Bus, Beer and Bytrayanahalli

by Manish


The report below is an account of the Bangalore gang's outing to Bangarapet, Kolar and Bytrayanahalli on 2009-02-07. At the outset, apologies for this incredibly long delay in posting this report- I got caught up in other work and was unable to concentrate on this. I have embedded the report with photos taken by various members on that day.

A Photo album of pictures from this trip is available on the server:

Here is another photo album

Bus, Beer and Bytrayanahalli: An account of the Bangalore gang's trip to BWT

The enthusiasm of the Bangalore gang members was all fired up post BNC - 2009, and we were eager to go out on a rail fanning trip together. Accordingly, plans were made, remade and finally Saturday, the 7th of February was settled upon as the date for the trip. After this followed another intense round of discussion on the IRFCA-Bangalore mailing list, and the final itinerary, decided on the evening of the sixth, consisted of taking the 526 SBC-MKM Passenger to Bangarapet, followed by a trip on the RailBus to Kolar and back, then a round of beers and a track side lunch at some remote wayside station, and then a rail fanning session for the rest of the afternoon.

Accordingly, on the morning of the seventh, railfans lined up at various stations in Bangalore - SBC, BNC, BYPL, KJM - to board the 526 Bangalore-Marikuppam passenger. In all, eleven IRFCAns turned up - S. Srinivas, Ravi Sunderarajan, Arnab Acharya, Pawan Koppa, Prakash, Sanket Malde, Santosh Kulkarni, Sunderesan Krishnaswami, V. Anand, Vibin Andrews and myself. We were also joined by a friendly loco inspector of SWR (who shall remain anonymous). Vibin and I were the last to board the train at KJM. It came in at 07.32, hauled by a KJM WDG-3A #14636. Pawan and Sanket were already in the loco, while Srinivas was at the door of the first SLR, waving out to us. Despite the crowd, we were able to get seats as the IRFCA gang had occupied an entire coupe. It looked like a perfect IRFCA expedition - some of the members dressed in IRFCA T-shirts, and others carrying a whole range of items - eight cameras, one GPS, one working timetable, and lots of food and water! Undoubtedly, we were also the recipients of several curious and bemused stares from fellow passengers. The train left KJM in a couple of minutes, and three stops later, we pulled into Whitefield, where the rake of the Garib Rath was stabled on a loop line.

Just as we left Whitefield, a long freighter crossed us, led by WAG-5 twins from BZA. The LP notched up after exiting the yard, and we were soon blasting through the countryside at around 90 kmph! Ravi was seated at the window with his GPS, while the WTT was pounced on by several members who were eager to get their hands on it! At Devangonthi, Pawan and Sanket returned to the coach to have breakfast. We had breakfast shortly thereafter, and eating warm idlis and vadas from Oasis, with spicy sambar and chutney to boot, was just the perfect accompaniment to the cold breeze that was blowing in through the windows. After breakfast, I went to the door. The SBC-MAS mainline is dotted with generous gradients, and long coast orders are common. Shortly before Malur, we came upon a 'C' board with '4 km' written under it, and the LP turned down the notches to idle. The tremendous momentum of the train saw it through for the entire distance, and we coasted to a gentle halt at Malur. At the Malur, two of us were to take our turns at the footplate. The lucky two were Prakash and myself, and at Malur we charged out of the coach, led by Srinivas (who was carrying breakfast packets to the LP's).

We boarded the loco and were introduced to the extremely friendly Loco inspector, who welcomed us into the cab. We had a jolly ride thereafter, with the inspector pointing out various nuances of signalling and operation of the locomotive to us. The loco easily tackled the gentle gradients of the section, and the double line ensured that we were continuously able to get greens one after another. Being a WDG-3A, the loco often let out copious clouds of smoke while notching up, and many a time the catenary was engulfed in it. The LP kept the loco in the 7th or 8th notch mist of the time, and we maintained a steady 80-90 kmph between stations. Bytrayanahalli, Tyakal and Maralahalli were crossed with a brief halt at each. At Tyakal, we crossed come of the most spectacular scenery on the section - the line curves beautifully in between a series of rocky mountains on the left, and a massive lake on the right. Maralahalli is a small halt station located in a cutting. The station has no platforms and passengers have to alight either into the gutter or on the opposite track. We crossed the 502 Kolar-BNC DEMU (Electric Multiple Unit)near Tyakal. After a fabulous run, we slowed down outside Bangarapet, due to a weak bridge and a number of points in the yard, pulling into PF-4 at 09.11. A Plasser machine was on one of the yard lines, and the much-awaited RailBus was on PF-6.

