Indian Railways Reports
A day of DG4s and semaphores!
Photos from this trip can be seen here
It all started on a visit to the Krishnarajapuram loco shed in Bangalore. Shishir, Kunal and I were on a visit to the shed. Out of the blue, Kunal spoke out â€œI want to do a trip to Birur and Chikjajur and click the semaphore sections before they are changed to MACLs and fade away into the pastâ€. Shishir and me thought a minute about the plan and told Kunal that we would get back to him about our plans.
Kunal called again and told us that the tentative date of the trip had been fixed as the 1st/2nd of Jan 2010. Shishir dropped out as he was scheduled to have his engineering exams and I was in a fix on whether I would be able to make it. I already had committed on other plans to friends.
Kunal called me up late night and told me that he was done with the bookings. He and his cousin would be on the train to Shimoga on the night of the 1st Jan, 2010. I asked if he could change the dates, but he was firm on his plan. Regretting and expressing my unavailability, I wished Kunal the best and asked him to enjoy the trip.
On the night of the 31st, when the world was about to start bogeying to bring in the New Year, I was stuck and depressed at office. I was making up my attendance shortage and with no one to go out with for a New Year bash, I thought about the year ahead. What better way to start off than railfanning? My other plan had been shelved, so the first thing I did was log on to indianrail.gov.in to check availability. The status was WL/1 on the overnight express to Shimoga and WL/4 on the return from Chikjajur to Bangalore on the Hubli-Bangalore Janshatabdi. I called Kunal and in an hour after being assured that the tickets would be confirmed, I was done with the bookings.
D day (5 hrs before departure, the excitement builds!)
5 hours left for the Shimoga Express to depart, I was excited and at the same time anxious about the ticket booking. In haste, I booked a tatkal ticket on the return Janshatabdi link, little to realize that checking status of a booked ticket is essential instead of making assumptions based on the current W/L status chart. The JS ticket which was W/L on the previous day had been confirmed. The obvious decision was to retain the tatkal ticket and cancel the other one. Charting was done for the shimoga Express and I had been allotted a berth.
All clear, CM on board, proceed!
I left office early, went home, packed my stuff and headed to the bus stop near home to a board a bus to Majestic(As the area near the main bus stand/Bangalore City Junction is popularly called). 20 minutes passed, half an hour and still no bus. There was still a comfortable 1 hour and 45 minutes for the departure of the 6227 Shimoga Express from SBC. Giving up hope of getting a bus, I rushed back home, took my bike out and drove on some refreshingly empty Bangalore roads to reach SBC at 22:30 hrs, a good 45 minutes ahead of departure.
I saw Kunal on PF 8 and barely able to contain my excitement about a railfanning trip after ages, jumped the wall and landed on PF 8 at SBC. A majority of the departures were already done and with nothing else to do at the station, we settled on a couple of benches and waited for our rake to be shunted in.
The rake of the Shimoga Express was shunted in at around 22:50 hrs and we located our berths. The Cauvery Express bound to Chennai rolled in from Mysore led by UBL WDP-4 #20026 at around 23:10 hrs. It was 23:20 and still there was no sign of departure. I and Kunal walked out of the coach to observe a huge consignment of security forces and RPF. While we tried to walk towards the loco to note down which was the allotted power, the loco (KJM WDM-3A) shunted a 3A-1A mixed coach which was attached at the start of the formation. Within 2 minutes, in walked Mr. Yedyurappa, CM of Karnataka with a contingent of his staff. We then realized what the security, RPF and dog squad presence was all about.
All the hungama about the CM over, we departed around 23:25, 10 minutes behind schedule. We expected a breezy run with the head of the state on our train, but were stopped quickly at Yeswantpur outer for a good 30 minutes. We were unaware of the reason, but post that and after a 20 second halt at Yeswantpur, the good run began. The tracks from SBC to Tumkur are doubled (This is the only stretch on the Bangalore-Hubli line which is doubled, patch doubling is on at some places) and the run was good. Kunal and I settled down to a good nightâ€™s sleep.
