Reversing station outing
by Apurva Bahadur
Photos from this trip can be found here: Reversing Station Outing
As you are probably aware, some of the Pune gang (John Mani, Ashish Kuvelkar, John's colleague from work, Kesari Sharma and yours truly) were to do the reversing station outing on 14th Feb 2004. Accordingly, we met at 0700 hrs at platform 1 of Pune Jn to take the 2124 Deccan Queen towards Mumbai. All of us had tickets to Dadar as that is the first passenger halt after Lonavala. We planned to get off at Monkey Hill and then walk back to the reversing station and then walk further to Khandala.
DQ was almost on time, maybe 5 minutes late at MHC inspite of the numerous limitations imposed to due to track maintenance including a near dead stop at Kamshet.
After getting off at MHC we waited for a few photo opportunities - including the very vigorous arrival of the Pune bound 2027 Shatabdi - we could see the tiny eight coach train rapidly being shoved from center line at MHC into the left most line by the brute power of the leading WCAM 3 and the WCG 2 bankers without reducing the cruising speed. We began walking back about 400 meters towards Khandala side to reach the reversing station area. Mumbai bound Pragati and Sahyadri express crossed us at this time.
The Mumbai Pune highway (toll as well as non-toll) and the reversing station lies below the short railway tunnel 24 ( I would confirm that tunnel numbers in the report after the pics are processed). Just short of this tunnel is a small path that leads to the right (facing Pune) - this used to be the permanent way that led trains to the reversing station. We walked up this path (400 meters) and reached the top of the bridge. The non toll part of the highway runs parallel to the stone structure, while the tolled section runs through the arches of the reversing station. On top of the reversing station, there is almost no evidence of any railway heritage. The roaring road vehicles run at high speeds very near (but not on) the reversing station - not pleasant at all. As this is a heritage structure, it cannot be legally demolished - however the hills and natural formations nearby are not 'heritage' and have been axed considerably to make way for the road.
We had prints of pics from the historical section of the IRFCA gallery. We think we have actually found the very locations, through they have been severely weathered or blasted out of shape. Our joint report of the "then and now" would be uploaded after our pics get processed. We walked to the Mumbai side of the reversing station's embankment and got pics of the arches.
Here are the URLs of the documents/pics that we used for reference.
The non-toll road now dissects the ridge which formed the end of the reversing station - we walked to the very end of the what could be the reversing station and could not find the place where a water tank, crew huts or a turntable have supposed to have stood. In fact the whole landscape has been altered by the road building activity. We did find a few remnants of stone walls on the other side, these could be part of the older structures, but we could not make out anything tangible. We did find a piece of rail at the extreme end of the ridge. This rail did not match the profile of the present day rails, so maybe from those days.
We could see the rail line across the valley from the reversing station. A pair of light Kalyan WDM 2s descended with the dynamic brakes howling.
One of the strange sights that we saw of the rail line from the reversing station was a "Laddis" (hand push maintenance trolley) that was apparently racing ahead of triple WCG 2 - what a overwhelming menace the huge locos snapping at their tails might have been for the janata on the "Laddis" - of course the two were not on the same tracks. But from the distance it looked like the screaming giants were chasing the tiny laddis (which looked like a fast moving white speck) and the slightly faster trolley was successful in getting away.
We walked on the non toll road towards Pune to check out a few more probable location of the older pics. After this we descended to the rail level and got ready to walk the 3 odd kms to Khandala. In this section the two older line run side by site. The third newest line runs in a short tunnel under the highway, gets exposed for a short distance and then disappears into the longest tunnel (> 2.5 Km) of them all to emerge only at the Khandala station. We checked out the two storied trackside cabin that is visible in this pic. The colour of this cabin is black due to the lack of maintenance. 7032 Up crossed us at this point. This cabin is visible in the lower pic (it was white in colour in the pic. Note also the water pipes mentioned below)
The major hurdle of the day (at least for me) was crossing the bridge over the pipes that lead water from Valwan dam near Lonavala to Khopoli for power generation. The track does have a steel matting in the center and one can walk comfortably on it - however at the rail end, there is a gap and then a wooden sleeper by itself , another gap and then the steel matting once more. So one has to jump the gap from one matting to another. I made the mistake of glancing at the distant valley floor some 40 feet below and got quite tense about the rest of the crossing of the bridge. Some gangmen were maintaining the track right on middle of the bridge. This was the day and time of maintenance and not much upline traffic was sighted. The down line traffic was invisible as it must have been working through the third line tunnel.
Once the bridge was crossed, we entered the first of the tunnels. This was not more than 300 meters long and was illuminated with sodium vapour lamps. This tunnel has unfinished roofing - raw stone was visible.
We had some snacks at the Pune end of the tunnel, sitting on an upturned sleeper. This was a very peaceful and fulfilling break, so while we were sitting in the cool environs of the tunnel shielded from the hot day, we could still gaze at the grand rocky cliff overlooking the valley, the Duke's nose.
Just upstream of this location, we noticed a hole running at right angles to the railway tracks. This was obviously a service tunnel that was used during the constructions of the third line tunnel. It was dark inside and we could hear sounds of electrical sparking. It turned out that the sodium vapour lamps inside has been vandalized and we could see (and hear) sparking from one of these lamps. Apart from the use during construction, the tunnel is also used to carry the return conductor carrying traction current to the two main lines and finally to the traction substation just short of tunnel 24. For this purpose, we could see the two rails that were laid on the floor of the tunnels at either corner. We also found spare steel arches in the tunnels - these were used to support the concrete ceiling of the new tunnel.