We alighted from the loco after bidding farewell to the LP and the ALP. The rest of the group proceeded towards the RailBus, while I decided to briefly survey the yard.

Bangarapet junction has a rather unusual layout - all six platforms are islands. The station is oriented east to west, and the mainlines from Bangalore come onto either side of the island PF-3/4 from the west, after crossing the aforementioned bridge. Platforms 1 and 2 are located to the south of PF-3/4, and are loops of the mainline. East of the station, the mainlines to Chennai merge with the loops and curve to the southeast, while the single unelectrified line to Marikuppam branches off to the east. On the west, the yard is a bewildering array of points and a loop from the mainline, which joins PF-5. The other side of the island platform (PF-6) is the Bangarapet-Kolar branch, which curves sharply to the north on the west of the station, and on the east merges with the yard. There are a few trolley sheds on the west, and the complicated arrangement also necessitates complex signals - there is a calling-on, starter as well as a shunt signal on a single post on PF-5.

Beyond PF-6 is a wall and a busy road that runs outside the station premises. PF-1 and 2 are 18 coaches long, while PF-3/4 hold 24 coaches. PF-5/6 generally handle shorter trains such as the DEMU (Electric Multiple Unit)and RailBus, and are a mere 8 coaches long. PF-3/4 also have facilities for watering, apart from having most of the stalls and the railway offices in the station premises.

Inspection over, I joined the rest of the group on the RailBus on PF-6. Tea had been arranged, and as I sipped it I noted the details of the bus (the first time I was seeing one), while others photographed it from various angles. The vehicle itself was of 1997 BEML make, with an Ashok Leyland engine.

The seating capacity was a surprisingly large 73, but to our dismay we discovered that this had been achieved by cramming the seats together, with the legroom between some seats a mere 9 cm!

Mr. Anand informed us that he was trying to obtain a copy of RDSO standards for legroom, so that the seating arrangement on the bus could be questioned. There were driving controls at both ends, and like a bus, they had to be activated with a key. The loco inspector decided to drive the bus for this run, and he consequently got the seat with the most legroom ;-) As he later explained to us, any general servicing of the engine is carried out by the nearest lorry mechanic, while the vehicle goes for maintenance to its home shed at BNC once a month. Diesel is periodically carried from SBC in drums on one of the passenger trains.

The RailBus serves as a connecting service to the 2610 SBC-MAS Express, and we were waiting for its arrival. However, it showed no signs of turning up even fifteen minutes after its scheduled arrival time. Meanwhile, the 2007 Shatabdi to Mysore passed through the station at 09.49, headed by an AJJ WAM-4. Just then, we were informed that the Express had left Tyakal, and accordingly most of the members got into position with their cameras. After a long wait of nearly twenty minutes, it finally crawled in with KJM WDP-4 #20023 at the helm.

The train was jam-packed and bursting at the seams. The cameramen immediately rushed back to their seats in the RailBus, where Mr. V. Anand and the loco inspector had been enlightening the rest of the group with information about loco pilot hierarchy and operations. The bus was soon swamped with passengers from the 2610, but everyone was able to get a (cramped and uncomfortable) seat due to the 'enhanced' seating arrangements.

Two minutes later, the starter turned green and the RailBus was off, not with a toot but a continuously blaring automobile -tone horn (thanks to the presence of an LC just outside the station). The Bangarapet-Kolar (KQZ) line is an 18 km long single unelectrified broad gauge section. The entire stretch is a single block section with 'one train operation', worked with a token and controlled by LQ semaphore signalling. The token itself is a rather unusual wooden rod with a steel sleeve, and the issuing authority is the SM at BWT. On reaching KQZ, it is handed over to the SM there.