Our plan was to get down at Birur (arrival 3:50 am), freshen up, take a drop on a freight caboose to a wayside station between Birur and Chikjajur, catch the semaphore sections and some high speed action (Most trains run at MPS â€“ 100 kmph), take another freight to Chikjajur later in the day and catch the Hubli-Bangalore Jan shatabdi from Chikjajur departing at 4:20 pm and be back in Bangalore late night around 9:30 pm. The station sequence between Birur and Chikjajur is as follows: Birur-Ajjampur-Shivani-Hosadurga Road-Ramgiri-Holalkere-Chikjajur. Our target was to get down at Shivani. The line between Bangalore and Birur is all MACL, between Birur and Chikjajur is partial MACL – partial semaphore, Chikjajur â€“ Davangere is all semaphore and Davangere-Hubli is MACL. Hence these last few sections with semaphores were our target.
We had 4 hours of sleep to get and we could hardly make any good of it. The Rani Chennamma Express with its customary WDP-4 crossed us at a station between Arsikere and Birur. There were no other important crossings and we got up in time for our arrival at Birur (4:30 am â€“ 40 minutes late).
We already had our photo permission from the PRO, UBL and armed with this, we ambled up to the SM cabin at Birur. Little did we know that the fact that were â€œSoftware engineersâ€ would come back to haunt us on a trip where that was the last thing we wanted to think about.
The SM of Birur was a man in his late 40s, Kannada-Tamil speaking and most of the staff in the station were speaking Tamil. When we showed our permits, we were looked upon with suspicion and asked to contact the SMR. After some talking around, we tried to get some knowledge on freight movements for our drop to Shivani, a wayside station between Birur and Chikjajur.
Meanwhile, a dot-matrix printer in the SM cabin used to print caution orders started to malfunction. The print was out of range and thanks to our introduction as â€œIT engineersâ€, we were asked to troubleshoot! The PC being used was a low-end one and lots of amateurs had played around with the layout of the page in MS Word, where the CO was typed out. We took a good 1.5 hours with umpteen restarts and printer page loads to finally fix it, but fix it we did! By then it was already 5:30 am and a couple of freighters and a light loco had already passed and we rued our chances. The only link available was a passenger at 6:30 am towards Chikjajur.
The SM who was visibly happy with us now asked us to feel free to move around the station and take as many pictures as we wanted. We tried a few night shots, but did not have much luck. When we ambled back into the SM cabin, the SM asked something in Tamil which would have meant â€œDid you take the snaps?â€ Not understanding what he meant, we reminded him that we were in Karnataka and did not understand what he was speaking. Apologizing, he continued the talk in Kannada. The discussions done, we two sleep deprived and brain racked souls decided that we would just not be able to continue without a short nap, and off we headed into Birur town.
Birur is a typical non-descript town with nothing really to boast about, the least being lodges! After some haggling around and being refused rooms saying all lodges were full, we finally managed to settle into one after a lodge owner took some mercy on two souls walking in an unknown town at 5:45 am! We soon hit the sack and by the time we got up, it was 8 am and the passenger to Chikjajur was long gone. We had a quick bath, changed, had breakfast and rushed to the station again hoping to catch some freighter. The freight action is heavy at this section with iron ore rakes heading towards Londa, the Briganza Ghats and to Goa ready to be exported and incoming rakes bringing in coal, fertilizer etc. The earlier SM had finished his shift and the new SM seemed far more friendly. He told us that there was no freight expected till mid day and recommended us to take a bus to Shivani or Chikjajur.
Wondering what to do, we decided to take a bus finally. On enquiring in the town, we found out that there were no state transport buses available for our route and there were only private ones which would take ages to reach. We decided against it as our main aim was rail-fanning and not bus. We took an auto back to the Birur station and saw a crowd building up which was waiting for the Janshatabdi(JS) bound to Hubli.
We were aware that the JS had a crossing with the Siddaganga Intercity headed to Bangalore in between Birur and Chikjajur and on the particular day, the JS was running 40 minutes late which would mean a crossing much closer to Birur, a couple of stations ahead from Birur instead of the usual crossing which happens much closer to Chikjajur. We planned to get down at the crossing station (Shivani) and continue with our plans. The distance between Birur and Chikjajur is 68 kms with 5 stations with loops in between.
