Gomoh loco shed and CLW trip report

2004-11-12

Our friend Lakshman had been talking about making a trip to Chittaranjan Loco Works (CLW) for quite some time, and he finally set the ball rolling by organizing the trip. Vrijilesh, fellow IRFCAn was supposed to join him, but at the last moment, Bharath Narayan took his place. They both arrived at Calcutta the night previous to our departure by the Falaknuma Express.

Our initial plans was to visit the loco sheds at Gomoh and Asansol, along with CLW, and Sujeet Mishra at CLW was supposed to make all the arrangements, but we were informed that the Asansol loco shed would have to find it's way out of our itinerary due to an impending VIP visit. So we were left with Chittaranjan & Gomoh. Our initial plans were to head for CLW first, but the schedule kind of got inverted, necessitating Gomoh be our first place of call. Lakshman had got tickets for us on the 2303 Poorva Express till Chittaranjan, but due to the modifications in our plan, we decided to take the train only till Asansol. Accompanying us was IRFCAn Buddhadeb Saha, who was only making the trip till CLW, and upon learning of the change in plans, decided to accompany us till Gomoh and then return the same evening.

We arrived at Howrah station, eager and anticipating, well in time for the 0910 departure. The train entered the station, and at the end was a gleaming WAP-7 (30218 of Ghaziabad shed), the sight of which immediately brought big smiles on the faces of Lakshman and Bharath. We had reservations on sleeper class, which was carrying more than it's fair share of people. The train departed on schedule. and maintained good speed throughout. Bharath keep a tab on the speed using his GPS. Please refer to their reports for technical details.

We reached Asansol well in time. Asansol, 200 kms from Howrah, is a junction on the Howrah - Mughalsarai section. From here, one line veers off towards Chandil. We decided to have lunch and we headed off to the Refreshment room, which is situated on the first floor, at overbridge level on one of the middle platforms. A bright and sparkling room, with very clean tables, which were unfortunately all full, greeted us. We waited till we found space and settled down to a hearty meal, with Lakshman and Bharath opting for the vegetarian thali while Mr Saha and I tucked into our chicken curry with relish. It was all very tasty, and went down well with the rice and rotis, the unfortunate unavailability of Thumsup or any other soft drinks somewhat offset by the chilled bottles of flavoured milk. Lunch over with; we descended to the platforms below to await a MEMU (mainline electric multiple unit) to Gomoh. We had a pretty long wait, and spent the time fruitfully by visitng the computerized reservation center, where Bharath and Laksh both needed their tickets to be changed, as did Mr Saha.

The entire belt between Durgapur (158 kms from Howrah), and all the way upto Dhanbad and beyond is industrialized. Apart from factories, there are many coalmines, some closed now, and some with fires burning deep in the mineshafts. The mining area extends for a large area, mostly to the south of the tracks. Quite a portion of the track passes through cuttings, where the surrounding area is higher than the track level, resulting in the profusion of characteristic small masonry bridges crossing the tracks.

We boarded the 1355 MEMU from Asansol, which goes all the way to Hazaribagh (but is renumbered at Dhanbad). We got places to sit. We crossed Sitarampur Jn, where the main line separates from the grand chord. The trains towards Chittaranjan / Patna diverge from here. We carried on down the chord line and at Dhanbad, 259 kms from Howrah, Mr Saha decided to get down as he had the Shatabdi Express to catch back to Howrah and if he accompanied us to Gomoh, there was no way he could have made it back to Dhanbad in time. Slightly saddened by the fact that the gentleman had to curtail his plans, we carried on, to reach Gomoh on schedule at about 1600. Gomoh, 288 kms from Howrah, too is a junction station, and here one line from Chandrapura meets as well as another from Mohuda/Adra. Gomoh is primarily a railway town, and used to have a steam shed a long time back. The station is famous as the place where Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, traveling secretly from Calcutta by road, boarded the Kalka Mail from, to give the British the slip.

We traipsed bag baggage et al from the platforms to the shed which is situated on the southeastern side of the station. An awesome site awaited us. a whole horde of green livered WAG9 locos right at the entrance, followed by some more inside, along with other varieties. Even though prior arrangements had been made for the Sr DE of the shed to show us around, we found no sign of him. We were informed that he was in Dhanbad for an important meeting. The deputy, who we interacted with could not help us much.. The promised accommodation at the guesthouse didn't materialise either; we found out both the rooms had already been booked. He suggested we try the solitary Retiring Room at Gomoh station, which we found was occupied too, and advised we make it back to Dhanbad. In the meantime he allowed us to take a look around the shed, but we had no one to accompany us or show us around. We wandered around, taking in the sights as the various locos, under various stages of repair presented themselves to us. There were three WAP-7s, as well as a few WAG-7s, but not in numbers anywhere close to the WAG-9s. These good-looking beasts were scattered around, some being tested on the tracks. It was also getting dark so the photographs didn't come out so well. Many of the locos were simple photographed under the shed lights, leading to the eerie look.