The starter and advanced starter at BWT are MACL, and beyond the advanced starter (about a kilometer outside the station), LQ signalling and token territory begins. The section is maintained by the SSE/PWAY/KQZ. The MPS on the section is 40 kmph for the RailBus and 65 kmph for the DEMU. Immediately outside BWT, the line passes through a series of sharp curves as it negotiates the suburbs of the town, and there is a PSR of 25 kmph. The curves have guardrails, and the wheels of the bus (which was a four-wheeler) made a continuous screeching sound as the vehicle negotiated the curves for almost a kilometre. Then the line opened onto a straight stretch, and there came before us the glorious vista of a single track, shielded by tall eucalyptus trees on either side.

The section does not have welded rails, and the fish plates are about 100 m apart, ensuring a very bumpy and jolt-filled ride. The RailBus was gently swaying longitudinally, and the gentle 40 kmph pace more than made up for the poor ride quality. This section has some of the most random gradients I have seen - 1:104, 1:131, 1:818 to name a few. The continuous downhill gradients made the driver (our loco inspector) work hard to ensure that the bus did not exceed its MPS of 40 kmph. Many a time the overspeeding indicator would beep while on a gradient, and he would gently apply the brakes to slow down. Shortly, we crossed our first semaphore - a gate signal which was at 'proceed' aspect.

A couple of kilometres later, we came to yet another LC, the gate of which had been devastated by a lorry violently colliding with it a couple of days earlier. This meant that the said gate could not be closed and the gate signal remained at 'danger'. We had to proceed by hand signal from the gatekeeper, and the scheduled driver of the bus alighted for a minute as we came to a dead halt for the exchange of private numbers.

Then we picked up again, and the bus accelerated quite well as we took the next (and last) 'proceed' gate signal (of NH-4, no less) at MPS. Shortly after this was a sweeping curve, where a considerable amount of earthwork was being carried out, no doubt for future expansion, and slowed to a crawl as we switched points onto the loop line to enter the quaint Kolar station. The station has no signalling apparatus, and entry and exit are controlled by hand signal from the station master. After a 35 minute long ride in the bus, we made an exit, and I performed some bodily contortions to relax certain vital regions of the body that had been constrained by the unpleasant seating arrangements.

Kolar station is a beautiful Raj-era structure that has retained its charm to this day. The advent of broad gauge has not in the least affected the structure that was built in the narrow-gauge era. The only noticeable change is the height of the station, which sits about four feet below the platform level - a low-level one at that.

The station master was delighted to see a group of us - and it was not surprisingly so. There are just six services at the section - three arrivals and three departures, and none of them operate on Sundays - so a crowd of high-spirited railway enthusiasts must have been a breath of fresh air from the drudgery of his daily life. Speaking of fresh air, there was plenty of it around. Two gigantic peepal trees cast their generous shade on the platform,

and the sereneness of the place so overwhelmed us that at that moment, all of us would have gladly swapped our jobs with that of the SM, if we were given the opportunity!

A few of us had coffee, generously catered to by the SM, at the spacious and well-maintained retiring room at the station,

and were joined in by the loco inspector and LP of the RailBus for about half an hour of animated chatter. Meanwhile, Arnab, Sanket and Vibin proceeded to the other end of the station to look for any traces of he abandoned NG alignment (unfortunately there was none).

Others, myself included, explored the station premises. Kolar, being the district headquarter, must have been an important station in the heydays of MG, as was evident from the massive station yard and numerous abandoned buildings. Of particular interest was an abandoned weigh bridge on the western side of the station (the tracks run north-south, and the main building is on the east), which also hinted at the possibility of the station being an important freight-loading point earlier.

Alas, no freights have been seen at the station for over twenty years now. The station also has a full-fledged PRS counter, that fits innocuously into the building without disturbing its aesthetics, still retaining the old-style booking window. The only jarring note of modernity was this digital clock, hanging from the century-old balustrade of the station building.