We took tickets on the JS to Chikjajur and waited for the late arrival. While we were waiting, a BOXN rake led by UBL WDG-4 twins with #12133 in the lead rolled in from the Shimoga side. Birur junction is connected to Kadur on the end leading to Bangalore while the other end has a branch â€“ leading to Shimoga and the main line from Bangalore continues towards Chikjajur-Davangere-Hubli. The Shimoga branch line is still token territory and the token was thrown down by the ALP of the WDG-4 with the BOXN. Since the freight was headed towards Hubli which is auto block signaled, there was a need for a loco reversal and no requirement to collect any further tokens.
The JS arrived finally at 9:50 am with a surprising link â€“ twin WDM-3As from KJM – #13054 and #14056. We headed to the first coach behind the engine. We did not want to miss the famous Siddaganga-JS crossing. The Siddaganga with a UBL WDP-4 is known for notoriously famous speeds in this section and crossings at MPS.
As luck would have it, we neared Shivani, where we expected the crossing and the LP instead of slowing down started notching up. The GPS showed 97 kmph and we realized our plan was to go horribly wrong. I looked out and much to my dismay, saw the Siddaganga waiting in the loop with twin UBL WDP-4s led by #20065. We blasted through and our plans to get down at a wayside station gone astray, we resigned to getting down at the next scheduled stop, Chikjajur.
A couple of slowdowns later due to track work, we reached Chikjajur at 10:55 am, 1 hour behind schedule! We got down and walked to the SMR office. The SMR was a very friendly person, and co-operated with us. He discussed at length the signaling systems including semaphores, MACLs the sections around Chikjajur, the movements and about our passion for railfanning.
After the nice talk, we headed out and observed a BTPN rake which had arrived from the Hubli side led by WDG-4 #12037 ready to depart towards Birur. We again thought of the idea to get down at a wayside station and walked up to the caboose to talk to the guard. The guard (from Bihar) initially heard our request and did not say a word till the rake started moving. Assuming he was ok, we got in. Just as the rake started moving, we heard a firm â€œNO, SORRY! PLEASE LEAVEâ€ from the guard. Wondering what made him keep quiet for so long and then tell us to get off when the rake had just begun moving, we got off and walked back to the SMR cabin disappointed with what had happened.
A round of talk later, we got to know that the best and only way to get back to any station on the Birur-Chikjajur section would be to take a passenger departing Chikjajur at 1 pm. We decided to take this, reach Hosadurga Road at around 1:30pm, do an hour of semaphore and train spotting and take the return passenger to Chikjajur at 2:30 pm and reach in time to get into the JS bound to Bangalore.
While we were idling around, we looked at the layout of Chikjajur Junction. On one end is the single line coming from the Birur side and at the other end is the same main line heading out towards Davangere-Hubli with lots of gradients. There is also a branch line towards Chitradurga. This branch line sees very minimal passenger action (Just one incoming and outgoing passenger per day) but lots of heavy freight action, the reason being the Jindal steel factory located near Chitradurga-Bellary. Loaded iron ore rakes head towards Chitradurga and come back with finished Steel rolls.
After a while, we observed the 592SW Chitradurga-Chikjajur Passenger cross over from the Chitradurga side and crawl onto PF-3 of Chikjajur. It was led by KJM inaugural specialist WDM-3A #14024. The loco was detached and headed out to fill her belly.
We went to PF-1 and the waited for the Chalukya headed to Dadar to fly past. Chikjajur is not a scheduled stop and usually the Chalukya is at MPS here owing to the straight line section. Around 11:53 am, the Chalukya led by Kalyan WDG-3A #13578 rounded the curve and entered Chikjajur at good speed, but a constant flow of people crossing the tracks forced the LP to slow down and finally she notched up once the rake crossed the station limits. A video of the same here:
Walking around the station, we saw KJM baldie #14007 on one the loops which is connected only to the Chitradurga branch. We noticed a new location for the LED flasher in KJM locos, directly below the headlamps! Soon our passenger towards Hubli arrived led by KJM WDM-3A #17995. Bidding goodbye to our SMR friend, we took the passenger and got down at Hosadurga Road, a small station which was once visited by Old Man and Rohit Mohan who were based out of SBC then, in 2006. This is a very small station with semaphores still existing and an age-old station cabin with the semaphore controls.