We planned to take the Gomoh - Asansol MEMU at 2110, and try our luck at Asansol instead of Dhanbad, as the next morning we were supposed to head out to CLW. We found our way to the Refreshment Room at Gomoh station and found it to be a gem. The food was tasty (even though I couldn't find any non veg apart from egg), we enjoyed our meal (and yes there was thumsup here too). We watched the Bhubaneshwar Rajdhani (with a mismatched dual liveried generator car) pull in to a stop. A few minutes later the Sealdah Rajdhani zipped passed, overtaking it's Bhubaneshwar counterpart. Just as we finished our meal, a train pulled in right onto our platform. We rushed out to find it was a WAP-7 in charge.. The train in question was the 3306 Gaya - Dhanbad intercity, a puny 10-coach affair. The driver was a pro and handled the loco rather well The 30 odd kilometers from Gomoh to Dhanbad was covered in less than 25 minutes. The train literally flew through the night air. The P-7 made the 10 coach rake seem like a roll of cotton, and acceleration was superior to even that of an EMU. Upon reaching Dhanbad, we chatted with the driver, an amenable fellow. Next came the wait for the MEMU, which we were originally supposed to take from Gomoh to arrive to take us to Asansol. We had to wait about an hour before it arrived and we made our way in. The train was rather empty, and there were RPF constables sprawled across the seats. The night air was crisp and cool, making us shiver. The train took about 70 minutes to cover the 60 odd kilometers, and we reached Asansol after 11 pm.

There were no vacancies in the retiring room so we tentatively set out to hunt for a hotel. I was apprehensive taking a taxi or an auto since I had no idea about the town, but finally we were left with no option. Bharath suggested we spend the night at the station but I disagreed, since we would have a tiring day ahead. We finally found ourselves a hotel well after 1 am, after the first hotel proved to be very expensive and the next few turned us down stating no room. A group of tired railfans got some well-deserved rest.

The next morning saw us up bright and early at Asansol station. We had planned on taking 0935 MEMU to Chittaranjan, and upon buying our tickets and entering the platform, we found to our dismay that the train had left at 0830. That's the authenticity of information from the latest timetables J. A further bit of news awaited us, this one better. We found a lot of trains being announced as stranded at various stations, because of the Jharkhand bandh that had been called. This meant that if we had stayed at Dhanbad (which is in Jharkhand), we would have been stuck there. We decided to cancel our tickets and hire a car to CLW. We negotiated with a driver and he was willing to take us for Rs 350, plus the Rs 50 we had to pay as toll to use the newly four-laned highway instead of the run down GT Road. We made it to CLW in good time, and luckily for us the road did not touch Jharkhand at all, and we reached the sprawling township and after a quick breakfast, we made our way to Sujeet Mishra's office.

CLW is a large and sprawling township close to the town on Mihijam, which is in Jharkhand. CLW though is situated within West Bengal. Chittaranjan is the station, which is 25 kms from Asansol. The township is large, about 18 square kilometers, and has rows or rather attractive bungalows for its officers. The roads the neat and well maintained. The township houses a workforce of about 14,500 people. It of course has it's own stadium, hospital and other amenities. There is also a very attractive lake within the campus, where the waters are a clear deep blue. The only problem we faced was that apart from BSNL, no other cellular service worked there. Airtel and Hutch are both expected to start services shortly (or may already have as I write this).

A cup of very refreshing tea aided our lively chat with Sujeet, who had been very kind to spare us time from his busy schedule. We also met with Mr Sadasivan, who heads the Design & Development cell. While the others discussed technical aspects I relaxed. Sujeet then took us out for lunch to what he described as the only restaurant in town.. called Sonali. After a wholesome and very tasty meal, he took us to our rooms at the guesthouse and put our bags and then made our way to the factory.

The first sight was a completed WAG-9 (#31068) being tested. We had a look around and then snapped up the WAG-7 (#27698) right behind it. Both these seemed almost ready for delivery. We spent some time talking about the locos and then headed to the workshops where other locos were in various stages of build. There were unpainted shells (the one of the WAP-4 looked very dramatic), and WAP-7s, WAG-7s and WAG-9s too. Some of them were painted; some had most parts still undone. There were some just painted shells, some with most fittings on. There must have been about 20 locos in various stages. We didn't get to see either the foundry or any other workshops. We had a general look around and then headed back to Sujeet's car. We headed back to his office for further discussions. By the time I was pretty tired and the discussion was turning way too technical for my comprehension, which kind of made me drift off (which seems to be a habit now for my railfanning sessions). Sujeet later dropped us to the guesthouse where we relaxed a little before heading out for dinner (back to Sonali of course). It was a reasonably long walk to there and back and nice in the unpolluted atmosphere. We made it back to the guesthouse and called it a day.

