India February 2012
A cracking trip, considering the bad start we had. In fact it was about as shocking as they come. After landing in Delhi and spending the morning freezing our nuts off on the morning commuter trains, we flew to Kolkata with Indian Airlines and went overnight to Malda Town, via Katwa. The following morning we did the Singhabad branch from Old Malda Jct, which is on the Bangladesh border. From that point on, for the next two days, our plans went down the pan.
That evening we planned to do the Tinpahar – Rajmahal branch. Our train to Tinpahar was late, yet the branch train was held for it. Having checked with the Station Master we confirmed that our “Farakka Express” forward to Bhagalpur was on time, we decided to watch the train leave. Of course, as with every decision you make like that, we watched the damn thing arrive again. Our “Farakka Express” was in the distance though, and was itself 20 late when it did arrive, so in theory we made the right decision.
Having arrived into Bhagalpur at 0030 and with no retiring rooms available, we spent the night, or some of it anyway, wrapped up beneath the blankets we’d relieved the “Farakka Express” of, on board the stock for the 0400 Bhagalpur – Mandar Hill, local train for local people. By the time we reached Mandar Hill, despite the fact that daylight was breaking, we were just about thawed out. The plan on the return was to get off at Barahat, where the morning Bhagalpur – Banka passenger should have been waiting for us. It wasn’t, so assuming it was late we went forward to get off where the trains crossed. They never did. The only assumption I could make of that was that the train had run early from Barahat to Banka. On every other day of the week it sits there for an hour to wait for the Banka – Rajendranagar Express to come off the branch, so either it had run early, or not at all. That left us having only managed 1 of the 3 planned branches and we’d only been in the country 3 days……
We ended up in Jamaplur that night, White House Residency – RS850 (without AC) for 24 hours, on the main road outside the station, about 3 minutes walk towards Bhagalpur. Our afternoon riding about on the JMP WDM2s was much welcomed, after a rather interesting egg curry in one of the eateries directly opposite the station entrance.
The following morning our run to Gaya went without issue and back at Kiul Jct is where the farce began. We knew there were issues at Patna Jct as we’d seen notices at Malda listing trains caped and trains terminating short of Patna, all due to interlocking works going on in the station area. All this work was planned to be finished the night we were to arrive there. As the “Vikramshila Express” from Bhagalpur – Delhi Anand Vihar Terminus was sat in at Kiul we opted to attempt to do that rather than our booked train, 18183 Tatanagar – Danapur which we didn’t know at that time was cancelled! We got ourselves berths in the 2AC, which was thankfully quite empty. At the time of boarding the train was 70 minutes late and I’m guessing it had arrived right time. The journey should only take 3 hours to do the 124km. We got off the train at 0901 the next morning, at which point the train was 16h01m late! We’d spent the whole night on board the train, spending 3 hours here, 2 hours there etc etc. It turned out, something which we found out a few days later, that the interlocking work had been completed, yet the whole lot had failed that evening. The result; completely cocking up anything that went through Patna Jct. We should have spent 3 days there covering the various branches in Bihar but we got out of there straight away. 13133 Sealdah – Varanasi, which we started on, was 21h52m late ex Patna and that train was second class only……..
Frantically trying to plan an alternative for the next 3 days we ended up going via Mughalsarai to Varanasi, then on to Allahabad via Allahabad City, where we stayed the night; Hotel Pryag 2 minutes from the station, which cost RS900 for a double. Hot water was available, as was plenty of noise from the kitchen staff adjacent, until I complained. It was 2300 after all!
The next day was spent doing Allahabad – Faizabad via Sultanpur on the morning passenger train over the route, with a KGP WDM3A. Before heading back into Varanasi on 13308 Firozpur – Dhanbad with its booked LDH WDM3A. We’d attempted to find room in one of the hotels near the station the previous night but all were full with wedding goers so we ended up at the Hotel Buddha a rickshaw ride from the station for RS1200. The rickshaw drivers in Varanasi are a nightmare, so play them at their own game and make sure you book ahead, then if you get them offering to take you wherever you want for RS20, you’re in. Just don’t tell them you’ve got a reservation until you arrive….
