Bombay to Bhusawal
by Mani Vijay (AKA Vijay Balasubramanian)
Coming to the topic of engine rides..... It all started when I learnt that a friend of mine (from Urbana) was planning to visit Bombay in winter, and more importantly, his father was in the railways. I pestered him no end about requesting his Dad to arrange for a ride in a DC engine between Bombay and Igatpuri. Once in India, we were in touch by phone. I even went to his house for lunch and "impressed" (in my friend's words) his father with a barrage of queries about locomotive operation and the like.
And then one day, Mr. Friend called me up and inquired whether I was interested in an engine ride till Igatpuri. He was going to receive his sister who was traveling by the Gitanjali Exp. from Nagpur to Bombay, and he didn't mind intercepting her at Igatpuri. A friend of his father was supposed to man the locomotive of the Bombay-Gorakhpur Exp. till Igatpuri. UNFORTUNATELY, I had other plans for that day and had to sadly respond in the negative.
But luck was on my side. It so happened that one of my uncles was transfered to Bhusaval as the Divisional Railway Manager. He had always been a good source of "train-news" to me, and would furnish me with recent occurences and send me calenders, pamphlets, etc. On phoning him up, I learnt that my cousins (his daughters) were vacating in Bhusaval and were due to leave for Delhi/Lucknow in a few days. So I was to proceed to Bhusaval ASAP. I had already expressed my desire to travel by engine and he said he would dispatch an inspector from Bhusaval who would take care of my engine ride from Igatpuri to Bhusaval. I was to commute by the Bombay - Lucknow superfast Pushpak Exp. which leaves Bombay V.T. around 8.00 a.m. and reaches Bhusaval around 3.30 p.m. In fact, Mr. Friend's father had suggested this train adding that he would be glad to arrange for the DC electric loco. ride from Bombay to Igatpuri. That meant a 7 hr. ride in a locomotive. Wow! My dream was about to come true.
This auspicious journey was planned on the first day of the new 1990. What a way to start off my year! I slept late the previous night having freaked-out at a New Year's Eve get-together in our building. The night was spent in excitement and anticipation. I promptly got up at 6.00 and left the house by 6.45. Darn! There were no autos anywhere in sight. A couple of taxis were camoflauged in the darkness. After an agonizing 5 mt. argument with the driver, I convinced him to take me to Ghatkopar stn. A 10 mt. drive ensued during which he stated his "predicament" about not getting 'BHADA' (passangers) at the station.
The local train ride to V.T. consumed about 40 mts. and I was at the appropriate platform around 7.50. I proceeded towards the WCM-1 locomotive. I was to meet my friend's pop, as his presence would be helpful. He was there about 10 mts. before departure. He introduced me to the drivers and even took a photo of mine as leaning from the engine door. My Vivitar Automatic was to prove a very useful companion on all my train journeys.
And that concludes the first segment on the loco ride thru' the ghats.
Here's some of the recent changes that I found out:
- The Delhi-Kanpur Shatabdi Exp. has been extended till Lucknow. I am not aware of the arr./dep. times at Lucknow.
- Gomti Exp. now stops at Tundla.
- GT Exp. now stops at Ghoradongri and Hingaghat (between Wardha East & Chandrapur).
- Delhi- Madras electrification is complete except for the Itarsi-Nagpur stretch. Also, doubling of single line sections in this stretch is being carried out.
- Gitanjali Exp. now stops at Badnera
- The average train length seems to have gone up. At least, the trains I traveled in had 16-18 coaches.
- Madras-Bangalore trains such as the Brindavan Exp. are double-diesel hauled. This is needed to encounter steep inclines Bangarapet and Kuppam (confirm?); they have ~18 coaches.
- Brindavan Exp. has got back its Green-with-white-stripes color.
- Bombay Bangalore Udyan Exp. is now double-diesel hauled between Solapur and Bangalore. Four coaches get attached/detached at Solapur.
