I missed you all!
IRFCA is like second family to me and I felt the need to talk to you often during the last few days.
This is a quick trip report:
27th Oct 2000: From Pune to Madgaon by the 2780 Goa Express. The train arrived on time from Nizamuddin and was virtually empty on account of the Diwali one day before, for not many people travel on that day. The Pune loco that brought the rake from Daund was let off and another Pune loco was attached to the other end of the train. Our seats were confirmed in S2 but most of the train was empty so we moved to S3 where we (my wife Shyama, my daughter Aditi and I) got 2 lower berths and one middle berth. The coach was almost at the Mumbai end of the rake. I was worried about sitting in the wrong section of the train and ending up in Hubli rather than in Goa, so did not stray too far from the allotted coach.
The train left Pune at 1730 hrs, although I wish this was rescheduled at 1735 hrs to create a record of sorts. This is because the 2028 Up Shatabdi to Mumbai and 1977 Dn. Jhelum - Jammu Exp. simultaneously depart at 1735 hrs.
The Goa Exp. worked through Ghorpadi as the evening began to set. I noticed an abandoned bridge on the old MG alignment just after Phursungi, which is just outside Pune. The first ghat was done in the early evening when the details were still visible. There are over 4 viaducts in the ghat section. The descending night in the company of dim lamps of the upper quadrant signal and a charging WDM2 made for a memorable time.
There were a few crossings of freight trains and one passenger train between Pune and Satara. The 1012 Mahalaxmi crossed us at Karad while the 2779 Goa express crossed us at Nandre. At each crossing, the police party on the other train also exchanged a torch signal with our train.
Run to Miraj was uneventful. We were received on platform 1 which used to be the pf from which the MG trains used to leave. There was a rake of BG flats which carried many Barsi Light Railway coaches (some really well-painted, others in serious need of repair), presumably to Kurduwadi. Even the NG track off the Miraj platform had a lot of BLR coaches.
The announced five-minute stop does not encourage much browsing at a station. By the time the Goa Exp left MRJ, my coach carried not more than 10 passengers.
I woke at Belgaum which was covered with a dense fog, although not very cold. The old steam shed is in a really dilapidated condition. I have always loved to see stations in the middle of night, where they really look wonderful. Again, I slept till Londa Jn. This too had a sort of fog/mist which caused heavy condensation on the windowbars.
At LD there are no shunting locos. The Pune WDM2 which had brought the Goa express till here was detached from our rake and attached to the waiting 3-coach rake of the Londa - Hubli passenger. At the same time, the special Gooty shed WDM2 pair (MUed and fitted with Auto Emergency brakes)detached the last four coaches from the Pune end (two SLRs, one 2 AC and one 3 tier sleeper) of the Goa Exp. rake and brought them behind the Hubli passenger. One of the SLRs remained with the GY powers which was brought back to the Goa express at the Pune end for this was the 2780's SLR.
Then the Pune power on the Hubli passenger pushed the tiny rake of the LD - UBL passenger to mate with the 3 coaches from the Goa exp. These three coaches are marked 'Nizauddin - Hubli' but the SLR carries the name plate of Goa Express. Hence the name 'Goa Express' is present on the two SLRs at the Pune end of the Goa Exp. rake between PA and LD. The Hubli passenger and the Goa Express for Vasco depart at the same time from Londa. I spent some time sitting on the side berth recording the sounds of the double-headed GY powers. The fog was getting denser but the electrical colour light signals cut through the murk easily.
There was a WDG4 with a BCN rake facing LD in the CLR yard. Only the 15 or so GY shed WDM2s with this Auto Emergency brakes system are allowed to haul trains in the Briganza ghat. Light WDG2s are allowed in the ghats for hauling trains between Kulem - Vasco and for trains from Vasco on the Konkan Railways. WDG4s are not allowed on the ghats.
We had a long halt at Castle Rock. Here the station master arms the Auto Emergency brakes system and hands the key to the guard. This system applies the loco brakes if the speed of the loco exceeds 25 Kmph downhill. Only double-headed or more powers are allowed on descending trains. Only air-braked rakes are allowed in the section. The Goa express started from CLR and immediately on leaving the station braked desperately hard to a stop. This was a check before the ghat section began. The ghat section was covered with thick fog, so I went back to sleep. The train halts at all the stations on the route while descending.