From Varanasi we had no choice but to go back through Patna to get back on plan, we did so via Dildarnagar Jct to do the Tarighat branch, which was interesting and finished right on the banks of the River Ganga, literally. The buffer stops were only 5m from the embankment, where a fleet of rickshaws were waiting to whisk the train’s passengers over the river to the towns on the other side, via the bridge about a mile up river. Due to one delay and another we managed to make the wrong decision at Dildarnagar, having watched the “Farakka Express” leave, which would have probably been overtaken under normal circumstances by 12791 Secunderabad – Patna, we ended up following it all the way, and were even looped ourselves for a “Garib Rath” to overtake us. The result of which was a very late arrival into Patna. Luckily the City Centre Hotel, right outside the station had room. It’s convenient if nothing else but the RS1450 price tag we paid for the 5h30m we spent in the room obviously wasn’t worth it.
Patna was still up the creek but at least our 18184 Danapur – Tatanagar was running that day, but starting from Rajendranagar, 3km up the road. We arrived there via rickshaw and the moment we walked onto the platform we watched SPJ WDM3A 16560 arrive with the “Magadh Express” 12402 Delhi – Islampur, which we’d decided at Patna and hadn’t appeared to be going anywhere soon as parcels were being loaded to it. It should have left Patna Jct at 1155 the previous morning! Our 18184 was worked by an off-link that day with LKO WDM3D 11138 being in charge. While in Bihar the train was treated with no respect from any passenger really with college kids and workers alike just occupying the AC chair car as they saw fit, some didn’t even had tickets, as one college kid admitted to me. From Asansol onwards this behaviour stopped. Our 2 hour late arrival into Tatanagar wasn’t expected but we staggered for the last 40km or so. There are plenty of hotels on the main Station Road, about 5 minutes walk from the station. We ended up in the Hotel Kundan, where a non-AC double cost RS648. We were given piping hot water in buckets to get clean with and the food was excellent, freshly cooked, red hot and very tasty.
A day spent on the only train of the day from Tatanagar to Badampahar via Gorumahisani. Which turned out to be very pleasant indeed, rather than the absolute wedge-out we’d anticipated and KGP WDM3A 16420 was a good engine too. The crew of which gave us both a cab-ride on the return journey. We were held just outside Tatanagar station on the return and just as we were seriously considering getting off and walking in for our 1800 Tatanagar – Kharagpur stopper we were spared by the train controller!
58021 1800 Tatanagar – Kharagpur is diesel hauled, under the wires throughout. We had a bit of a scare initially as the stock was backed in by a pair of electrics with WDG4 12526 dit, which was very fresh off the production line. Thankfully all were eventually removed for the machine that turned out to be KGP WDM3A 16463. Getting from Kharagpur to any hotel is interesting as there are none near the station and there are no auto-rickshaws either. We ended up having a very pleasant journey, through a very tranquil Kharagpur, with both of us and our rucksacks on one cycle rickshaw. The rider of which had certainly earned the RS60 we gave him after the 2 mile ride to the Hotel Park, which luckily had a room for RS800. We managed a nice freshly cooked meal before bed too.
Our journey to Baripada the next morning was very relaxing. 18007 0640 Shalimar – Baripada, which only ran 3 times a week, had no AC but had 3 reserved chair car coaches, only one of which was occupied so we had our own coach all the way. When we got there, there was no sign of a run round loop or carriage siding and some people seemed to be getting onto the train. When the crew confirmed it had to go to Bhanjpur, which was only 3km up the road, we were soon back on board. The return journey was just as empty back to Kharagpur and strangely so was our trip forward to Asansol, via Adra, on the once a week 13505 Digha – Asansol, which was thankfully still diesel hauled as the electrification works to Digha hadn’t quite been completed yet. It was an express but with only load 7, all of which are 2nd class only. We were right behind the loco, in the “ladies” compartment, which we hadn’t realised when we got on and the biggest surprise of all was BKSC’s WDM3A 16286 on the front! It was excellent too, probably the best loco we had on the trip, it was just a shame it wasn’t on a bigger load. With another late arrival we walked to the Hotel Residency, which is out of the non main entrance and right along the approach road, visible at the end. A double room cost RS650 per night. It wasn’t the best and I got bitten by mosquitoes the first night we stayed.