- Bhusaval-Shegaon (~100 km.)is now energized. Remaining portion of the Bhusaval-Durg section is being electrified (or overhead equipment is being tested).
- Tamilnadu Exp. and Andhra Pradesh Exp. now stop at Gwalior and Itarsi, the latter being only a technical halt for change of locomotives.
And now back to the engine ride. The saga continues from the moment I set foot inside the WCM-1.
I am introduced to the engine driver and his assistant along with a local divisional inspector, the third person in the quartet. I 'displace' the assistant driver from his seat facing the window, who contends himself with either standing behind me or using his steel trunk as a sedantary aid. Alas! I have to share this priveleged postion with Mr. Inspector. The WCM-1 seats are elevated to be on par with the windows with the result that they are almost in level with the roofs of the coaches behind. The driver familiarizes me with various levers and gadgets that handle braking, acceleration and current to the traction motors. In particular, there is the locomotive brake lever, the train brake lever, the accelerator wheel, as also the twin whistle levers and the mechnical wiper switches. And then there is the speedometer which is located at the far end of the engine (i.e. at the extreme left when one faces the loco. windows).
It is past 8.40 a.m. Mr. Driver sounds the horn and turns the wheel a little. We are finally on the move. For the first time in my life, I am experiencing a thrilling sensation of objects hurlting TOWARDS me only to be side-stepped at the last moment. The speedometer needle is kept to below 70 kmph. due to the double-amber and amber signals as Masjid and Sandhurst Rd. roll by. The ass. driver reconfirm the status of all signals thru' his distinctive accent: "Sevhanty Phor Thirty Three, Dabal Yellow",.... Gosh! He seems to remember the signal post numbers by heart. A few EMU locals whiz past us on both the sides (Bombay-Kalyan is a quadruple track stretch). My camera is swiftly brought into action.
After passing Byculla, the train picks up speed and the needle lazily moves to the 95-100 kmph. range. Green signals occur more frequently now. Mr. Inspector is facing a barrage of questions from me but patiently answers every one of them. I stick my head out of the side window to find out more about the train behind me. This is a long one, 18 coaches in all. I can make out heads straining to break free from the window bars on the coaches. Perhaps, they can spot me too and are probably wondering as to what in the world is a nice guy like me doing in a place like that!
The horns (yes there are two of 'em, a low pitched drone and a high pitched screech, but together they make music) are sounded quite frequently till Dadar to warn morning office goers to stay away from the track. A few enterprising ones slide off the track dangerously close to the engine. Needless to say, I actively take part in pressing the horn switches from time to time.
Chinchpokili, Curry Rd. and Parel pass by, a few EMUs are overtaken and Dadar approaches. A single amber signal at the far end of the platform forces the train to slow down, but the train passes by the swarm on the platform while staying above 30 kmph. I glare at the hapless crowd from the bottom of my sunglasses, as if to say, now look who's in control!
Mantunga, Sion and Kurla follow suit. An express train approaches on (one of the) opposite tracks as our train is crossing the Kurla EMU repair-shed. My camera registers the magic moment of the two work-horses exchanging greetings!
After Vidya Vihar, the engine rushes thru' *my* station viz., Ghatkopar, as if to tease me. The Ghatkopar-Vikhroli-Kanjurmarg-Bhandup-Mulund stretch passes thru' one of the prime industrial belts of suburban Bombay, as is evident from the numerous factories that have now resumed their operation for the day. Mulund signals the end of Bombay as we enter into Thane-land. After Thane station, a tunnel plunges us into darkness, brief momemnts, but neverthless very memorable.
As Diva Jn. approaches, I intensify my gaze thru' the window; I knew that the Vasai Rd. link meets the main line somewhere here. Mr. Inspector comes to my rescue and explains the set-up. The line curves a great deal before splitting itself into two which join the main line. This is confirmed soon enough. A WCAM-1 loco. rests quietly with its goods load, a few tracks away, but cannot escape my camera.
