NDLS-NLR on the GT

by Shashanka Nanda


It was July 2003 that I last covered anything more than 500km in a train. The craving for hearing the sound of steel clashing with steel was too much for me to ignore and I decided to embark on one of my favourite southerly runs again.

31st Jan 2004

I was ready to embark on the first leg of my journey, which was by the Grand Old Lady of IR, the 2616 GT Express. Despite being saddled with over 40 stops across over its 2190 km journey, this beauty still packs in a punch if you show her anything beyond a caution signal. I reached NDLS just in time to catch the train. Barely 2 hours, a crazy Blueline bus driver almost ran my bike and me down and I was still pretty shaken up by the incident. Nevertheless I parked my luggage under my designated berth and sauntered down the PF to check out the loco. Sure enough it was an Erode WAP4 fitted with WAP5 style windscreens and roof mounted DBRs. Soon enough the starter was given, but the driver took his own sweet time to push off and when it he did we were already 6 mins behind schedule.

In no mood for door histrionics I settled down at the corner of my seat in the 3A coach. The company I had didn't look too exciting as well. 3 Nepalese ladies with a small kid, an empty middle berth for an elderly gent to board at GWL (the chart said so), a school teacher type on the side lower and a slightly emotional lady on SU berth with a cute looking 3 year old daughter. I resigned myself to silence for then and waited hungrily for my dinner, which arrived at 1950. Surprisingly it looked and tasted real good. Served piping hot were Yellow Dal, Rumali Rotis , Matar Pulao, Potato vegetable which for once didn't have any skin on and the real surprise curd which actually tasted like curd and not like white frozen lemonade that we are all used to !!!! NDLS base kitchen did a wonderful job by filling up my tummy and after cursing however designed the upper berth for lack of space while making the bed I dozed of to sleep. Before going to bed, I noticed that we hadn't crossed 60kmph even once and we hadn't reached MTJ by 2100 hrs.

Morning saw me at Bhopal station, and we were a good 40 mins behind schedule. I stood at the door savoring the pre dawn chill and enjoyed the feeling of the cold air burning up my nostrils. Approaching Habibgunj, I was surprised to see the train slow down and halt on the PFs !! I enquired the TTE and he confirmed that HBJ had been added as ANOTHER one of the official halts on GT!!! In the last 1 year GT has been burdened by HBJ, Morena and Chirala and the TTE said Datia (near JHS) was on the verge of being the next. I was really really fuming at IT for this but the driver cheered me up by setting up a scorching pace and minutes after leaving HBJ we were thundering past the countryside at 110kmph which surprised me as there was considerable fog and visibility was about 500m only. The never slacked his pace till we crossed Mandi Dip and Obaidullahgunj after which he slowed down for the steep descent to Budni.

The sun was rising in a glorious shade of red, which reflected off the top of the dense green tops of the hills. The tracks take different alignments on this section and I saw a WAG7 headed freight headed towards BPL banked by a WAG5. At the Mid-Ghat catch sidings, I saw the Panchveli passenger heading towards BPL with an ET WDM3A (rebuilt) in Erode colors. Soon we were past the Narmada bridge outside Hoshangabad and I was shocked to see a live WAG9 standing with a loaded rake of BOXN wagons waiting to head towards BPL. I had previously seen WAG9s as south as MTJ but never this south. Sadly I couldn't spot the shed name in the confusion and neither could I snap it. We cruised at about 50-60 kmph till ET, where the train halts for a good 20 mins. Soon enough a double headed express entered from the JBP side and turned out to be the PNBE-LTT Superfast hauled by ET WDM2s. Their place was taken up by am ET WAM4-6p. Meanwhile on the other side the SBC Rajdhani overtook us hauled by the dirtiest ever WAP1 that ever set foot outside GZB Shed. Sure enough there were Rajdhani powers on the rake, which stopped a minute or two at the starter before cutting left and onwards towards NGP.

Looking ahead I was zapped to see the WAP4 come off the GT and a rust brown loco stood ahead in the distance waiting to take over. I ran out of the coach towards the loco just in time to watch the BSL based WAM4-6PD assume charge. I enquired the driver and he told me that the WAP4 was having speedo trouble all night long so they decided to change it as the Ghats ahead had very strict speed restrictions. Hmmm… I thought, this would be interesting, watching a 3900hp wheezer geezer take charge of a 24 coach load which was already an hour behind schedule. The driver set off, carefully negotiating the numerous turnouts that lead towards the 90 left turn that separates the Mumbai and Nagpur branches of Itarsi Jn. It took him close to about 8-9 minutes to run up to 90-95 kmph from where on he settled in path cleared by the Raj till we reached Dharakhoh. An ET WAG5 waited on the sidings and quietly moved in behind the rake. It took all of 3-4 minutes before the banker sent out a loud toot which reverberated in the valley to announce that all was well and we set off. For the moment we had 7800hp controlling the rake and the steep climb till Maramjhiri, which touches grades of 1:60 was negotiated without drama. At MJRY the banker again let rip an intoxicating blast from its trumpets to announce a job well done and we were off again.

The run form Maramjhiri to Chichonda is actually on top of the plateau and the GT halts at Betul and Amla before it cruised downhill towards Narkher. The steep descent Teegaon and Chichonda is controlled by catch sidings at Ghudankhapa where until a few years ago the carcass of a WDM2 and a few BOXN wagons could be seen on toppled over the side of the catch siding which is my opinion is steeper than the ones at Monkey Hill. Just before Ghudankhapa, there are warning signs for drivers and speed sensors to ensure that the drivers play it safe. Narkher was arrived 45 mins late and from there on the driver flew like a man possessed. We got a slew of greens and making full use of them he creamed past the 100kmph mark in about 7 mins and stayed there for the next 50 mins. I was rooted to the door stopwatch ticking in my hand the timings that it was spewing out were broadening my grin with every passing kilometer.

