Indian Railways Reports
My name is Ian Macfarlane and I am an Australian professional railway engineer, only semi-retired at age 64, who was outdoor-trained on the "old" meaning pre-SCR Southern back in 1958.
Hours were long and life was tough, but for much of this time I lived in a saloon - the democratic term was "inspection coach" but this one was 21.3m and 46t with a bath across one end, and man, that's a real saloon! It was parked on the No 3 road in the station at Cocanada Port (Kakinada), a branch terminus on the East Coast, but from time to time I hooked it onto a train. Never a Mail of course - 71 Down and 72 Up Passenger were acceptable. You simply wrote out a SENECA telegram (pals in the Traffic taught me the telegraphese), then shunting engines banged on your buffers at oh-6 hours and away you went.
Christ, it was civilised.
Forget your crummy 2-tier aircon Firsts in ICF corridor coaches on Superfast Expresses. Completely spoiled by you guys (God beless you) at age 22, I had learned what the Yanks had to be millionaires to learn - A PRIVATE RAILROAD CAR IS THE ONLY WAY TO GO. Especially when charged to the General Superintendence account, and not yours.
Apropos recent discussions, Vishakhapatnam (per my 1957 School Atlas of India) was called Vizagpatnam, orally shorthanded (short-mouthed?) Vizag on the railway in those days.
Vijaywada was still Bezwada, BZA, in the timetable. The "old" SR BG ran on the NE Main that I knew best, the ex-MSMR East Coast Railway, ran from Madras Central MAS-BZA (from BZA the line to Delhi was CR, ex Nizam's) and on to Waltair Jc, Vizag proper was on the SER, ex- BNR. On the Bombay -sorry, Mumbai - side, it was SR ex- MR Co to an end-on connection with the Central at Raichur. I mention the old MR Co of 1855-1907, because it still had a presence 50 years later? it's poster was pasted on the wall of the Officers Rest House at Bitragunta, across the tracks from the shed. The rest house was squalid, but the scream of the WG whistles and the lovely call of a Canadian Pacific chime whistle on a WP as the trains passed are things one never forgets.
You guys - and your parents - gave that to me as a yong man, and I am grateful. Everything below Pune on the MG was SR. The BZA-Goa MG lateral was ex- SMR, with BESA MG 4-8-0 engines (the HGS class) running the old SMR section from BZA South over the old Krishna R Bridge, then West up and over the hills. It was built as a famine relief line, the noblest of all railway-builders' motives. The MG sections at the N end of the system were still run as something of an independent fiefdom, the old South Mahratta line having not changed much through MSM times.
They still had their own workshops at Hubli and the guys at Bitragunta Shed gave me a magic SMR Mechanical Department officers' walking stick made in Hubli shops to the design of a crafty old Brit before WW1. The SMR stick had a wheeltapper's hammer head and it's length was carefully machined to the correct back-to-back gauge of an MG wheelset, so at a derailment site you could check a wheel hadn't shifted on an axle, and the axle being unbent (by checking at 90, 180, 270, and 360 degrees around the wheel rim) that the cripple wassafe to haul clear for a detailed exam or shopping. At Hubli, of course! There were no BG walking sticks - you'd need to have been about 2.5m tall to use one of them! I guess from age 64 until I cark, the Hubli Stick will be more useful to me than it was at age 22.
The BG went only as far as Bangalore City, ex-MR Co ex-MSMR to the Cantonment BNC, then ex-Mysore State Railway to the City SBC. HRH the Maharajah didn't have any BG engines to run just 4km of track, but he surely had some magic BG private saloons - the convertible MG/BG one in the NRM at Delhi, and also a 12-wheeler with a marble bathroom and silver-plated plumbing and J Stone and Co fans. Wow. 12 wheels was real class, like an Atlantic liner with 4 funnels - but silver-plated Stone's fans! No wonder there'd been two Empires, a Brit and an Indian one! Hand-in-hand, of course. But it's a part of your history - and your railway history, too.