The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast at the guesthouse, I chatted with the Dy Commandant of RPF who was at the dining hall and introduced himself. We had planned to take the 2304 Poorva Express back to Howrah or Asansol. Our initial plans were to travel down to Adra and return to Howrah via Kharagpur, but the other two seemed unenthusiastic so we decided to head back home directly.

We found ourselves at Chittaranjan station after a short autorickshaw ride. The station itself is in Jharkhand, while the CLW complex is in West Bengal. The road leading to the station belongs to the central government. At the station we found the Poorva running 2 hours late (from it's scheduled 1242 departure). We would rather wait at Asansol than spend time here. So we cancelled our tickets and decided to make it by road instead. We made our way to the taxi stand, a little distant from the station and found a Tata Sumo willing to take us but we had to bargain hard. Once again we took the highway and after a quick drive we found ourselves back at Asansol station.

We had thought of taking the Ranchi Shatabdi Express back to Howrah. That left us a long time to wait at Asansol. It was about 2.30 pm and I decided to go look for some Thumsup J finding none near the station I took a long walk towards GT Road and had no real luck, while Laksh made a couple of frantic calls wondering where I was. I finally had to return with Pepsi! It was only on this sojourn that I realized there would be no Shatabdi that day, being a Sunday, and I broke the news to the others when I went back. Setting our disappointment aside, we booked regular tickets to Howrah and then headed to the refreshment room once again. We were just a little too late for lunch so we had to be content with cutlets, which were made fresh for us, prompting the others to order a second helping. I got myself an omelette too; very different from the ones the railways usually serve. We took mid meal breaks to look out for the Howrah Rajdhani via Patna which was expected. We finally spotted it, whizzing past with a P-4. After a hearty meal aided with more flavoured milk, we made our way down to the platforms. The down Poorva, which we had wanted to catch at Chittaranjan itself, went past with a Kanpur WAP-4 in charge. Some other movements followed but there were no proper trains towards Calcutta. We were destined to have to wait till 1730 when the 3318 Black Diamond Express would take us back. We had heard there would be accommodation available, at least in the AC chair car coaches.

We hung about at the station, tired by now. We made another sortie back to the refreshment room, this time for some coffee and went back to the platform soon after. The Black Diamond came in at about 1745, headed by a P-7. That had the other two jumping with glee, but not for too long. We found the coaches packed and the TTE of the AC coaches told us there was absolutely no vacancy.

Asansol, in spite of being a busy junction in a very important mainline route, strangely does not seem to have very many connections towards Calcutta in the evenings. The only intercity then, the Black Diamond Express is usually packed to the brim, even on Sundays.

We resigned ourselves to our fate and boarded a second-class coach. There was no place to sit till Laksh and Bharat managed to spot a seat. A little later I managed to get one too, and ordered some tasty looking chicken cutlets. They came with a surprisingly large helping of French fries, which were delicious, far better than the cutlets. Possibly the best fries I have had anywhere on IR. It was while I was happily munching away that I found, much to our chagrin, that our 'seats' were actually reserved by some midway passengers. We had to vacate, and be up on our feet, and we watched the melee caused by some confused passengers claming others' seats. I felt kind of funny standing in a crowded aisle with a plate of cutlets! We then decided to get off at Barddhaman, where we would get a suburban train into Howrah, about 100 kms away. The P-7 driver was really letting fly and we made good time, covering up most of the delay by the time we reached Barddhaman, and we happily got off. We waited for the next EMU to make its appearance while we watched the goings on. Since it was already dark, there wasn't much activity to see. We had to stay away from lights as the insects made the surrounding areas very uncomfortable.

A group of 4 RPF constables had got down on the tracks and stood at attention, looking rather weird in all that mess. There were other RPF men all over, and we soon found out some 'bada sahab' (senior officer) was expected in the next train. The deed done, the reception committee accompanied their officer and we maintained vigil. Soon an EMU entered from Howrah, which would head back again. We boarded and found decent seats. We started off, and relaxed as the train picked up speed, stopping intermittently at all stations. An interesting observation was that it would be cooler when the train stopped, and progressively get warmer as the train picked up speed. I never had that experience before!

Making good time, the local, which was on the BWN-HWH main line filled up slowly. It was a relief to find out that it would be non-stop after Shrirampur. We zipped past the suburbs, almost without slowing or stopping and reached Howrah at about 2000. It was nice to be back on familiar territory... a safe comforting feeling. We headed to the Comesum food plaza, where after a quick bite (I didn't particularly enjoy my chicken fried rice), we headed back home to a well-deserved rest.

It was indeed a very eventful trip, and in spite of the disappointments and goof-ups, we had a whale of a time.


Material provided by Samit Roychoudhury, Copyright © 2004.