After half an hour of an ethereal experience at the station, it was time to head back. After quickly taking several photos, the gang boarded the bus. In contrast to the onward journey, it was nearly empty and we had the return bus almost entirely to ourselves on the return journey. This time, the rail fanning spirit was in full flow as we spread ourselves around the interior of the vehicle. Every moment on the RailBus was enjoyed to its fullest and captured on camera as well. As the bus danced around curves with the accompanying music of its horn, one could experience the real joy of being a railfan. And none to put it in action more appropriately than S. Srinivas and Ravi Sunderarajan, the two grand old men of the Bangalore gang, who dangled out of the doors, cameras in hand, without a care in the world. And that, IMHO, is the true beauty of rail fanning - being able to lose yourself to the sheer joy of being on board a moving train. Others might find their most exhilarating moments footplating a WDP-4 or doorplating a Rajdhani, but to me all of these pale into comparison with the ride on the RailBus that day. The last gate signal, about four miles from Bangarapet (as indicated by this relic from NG days),

was down, but the LP, seeing Ravi at the door with camera in hand, brought the vehicle to a halt. And thus, we were able to procure this rare visual of a train halted at a 'proceed' signal on a one-train section, even as a couple of bemused motorists at the LC wondered what all the drama was about!

The first MACL signal on the line, BWT home, was out of order and once again, the LP had to alight and exchange private numbers with the SM of BWT for permission to proceed.

It was granted, and a few minutes later, an exhilarating ride came to an end on PF-6 of BWT. We tumbled out of the bus and posed for group photographs next to it. This complete, arrangements were made for lunch. A few members went off in search of some grub and beer, while the rest of us looked around for our train.

We were to take the 531 BWT-SBC MEMU (Electric Multiple Unit)to Bytrayanahalli (BFW). The loco inspector had informed us that the MEMU (Electric Multiple Unit)was away on POH, and hence the passenger would be operated as a conventional rake. We spotted a rake with this board on PF-5,

and assuming it to be SBC-bound, almost boarded it, only to be informed by someone on board that it was in fact bound to MKM and that our train was on PF-2. Suitably chastened, we proceeded to PF -2, avoiding the FOB, and found our train there. It was a nine-coach affair with a WAM-4 6PD #20663 from AJJ idling on the JTJ end.

Since the MEMU (Electric Multiple Unit)has no toilets, there are no nominated watering staff or stations, and the same was replicated even on the conventional rake - the water tanks were bone-dry, and the condition of the lavatories and sinks is better left undescribed. That apart, there was no other problem with the rake, and we settled into one of the chair cars, occupying two opposite six-seater cabins. Shortly, the WAM-4 proceeded to the SBC end of the rake and was attached. At 12.20, the 6339 CSTM - NCJ express hauled by ED WDM-3D #11183 arrived, surprisingly on PF-3 (which housed the down line).

We soon discovered the reason for this. Bangarapet is a nominated watering station for the train, and it is given a fifteen-minute halt there for this purpose. The train was quite full, and within minutes we could hear the PF on the other side resonating with the cries of vendors that are so common when a major train halts at a wayside station.

At 12.30, there was neither any sign of our food gatherers nor the SBC-bound Brindavan (We were informed that our train would be cleared only after Brindavan passed). A quick phone call reassured us that our comrades were on the way. All this while, Mr. V. Anand kept us engrossed with information regarding the working of various departments of the railways, right from furnishing of coaches to watering of trains. Queries that had foxed us for long were answered in amazing detail. As we were thus occupied, the first batch of explorers came back with what looked like an entire crate of beer. Shortly afterwards, the second group brought in the food. At 12.35, the SBC-bound Brindavan finally pulled into PF-4, a full forty-five minutes late! Pawan. Sanket and Santosh proceeded to the loco to footplate while the others, who had stayed near the loco to watch the coupling and chat up the LP's, returned to the coach. The Brindavan was packed off in a couple of minutes and at 12.50, we pulled out, hot on its tail and running ten minutes behind schedule. The ride was wonderful one and the WAM-4 handled the puny rake with almost effortless ease. We breezed past the giant rocks at Tyakal and pulled into Bytrayanahalli (BFW) at 13.10. The small crowd that had gathered on the platform stared curiously at us city slickers who were the only ones to alight from the train. We joined the others who had alighted from the loco. In an interesting twist, Srinivas had purchased tickets from BWT to SBC/KJM, and we literally took a 'break journey' at BFW. After picking up the junta, the train left and we were the only ones left on the deserted platform in the middle of nowhere, with just two tracks running through. A bit of scouting later, we managed to find a sheltered spot beneath a massive tree, just 100 m away from the platform but conveniently out of sight behind a small embankment that ran along the non-track side of the platform.

