Delhi's Ring Railway
by Mohan Bhuyan
I've been living in Delhi since 1986 and it's been a source of embarrassment to me that I've never once used the Ring Railway. Well, the elevated metro line ( Shahdara to Tis Hazari) is nearby and the underground line to Connaught Place begins right outside my home. Naturally the call of the Metro is strong but I have resisted thus far because of this irrational feeling that it'd be somehow unfair to "do" the metro before the ring railway! So last Saturday morning found me at HZN at 9:05, all set to catch EMU HNH 2 for a trip round Delhi.
HNH 2 does a circuit in the anticlockwise direction without reversing, by bypassing Old Delhi and Shakur Basti. It's the second (and last) anticlockwise train of the morning from HZN. The first train HDSH 2, does the complete circuit and upon reaching HZN becomes HNH2.
HDSH 2 comes in at 9:12 and departs at 9:14 as HNH2, so I hurried to buy a ticket. The clerk wanted to know which direction I would be taking. I wondered silently whether it made any difference but I guess he needed it for the ticket - a computer printout.
9:12 came and went and there was no sign of HDSH 2, which a porter told me would come in on PF 1. So I went to the enquiry counter, which was surprisingly minus the usual milling crowd. The lady there was a kind sort, she actually picked up the phone to find out and told me that it had reached Lajpat Nagar and would be along in ten minutes or so.
So I went back in, looking for a quieter spot on PF1 to sneak a cigarette and observe the activity. On PF 3 I could see a really spiffy looking empty rake. It was the HZN - Habibganj Bhopal Express that had recently won a prize for cleanest rake or something. The Mangla Express was shunted in by an old WDM 2, nothing much was happening - no through trains nor goods movement.
Just before HDS2 finally came in at 9:28, I noticed that the crowd on PF1 had swelled considerably. So I decided on a quick entry and grab window seat procedure, which was successfully executed. After 5 mins we were off.
There were quite a few people in my compartment but of course nothing like Bombay - some seats were still available, a couple of guys on one door, two three more squatting just inside smoking bidis. The door on the LHS was empty so I gladly abandoned my window seat, never to go back.
We were on the left outer line proceeding towards NDLS. Soon a surprise - we were separated from the other 3 lines by the GAL ascending for the Yamuna Bridge and GZB. I had hitherto believed that all four lines were together. At the first stop Pragati Maidan, a new and unused looking loop emerged from our track, and I was surprised to see that people actually got on and off even if there was no fair.
The run to Tilak bridge was perhaps the fastest - for a second I wondered if we weren't stopping. Guess, I'm not used to the rapid deceleration of EMU's. Next was a slow run to Shivaji Bridge where a majority of the passengers alighted and cut across the now defunct Campa Cola factory (caught a glimpse of crates and bottles) to Connaught Circus. A crawl to NDLS yielded an interminable halt on PF 1. Obviously NR has long given up bothering about schedules on the ring railway!
On the platform I saw a rather odd shaped box mounted on the wall next to the pay & use lav. Closer inspection revealed a condom dispenser (full & free) - IR's feeble response to the increasing number of people it has to carry every year!
After about 15 minutes of waiting to see if anyone would take advantage of IR's largesse, we were off. At the electric loco trip shed I noted WAM 4's from Tatanagar and Arkkonam and immediately afterwards a WDM2 from Bhagat Ki Kothi with NWR instead of NR on the cab.
The Kalka Shatabdi coasted in on the next line with a bunch of urchins dangling from the steps. They were after all the plastic trash generated by a Shatabdi run. A little girl jumped down with an armful of loot and was immediately ambushed by a little boy. A fight ensued in the tight space between the two running trains and I was fearful of a scene more tragic than the one just before. Luckily both trains crossed before the fight was finished.
We pulled into Sadar Bazaar for a few seconds and I noted the tight curve of the tracks to Old Delhi. Next we passed under Pul Bangash and got a grand view of the elevated metro line under construction west of Tis Hazari. Soon after, the main line to UMB veered off to the right and I changed doors on the approach to Kishanganj, which turned out to be a coaching yard for NDLS and DLI. The yard extends to Sarai Rohilla. The rakes I saw were the Ranikhet Express from Kathgodam and the Lucknow Mail which had been brought there by its own loco - WDP 3A 15543. ( I had seen the same train on the Pragati Maidan overpass on my drive to HZN).
The Sarai Rohilla station is fenced off from the Ring Railway but I caught a glimpse of an MG train behind a YDM 4. The station on the Ring Railway is called Vivekananda Puri Halt. Next came Daya Basti where the line to Shakurbasti and thence to Rohtak begins. We ignored the turnoff and veered southwestwards, the MG line to Rewari plus and unelectrified BG line from Sarai Rohilla stayed with us on our left. On the other side there were two more electrified lines.
We stopped at Patel Nagar and then at Kirti Nagar where new sleepers were being placed. Immediately after Kirti Nagar I saw a sign saying Bikaner Division. I looked left and was saw that the MG and the unelectrified BG had disappeared behind a grove of trees and had gained in height. As we curved south towards Naraina these lines passed over us and we were now left with just the clockwise line of the Ring Railway.
The NDLS to Naraina stretch for the most part makes for dismal viewing - plenty of trash and other unedifying sights with the accompanying stench. Things got better after Naraina as we entered the ridge area of the Delhi Cantonment. At Inderpuri we crossed a clockwise EMU for Shakur Basti and another almost empty one at Brar Square. After Brar Square the tracks run parallel to a long & congestion free stretch of the Ring Road much favoured by the traffic police when their speed guns are working. We had another quick run at that point and I enjoyed the race with the cars on the Ring Road who were trying to make the most of it before the inevitable jam at the Dhaula Kuan circle, site of Delhi's most ambitious flyover project.
Short of Sardar Patel Marg Stn we entered the long cutting that goes all the way till NRM. I also observed that the DK flyover project also included a new bridge over the ring railway for one of the loops. Thank God the railway line is in a depression making for a cheaper bridge! Next came Chanakyapuri which was the only station where nobody got off or on and soon after we passed NRM on our left.
For some days I had been noticing a vacuum braked rake with destination boards at Safdarjang as I drove past on the nearby flyover. Turned out to be the NDLS Patna Guru Ravidas Special.
The stretch from Sarojini Nagar to Lodhi Colony is a pleasant one, with a nice park on the right and the old Safdarjang Aerodrome on the left. After Lodhi Colony we crossed Sewa Nagar and reached Lajpat Nagar the last station. By now more people were getting off than on. While the train was far from crowded I was pleasantly surprised to see the number of people on board, even on a Saturday. I also noted that most stations were not all that "isolated" as claimed by numerous articles on the Ring Railway that I had read over the years. Almost all were a stone's throw away from either a major neighbourhood or an important thoroughfare. Plus the time taken for the circuit was at least an hour less than what a bus would have taken. Pity it hasn't worked as well as it should have.
Immediately after Lajpat Nagar a pair of tracks veered off right towards TKD and Mathura while we entered a northward curve for HZN. The approach to HZN was interesting - we were in a race with a goods train and the AK Rajdhani. The goods won - it wasn't intending to stop at HZN, while AK came in last on PF 4. We reached at 11.05, not bad if you discount the long halt at NDLS.
Now for the metro!