Nagpur Allahabad Trip Report
by Alok Patel
Trip Schedule: 23rd February 2004, Nagpur to Itarsi by the Gondwana Express and Itarsi to Allahabad by the 1027 Dadar Gorakhpur Kashi Express (reaching morning of 24th)
It was a normal sunny Nagpur day on the Monday 23rd Feb as we set out for the station. I had been hoping that the day would be slightly cloudy. makes for a great setting for videography in the ghat sections. But it was not to be so today. Determined to shoot some video on this trip, I had also taken a Sony MiniDV TRV 18E camcorder along. My only worry was the fact that the battery was only halfway charged and would not last long enough.
Anyway, we finally got to the station making our way through the usual horde of porters and rickshaw wallahs pestering us about where we wanted to go. I wonder what a rickshaw driver would have charged if I had answered Allahabad to this question ;-).
The Gondwana Exp was to arrive from Bilaspur at around 12.30 pm and needed to reverse to go towards Delhi. It would take me to Itarsi from where I would board the 1027 Dadar Gorakhpur Kashi Exp after a 3 hr wait. I also had wanted to cancel another ticket belonging to friend and colleague Arvind who could not come at the last moment due to ill health. Seeing that we had reached the station just in time for the train to arrive and the long queues at the reservation counters, I decided to take a loss and let the ticket be. In the meantime, all I could see was a couple of freights hauled by WAG7s. The GT too arrived behind its usual ED WAP4 some 15-20 mins behind schedule, something that no one in India really seems to consider late anymore. There was a surprisingly large crowd for a Monday on the platform waiting for the Gondwana Exp.
Soon afterwards, the Gondwana Exp arrived behind an unusual WAM4 21339 from Ghaziabad in place of the regular WAP4 from CNB. A GZB loco meant that it had probably come with the train right from Nizamuddin to Bilaspur and was now taking the train back to NZM. The Gondwana Exp is a 24 coach rake between NZM and Bina where 10 coaches separate to go towards Jabalpur while the 14 remaining coaches continue towards Nagpur. Hence the WAM4 would haul a 24 coach rake again from Bina towards NZM. This seems to be getting more and more frequent these days. Are we seeing the WAM4s making a stylish comeback again? The loco detachment and attachment to the other end took just around 10 mins and we were ready to go at around 13.10. Again behind the scheduled departure of 13.00 hrs. However, the traffic control folks at NGP had other ideas it seemed. No sign of the yellow bulbs lighting up yet.
So I went in search of some bottled water from one of the vendors around. Turned out the first chap did not have any cooled bottles at all. So I went to the next.and the one after. same result. Defeated, I went back to the first stall and bought a couple of bottles there with the vendor handing over bottles to me with a smug look of triumph. I will get back at you one day, I thought. This has always been a problem at Nagpur. Though all vendors had crate loads of Coke or Pepsi, not a single one had the beverage stored at a temperature of less than 30 deg C! I wonder why such practices are allowed to be continued at all.
It took another 30 minutes before we got the yellow starter. The driver was apparently impatient to set off and he let off a long blast of the horn as soon as the starter turned yellow. We moved out of the platform at a slow pace... no mind blowing acceleration through NGP yard for most trains. We reached the advanced starter at around 15-20 kph with my camcorder already at work inviting curious and suspicious looks from the maintenance staff in the yard.
The 14 coach rake was nothing for the WAM4 and We smoothly accelerated as soon as we were past the advanced starter. Using a down gradient near one of my favourite trainspotting places a km from NGP station, we reached 90 kph or so in about 2 km. The only thing restricting the driver was the couple of gate signals up ahead. With the gates cleared, the driver began to pour in more power nad we screamed through Godhni at approx 110 kph. Godhni has coal loading sidings where BOXN rakes are topped up with coal everyday that was brought in by trucks from the coal mines at Saoner and Silewara. Each 58 wagon rake takes a tedious 8-10 hrs according to Godhni staff and earns IR some 11 lakhs or so per rake if I remember the figures correctly. Strangely there were no rakes waiting to be filled on the day.
We continued in the same vein till Kalmeshwar where we made a short 30 second stop and moved off picking up pace as soon as the rake reached the mainline. The loop lines on the route are capable of 30 kph but trains are not yet run at those speeds since the CRS is yet to certify the loops. More video shooting and amused looks from people wondering what the heck I was upto.