Accordingly we stopped at Carenzol, Dudhsagar and Sonaulim. The train stopped at Kulem for the guard to hand over the key to the station master to disarm the AE brakes.
We reached Madgaon right on time at 0620 hrs.
I requested the loco drivers to make smoke as they started and they obliged.
28th, 29th, 30th, 31st Oct: Beach, eat and drink at Colva and Benaulim. I normally do not drink alcohol in Pune, but during holidays a little beer is consumed. However I had to stop this time when my 5 year-old daughter developed a liking to the drink.
1st Nov: Went to Majorda station. There was a ballast train standing on the through line and a Kalyan WDS6 was just arriving from Madgaon (pronouced as MUD-gaa-oh) to haul the rake. I was told that once or twice a week freight rakes work between Mormugao (local name is Morgaon [pronounced as More-gaa-oh] much easier to say) port north towards north KR. This requires a reversal on a 40 wagon length-siding at MJO meant for this purpose. But most of the freight traffic goes towards Mangalore from Mormugao port.
I saw the 104 Up Mandovi Express working through MJO, only the train had to divert via the platform line because of the ballast rake (which had the WDS6 coupled by now) on the main line. A Kalyan WDM2 powered the 104 Up Mandovi.
Next we went in search of the sparkling beach I had seen from a train near Vasco last year. The map showed that this would be the Velsao beach. This is a perfect uninhabited stretch of sand which leads to the horn of the Mormugao/Vasco. The only ugly thing is the smoke-belching Zuari agro fertilizer factory at the bend that mars the scene. The track is about 1.5 Kms on the beach between the Velsao beach entry and the Zuari factory and I choose not to go that far. Just then I spotted two orange locos moving on the track. I ran towards the level crossing on the road that leads to the beach and could get pics of a MUed Gooty WDG2 pair in an unbelievably lovely setting. For one heart-stopping moment, a small kid on a bike with trainer wheels crossed the level crossing just as the gates were closing and the locos came around the bend.
2nd Nov: We went to see the mighty Dudhsagar waterfalls. We were told to take a bus from Madgaon to Molem and then take a local transport. This was not the correct info. From Molem we had to take another bus to Kulem which is 6 kms south. Just outside the Kulem railway station is a loud-talking, spectacled man who would fix you a local transport to get into the Mahavir wildlife sanctuary in which are the DS falls. The road into the sancuary is 4 wheel drive territory. The jeep/trax/minibus takes you on a bone-jarring, mud-sliding (sideways!), river-fording 18 km ride to the base of the falls. Ordinary vehicles just cannot get there. We were charged Rs. 300 per head (children are free — big deal!) for a 2-3 hour round trip.
Once you get to the base of the falls, the falls are still a 15 minute hike ahead on extremely rough grounds. There are large stones to climb (middle-aged caution dictates that falls in such places —> fractured limbs etc), at least three fast-running streams to cross on wet rocks and on bamboo ladders laid over the water (the rungs roll as you walk over them). Only the physically fit should attempt this walk. The base of the pool is great.
Even greater is the railway line that crosses the falls at height. I had asked the fixer at Kulem if it was possible to climb to the railway line and he told be that it was just a 100 metre climb. I had visions of me standing track with the 'I was here' attitude. But the climb was more than 400 meters of wet vertical rocks, blood-sucking leeches and an obscure path which was overgrown in the monsoons. But get to the Dudhsagar station, I will — that is an oath, sometime in the future.
Kulem to DS by railway line is around 13 kms and I found the section quite reasonable for hiking, although janata in Kulem tried to dissuade me saying that there is not enough place to walk. But then they might have an interest in taking the road rather than walk the rails. I saw a triple-headed BCN rake descending DS and a pair of light bankers descending later. On the way back from DS I could hear the sweet horns of locos and the thumping of the prime mover echoing between mountains.
Here is an alternative plan — every train stops at all stations including DS on the descent. So one can hitch a ride from CLR to DS and then another ride to Kulem later.
I could see many people (including children) on the falls above that there must be an easy way. I was told by the janata that arranges the 4 wheel drive rides that it is quite difficult to get to DS by the railway tracks because there is no space to walk, tunnels are too dark etc. I did not find that so bad on the way back (yes, I footplated the Goa express power later — read on).
We spent a late afternoon at Kulem station to take the 1710 hrs Kulem - Vasco passenger back to Madgaon. During the wait I saw the 2779 Goa of that day arrive at CLM and depart after being coupled to the MUed WDM2 bankers from the rear.
