Romancing the Branches - Trip to AP's coastal lines

by Shashanka Nanda


As a kid I used to stand in the lawns of my maternal grandfather's (actually his younger brother) railway bungalow at Satyanarayanapuram (STPM) in Vijayawada (BZA) and watch tiny 3 coach passenger trains going clackety clack down the track hauled what I called the 'Jeep' engines. Of late I call those locos WDS4s. Back then I used to wonder to what part of the country these trains went to?

This weekend I had my chance to explore those 'exotic' lines when me and fellow IRFCAn PVS Praveen Kumar undertook a trip of the coastal branch lines originating from BZA. Here's an account of the trip, pics in the upload section of the IRFCA Pic Gallery

Day 1: June 18, 2004

I had two small official meetings in BZA on Friday afternoon, so I caught the HYB-TPTY Krishna Express. The Krishna arrived bang on time on PF1. I was really looking forward to a ride behind the passenger converted WAG7s of Lallaguda which haul this train, but to my utter surprise, the beast at the head of the train was none other than LGD's star WAP4 #22589, a brand new baby which had been delivered to LGD only 3 weeks back!!

I found my seat in the only AC Chair Car coach of the train which had only 2 reserved passengers from HYB/SC. The rest dozen odd people were either SCR staff, or people who had upgraded their tickets on the train itself. I asked the TTE about the average occupancy of the CC, and he said that on the HYB-BZA run, it's about 25% and from thereon about 60-70%. Trooping out of SC, the driver hit about 50kmph before catching the loop at Maula Ali for the first of Krishna's 40+ halts. We got the starter in 2mins and the driver moved carefully out of the PF loop, and stayed at 15kmph to clear the restrictions over the MLY bypass turnouts. The moment we reached the T/P board, all hell broke loose! the driver summoned all 5000 of the P4s horses and turned them loose. Within seconds we creamed past the 60kmph mark and it took us about 2.5 minutes to hit 100kmph. Now I am sure may would dispute this figure but trust me boys, I don't know whether it was the meager 19 coach load or a mint fresh loco or a seasoned driver, but time after time after time. the WAP4 accelerated like an EMU, I've been on WAP4s enough times to what's quick, but this guy was super quick on an average 0-60kmph was accomplished in about 55 seconds, and the 100kmph figured arrived between 2:15 - 2:30!! Super quick!! The run to Aler was a series of halts and then bulldog runs to 100kmph, but after Aler a series of caution and danger signals slowed our progress and we arrived at KZJ about 10 mins late.

The SBC-HNZM Raj was right on our tail and within seconds of us arriving at KZJ, the PA system announced the arrival of Raj as well. Leaning out of the door, I could see the Raj coming in, but we moved out before I could see the loco properly. We slowly negotiated the points on the KZJ JN. triangle and were put on the left track to WL. The KZJ-WL section is a twin single line section of 10km length, so many a time you can find yourself on the 'wrong' track as well!! Crossing WL, I settled down in my seat and into my Sherlock Holmes stories and got up just near Rayanapadu to check out the massive freight yard.

We reached BZA bang on time, and having some time to kill, I treated myself to sumptuous Biryani at the "Comesum" Food Plaza on PF1 run by IRCTC/RK Caterers. I left for my meetings which took all of an hour and a half and I was back at the station, savoring some more of the non stop action till 1730 after which I went to my aunt's place, resting early for long days ahead.

Day 2: June 19, 2004

I was at BZA station at 0500 hrs and bought two tickets for the BZA-VSKP Ratnachal Express t o Rajahmundry (RJY) and had breakfast at the Comesum Plaza when the Ratnachal rake was shunted onto PF1. I took a seat in S3 while PVS arrived by the SC-Machlipatnam Express. He too caught a quick coffee at Comesum and soon we were off. The Ratnachal headed by LGD's WAP4 #22231 is a 23 coach affair with a CC and a Pantry car and the rest being GS/2S seating. The run to RJY was fast and uneventful. Traffic was light, but the fact that I was covering this route in daytime after almost a decade kept me glued to the door. Many a place culverts were being upgraded for the monsoon deluge hence we were forced to slow down on a lot of occasions. Another odd thing that I noticed was the face that many bridges had boards reading "Trespassing Prohibited". Now 95% of the trespassers are likely to be local villagers, who I am sure would hardly be able to read them, so what's the point of them being in English unless you just want to fulfill a legal obligation!