I had been waiting eagerly to capture the Tamil Nadu Exp blasting away for long. I finally got a chance to capture the WAP4 22558 from ED screaming away on a curve near Katol with the 24 coach rake. Videos will go up soon...(within the year I hope... A few would say!). We ran 35 mins or so behind schedule all along the way with all stops of durations as less as 30 or so seconds. It was quite an interesting thing to watch especially when compared to a VB rake which would normally require a stop of around a minute at the very least for a medium length rake to let the vacuum build up in the pipes.
What surprised me were the very bumpy tracks making it very difficult for me to hold the camera steady with one hand and hanging on to the door with another. I could see very little maintenance work going on. Just a couple of speed restrictions for maintenance all along the route of 290+ km.
We soon passed Teegaon at full speed not stopping for banker attachment since our rake was less than 18 coaches. Then began the steady climb towards the top. This section has a ruling gradient of 1 in 70 for about 4 km. I guess that is steep enough for attachment of twin WAG5 bankers for all freight trains and 24 coach loads. The ghat section and its tight curves meant that speed was limited to around 60 kph. Besides, not many trains could muster higher speed on the climb in any case. I soon managed to shoot a freight train coming down the ghats with 4 WAG5s in charge, three pantos up and all, except second last, live!!!. Perhaps bankers were being brought down the ghats with the train itself saving time and freeing up the busy line.
We reached Chinchoda and stopped to let the block ahead clear up. Sitting on the other line was another WAG5 that was waiting to move back down to Teegaon. Other than that, the station had virtually nothing of significance at all. No Junta sprawling about on the platforms, no vendors, just a lonely ground level platform with a small station building. A short sharp blast of the horn and we were off towards some more upgradients, but ones that were somewhat less daunting and didn't require bankers for any train.
The Dakshin Exp went by with its usual BZA WAM4 just as we began accelerating out of Chinchoda. More curves and gradients later we soon reached Amla. We were still half an hour late which meant that there was not much make up time in the section so far. Out of Amla in 2 minutes and you can see the old Amla steam shed there. I plan to go there someday and take a look around. Betul was another stop and we were greeted by a stunning sight of Mued WDM2s hauling a BOXN rake at 70-75 kph, coming round the curve into the station with the dynamics screaming out loud! I am so glad to have gotten it all on video. That remains one of my favourite videos of the trip.
Out of Betul and some time later came Maramjhiri. This station marks the start of steep descent back to lower altitudes from Betul towards Darakoh and Ghodadongri. We were treated to some spectacular views from the train running at 60 kph downhill. Plenty of braking was required to keep the trian under control. Trails on the section have recently been done to try and upgrade the speeds to 65 kph including in the tunnels. The drivers on the section seem a bit nervous about it though.
The sights became boring after Darakoh and Ghodadongri passed uneventfully. Soon, We were finally approaching the last bit of hilly terrain near Saheli and Taku before the plains took over again and led us to Itarsi. We crossed Kiratgarh at around 6 pm. After a 10 minute stop at the home signalfor a reason I could not understand: there were no trains on Platform No. 1 for us to be kept waiting, we loitered our way into the station. My Reliance phone found a signal and I immediately called up home to find out my waiting list situation on the connecting train 3 hrs later. It had not moved an inch since the last two days! I was getting very worried by now knowing that there I had little chance of getting a confirmed reservation now for the onward night time journey to Allahabad.
The train trundled into Itarsi station at 15 kph. I was in no hurry to get off and went to the door on the mainline track side as we came in. To my surprise, a WAP4 with what looked like an empty but absolutely brand new 04xxx rake passed through at around 25-30 kph. I could only spot a couple of people in some of the coaches but the rest were completely empty. The name boards were not really legible. I thought at the time that it might be an empty rake being shunted.
We were soon off the train and on the platform. I rushed to the loco as soon as I had got the luggage out. Oddly, it didn't seem as if staff for that train had changed at Itarsi either. I didn't see any relieving drivers, the starter went yellow within 5 minutes of the train arriving... Too soon for a changeover. My immediate concern at the moment was settling down with my family on a nice bench and then more importantly ;-), finding a place to charge my camcorder and cellphone.
Itarsi station itself was a surprise this time. It was more than a year since I had last been here. The platforms were totally different this time. Much much cleaner, far better and more brightly lit with flourescent lamps (only PF1). My earlier complaints of flies had also been zapped now... A simple solution: bug zapper lights had been installed by the dozen all along the length of the platform to the point that I couldn't spot a single fly or mosquito anywhere! That's pretty good.