Apart from The 1500Vdc emus (the mighty old 3-section Gloucester artics with English Electric traction equipment and The fine "new" blue-and cream Breda cars (which I scandalised a deadly-serious-type Indian colleague by referring to them as "your flash new Wop train") on the ex-SIR MG from Madras Beach to Tambaram, and The Japanese MG RCs at Trichy - the SR MG was almost-100% steam, and the BG entirely steam. The old MSMR BG RCs (Armstrong Whitworth/Perambur shops, 1937) had been withdrawn and were in store at Pattabiram Military Sidings on the MAS- AJJ section. When they were coupled together - oops! - the body ends impacted before the buffers went solid.
"Jolly good design, Carruthers".
"Well, Fortescue, perhaps the Natives won't notice and write to the Madras Mail".
I brought the 24 Australian BG diesel railcars to MAS - well, strictly to the HOM and onto SR rails at Rayapuram, where the railway had started in S India back in 1855, when the 2-2-2T engines were brought in, dismantled, over the sandbar and into the creek - and as the carbuilder's rep, prepared them at PWP. I was posted out to the BZA Division at age 22 as being "a part of the SR" and allegedly the last expat and paleface * on IR 10 years after Independence, by Mr S Chakravarti, the SR CME at the time.
Who would be so churlish, as a young graduate, to reject the opportunity of getting outdoor training and experience like that? And the old Southern was a mighty railway - the merger of the old MSMR and the old SIR only five years earlier.
The BZA-MAS main was single track as far S as Tondiarpet yard in those days and the BZA Division team led by our DS, Mr Moorthy, punched a 2-way total of 54 trains daily Down and Up the line. Yes, 54 trains, all freighters (dominating, of course) being WG hauled and all but the Hyderabad/Puri Fast Passenger (an ex-MSMR W class, meaning BESA HPS) job, being WP assignments. Stations communicated by crankhandle omnibus telephone, and safe-working was by the Electric Line-Clear Token System taught to me by a wise old Traffic Inspector, Mr Srinivasan, used the Neale's Ball Token. THe SR's Chief Signal Engineer shocked his memsahib by informing me at dinner that Mr Neale's were the only balls that had to perform to an Indian Railways Specification.
Our Divisional Super, Mr S Moorthy, is recalled as one of the finest railway executives I have ever met, and he surely kept us all on our toes! And set us an example, as a Hindu and a practising Ghandian, with no show and bullshit. Just what Australian railway execs call "tonnage", meaning leadership, integrity and sheer railway professionalism. He could have named his salary on the New York Central or the LMS or Queensland Railways, and been worth it at twice the price. On the busy branches in the Andra Pradesh rice bowls we still had some fine old BESA-type 0-6-0 goods and 4-4-0 Mail engines. These ex-MSMR (but the old MR Co had ordered them) locos were the "River" class. Tungabadra, Tapti, and the nameless 682 were often in our shed. Two ex-SIR "Stars" were on their last legs, shunting Perambur Carriage and Wagon Works with 80 pounds pressure and gunny sacks tied around the leaky pipe joints in 1958, and the BG suburbans into MAS had FS 2-6-4T locos pulling the most ramshackle coaches on IR. On the NR, the suburbans out of Delhi Main were almost as bad, but still worked by the EM class Atlantics, the loveliest engines on Indian rails. Thank God they saved one - the late Mr R C Tandon of the NR wrote to me that they ran the old "Flying Mail" on the EPR just after Independence faster than the diesels.
Culturally, 10 years after Independence the railway was of course cent-percent Indian. But there was still an amazing amount of antique and historic equipment running, when you pulled the diagram book out and asked you colleagues - especially the older blokes - where to look for it. Especially on the coaching stock side. Together with the kraits, there were 1899 Bombay/Madras Mail coaches and 4-wheel BG III class coaches in the scrap sidings at Perambur C and W in 1958. These were old GIPR and MR Co Joint Stock. And the silly buggers never saved one!
