Three-Gauge Steam Heritage Special
by Vikas Singh
August 23, 2006
I reached the station at 0800 hrs. WP 7161 was there on the BG platform. Named Queen of the Dooars, it had a three coach rake attached - WGSCN 17003, FC 3179,and SLR827093.The train had been named Heritage special. This rake had been used for the heritage run recently in Bombay. The entire six man loco crew was from Alipurduar division. A four-member team from Rewari shed was also there to take care of their "baby". MAWD 1798 was also in the MG platform. Built in 1944 at Baldwin loco works, it was recomissioned in 2001. Later this year in June-July the crew cab and tender was rebuilt at Siliguri shed. Named Queen of Terai it was attached to three coach rake-GS 2210, GS 2158 and SLR 4072. This train too had been named heritage special. Here too the six man loco crew was from Alipurduar division. Both the locos were garishly decorated with banners, flags and even banana plants! Devoid of any decoration the locos had looked much better a day earlier.
Soon queen of the show 802B was shunted into the NG platform. It too had been named aptly Queen of the Himalayas. It had a three coach rake FCZ 23-6 (Falcon Hurst) FCZ27 (Rangeet) and S 363 (Nankum). Here the entire three man loco crew and the four brakemen were from Siliguri steam shed.
By 0900 hrs a sizeable crowd had built up at the station. People had bought their kids with them. Many of them were clicking photographs, some of them were seen explaining to their children how steam works, and some others had their children do a round of the crew cabs. Even the large police contingent was very friendly and not at all obtrusive. It had now begun to rain and we began to fear the worst. Luckily the rain stopped by 0930 hrs, the scheduled fag off time. At 0935 hrs 1D departed with NDM6 605 and four coach rake SLR 154, S119, FCZ121 and SLR 155.
The small cultural function and speeches were soon started. But n all the din nothing could be heard. Finally at 1043 hrs DRM (Kathiar), Member (Traffic) and GM (NFR) symbolically flagged off the three trains from the dias. After traveling a short distance all the three trains stopped to five the photographers an opportunity to shoot. Then both the NG special to Rangtong and MG special to Bagdogra departed. The BG special left at 1100 hrs after the NG had crossed the diamond crossing. I had decided to go in the BG as I was doing the MG any case next day in the Siliguri-Kathiar passenger.
As I have already written in my earlier travelogue 'Tea, Train and Timber' the route from Siliguri to Chalsa is enchanting. It passes over some great rivers with magnificent bridges and through Mahananda sanctuary and the famous tea gardens of the dooars. We crossed the now abandoned Gulmakhola station. The station had been abandoned because of the continual elephant menace. This is perhaps the only place in India where elephants have asserted their right with success. We crossed the Gulma station at 1115 hrs. Soon we crossed the Mahananda river and entered the Mahananda sanctuary. At two places along the track were signs asking the loco pilots to be careful, as these were places where elephants frequently crossed the tracks. Soon we were over the magnificent Testa bridge. The river was in full flow. In the first class coach in which we were traveling, I had the august company of DRM (Alipurduar) and his team of engineers. A very energetic and enthusiastic rail man, he took great pride in explaining how his team had worked tirelessly to make this event a grand success. We soon entered the first tunnel at 31 km mark and the second tunnel immediately after a few seconds. By now we had crossed over a number of small rivers. The next big river we crossed was Leesh river, which true to its style of being a mountainous river was too wide but shallow. At 1150 hrs we stopped at Bagrakot station for water. There was a huge crowd at the station to witness the run. After the Testa bridge when we had entered the tea country we could see garden workers rush out of their homes to witness the run. Children waved merrily at us. After a forty-minute stop we commenced our journey. At 1240 hrs we crossed the Oodalbari station and soon after the Ghish river. The next station was Damdim. The SM office has been recently renovated with bamboo theme and looked cute. The initial plan was that the train would stop there but it was later shelved.
At 1255 hrs we reached the New Mal Junction. A large number of school children had gathered at the station to witness the run. After the station we crossed the Neora River reaching Chalsa at 1320 hrs. The entire run was for 57 kms. A small cultural function had been organized at the station.
As I had to get some carried DHR postal covers cancelled, I took a taxi and rushed to the nearest sub post office, located a good 5 kms from the station. After getting the covers cancelled, I could make it back to the station just in time for the 1440 departure. The engine had been reversed and attached to the other end cab first. On the journey back, I foot plated all the way till Siliguri. Though I have foot plated this WP on earlier occasions also, this time the crew cab appeared more spacious. On the way back we stopped only at Gulma station for crossing with Mahananda express. We reached the junction at 1625 hrs.
Later in the evening we went to hotel Cinderella where Mr. Baid of DHRS had arranged a small felicitation ceremony followed by dinner. The entire top brass of NFR was there. The GM NFR expressed hope that events like this would help promote DHR.
The entire event was very well managed and for the first time I could see that a lot of effort had gone into generating publicity about the event. NFR had placed ads in the newspapers at regular intervals and the result was that there was a huge participation from the local public.