Minutes after we settled down, a characteristic honk announced the arrival of the 513 DEMU (Electric Multiple Unit)to Marikuppam. A few of us climbed onto the embankment to see it. There were hardly any passengers boarding at BFW - and just as well, because the train was bursting at the seams. It left within a minute. We went back and without further ado, pounced on the food - consisting of steaming bisibelebhath and chilled masala dosas. To supplement these, bottles of beer were opened and passed around, while the teetotallers contented themselves with mineral water and soft drinks that the food-gatherers had been considerate enough to procure from BWT. A merry lunch followed, with anecdotes exchanged and many laughs shared. After lunch, a few of us went down to the platform to catch any passing action, and were immediately rewarded with the sight of a long BCNA rake hauled by AJJ WAG-5 HA twins led by #23804.

Bytrayanahalli is a remote and desolate station practically in the middle of nowhere,but Srini's trusted mobile surprised him by getting a clear connection! The station has two platforms and no loops, and at that time the only other occupants of the station were the SM, who was eating a lonely lunch in his cabin, and a dog which seemingly kept him company. One end of the station is a curve located in a cutting, necessitating the starter to be located in this unusual position:

We wandered around the station for a few minutes and seeing nothing more, retreated into the shade of the tree. Suddenly, as I was cursorily glancing through the WTT, I realised that it was a Saturday and the YPR-BGP Express was due. In fact, it was already time for it to have passed BFW! I alerted the gang and we immediately scrambled towards the platform. No sooner had we crossed the embankment than we heard the loud blare of a horn, and as we jumped onto the platform, the Express came thundering through with a fiery orange WDG -3A #14580 at its helm.

The group walked further on the tracks and finally located a shady spot where we sat and waited for the Kakinada-bound Seshadri to pass through. We, the younger members of the gang chatted casually and relaxed on the tracks, while the older members chose to stay behind and polish off the remaining beer. At 14.45, we heard a distant horn and a couple of minutes later, 'Grandma' BZA WAM-4 # 20506 came charging up the small gradient with the 7210 Seshadri and blasted through the station at a very high speed.

We then retreated to the platform and waited for out return train to SBC, the 525 MKM-SBC passenger, keeping our eyes peeled for any passing freight. Unfortunately, there was none and at 15.10, we were greeted by the sight of

  1. once again - with the same rake that had brought us to BWT in the morning!

Pawan, Santosh and I boarded the loco for FP-ing all the way to Bangalore while the others, led by the indefatigable Srini, ignored the crowd in the jam-packed train and enthusiastically boarded the empty luggage compartment of the SLR, not heeding the protestations of the guard. But we IRFCAns have the knack of charming even the most hard-hearted of railway staff and by the time we reached KJM, the group in the SLR was having a gala time chatting and sharing laughs. Meanwhile, the three of us sat in the cab, with a very friendly LP (who had incidentally gone through our server and was quite impressed by it) at the controls. The WDG-3A handled the numerous coast orders and gradients with equal ease. Despite the large number of halts, we ran mostly on time and touched a top speed of 98 kmph. A very late-running Brindavan was crossed near SGT/WFD at around 16.00 and we pulled into KJM at 16.10, where all of us alighted from the loco. Pawan and Santosh went into the SLR, while Vibin, Arnab and the LI alighted. We bid farewell to the others, who would continue on to their respective destinations and proceeded home, bringing to an end one of the most amazing rail fanning outings I have had in a long time!

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