We reached RJY on time, and trooped into the Waiting Room to freshen up. I walked into the loo wanting to take a leak there were no urinals so one had to utilize the latrine, and boy was it full of s**t!!!!! One look inside and I was almost on the verge of throwing up!! That place could have made pigs roll over in agony!! And the less said of the stench the better!! We were out of there in a flash and we made our way into town looking for a place to freshen up and ended up at the Godavari station itself, where we indulged in an impromptu cleanup act on the platform tap after which we checked out the station itself. The station was remodeled after the old rail (Havelock) bridge was closed and the new rail bridge was opened, which demanded a different alignment of tracks. However signs of the old alignment are still visible in the form of a Foot Over Bridge which spans over nothing, and an old signal cabin now serving as a weather observatory!!

We then caught some breakfast at "Mayuri" restaurant opposite the station where the drinks menu read "Soft Drinkings":o) though the simple fare it served was pretty palatable. We then walked to the banks of the river Godavari and spent some time photographing the decommissioned Havelock bridge and the new Rail bridge. We still had about 3 hours to kill before we caught our connecting train, so we decided to a hitch boat ride into the river. The AP Tourism boats were too fancy and too expensive, so we talked to an fishing launch and arranged for a round in the river for 200 bucks!! Our ride, a 3 tonne launch called "Surya Prakash" was propelled by a 110hp Ashok Leyland Marine diesel fitted amidships and we had a 4 man crew working it, just for the 2 of us!!! We had a leisurely spin around the river, and just for our cameras, we even had a light TKD WAG5 pass overhead things couldn't get any better.

We returned to the ghats again and spent the next hour or so chatting away, and then went back to Godavari station not before indulging in some freakish ice-cream soda combos at the parlor opposite the station's entrance!

The next leg of our journey, and first of the branch line runs was from Rajahmundry to Bhimavaram Jn. via Nidadavolu Jn. and our chosen mode of transport was the Bhimavaram Passenger service operating in the form of a 9 car DEMU formation. This rake, built by ICF Chennai consisted of 3 sets of 1 driver car + 2 trailer cars. We found a place in the lead coach right behind the 800hp powerpack and we were off. The acceleration was painful, and the driver was almost over the bridge by the time he touched 50kmph, and then he braked to halt. The same story continued time after time. we took ages to get going after a halt, and by the time we hit any semblance of speed, it was time to halt again. Anyways, we managed to stay on schedule and from Nidadavolu Jn. our train took a sharp left towards Bhimavaram. We were simply rooted to the door because of the beautiful scenery. Rows upon rows of rice fields, bordered by coconut trees, lush green foliage, little canals and small boats. It was a soothing sight for sore eyes accustomed to the heat, dust, smoke and the glass and steel of the city.

The leisurely pace of the DEMU continued and we barely crossed 35kmph. The line was dotted by quaint little halts which had steel shack serving as a ticket booth and a namesake board just to mark the spot as a station. Infact at many a place, there was no gate signal for Level Crossings, and the gateman had put up a red banner to alert the train and it took several blasts from the DEMUs horns to get them up and running and closing the gate in a hurry.

After Vendra, a line took leave of us and disappeared into the foliage. This was the Bhimavaram Jn. (BVRM) bypass line which allows trains coming from Gudivada (GDV) and going towards RJY to bypass Bhimavaram Jn. through Bhimavaram Town (BVRT) Trains like TPTY-HWH Exp, Visakha etc. use this line. We rolled into Bhimavaram Jn. on schedule and had two WDP1 hauled passenger trains waiting for their turn. It was quite a sight, I am sure busiest of the day when all 3 platforms at Bhimavaram Jn. were occupied.