Some 50 meters from the mouth of service tunnel, we found ourselves right in the middle of the 3rd line tunnel. For me it was a fulfillment of a long cherished wish - to be in the middle of the longest tunnel in the Bhor ghats. Just during the morning, John and I were discussing wanting to walk this tunnel, someday. Not in my wildest dreams I could have imagined that I would be standing in the middle of the third line tunnel with such ease of access.
The 3rd line tunnel contains one or two ventilation shafts - these open the tunnel to the atmosphere. One of these ventilation shafts was just a short distance away from the service tunnel ! We stood under the ventilation shaft which is around 5 feet in diameter and looking up at some 60 feet of solid rock into the sky - there was a grill at the other end, but no suction fan. Being able to see the ventilation shaft was the highlight of the day for me, and it is quite easy to reach.
Just then we could detect a change in the ambient sound level - slowly the sound got more defined - a regular booming, boxing sound. The ghat is a great source of misdirected and reflected sounds - very often you hear the sounds from trains that are somewhere else. However by now it was apparent that a train was on the very tracks and there was not much place of the side of the tracks. Actually there was place on either side of the tracks, but this is a gutter with running ice cold water with probable slippery, slimy floor. So we rapidly retreated into the service tunnel and there came a WDS 4 hauled train consisting of two brake vans - this was banked by two WCG 2 locos.
The service tunnel contains a dust caked but illuminated sign indicating that this is also an exit from the down through tunnel. However like all electricals in the service tunnel, this lamp was not working. The service tunnel could also serve as an emergency exit to the main tunnel which is very long and narrow. The main tunnel itself was lit with Sodium vapour lamps.
We came out of the service tunnel and now prepared to enter the longest tunnel that we walked through. This tunnel was not illuminated and carried two lines side by side. At the entrance, we were confronted with a strange regular crackling sound. While I had vision of sparking OHE supply, this was nothing more than water leaking from the roof and dripping onto plastic cups on the tracks ! Water seepage is apparent in the tunnels at a number of places. The roof of this tunnel is lined all the way. We were out with the torches and began walking into the dark of the tunnel. Even in the middle of the tunnel, there were gangmen working on both the lines with the help of flaming rags. Once past the gangmen, we were totally in the dark - there was just no visual clue, in case our torches were to give up (we had spare torches and cells). It is not such a dangerous thing to walk in the dark tunnel. By this time, our feet get accustomed to walk on the ballast and the sleepers, so one does not really have to look where one is stepping. However the relatively weak torches (or - the area that was to be illuminated was so huge) meant that all that we had was small spot of light near ones feet. The lack of visual references (and the weak illuminating devices) meant that we could just walk but could not fully enjoy and appreciate the atmosphere of the vast cavern that we were in. Honestly I was unhappy to see the light at the end of the tunnel, such was the beauty of the experience. I was waiting for the two ventilation shafts that were cut into the side of this tunnel - I distinctly remember about these (even the map - URL below - shows them to be present) - however these are apparently covered up today.
As we exited the Khandala end of the tunnel, we discovered the marble plaque commemorating the occasion of the completion of the 'new' alignment that eliminated the reversing station. The plaque was very dirty, probably not cleaned since the 1925s, so on behalf of the IRFCA and the railfan community at large, we attempted to clean the plaque using gunny bags and the ever present dripping water - it is visible set in the right arch of the tunnel in this picture: it can be seen above the person with the center hair parting (6th from the right):
Ashish Kuvelkar who participated in the Reversing Station trek on 14th Feb 2004, copied the text on the marble plaque at the KAD end of the tunnel 26. It said:
"Tunnel Nos. 26 & 25
With adjoining formations etc.
For the Bhore Ghat Alignment
eliminating the reversing station
Carried out in 1926-28
At a cost of about Rs. 44.6 Lacs by
The Tata Construction Co. Ltd."
Some rail traffic now - a WDS 6 hauling a dead DETC, a pair of bankers. We took some rest at Khandala station and then decided to walk the last 4 kms to Lonavala also. The Pune - Karjat passenger (using the rake of the Solapur - Pune Hutatma express - the rakes are marked as Solapur-Karjat-Solapur) arrived at Khandala.
The third line between Khandala and Lonavala passes through a small tunnel (about 150 meters) and we walked through this. About midway to Lonavala, we were overtaken by a thundering WDG 3A hauling a container rake - banked by three WCG 2s. The WDG 3A was totally new and from Pune shed. This loco sported a green paint which is not like the GOC inspired green, but a lighter shade - you will see pics soon.
We reached Lonavala, quite tired and aching by now. John and Kesari decided to spend some more time at LNL to 'cool down' by downing a couple of glasses of the bubbly brown liquid, while Ashish and I decided to take the 1500 hrs EMU back to Pune. As we sat in the EMU, the Tirupati express arrived at LNL and started first. The EMU started some one minute late and arrived at Pune some 15 minutes late. Ashish got off at Khadki while I left at Shivajinagar.
The total trekking distance was about 10 Kms.