A 5 km run showed the following times split over each km:

Km Time/Km Speed in Kmph
1 33.81 secs 106.4
2 32.96 secs 109.2
3 32.64 secs 110.2
4 32.35 secs 111.2
5 33.19 secs 108.4

This clearly showed that the WAM4 was running at peak speed even exceeding 110kmph by a whisker. I timed the next 10km and the result was the same:

Km Time/Km Speed in Kmph Comments
1 32.53 secs 110.6
2 34.21 secs 105.2
3 33.80 secs 106.5
4 31.52 secs 114.2 (this was a long 1:200 downhill section)
5 32.36 secs 111.2
6 33.56 secs 107.2
7 33.37 secs 107.8
8 34.33 secs 104.2
9 34.65 secs 103.9
10 33.59 secs 107.2

And if I ever had any doubts about the capabilities of a WAM4, they had been shredded right there. Agreed that it took much longer than a WAP4 to accelerate to triple digit speeds, bu tone has to remember that there is yawning 1500hp odd difference between the two. NGP was arrived about 35 mins behind schedule, out of which almost 12 could be attributed to the fact that we were stuck at the outer. I was met on the PF by old mate Alok Patel who along with the delightful orange burfi by Haldiram, brought news that Ajni had rejected all 6 hand me down WAG9s from GMO. We discussed the mystery of the WAG9 at Hoshangabad but then it was time for the GT to move on.

We were running between 90-105 all the way to BPQ from where SCR drivers took charge. The setting sun saw us enter the thick dry forests outside Sirpur Kaghaznagar when the HNZM bound Rajdhani from MAS screamed past. I had stocked up myself and was sipping some Boodha Sanyasi stuff with Coke as we thundered along. Trust me guys, there is absolutely nothing better than to sit at the door of a train like the GT as she sashays along the iron path and watching the sun die in glorious shade of colors which haven't yet been given a name and I suggest we leave them to it. It was also time for retrospection, and the train gives you ample time for that. Life is like a train journey anyways… start from one end and there are people with you. Some stick with you and go the distance while others hop off mid way. Some new faces take their places and new friendships are made. But in the end, everybody gets off and goes their own way, sometimes never to be seen again.

Anyways, dinner was served near Bellampali and it consisted of the worst stuff BPQ base kitchen could dish out. I guess the cooks hadn't been paid since the time of Sultan, Sahib and Sindh and they had decided to vent their frustration on the poor passengers who had summoned the guts to sample their gastronomic protest. Wolfing it down with coke somehow, it took me all of 15 minutes to figure out the 'gas' part in gastronomy. Post dinner I was drawing dinosaurs for the little girl to color while indulging in fierce debate with the Nepalese kid on whether Brock Lesnar had what it took to defeat Goldberg (the uninitiated please log on to Ten Sports). The RPF had vanished and the attendant was snoring like a bullfrog on steroids. I opened the door and spent the remainder of the run till BZA puffing away on my pack o'wills.

The approach to BZA is simply beyond words. Night after night, year after year I have stood on the doors of majestic trains like the GT, TN and the KK and watched the red bulb glow over the Kondapalli station to reassure me that the microwave tower is there. Minutes later Rayanapadu arrives to reveal the massive marshalling yard, which makes BZA one of the most important stations on IR. With freight arriving from 5 directions it takes an immense effort to ensure smooth dispatch. As the yard glistened in the pale moonlight, the down line took its leave and curved away from us, while twin tracks from the VSKP side snaked under us to join the line. Curving into the city limits, one sees rows upon rows upon neat tube lit streets lining up the hillsides that make up some of the neighbourhoods of the city. At night though, they look very eerie at times, almost like an alien landing sight. Just about then we whooshed past the humongous electric loco shed which housed WAG5s, WAM4s, WAG7s some EMU trainsets and even a diminutive OHE tower car which looked totally out of place amongst the powerful beasts.

Entering BZA station I rushed off to fill myself with the delectable fruit juice that the station sells day in and out. I was waiting for the BBSR bound Vishakha Express to pull alongside and I almost jumped out of my pants when I saw a twin WDM2 pair hauling it. I checked for MU cables and sure enough they were there. What was stranger was the fact that the lead loco was from Maula Ali diesel shed!!!! It was in KZJ livery and was #17171 but in bold it said MLY under the drivers cab. Couple to it was a VSKP rebuilt WDM3A from 18XXX series !!! I knew that MLY housed a couple of old 182XX series WDM2s, used for shunting but not a mainline one ….. this one warrants more investigation. Hope SCR is not coming up with its 5th mainline diesel shed after KZJ, BZA, GTL and GY. Moving out of BZA, we crossed the Krishna bridge at a sedate 40kmph. I noted that the 3rd rail bridge over the river is now ready. All construction material had vanished from the site, but apparently it is not being used yet. Any clues why ???

I decided to hit the sack for a short while and set the alarm for 0215 hoping to find myself somewhere NLR. We had left BZA 45 mins late but when I got up, we were still a good 90 odd km away from NLR. Standing on the door I was puffing away on my ciggy when we came across the recent accident side where a bridge on the BZA-GDR section had collapsed. Work was on it full swing to restore it, but traffic was running on single line between the affected stations. Crossed a few freights hauled by the usual WAG5s and WAG7s as well as some expresses. And we made it to Nellore almost an hour behind time. Lugging home my backpack, it felt after some much needed "rest and recreation" and soon I was looking forward to more.

Reports follow on my subsequent trips to MAS, SBC, HYB and NDLS

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