Our tummies were rumbling and we moved into town to catch some grub. The auto driver took us to a decent looking bar & restaurant but from the inside it was straight out some C Grade movie. dimly lit interiors, the air thick with cheap cigarette smoke, loud mouthed men drunk at noon, I invariably get into brawls at such places so we scooted out. The waiter said that they had seating on the roof as well, and there we went. We refreshed ourselves with nice cold beer and some good rice and curries and to add some more fun, the spot overlooked the line to Gudivada and one of the WDP1s chugged merrily along as we wolfed down the remainder of our meals.

Our destination for the day was Narsapur (NS), which is the last station on a 30km spur from Bhimavaram. The next train was due only at 1800 and we had nothing much to do, so we decided to commit sacrilege and catch a bus to NS as we were to retrace the same line back the next morning. We had to take 2 cycle rickshaws to the bus station as two six huge men with huge rucksacks were beyond the capacity of one. The APSRTC bus to Narasapur took it's own sweet time in coming, but we found comfortable seats and it took off immediately. The road distance to NS was about 30km and it took the better part of an hour for us to reach there.

At NS, we found ourselves a lodge a few minutes walk from the station, and booked a 'Deluxe' room, which came without a bulb in the bathroom and a TV without remote or signal. It did have an AC though, which we were not permitted to use as Deluxe fare did not include AC charges!! Anyways, our howls of protest got us the room across the corridor which did have a bulb in the loo and a TV with cable as well as a remote!! We had a quiet dinner at a nearby restaurant 'Madhuri' which was decent and dozed off watching TV, only to spend the entire night engaged in Kung Fu maneuvers with the millions of mosquitoes which came complimentary with the Deluxe room.

Day 3: June 20, 2004

Never was I happier to get up at 0430 and the red stains on the bed sheet told the entire story. And please don't get any ideas ok! I am just talking about the dead mosquitoes.. dead mosquitoes! A quick fresh up and a short to NS station in the hope of catching some coffee and breakfast left us hungry for the next 3 hours There wasn't even a refreshment stall on a station which is a terminus serving at least 8 trains a day!! We just about managed to fill our bottle of water and took up position in the sole II Chair Car in the waiting 15 coach NS-BZA passenger to be hauled by a WDP1. A station or two later, we decide the observe the WDP1 closely in action and hopped on the open and empty luggage compartment on the lead SLR. The WDP1 accelerated slowly to a maximum of 50kmph amidst lush rice fields and the new cash cow of this region, the zillions of aquaculture units harvesting shrimps and prawns.

The line from NS to BVRM is controlled by Upper Quadrant Semaphore signaling and is operated via the Neale's Ball Token system. Our vantage point in the Luggage van gave us ringside view of all the action, and also the intoxicating sound of the WDP1's prime mover which sounded very much like a YDM4 unit. We reached BVRM on time and then took the arm leading towards GV via BVRT. This section uses normal color lamp signaling (MACLS) but is still a token territory. The landscape from BVRT to GV is slightly different as the fields are much more open and the trees and the groves are much further away from the line giving you a panoramic view of the whole countryside, which still was lush green and absolutely gorgeous.

GV was reached on schedule and we were surprised to find that a DEMU for our next leg to Machilipatnam (MTM) was waiting. According to the TT it should have left before us, but we found that the BZA-BVRM passenger (DEMU) was running late, and many passengers use it as a connecting train to MTM, hence the MTM DEMU was held up. This unexpected turn of events worked to our favor as we had planned for the next train to MTM leaving around 1130, but here we got an extra hour in our hands. The reason for the BZA-BVRM DEMU passenger's delay was apparent when it rolled in not under it's own power, but behind a KZJ WDM2!!

Anyways, we moved soon after and again we were seated right behind the driver's cab. The driver's cab in the trailer car has a porthole which allows him to look inside the passenger compartment and vice versa and from there we observed him in action from close quarters. Going by our experience in the DEMU the previous day, we had expected this to be another slow rumbling ride, but to our surprise he notched up aggressively and touched 70kmph pretty quick and hit his MPS of 75kmph in many patches. It was real fun thundering along at those speeds which felt almost like 100kmph due to the intense rocking and pitching induced by the lightly laid lines.