Dombivli and Thakurli follow in quick succession before the train comes to a halt at Kalyan. The fact that the stop is only a 5 mt. one cannot prevent me from climbing off the engine and hopping around the platform. Kalyan is the only passanger halt for the Pushpak Exp. between Bombay and Bhusaval although there are technical halts at Kasara and Igatpuri.
The horn is sounded and the train resumes its journey. Two lines tear-off from us and curve into the distance; these go towards Pune. The earlier quadruple line set now narrows down to a pair. We have left the metropolis and it subordinates behind as the train now speeds towards the Ghats. The terrain around us acquires a distinctive undulation. I am particularly fascinated by straight sections which appear as glittering steel threads merging into oblivion, decorated by the catenary wires to be licked underneath by our loco. pantograph. The approach of a curve or a level crossing is indicated by "W" and "W/L" signs, respectively, necessitating the use of the horn. I oblige accordingly.
I seem to remember most of the stations in the Bombay-Bhusaval section. Shahad, Ambivli, Titvala, Vasind, Asangaon, Atgaon and Khardi, in that order, lead us into Kasara. A brief 8-10 mt. halt at Kasara ensures that the twin-WCG1 unit has attached itself to the rear of the train and we are all set to climb the steep inclines. A third track keeps us company all the way till Igatpuri. The 45-odd mt. Kasara-Igatpuri journey is a dream come true! My prized photos are a testimoney to that. There are 8 tunnels in all as the trains zig-zags its way thru' the Ghat slopes. One moment we are inside a long tunnel where the clattering of wheels is magnified a thousand times into a deafening roar, the next moment we are thrown into a semi-spin when the engine follows a circuitous route to desperately avoid a large piece of rock that looms from nowhere. And there are times when we are in the midst of a deep gorge where the train seems to be precariously balanged on defiant girders. And all the while our neighboring tracks play hide-n-seek with us; maybe I missed a train or two. The speedometer is never allowed to cross 40, signs at regular intervals constantly reminding us of the precipitous path that lies ahead.
The train pulls into Igatpuri a little before noon. Its time to bid farewell to the WCM-1 crew. A few snaps followed by the customary exchange of niceties leaves me standing on Platform 2, awaiting the arrival of the WAM-4 to take charge of the train till Bhusaval.
I sauntered across the platform to have a closer inspection of the "other" train which was all set to depart towards Bombay with a DC loco. in charge. A quick look at the "Howrah-Bombay" indicators on the coaches told me that it was the Howrah Bombay Mail via Allahabad, which meant that this train was late by nearly three hours. I hurried back to the front end of the Pushpak Exp. where a WAM-4 loco. with its quaint single pantograph, was being attached; this was supposed to be my "transporter" till Bhusaval.
A few moments of uncertainty ticked away after which I was escorted inside the loco. by the drivers; my uncle had kept his word. I took a few snaps to make sure that this memorable event would be etched on paper. The organization of the WAM-4 driver's cabin is different from that of a WCM-1 loco. The seats are attached to the back wall, and so are somewhat away from the front windows. This presents a more relaxed atmosphere. A narrow corridor at the side to the other end of the loco.; this passes precariously close to the transformers and rectifier equipment.
The signal changed to a welcome green and we were all set to leave the DC traction behind us. I had always been fascinated with AC traction including the locos. and numerous traction structures. I would learn more about them at the Bhusaval zonal training school, the next day. The engine picked up speed as we were crossing the Igatpuri marshelling yard and loco. shed. The 70-odd km. stretch to Nasik Rd. is quite picturesque with the train playing hide'n'seek with the Western Ghats. Brown soil, typical of mountaneous regions, dominates the landscape. I would occasionally stick my head out thru' the open side window to feel the cool breeze on my face and hands and also the catch a glimpse of the 18 coaches behind us, not to mention the pantograph greedily licking the overhead wires. Ghoti, Asvali and Lahavit passed by quickly. The train was doing a cool 100 kmph.
