green and red NG loco haul in a train and then later haul the same rake out of Nagpur. Saw the Itarsi bound, rapidly accelerating SC Rajdhani and the slowly accelerating GT express from the hot roof!

Using the mobile phone, I could talk to the lone IRFCA member from NGP - Alok Patel. We had two more members in the last year, Sudhir Lakhe and Harshawardhan Nimkhedkar we have not heard from them since.

After solving the problems on the hotel roof, we proceed to see the second genset at Khaparkheda locality. There are two thermal power plants in the same area of Koradi and Khaparkheda - these are fed coal by a bucket conveyor system - the pics have been uploaded by Alok in the oddities section. The road to Khaparkheda runs across the Itarsi bound lines at a level crossing. The coal handling single line to the thermal power stations also crosses the road twice. Alok later told me that the NG line to Itwari runs alongside the road, but I did not spot it.

The second genset was on the roof of a quaint half finished building - the giant Khaparkheda thermal power station with the really monstrous smokestacks are just across the road.

Our work in Nagpur was finished on the first day it'self. The earliest exit was, yes, you guessed it, a Volvo bus next day at 1700 hrs. So we had a rare day in hand with nothing much to do.

Woke up in morning, a walk in the blazing sun to a shop to buy a map of the city and then to the legendary Haldiram's restaurant for a breakfast. The various sweets on display in the famous halwai's shop makes your mind boggle and the mouth water - sadly most of these sweets are perishable in nature and cannot be transported easily to Pune.

A quick bath in the hotel and we were ready to go to, where else, the railway station. I must confess, it took a lot of willpower to leave the cool hotel room and step into the hot street.

One rickety rickshaw ride later - we were at Nagpur Jn. While we were buying the platform tickets, the PA system announced the arrival of the legendary 2615 Grand Trunk Express on Pf 1.

Before the GT arrived, we found the serene NG part of the station first. The blue ZDM 3A # 170 was reversing to couple with the Jabalpur passenger. Next to the NG station was the two coach BG accident relief rake - this was a DMU with two under floor engines driving the wheels via hydraulic transmission - the coach with the engine is the tool van - the second coach is an air-conditioned hospital - we could see the entry to the operation theater from the open side doors.

By this time the MAS-NDLS GT arrived on pf 1 - the Erode WAP 4 # 22268 crawled in - the crew switched on the headlamps and the flasher in the last 100 meters or so - no idea why. A person on the platform (most likely the assistant driver who was to take charge at NGP) called the loco with hand signals till the starter signal.

One observation was a young man (who was obviously on contract rather than a railway employee) who filled the leading bogies sandboxes of the GT's WAP 4 power with coarse sand (the sand at Pune loco shed is finer). The volume of the sand was not much - the sand was carried in two nylon bag - the sort that is used to buy vegetables. This is the first time that I have seen a passenger loco being specifically provided with sand - it is obviously used to prevent wheel slippage in the steep ghat section between NGP and ET for heavy 34 coach train such as the GT - there were 6 AC coaches in the rake.

The pf 1 at NGP is cranked in the end. The original pf 1 must have ended at the "18 coach" length - the extra length to accommodate the full 24 coach rake is built in at an angle to the old pf. The angled platform end is such that it leads the train to the line 2 next to the pf 1 line. Thus an incoming train from the Sewagram side bends sharply at "18 coach length" to arrive at the Itarsi end starter signal.

A dramatic illustration of this feature was an Itarsi bound container rake that arrived with a single Asansol WAG 5 # 23879 after the GT departed. The WAG 5 was on line 2 - as it continued towards Itarsi, it met with the extended end of the pf 1! Thus part of the container rake was on line 2 and the front end was on pf 1's extension. A few pics would clarify this feature of NGP pf 1.

The Jabalpur passenger on the NG part of Nagpur Jn (run by South East Central railways now) started just as the passenger from Nainpur arrived with a green and red ZDM 4A # 221.

The northbound GT started from the pf and was halted due to alarm chain pulling after pulling some 50 meters. By this time the Jammu - Chennai Andaman express arrived from the Itarsi branch with Rajdhani liveried AJJ WAM 4/6PE # 21350. The 18 coach rake contained only 60% passenger coaches - the rest were "high capacity parcel vans" which are with air brakes. The rear of the train contained an air-conditioned inspection carriage of the Delhi division - this had dual brakes.

We moved to the Sewagram end of the pf 1 - the rakes of the trains arrived in the morning - Vidharbha and Samarasta from Mumbai. The first was coupled to an Itarsi WDS 6 # 36167 to be shunted away from the platform. The Super Delux from LTT (the Devnagari board names this train as "Samar-satta" - no idea what that means) was coupled to a dirty WAP 4 from SRC for shunting purpose.

An Ajni WAG 7 # 22184 arrived on track 3 with a long rakes of only parcel vans - as this was a rake with passenger patterned vehicles, the guard was in a SLR at the end - this was the only passenger carrying coach in the rake - for that matter, the guard was the only occupant of this coach.

The vacuum braked 8030 HWH - LTT crawler (supposed to have 55 halts from through the journey) arrived on pf 4 hauled by a Bhusawal WAM 4 # 21313 - one VPU was shunted from front of the rake to the siding near the pf 1.

Apparently the 8029/30 has as much as 4 slip coaches that are attached/detached along the route - these connect to vacuum braked trains and hence the 8029/30 it'self is vacuum braked.

The MAS bound GT arrived on of 2 with Erode WAP 4 # 22266 - late by almost 30 minutes. The PA system at NGP actually apologizes for the late running of trains - "yatriyon ki asuvidha ke liye hamey khed he".

By now it was getting really hot so we decided to wrap up the railfanning session and return to our hotel around 1330 hrs.

As we stepped into the lift, the power failed and we had to walk up 6 floors to reach our rooms - the genset did not power the heavy loads such as the lift or the air conditioners. The power was restored after some time.

We checked out of the hotel and proceeded to the bus stand. We met with the lone IRFCA member from NGP, Alok for the first time.

Soon we were on the way in a different Volvo bus towards Pune. This journey was not as comfortable. We were seated on the last seats (no 39,40) - there is a bunk after this for the driver working the other shift. At this position, the intense engine heat came through the floor and the air-conditioning was not sufficient to overcome it. Adding to my misery was that my seat would not recline and the transport company could not do anything about it, although they knew this defect before the bus started - the prospect of sitting up through the night was daunting - that was not the end of my misery - I had to rewatch the same Bollywood tripe I had seen on the earlier day!

Zubin had arranged a grand dinner for us at the bus halt near Amravati - again the mobile proves invaluable in coordinating our positions. So by the bus arrived at the "Bagiya" restaurant outside AMI and the passengers were just glancing at the menu, our elaborate chicken curry was already at the table. The Bagiya restaurant overlooks the Badnera - Amravati branch line and just as we got off the bus, the BD-AMI passenger thundered by. The yet to laid, Badnera - Narkhed line would run nearby.

My many thanks are due to Zubin's hospitality that overflowed even the brief halts that the bus had.

Bus rolled on through the night - Akola, Chickli (un-trubaned Sardar frothing the tea even now!) - by the time we halted in the predawn light, we were already past Ahmednagar. Pune arrival was more rapid than planned due to the enormous speeds that we were traveling and the empty roads.

Next time I take the train, dear friends!

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