The following morning was a washout. Our 0530 start from Asansol had been a complete waste of time as sometime between October, when a guy from IRFCA had viewed the trains, and when we arrived, both the once a day train from Andal – Jasidih via Ikra Jct & the trains on the Andal – Sainthia line had gone over to new build DMUs. The latter had been a push-pull set with load 5, something I’d not yet had in India. We managed to hatch a plan together, thanks to GD WDM3A 16019 arriving with 15906 Dibrugarh – Kanniyakumari, which whisked us off to Durgapur. That afternoon we did the Madhupur – Giridih branch, which offered up its own surprises, in that the train was load 8 and even had a chair car coach in the consist. It was also worked by KGP WDM2 17975 and not the expected UDL WDMx, which also turned out to be a bit of a beast as the driver gave it hell over the fast line that was the Giridih branch, which also had its fair share of gradients too. The train was full and standing on the way back, Giridih seemed to be a popular place……
Due to the DMUs being on the Andal – Sainthia line we re-planned the following day and spent it on the Barddhaman – Rampurhat line, where the moves are endless, although the lateness of the passenger trains doesn’t help. Still it was a thoroughly enjoyable day which offered a mix of both HWH & BWN locos of both the WDM2 & WDM3A persuasion, the best of which, by far, was HWH WDM3A 16210, which we had on 13018 Azimganj – Howrah. It rivalled 16286 for noise and could be heard hammering away into the distance for miles after we got off. Having done the only loco-hauled passenger train over the Sainthia – Andal line, the evening Andal – Sainthia & return, with UDL WDM3A 16473, to Siuri, we boarded our 13404 Bhagalpur – Ranchi there.
Arrival was bang on time into Ranchi, whewre we got a rickshaw to Hatia to do the Bhubaneswar – Dhanbad Garib Rath back to Ranchi, to make sure we got that piece of track in for diesel. Just as we got onto the platform at Hatia 18818 rolled in with the stock from our Bhagalpur – Ranchi, which obviously berthed at Hatia all day. The locals knew it too as when we saw it later in the day at Ranchi the front coach was full as it pulled in. The morning was spent doing the old NG branch to Lohadarga, which had recently been extended to Barkichanpi. There wasn’t much remaining of the NG, other than the old shed at Ranchi and a metal bridge at Lohadarga. The line would ultimately connect to the main line north of Barkichanpi, at Tori, construction of which was ongoing. It was a fast branch line and with a BNDM WDM3D, 11235, and load 11 it was an excellent trip. Back at Ranchi our taxi down to Hatia was TAT WAM4 21375 with 13351 Dhanbad – Allapuzha, hence our trip down to Hatia that morning. Our trip forward from Hatia through to Khurda Road was aboard the “Tapaswini Express” 18451 1605 Hatia – Puri with unexpected twin BNDM WDM3Ds 11168 & 11166. We expected twins but not 3Ds! With the 2AC being only 3 from the front of the load 22 train we were treated to plenty of thrash too.
The next two days differed from our plan, namely because the night before we’d left the country I’d found out that 18416 Puri – Banspani had been extended to Barbil. We’d half expected the train to arrive with an electric in charge, which it sort of did. 18416 Puri – Barbil & 18414 Puri – Paradeep run coupled from Puri to Cuttack. The leading loco, VSKP WDM3A 18802, then splits it’s train off and runs forward to Barbil. On the rear of the train AJJ WAM4 21226 gave a helping hand to Cuttack, where it then works forward to Paradeep. The whole scenario saves on a bit of shunting at Cuttack, and makes sense really. I assume this practise will remain in place when the Barbil portion is worked by an electric. The line is quite scenic and it was a very hot day, one which I was very grateful for AC chair car on. We crossed the southbound train at Kendujhagarh with twin VSKP WDM3As 16315/244 in multiple. The inside one, 16244, was switched out though, with 16315 providing power on its own. Our train continued to Dangoaposi where the loco runs round for the last stretch to Barbil. From then onwards we were into mining territory, the only reason the line existed in the first place, with the line from Cuttack to Dangoaposi only having been built over the last few years, hence the reason the train had only just started running beyond Banspani to Barbil, a notice at Dangoaposi actually confirmed this extension had started on February 8th 2012. Running through iron ore country was like running through a different planet. Everything was coated red, the land, the homes, the electrification posts, everything. Barbil itself was just a dust town. There were only two auto-rickshaws at the station when we arrived and they were the only two we saw the whole way to the Hotel Adhar Regency, 3km back down the line. There weren’t even any cycle rickshaws with public transport seeming non-existent! The Adhar Regency was very relaxing, no noise, no nothing, just a nice room with hot water and a four poster bed! It had its own restaurant, which cooked up a treat for tea and the price wasn’t that bad, RS1500. It was better than the RS3000 listed though. They were apparently offering a 50% discount on their “Executive” rooms.