We got off one station before MTM as my little friend, the peanut selling boy told us that it would be the best place to catch a bus or an auto the beach. We waited by the LC near the station and about 10 minutes later, a rickety city bus blaring the latest Telugu hits and full of fisher folk, their smelly catch and other sundry janta took us the beach after a 40 min ride through some cute little villages over a road lined by endless coconut trees.

The beach was a fairly crowded one, but a steady wind coming from the coast kept blowing sand into our eyes, and our stay at the beach was a short one. We caught the next bus back into Machilipatnam town and again the hunt for a decent restaurant started and we did manage to get some decent food into our tummies before we made our way to the station, which again lies at the end of a spur which runs from Gudivada Jn. This section too has Semaphore signaling and token exchange system.

MTM station has disused turntable and also a train washing line which houses the MTM-SC Express during the day along with it's loco, usually a KZJ WDM2. We got chatting with the driver of the MTM-NS DEMU who told us that the MPS from MTM-GV is 75kmph for all trains. GV-BZA is 100kmoh for M/E and 80kmph for DEMUs. He also gave us technical details about the DEMUs which have 800hp power pack, totaling 2400hp for a 9 car rake with 3 power cars. He said that HHP-DEMUs similar to the ones running on SBC-HUP section had been run here, but withdrawn due to their high failure rate.

The run back to GV was equally fast, and was covered in little over an hour and it dropped us at GV with an hour to spare to catch the NS-BZA passenger which again was a WDP1 hauled affair but limited to 8 coaches. The run towards BZA was a fast one, touching 80kmph in patches and again were seated in the front SLR's Luggage Wagon with newspapers spread on the floor. The loco though, sounded very different from it's brethren. It was almost like a YDM4/WDM2 hybrid, but boy was it singing!?! The 2 hour odd run to BZA was quick until the outskirts of the town but then we were restricted to 30kmph as the track made it's way through the congested areas of the town.

A new line which branches off from the BZA-VSKP mainline about 9 km from BZA station circumvents the town and joins the existing GV line at about 7 km from BZA station promises to improve things a bit. (I shall be shortly putting up a layout map of BZA area). We passed by the railway bungalows at STPM and suddenly I realized my years old dream had come true and I had been to those "exotic" lands where WDS4s ruled the roost!!

Speaking of them, I had been wondering for quite sometime that the WDS4s based at BZA had been condemned and scrapped but while crossing the pedestrian FoB over BZA yard we were surprised to see 6 blue green WDS4Ds standing in a line on the extreme west-end of the yard. Small notifications under the cab stated that they had been booked to the Sr. DME Diesel Shed Kurla. Mumbai guys watch out for the following babies #19696, 19685, 19698, 19561, 19727 & 19724!!

We again attacked the Comesum plaza for some snacks and then spent about 2 hrs on the Gudur End of the station tracking all the arrivals & departures. (Road number freaks - a mega list will be put up separately with tonnes action). We then headed into town for some much needed beer and back to Comesum for a sumptuous North Indian meal. After which we were back at our vantage point of PF 4 & 5 tracking the tremendous late evening action.

Day 4: June 21, 2004

Our train the Padmavati Express from TPTY was an hour late, and despite the weariness and the late hour our hunger for action did not diminish and we caught the arrival and departures of many trains like the Godavari, Gautami, GT, Konark, Vishakha, PUI-Okha and many more. Our train finally appeared behind a BZA WAM4 and within seconds of resting my head on the berth.

Woke up in the morning, and our train had lost even more time, and freights standing on mainlines did not help our cause at all. The Nagarjuna, Rajdhani, AP & East Coast Express went by in quick succession and we touched SC at 0730 hrs, almost 2 hours late but at the end of a wonderful & memorable journey.