The loco. runs on its own momentum (the current is not fed to the traction motors), except when it encounters upward inclines or needs to accelerate. During braking, current is cut-off from the traction motors in order to prevent overloading. Relay switches in front of the driver help in executing the necessary isolation/deisolation. Traction feeding posts separated by ~70-80 kms. feed in the 25 kv. current to the overhead wires. Neighboring feeding posts usually feed in currents at different phases; hence, there is a need for a neutral section somewhere in between, which essentially acts as an insulated overlap. Neutral sections do not carry any current so that the driver needs to switch off power to the motors just before the loco. crosses this region in order to avoid sparking. In fact, I also witnessed a neutral section at Igatpuri stn. which isolates the DC and AC currents.
You must have noticed an occasional set of four poles which seem to "exchange" the original wire pair with a new one. This is the "overlap region". This limits the length of (single) copper wires to a few kilometers, and minimizes the effects of change in temperature on the wire lengths. A moving pantograph creates a shear stress on the overhead wires, which are counteracted by a set of three poles called the "anti-creep arrangement".
Coming back to the trip, the train speeded past Devlali, and I could spot the artillary training school near the station. The train slowed down a bit near Nasik Rd. but ignored it, much to my delight. A thin trail of rising smoke at the distance was probably the site of the fertilizer factory. The co-driver was busy showing me some sights which he would often relish on his frequent trips between Igatpuri and Bhusaval, much to the chagrin of his fellow driver. He pleaded with me not to engage his mate in constant conversation as this was preventing the latter from discharging his duties. I went back to my position beside the side window. But once in a while, I was sure to sound the whistle(s).
By this time, hunger had enveloped me and I took out the bunch of puris spiced with mango "achar". The 20 mt. feast was followed by devoring some oranges and throwing the remnants off the speeding loco. My repeated offers to the drivers met with polite refusals. Odha, Kherwadi and Kasbe Sukene had been left behind. A strong pungent smell signaled the proximity of the Niphad gobar gas plant. I was quite to photo-capture the train on the opposite track, 'twas probably the Punjab Mail. Ugaon, Lasalgaon and Summit led us to Manmad Jn., where a single line from Daund meets the main track. This, too, was given no respect as the train thundered past the platform.
It was nearly 2 p.m., when the train came to a halt in the middle of nowhere. One of the relay switches in the loco. was causing problems. The drivers repeatedly raised and lowered the pantograph. This gave me some time to get off the train and take a few snaps of the Pushpak Exp. (including the loco) bathed in brilliant sunlight. Half an hour later, the train was on its way.
To cut the description of the rest of the journey short, we crossed the Varanasi-Dadar Exp. at Chalisgaon, and the Gitanjali Exp. near Pachora Jn. Most of the Gitanjali Exp. coaches had now acquired a yellow strip across the windows. Towards the end of our journey, we overtook the superfast Dadar-Gwalior Laskhar Exp. at Jalgaon. Jalgaon district has a flourishing dairy industry. Bhusaval is a big railway jn. about 20 kms. from Jalgaon. Here the line splits into two, one going towards Itarsi and the other towards Nagpur. In fact, slower express trains like the Howrah-Bombay Exp. often tranport 1-2 milk vans between Badnera (about 150 km. west of Nagpur) and Bhusaval. Bhusaval is also one of the Central Rly. divisional headquarters, and has the zonal rly. training school. It signals the end of electric traction for north/east bound trains, and has a electric loco workshop as well as a shed.
The train reaached Bhusaval around 4.30 p.m., an hour behind schedule. I was given a VIP's welcome; after all I was the DRM's nephew! I had exhausted nearly two film reels during the 8 hr. journey. I obliged the drivers by "snapping" them up in front of the loco. Even as I walked towards the overhead bridge, I could hear the whistle of MY loco. which would soon be replaced by a WDM-2. Would I ever see it again?