At Hosadurga Road
At Hosadurga Road, we initiated the same process of talking to the SM, showing the photo permit et al. Here once again, we were thrown a barrage of questions â€“â€œWhere do you work?â€ â€œHow much do you earnâ€ â€œWhat do you get out of this hobbyâ€ and so on. After fielding the questions, we set about our task of first capturing the semaphores and then the traffic that was to pass in the coming hour till our return link arrived. An interesting point to note were the semaphore controls in the cabin. The semaphore signaling here is upper quadrant and the various levers have to be pulled out halfway to indicate a â€œcautionâ€ and pulled out fully to indicate â€œproceedâ€.
The passenger which we arrived in was still waiting for a crossing and it was a pair of light WDG4s which were given a through signal towards Chikjajur. The passenger in which we arrived soon departed towards Birur. We spent some time around the tiny station and saw a Camping Coach for the track machine staff. The interesting part was a Tata Sky receiver setup near the coach with a wire leading into the coach. Talk about changing times and mobile entertainment!
Soon the 581SW Bangalore-Dharwar passenger arrived and departed towards Dharwar with KJM WDM-3A #18589 at the lead. The semaphores which signaled proceed were fully blurred from the smoke of the Alco notching up! Videos of the upper quadrant semaphore working can be seen here:
And this Video
Next was a light loco coming from Chikjajur. It was the same #14007 we spotted at Chikjajur in the morning. Following it was a passenger towards Bangalore led by KJM WDM-3A #14084 and finally our return link to Chikjajur arrived and we hopped in.
Back to Chikjajur and the return
Once back in Chikjajur, we were really tired and drained from an entire day spent under the scorching sun. Our SMR friend had left and we spent time capturing the Chalukya to Yeswantpur led again by a Kalyan WDG-3A #13557. WDG-4 #12069 idled away with a rake on the loop ready to proceed towards Hubli. The return passenger to Chitradurga from Chikjajur departed at 4:51 pm and finally our return link to Bangalore the JS arrived an hour late at 5:20 pm led by KJM WDG-3A #13054. Since it is the same rake which returns, the 1 hour delay while heading to Hubli had not been made up and hence the delay.
We dropped into our tiny seats and were all set to doze off but the star highlight of the day was remaining and we knew it was going to happen anytime soon.
At Ramgiri, we crawled onto the loop line and observed a Plasser machine on the mainline. This being a single line section, we thought we would proceed with caution on the loop while the plasser post our arrival would move towards Chikjajur, but nothing happened for 5 minutes. We sensed we were about to miss something and we rushed out of our coach.
What we saw was something we did not expect. The Plasser instead of moving towards Chikjajur had moved onto another 2nd loop line and the main line was clear with the semaphores at â€œproceedâ€ in the direction towards Chikjajur. Without another word spoken, me and Kunal rushed towards the loco of the JS (We were 5th behind the engine).
And there she was – the raging bull firing in all glory. We would have missed this if we had sat in the coach for another 20 seconds. Lo and behold, tearing the tracks apart and climbing a steep gradient and rushing in was the Hubli WDP-4 #20007 with the Siddaganga Intercityâ€ICEâ€ Express to Hubli. This particular train has a great reputation of being at MPS most of the time and with an EMD beast at the lead, there was nothing stopping her today.
I pulled out my camera just in time for this video:
All horns blaring, LP and ALP with flags stretched out, the WDP-4 blasted its way past our stationary JS. Little did the crowd watching expect this beast to perform so well, and all were spellbound as the loco kicked up dust at a level crossing and blasted past.
â€œAal is well that ends wellâ€ is a famous saying and the sight we missed in the morning was more than made up in the evening. Content and satisfied, we headed back to our coach and slept a deep sleep to wake up at Bangalore at 10:30 pm. One hour behind schedule. That was the end of a memorable day of railfanning.
Material provided by Pawan Koppa, Copyright © 2010.