Chapter X

Ian Manning on the Indian Railways: 1965-1969


3. The Kolar District Railway

The outermost platform face at Bangarapet had 2' 6" track, with three departures daily, two for Bangalore by the long, narrow-gauge way round and an evening local. These Kolar District trains would dock early, with a Sikh TTE to check the tickets as each passenger arrived, for the Kolar District Railway was under official suspicion of making fearsome losses; statistics were being compiled. In fact, the line was under threat of closure, or at least reduction of service.

The train that was thus waiting not very hopefully at Bangarapet, with the driver adjusting the steam brake on the engine, was made up of old Kolar District stock; an ES Pacific and carriages with barred windows on all compartments, not just for the ladies’ and the upper classes. In the best tradition of the Indian narrow gauge, the locomotive was no mere light railway puffing billy but a fully fledged steam engine. One could tell the difference; all her parts were scaled down from the main line, sometimes to the point of constriction, as with her cab, and sometimes a little old fashioned as with her polished brass dome and chimney flange.

She was an engine with plenty of power, more than adequate to a load of four bogie carriages, which she was able to accelerate to 50 kmph in a couple of minutes and maintain this cruising speed indefinitely – for the track was well maintained, with very few curves so sharp as to require speed restrictions. Crossing the undulating plateau in this fashion, and dodging its abrupt, piled-up granite tors, the train passed fields scratchily ploughed and plantations of eucalypts grown for domestic firewood. These gum-trees had been planted in rows but they refused to look disciplined like, say, pines. With all the straggliness at their command they were trying to make their plantations self-sown bush.

On the third leg of its journey the Kolar District train trundled southwards, rounding wide curves with its carriages canting a little, to stop at Yelahanka, ten miles north of Bangalore. Here the small train encountered the metre gauge line from Guntakal, and began to run third-rail. Here also their loco depot had been shifted in 1965 to make room for the reconstruction of Bangalore City station. The narrow gauge layout at City having been reduced to a mere loop without so much as a turntable, each train worked to or from City involved ten miles of light-engine running. The expense of this made the line unpopular with the accountants while its use of a busy metre gauge section made it a nuisance to the train controller. To avoid running a separate light engine to pick up the evening Chik-Ballapur local at City, the through train from Bangarapet covered its last ten miles with an engine front and rear, quite an excess of power. Nobody seems to have thought of running trains tender first and changing engines at Yelahanka; that would reduce the standard of service perhaps.