I bought some rather delicious looking Idli Sambar from the restaurant on the platform. It did not fully live up to its promise of taste but was hot and so edible. I tried to cajole the restaurant owner into letting me charge my phone and camcorder but to no avail. With the cellular-isation of middle class India, it seems I was not the only one to face that problem. The immediate 'no' that I got from whoever I asked for a short term 'renting' of an electrical point gave me the impression that they've been asked the question hundreds of times before. Maybe IR ought to start 'Charging Booths" for travellers who wish to top up the batteries of their electronic gadgetry while on the move. They could 'charge' a goodly sum from the hapless fellows too...as they do for other stuff.
The Tamil Nadu had, in the meantime arrived on the platform disgorging hordes of passengers who immediately made way, as if knowingly, towards the cafeteria that had sold me the Idli Sambar. He must have given out atleast a hundred plates of Idli Sambar within the period that the TN was on the platform. I was standing there watching the fun and the chap on the counter gave me a smile as he finished off the last customer probably knowing I was busy calculating how much exactly they must have earned in those 10 minutes!
Soon after the Tamil Nadu Exp left, the Habibganj Jabalpur Janshatabdi came into PF No.2. Risking confiscation of the camera and an empty battery, I took it out anyway and started shooting the incoming train with another surprising link of the day... A WAM4 from BSL. Normal loco allocation logic would dictate that a WAM4 from ET ought to be used on the Janshatabdi since it changes traction at ET. But strangely enough, a WAM4 from BSL is used and this is always so as I later found out from Samar. The Jan Shatabdi was astonishingly well patronized, surely one of the better occupancy rates I've seen in one. Soon a WDM3A came in from the other end to complete the reversing and the traction change at Itarsi. The train rolled off soon after towards Jabalpur.
Anyway my quest for a power source to quench the thirst of my camcorder finally led me to the stuffy poorly lit waiting room where I saw all the electric sockets stuffed with charger cords already! I despairingly looked at the attendant sitting on the small chair. He probably knew what I was looking for and gave me a smirk knowing the 'power' that he held over me at the moment.
I soon found an empty socket and grabbed the oppurtunity to plug in the camera before some other mobile maniac came in with a charger ;-). At that moment Samar called me up to see what was happenning and we got chatting while I went and got myself a coke and saw another train run right through the station. It was the Pushpak Exp that apparently has eliminated its technical halt at Itarsi. Samar and I had a good discussion on this. I was going into the waiting room repeatedly and checking if my camera was still there or not. You never know!
Soon my brother and uncle turned up to see what I was doing and I left them in charge of the camcorder while I took a stroll around the station. I had wanted to do more shooting at night on the station but the battery and our RPF friends didn't encourage me any. My waitlisted ticket's status on the RAC chart was no better.
The CR owned Dadar Gorakhpur Exp arrived with a BSL WAM4 and was overflowing with waitlisted and unreserved passengers in the filthy sleeper coaches. My heart sank as I took in the sorry scene. However, a talk with the hassled TTE lifted my spirits when he told me everything would be 'sorted' out when the train got on its way. We boarded and I got a call from Samar again just as the train was about to move. By this time the WAM4 was replaced with a WDM2 from ET for its onward journey in Diesel territory from ET to Allahabad and beyond.
Itarsi is a very small town with just an Ordinance Factory and Railway installations to its name. So it wasn't more than 5 minutes after leaving the station that it was pitch black outside with no signs of civilization anywhere. It was also very cold and I reluctantly gave up any ideas I had about standing in the doorway with my camera. In any case, it was quite futile trying to get some video. Video cameras do not handle low light well.
So I moved off into the coach looking at people in their disproportionate berths with feet sticking out into the aisle, people already beginning to chat up newly boarded passengers, waitlisted people like us looking for places to sit in a coach which already had atleast 15 more people doing the same thing. It is amazing how easily people get talking to each other in a train when they would barely have seen each other for more than 15 minutes; stuff that outsiders seem to marvel at, as can be seen by repeated mentions in foreign publications and documentaries.