The QLM - VSG passenger is one of the classic overkills on the IR — one WDM2 working 4th notch to pull 6 empty coaches (tickets Rs. 8, QLM - MAO). The driver was so confident of the light trailing load that he would arrive at an high speed into the stations and brake hard. At Sanvordem I spotted an Erode WDG2 in the traditional ED colours. This was MUed to a Kalyan WDM2. The GY WDM2 for the passenger had a cyclone-type air filter whose blower was started first, then the fuel pump motor and then the engine was cranked. I am still curious about the exact operation of the cyclone air filter and the purpose of the blown air into the intake.
3rd Nov: Did the late morning round of Majorda level crossing, the gate man was getting used to me by now. Saw the Trivandrum - Hapa express at this location. Later we went about a km west to see the point where the SCR and KR lines actually diverge. After this we made a trip to Verna station that is on the KR line after MJO. Verna is largely deserted. There are seven lines in the station yard making this one of the biggest KR facilities. There is even an empty loco shed here. You can see Verna-marked WDM2 models on my website. This leads me to believe that either KR overcalculated the traffic through the tracks or they have made provisions for some future expansion. Right now the traffic through the KR is pathetic.
There are 7 lines, out of which one is a platform line, one through line while the others are freight holding and sick sidings. The young station master was surprised that anyone would want to buy platform tickets at this large but desolate station. The KR operation is computerised and the SM entered details about the pending arrival of the 104 Mandovi on his machine. Saw the 104 Mandovi powering through the station. Also saw the three-coach DMU rake stabled here. I did not go near the DMU rake as it was quite far from the platform and I was with family etc. Damn it, I was on holiday!
I saw a number of Plasser machines, also the breakdown rake with the diesel crane and the self-propelled medical relief train in the Verna yard.
Later in the evening we went to MAO station to see the DMU in action. I have an special interest in the machine as the manufacturer of safety panels for the Cummins engine of the DMU. MAO - Karwar "DMU" turned out to be a three-coach rake hauled by an Erode WDM2. Even more of overkill. I was told then that the Cummins engined train is down with serious problems for many days.
Madgaon is a unique station with three types of signal interlocks. The KR uses tokenless 4-aspect colour light signal, there is a separate yard interlock and there is a Niele's ball token for the SCR section.
4th Nov: We spent a lazy morning at Surawali halt between Madgaon and Majorda. This is classic Goa section with palm trees and banyan trees with their aerial roots. Pics of trains through this section can be found on John Lacey's Steam Masala site and also in the Goa chapter of "Problem Sahib".
Saw the 2 hour-late 0111 Konkan Kanya from Mumbai towards Madgaon at Surwali. Later we saw the Trivandrum Rajdhani and Nagercoil - Gandhidham express towards Majorda. The Rajdhani was doing quite a speed through Surawali but began slowing down as approached the point to be led towards KR at MJO. The Raj rake was quite small; 8-10 coaches at the most. The locos spotted on mail/express were all WDM2s from Kalyan, Erode and Ernakulum. The SCR trains (Goa Express, Amravati Exp. and VSG - QLM - VSG passengers) use only Gooty powers. I placed a 10 paise aluminum coin on the rails before the Rajdhani for old times' sake. The coin just vaporized; however, the light impression of the coin was left on the rail.
5th Nov: Day of return — Enough of beaches, frankly I was looking forward to doing railways once again. Went to Madgaon station by 1330 hrs. The Mangalore - Madgaon passenger had just arrived on pf 1; the ED loco decoupled and another ED loco was attached on the MAQ end of the same rake. This train departed in some time. The 2779 Goa express was due only after 1440 hrs so I went to see the old Madgaon meter gauge station which is diagonally opposite to the KR station. The MG station building and the goods shed are intact, but there are no railway lines through it. It is filled with vagrants and youths passing time. Janata plays cricket etc. on the platforms now. I was surprised to know that the MG station was remodeled only in 1985. Went back to the BG station. The QLM - VSG passenger was on the platform as was the VSG - QLM passenger. The latter had two GY locos for its six-coach rake. The Goa express came on time. We got into the hot coaches and found out that the entire coach S8 was filled with Pune passengers for this was the Pune quota. The 2779 Goa Express is quite crowded compared to the 2780. The S8 was 6th from the loco.
