A pantograph breaks at Nagpur

29th November 2004

It was fun time for the Nagpur station administration folks today. They seemed to make one goof up after another. They must have been thankful to have gotten back home in one piece.

The first goof-up of the day (that I know of) -- some trains running late... Howrah Pune Azad Hind Express too, is announced as arriving 15 minutes late... No big deal you say? Read on.

15.55 Azad Hind Express enters Nagpur Yard area with WAM-4 6P #21279 from Bhusawal.

15.56 Azad Hind Express crosses diamond crossing (search for pictures of diamond crossing at the photo gallery) with pantograph down. Nothing unusual at all.

15.57 Driver raises pantograph, it goes up correctly, however, some problem crops up. The heavy pantograph topples towards the trailing cab with the current collector pan facing down, and short-circuits the OHE with the locomotive body. The loco trips.

Driver does not know this, tries to close the DJ again, loco again trips. This time driver looks at the pantograph and finds the panto broken! Loco has travelled some 15-20 metres from the diamond crossing and has stopped -- conveniently -- between two section isolators.

15.59 Driver radios problem to traction controller. The Azad Hind Exp. rake and loco were now blocking both Nagpur-Delhi lines from the Goods Yard and both Nagpur-Howrah Lines from the Passenger Yard as well as the Goods Yard. All Goods Yard movement to north and east blocked.

16.05 No sign of any action being taken. Train was standing dead in yard with curious passengers coming up to the loco to check what went wrong. Many passengers for Nagpur give up and get out. They walk to the nearest exit out of the station. I find out and rush to the 'scene'.

16.10 Only a couple of engineering staff arrive at the scene. Still no action being taken. Everyone is busy figuring out things even now ;-). Lots of discussion. No action.

16.15 More officials arrive at the scene creating proportionately more chaos. Everyone ordering others to do omething or the other. Nothing moving an inch. Some people are looking for discharge rods1 and more importantly, for people to carry the discharge rod to the site.

16.16 Meanwhile other officials are busy deciding which place the discharge rod is to be brought in from. Contractor on site offers his discharge rod (don't get ideas) but says there are no people to bring it to site. This unexpected element adds more confusion ;-).

16.18 A shunter is asked to come in. The Plan of Action now is that the loco may be restarted after removing the damaged pantograph on site and taking the train into the platform. Discharge rod still nowhere in sight.

16.19 A senior official asked to call up Control by his superior but is more interested in going to check the OHE at the diamond crossing so that he has material to make a report that everything there was OK.

16.20 Traction control asked to shut off the power supply to the OHE to that particular section. Driver displeased and afraid of what may happen afterwards ;-). Plan of Action now is to remove the collector and tie down the rest of the assembly, then run the loco to BSL as it is with the load!!! Lots of walking around the loco by the officials in the meantime. Contractor watching the fun with amusement.

16.25 Things start moving. A WDS-6 Shunter gets clearance and inches into the line. The much in demand discharge rod finally makes an appearence with three people from the station staff. They seemed to be the only ones who felt that the train should actually reach its destination as early as possible.

16.30 Discharge rod is quickly assembled and hooked up to the OHE after confirming that the OHE has been isolated and shut down. Shunter attached to front of the WAM-4.

16.32 Three people climb up on the roof of the loco and remove the collector pan of the broken panto, with all the finesse and the grace of a rhinoceros, and lower it into the cab. Their speed at removing the collector pan impressed me, though.

16.33 They then try to push the elbow of the panto further down so that it does not come into contact with the OHE under any circumstances. Doesn't budge. A more high-tech method is used after that -- someone manages to get a footing on the elbow of the pantograph, gets a hold on the contact wire of the catenary, and jumps up and down on the elbow ;-).

16.38 Even the high-tech method does not work, everyone gives up. The POA now is that panto arm is to be secured. Control is told to arrange for a replacement loco from several available at Nagpur. The damaged loco is to be detached. Line Clear obtained for platform. Discussion ensues over where the dead loco is to be kept!

16.40 Panto tied down, everyone gets off the rooftop of the loco. Passengers' faces angry. Looking for excuse to beat up someone. I try not to be that someone and so keep a low profile.

16.45 Discharge rod removed, staff climbs into locos, WDS-6 shunter blows horn, loco starts up slowly. Rake doesn't wanna budge... Oops! Dead WAM-4 brakes not released or isolated ;-)... Loco slowly moves with brake blocks screaming for mercy.

16.46 Loco brakes released, WDS-6 starts singing a throaty song, train starts towards platform finally at 5km/h. (I can walk along with it).

16.50 Train reaches platform, begins its 'inspection parade' with Deputy SS and other staff standing on the front of the short hood of the WDS-6 shunter loco. They seemed like they were all basking under the attention they were getting from everyone on the platform. Passengers on platform are left wondering what the hell is happenning. Some may even have thought it was a GM (General Manager) Special ;-).

16.55 Boy telling seemingly interested girl of what IR will be doing ("piche ka engine nikalenge phir doosra lagayenge aur phir gaadi chalegi" -- "the engine at rear will be removed; a new one brought in; and then the train will be off") Very perceptive indeed. He ought to have been employed instead of those dozen folks.

16.58 The WDS-6 reaches the starter. Shunter detached with dead loco.

17.07 WAM-4 #20647 from BSL moves in to take charge.

17.30 Newly installed starter on PF No. 2 line turns yellow for Azad Hind. What has now become the intermediate starter (the old starter) is still red.

17.39 Much the same scene. Everyone wondering why intermediate starter is still red. Driver asked by Control why he is not moving. Driver says signal not yellow. Control suddenly remembers something, intermediate signal turns yellow. Driver blasts horn, accelerates out of the platform.

Some people were saying that the driver may not have lowered panto in time at the diamond crossing and so the collector may have gotten stuck and broken. There may be trouble for him.

Others maintain it happened afterwards. The driver himself was at pains to assure everyone it wasn't his fault. It may not really be the driver's fault. He may have thought that the loco simply tripped. Happens sometimes. After two tries he did check the panto. That and the fact that he may not have got any OHE voltage in the gauges inside the cab. Besides there was no damage apparent to the OHE at the Diamond Crossing either.

Whatever else it may have been, it was certainly an interesting time watching the proceedings at the site.


(1) A discharge rod is a safety device to ground the OHE before any attempt is made to get close to wires that are usually live but have been switched off for any work. It is an additional precaution. The catenary has to be switched off before the discharge rod itself can be hooked up to the catenary at one end and to the rails underneath on the other. It can help if some fool switches the OHE current on while work is going on. With the discharge rod grounded, the earth leakage circuit breakers connected to the OHE will immediately trip, cut off supply to the OHE and perhaps save a few lives.

Material provided by Alok Patel, Copyright © 2004.
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