Here are some loco spottings from the weekend trip:

At SC station: June 18th:

Shed Loco Loco # Comments
MLY WDM2 #16551 light refueling on PF3 refueling point
MLY WDM2 #16601 with SC-TEL Nagarjuna Exp PF3
JHS WAP4 #22361 (with roof mounted DBR) & BZA WAM4 # 20447 on PF1 siding
BZA WAM4 #21243 GKP-SC Express

Between: SC-BZA: June 18th:

Shed Loco Loco # Comments
MLY WDM2 #17663 at Aler with WL-SC Kakatiya fast passenger
KZJ WDM2 #17451 at Dornakal
LGD WAG5 #24421 with BCNA rake at Dornakal
BZA WAM4 #21218 East Coast Express at Gangineni
BRC WAP4 #22236 with MAS-HNZM Rajdhani at BZA outer

At BZA yard: June 18th:

Shed Loco Loco # Comments
BZA WAM4 #20439 & #212171 light
BZA WDP1 #15069 & GTL WDM2 #16389 on PF3 light
ED WAP4 #22255 with NDLS-TVC Kerala Express (9 SL coaches of '04, 1 2A from NER I 3A from SCR!!! )
BZA WAM4 # 21352 with VSKP-HNZM Swarna Jayantiu Exp
JHS WAP4 #22361 with SC-BZA Intercity
LGD WAP4 #22069 (converted WAP1) with CSTM-BBSR Konark Express
KZJ WDM2 #018212, 018240 & 018266 shunting in yard (all three are relegated WDM2 fit only for inferior duty hence the '0')
LGD WAP4 #22304 with MAS-HWH Coromandel Express
ET WAM4 #20543 with GDR-BZA passenger
BZA WAM4 #20461 with COA-TPTY Pass.
BZA WAM4 #20498 light
BZA WDP1 #15065 light
BZA WAM4 #20447 with COA-MMR Shirdi Express

Between BZA-RJY: June 19th:

Shed Loco Loco # Comments
KZJ WDM2 #17420 shunting in yard
BZA WAM4 #20441 light in yard
BZA WAM4 #21223 with passenger train at Elur
BZA WAM4 #20439 with COA-MMR Shirdi Express
BZA WAM4 #20553 COA-TPTY pass at RJY
BZA WDP1 #15065 with GV passenger at BVRM
GY WDM3A #14013 with HYB-NS Exp at Undi
BZA WDP1 #15058 with NSP-GNT pass

At BZA: June 20th:

Shed Loco Loco #/Comments
AJJ WAM4 #20622 with BSP TVC Express
ED WDG3A with BCNA rake at BZA yard
BZA WAG5D #23642 SC-OL pass
BZA WDS4D #19696, 19685, 19698, 19561, 19727 & 19724 (all being transferred to DLS-CLA)
BZA WDP1 #15062 with BZA-UBL Amravati Express
LGD WAP4 #22231 with VSKP-BZA Ratnachal Exp
BZA WAM4 #21223 with Tata-Allepey Express
GMO WAG7 #27413 with BCN rake
LGD WAP4 #22312 with HWH-MAS Mail
JHS WAG5HB #24035 with BCNA rake
BZA WAM4 320506 with BZA-GDR pass
VSKP WDM3A #18798R with SC-HWH Falaknuma Exp
ED WAP4 #22274 with NDLS-MAS GT Express, COA-SBC Seshadri Express arrival VSKP WDM2 #18498 dep with BZA WAM4 21322
MLY WDM2 #17706 SC-BBSR Vishakha Express
BZA WAM4 #20584 with GDR-BZA pass
LGD WAP4 #22238 HYB-VSKP Godavari Express
LGD WAP4 #22304 VSKP-HYB Godavari Ezpress
LGD WAP4 #22316 COA-SC Gautami Express
GZB WAG5HR #23211 TK oil rake
BZA WAM4 #20606 PUI-OKHA Express, dep with #21225 BZA WAM4
ED WAp4 #22388 MAS-NDLS GT Exp
MLY WDM2 #17310 BBSr-SC Vishakha Exp
BZA WAM4 #21277 TPTY-SC Pamavati Exp

June 21th:

Shed Loco Loco # Comments
BZA WAM4 #20621 HYB-HWH East Coast Exp
BZA WAM4 #20421 light in SC yard

← Back to trip report index