The rickshaw driver we’d had the night before returned to pick us up at 0700, as asked, just after breakfast. 18802 was just running round the train when we got to the station. The TTE later told us that the train returned to Dangoaposi for overnight servicing, while the train crew spent the night in crew accommodation at Noamundi, the next station along towards Dangoaposi. I also managed to get out of the crew that the reason the train was still diesel was due to some voltage problems in places, with a couple of stretches of OHL work to be completed, in the Banspani & Kendujhagarh areas. This made sense with the amount of overhead works taking place, despite the fact that we’d seen quite a few goods trains, all of which had electric traction on the front. Noamundi has a large Tata Steel Mine, where we’d caught a glimpse of 2 of their WDS6s doing some shunting the day before, #’s 808 & 809, in multiple. Unfortunately they were behind the wall, again shunting, so we couldn’t get any pictures. Thankfully the TTE was able to offer us some seats at Kendujhagarh, where the train filled up, once he’d got his reservation sheets. The train is very slackly timed and yet despite waiting time twice for nearly 40 minutes we still managed to be 13 late at Bhubaneswar. Which was when we had a stroke of luck as the Station Manager rang through to Sambalpur for us to let the TTE on 12586 Sambalpur – Howrah know we’d be boarding at Angul instead of Sambalpur, which was a right result as we’d been worried we might lose our berths. This all due to going to Barbil. As it happened our 18425 Puri – Durg, with Raipur WDM3A 16184, ended up that late that we had to get off at Dhenkanal for 12586, just to be safe. The TTE on board 12586 did indeed have a note written on his reservation sheets and our berths were still vacant. BNDM 11165 did the honours through to Howrah.
The morning was spent having breakfast with a good friend, Samit Roychoudhury. We then boarded our home for the next 36 hours, that was the once a week 19605 1310 Kolkata – Ajmer, headed by ABR WDM2 16842. When we departed the reservation sheet confirmed that there were 21 empty berths in 2AC. Other than some guy occupying one of the bottom berths in our compartment of 4 during the night, we had the whole lot to ourselves the whole way to Ratlam, which was very relaxing indeed. Just what we needed.
From Ratlam we headed south on the MG to Indore, when we parted company, my travelling companion headed off to Akola and I spent the day riding up and down between Indore & Mhow, for old time’s sake. I was saddened to see that gauge conversion work had started between Indore & Mhow, yet not north of Indore towards Ratlam. A railway worker told me it would be completed by the end of 2012, the question was would it be parallel to the MG or replace it, thus isolating the Indore – Ratlam/Ujjain section? 6300, 6315, 6353, 6397, 6638, 6660, 6717, 6727 & 6734 were all alive and kicking.
That night I went forward to Jaipur via Nagda on 12973 with another ABR WDM2 16840 and spent the following day riding the MG between Jaipur & Ringas, again for old time’s sake. The gauge conversion works there had progressed much further with all the stations having new buildings built and there were also earthworks for the track itself, along with platform works at most stations. The line to Ringas was probably my favourite section of MG track in the country, it would certainly be the end of an era when that disappeared. 6426, 6485, 6540, 6654 & 6738 were all still giving it their all, every one of them was as good as the next in some way shape or form, they were all very loud and all polluted the atmosphere well with the clouds of smoke that poured form their exhausts as they got to grips with their trains. It was a shame I’d probably never see any of them again……..
After yet another night behind an ABR WDM2, this time 16825, on board 12983 Jaipur – Chandigarh “Garib Rath”, I got off at Panipat Jct at 0345, having travelled 2772km, all the way from Kolkata – Panipat behind ABR WDM2s, without a gap anywhere. Strangely I was quite pleased with that! It was the final day of the trip and my morning took me first to Jind and then into Delhi Jct, stepping off at various stations via Rohtak, onto the train behind as I went, arriving into Delhi Jct at 1330 on the “Kissan Express” with its customary WDP1, on this occasion 15037. Just as I walked out of the cloak room, having deposited my bag for the day, in walked my companion, having survived his trip to Akola and back, all on his own. My late afternoons in Delhi were usually spent on the Rewari line, yet recently we’d found it more entertaining going out towards Hapur as it offered better trains, without the stagger factor in/out of Delhi. And an excellent evening it was too, with WDP1s, WDP3s, WDM3As, WDM3Ds all thrown into the mix. All that remained after that was quite possibly the worst taxi journey I’d had, ever, back to the airport, where after the second time the back end went the driver knew he was in for a telling, and he also left the airport with his tail between his legs too after I gave him a right dressing down!
All in all this trip was thoroughly enjoyable, despite the fiasco at the beginning. A return to Patna will be in the offing sometime in the future……….
If you want to see the non-railway photos taken during this trip please see “India February 2012” in the “General Photography” section.