My family, brother and three uncles, were none too happy about things having turned out this way. So as soon as I spotted the TTE I started pestering him for some 'accomodation'. Soon enough I managed to get us berths with some 'persuasion' so that atleast my family could get through the night in comfort. I satisfied myself with staring out the window while sharing someone else's seat.
There is nothing much to see between Itarsi and Jabalpur when it is dark. So there was nothing to remember either except my worrying about getting ourselves berths. He later told me that he could do something only after Jabalpur since there would be people getting off there. This satisfied me and I was content to doze off while we waited for us to arrive at Jabalpur. The Dadar Gorakhpur Exp has an enormous number of stops and there were 7 of them before Jabalpur! Very few people came onboard at any of these stops which made me wonder why the stops were added in the first place. The arrival time of the train was late at night and so this didn't make sense at all.
Soon, I could sense Jabalpur was close as I could spot an enormous beam of light, outlined by the dust and the smoke of the city, looming ahead of us. Then the huts went by, progressing to larger buildings and finally after an interminable wait, we arrived at Jabalpur Station. Except for people getting off the train, the station was completely deserted except for the RPF and the dogs, both of them loitering aimlessly about the station. The entire platform was completely wet which meant that it had been washed sometime ago... In the middle of the night!
We moved off after some time and as soon as I spotted the TTE, I 'persuaded' him to give me what I wanted and got it. We all were asleep soon after. I remember vaguely seeing Katni station in the middle of the night but didn't have any desire to go out and see what was happenning and went back to sleep.
Morning came and the sunlight woke me up. I was somewhere between Dabhaura and Shankargarh and it was around 7.30 am. Washing the sleep off my face I immediately went to the door and opened it to encounter a freezing blast of air almost knock me over. With an effort I stayed at the door with my camera to try and shoot some diesel action with the lone WDM2 from Itarsi making such effort to keep up speed. Within five minutes, my hands had frozen stiff on the camera and I couldn't even press the pause butteon ;-). I went back inside, closed the door and didn't try the same thing for another hour till things got warmer.
We arrived at Shankargarh around 9 am. By this time, the train was about 1.5 hrs late. The WDM2 seemed really ineffective in making up time with so many stops. The train desperately needs a WDM3A or two WDM2s. What I noticed was that at several places, work was on for preparing another alignment to double the remaining section of the Itarsi Allahabad line. Only the foundations were ready and work seemed to be going on at a very slow pace.
What particularly fascinated me were the small stations on the single line with two loops on either sides. They looked rather quaint and everuthing looked as if there was no change for the last 50 years. All the old dwellings, station buildings and even the semaphore signals added to the effect.
Knowing that the destination was near, I was by now shooting away near the door. We soon arrived at Naini Junction after a two minute stop at the home signal. The Shipra Express was standing on the other platform with a WDM2 from Lucknow. Another 5 minute stop and we slowly moved into the Howrah Delhi mainline. We went above 50 kph after that. The massive rail-road bridge over the Yamuna river was crossed and we came to a stop again. This time, a train with a WAM4 passed by at around 70-80 kph.
We started up again slowly and entered Allahabad Yard. Trains coming/going from Patna and Varanasi seem to be taken straight to Platforms No. 9 and 10 and we slowly crossed the yard effectively barring any train leaving the station towards Howrah or Patna until we were in the platform. A WDS4 stood to the side making more noise with its horns than its size would merit.
Allahabad Yard is pretty impressive with 10 platforms and an odd layout. Platforms No. 1,2 and 3/4 were in one cluster built on either side of the mainlines, 5,6,7 and 8 in another cluster and 9 and 10 again separated by several more lines. The washing lines were right next to the platforms but were not occupied. The Allahabad trip shed is located on the Kanpur end of the station had a few locos. I also spotted a WAG9 with a hopper rake waiting on the mainline and as soon as we had cleared the line, the impatient driver had a go at its horns and applied power. Also, a couple of WDM3As stood on the lines between PF 9/10 and PF 7/8.
We finally arrived into the platforms and stopped. As is usual, people wanted to get in before the people inside had got out. This dumb attitude causes more time to be wasted than if they had simply waited for everyone to get out. Platform No.9/10 was overcrowded and very dirty. But then, I had expected nothing less. The journey had not been entirely tiring but I was pleased to have arrived nevertheless.
I took one last look at the platform and the train, with the loco already detached ready to move towards the other side, and was on my way over the FOB and out of the station to begin the days tiring schedule at the same time wondering what the return trip will bring up.