Discipline was pretty strict and execs like Mr Murthy were not afraid to kick ass - including mine. Standards were high. Locos were beautifully clean, and stations painted and kept up. On the Nilagiri and Shimla lines, the station gardens were unreal, more like a stately home in the UK, and the kerbstones whitewashed. So yes - I was indeed a pretty privileged young Aussie engineer to have been outdoor-trained on a Railway like that, by people like that. To have met people like K C Lall who had fathered the WG and WP, and the legendary Sirdar-Sahib Karnail Singh who'd built the original 1947 Assam Rail Link and reported to Mr Nehru on it's progress, and another famous civil, Mr R K Jain a bridgebuilder who after being the Agent (GM) of the SR, was to chair the Railway Board.
I have a rather comprehensive book on the subcontinent's railways being reviewed by a publisher in India now and may holler for help with some more modern illustrations, all duly accredted of course. There were some unbelievable shots of Monkey Hill on the Bhor Ghat section taken by an IRFCA lady. I wondered whether she knew that part of the Bhor Ghat was built by a lady - yes, a lady railway engineer (untrained) turned contractor when her husband died of disease. Her name was Mrs Alice Treadwell, and she honoured her contracts on time and within budget, which is more than the men did. Back in 1865.
Dr Ken Walker, also Brisbane-based, is a pal of mine. May of you will know Dr Ken, if not face to face (a pleasure in store for you, and his partner Mary) then at least by reputation as an IR historian and modeller, and electronically. He introduced me to you.
My principal claim to fame is having saved ex-NWR, NR Shimla RMC 14 from being scrapped in 1958, by locating and misappropriating a small godown full of spare parts at Perasmbur Stores Depot. The famous RMC 14 was stopped and a candidate for the scrapyard without them, and they were useless to the SR. So I requisitioned the lot - well, kinda stole them actually - loaded them in an Australian BG railcar bound for Delhi and that was that. The NR boys did the rest. The SR Stores guys were given a few blank signed requisitions to help them reconcile stock shortages by way of ah - mutual conciliation conciliation, and no doubt the auditors are still puzzled as to why an Aussie diesel enginerr requisitioned a WP coupled wheelst and a few spare WG boilers. But who cares? We saved the RMC 14 to run another 33 years, and make it into the Museum.
Not entirely paleface-lah, being supposed to be 1/32 Tamil from a family which dated back to the more easy-going, inter-marrying, pre- Raj EICompany days, pre-1857.
As the Brits used to say "Arrh! There's a touch of the tarbrush in that crowd, donchaknow". Well, stuff 'em. Hasn't done us any harm! Great-granddad was one James William Best, MA Oxon LLB Middle Temple and ICS, the Puisne Justice (meaning deputy CJ) of the High Court of the Madras Presidency from '94 to '96 (prefix 18). A Useful connection when you have to deal with stroppy Australian lawyers. I reckon an ICS Judge would have been pretty pukka in South India at the turn of the last century. And Grandad (who married the Judge's daughter) was a Major in the Madrassi Sappers. He'd been trained as a marine engineer at Napiers on the Clyde, becoming a military then a civil engineer.
The Judge's two sons were given incredibly expensive educations at Eton or Winchester or something in England, but it didn't do much good. In fact, it was a waste of good silver rupees. They emigrated to Australia and worked as Conductors on the trams in Sydney. One reached the rank of ticket-inspector. Wow. The Judge, who was widowed and retired by then, went down to Tilbury to see his sons off and encountered some Indian friends on the P and O boat. He became quite homesick, so he borrowed some gear and bought a ticket to Gibraltar. Then another to Suez, and Bombay (where he cabled his daughter and lawyer to sell up), and finally to sydney, where he's buried. My father was born in Ootacamund - Ooty (is it today's Udagamandalam contracted to Udag?) just before the rails were through from Mettupalaiyam up to Coonoor.
When I visited Pakistan professionally in 1985, the PR guys found the notion of a partly Tamil, IR-trained Australian who was also the grandson of a Madrassi Sapper a complete hoot.
Moral of story: it's the man or the lady as a person that matters, not the phansy of the weskit, or the more politically-correct things like their religion, tincture, or bank balance.
Or even if - poor fellows - they even like smoky Alcos because they've no exposure to an EMD-GM diesel locomotive. (Take that man's name, Sergeant! Gottim, Sahib)
Material provided by Ian MacFarlane, Copyright © 2001.