The Sanvordem Curchorem station between Madgoan and Kulem is used to load minerals (bauxite, iron ore?) for movement inland. Front-loading vehicles dig from a huge pile of this mineral and load into the waiting BOXN rakes.
At Kulem I moved forward to the locomotive. After an introduction to the driver, I could do what I wanted to do — footplate the Briganza ghat. Mail/express drivers from Miraj work the Goa express. They work with the Pune loco between MRJ and LD and the GY locos between LD and VSG. The two bankers attached at the rear of the train. The walkie talkie was alive with the sounds of the bankers. If a brake application is made, the lowering brake pipe pressure causes an alarm to sound in the cab. I could hear this alarm of the banker on the driver's walkie talkie.
The Briganza ghat is 1-in-37 gradient and 27 kms long. The QLM - CLR is a single signaling section. Only one ascending train can be in the section, although our 2779 Goa express was stopped at Carenzol to let three bankers get downhill first. There are no catch sidings and the section uses two-aspect colour light signals. I saw unusual signals like green lamp over red (distant caution) apart from the usual double yellow, green and red.
The walkie talkie has made the life of drivers very easy. The lead driver repeated the status of the signals and the caution orders to the banker drivers. 'Push the train, banker driver' said the lead driver, I have it on tape. The rake was quite light (860 T) and the whole setup was overpowered. Twice the driver had to close throttle to prevent overspeeding beyond 40 kmph. The line curves left over the Dudhsagar falls. I took a picture of from top of the falls towards the pool. I could also photograph a few derailed BCN wagons lying over the edge. I think these are of the Mangalore - Nanded Fertilizer rake, we had some discussion on this on the IRFCA. At Caranzol, the young station master made an 'X' with his hands as our train passed him. The starter was indeed red and the 'X' meant 'crossing'. After a few minutes triple-coupled banker with wildly waving crews in every cab to the Goa express drivers crossed our train. I guess they are all old buddies and were glad to see each other. Starter turned yellow and again our driver requested the banker driver to push the train by the walkie talkie. The bankers responded instantly and we were on our way.
The train arrived at Castle Rock and was received on road 2 that does not have a platform. The biweekly 7026 Vijaywada - Vasco Amravati express was expected on the platform road. The twin bankers decoupled from the Goa rake and moved back a few meters on the same line. The Amravati express arrived with a single GY loco. I suppose the bankers would now attach to the lead of the Amravati and work the rake down the ghats till Kulem.
As the evening approached, the train was in the heavily wooded section between CLR and LD.
We stopped on pf 2 at Londa. The single GY loco decoupled and stood a few metres down the tracks on the Hubli end. Just then the Kolhapur - Tirupati Hari Priya express came onto pf 1 with full dynamic brakes.
The Goa express was late by 30 minutes at this point but the Hubli - Londa 'express' was even later. It arrived 25 minutes after Goa's arrival on road 3 which is the open line. It had the three coaches with 'Goa express' marked on SLR and 'Hubli - Nizamuddin' marked on the destination boards. The Pune shed loco leading the train then detached the three coaches in the beginning and attached them to the Pune end of the Goa rake. I do not know if the VSG - NZM rake's SLR was moved out of the way first for it was quite dark by now and I was at the other end of the train. In the meantime the Hari Priya express departed in a cloud of classic WDM2 smoke.
Our own train departed towards Miraj almost 1 hour after arriving. I found that the Goa express rake is not through vestibuled. Also the pantry car janata does not like passengers walking through them, neither do the TTs in the AC coaches. This meant that there is not much movement possible within the rake.
Stops at Belgaum, Ghatprabha and Miraj. The amount of passengers in the train increased and I could spot many who got into the sleeper coaches without valid bookings. Life is like that.
At Miraj we were over 1½ hours late. Slept after that — you cannot tell much from the top berth. The whole carriage woke up on the approach to Pune. The train stopped at the Pune home while the 6009 Chennai Mail departed towards Daund. I spotted one coach with more glass area in the door than normal — not the Rajdhani-type oval glass but twice the window area vertically. I could see that this 'window' has the regular bars all the way. Somebody else had posted on the IRFCA about spotting a similar enlarged window inset in the door.
Goa express crawled into Pune pf 3, only 15 minutes late to be deluged with Pune quota junta wanting to get to Nizamuddin.
End of story.