Baroda NG Explorer trip report

2004-09-17

by Bharat Vohra

IRFCAns Sandeep Sharma, Vaibhav Sarin, Roopesh Kohad and yours truly visited Baroda (BRC) and explored 4 NG lines around Baroda during the weekend 18th - 19th September.

Departure was on 17th evening (fri) by 2954 AK Rajdhani express hauled by BRC WAP4 22553 till BRC & thereafter by BL WCAM2P 21876 till BCT. Load was 17 coaches and our coach was '97 stock. Train left on time. Nothing special to report from that journey.

During the journey I chatted with the attendant and he did confirm that 1 of the services of the AK Raj had been run with the LHB rake a few days before but this had not been regularised and was likely that both rakes would be on LHB by October.

Arrival was on time at BRC at 0430 hrs on the 18th morning. We hung around the south end of pl 1 for about an hour after arrival. Watched the loco change of 2954 and subsequent departure towards Bombay. Close on the heels of our train was a WCAM2 hauled Parcel train which went through on the platform line. WCAM1 hauled Kutch express bound for BCT came in and soon after there was another WCAM2 hauled freight working - this time a BCN rake also in the south bound direction. In the north bound direction it was rush hour at that time as there were about 4 passenger trains that came in and left - mostly obstructed by the UP trains mentioned above and as a result we couldn't quite spot the name of the train or their powers. There was also a WAG5 hauled CONRAJ in the north bound direction. So quite a bit of action in that short 1 hour! Sorry no road numbers!!

We freshened up in the a/c waiting room which was pretty clean and well maintained and then proceeded to have some delicious 'Gujju' breakfast outside the station. With our appetites more than satiated and since we had more time to kill, we were back at BRC station - this time on the north end of platform 1 to watch the action there for yet another hour - 0700-0800.

First up was a south bound CONRAJ hauled by a TKD WAG5. This was followed by the south bound departure of WCAM1 hauled Sayaji Nagari Express. Next to depart was the BRC-Kota passenger hauled by a BRC WAM4. Next was a south bound WCAM1 hauled departmental mixed train which seemed to originate from the marshalling yard at BRC. LDH WAG5 was next with a north bound working of LPG tankers - most probably headed to the Bajwa refinery (have I got the name right?) near BRC. A MEMU came in - most probably from the ADI-BRC section. An AJNI WAG7 brought in an empty BOXN train headed for the north. ASN WAG5 was next with a south bound LPG tanker working. BRC WAM4 departed soon after with the Anand bound passenger and as the clock struck 0800 a WCAM1 brought in the Bandra bound express from Jaipur. Other action in that 1 hr included light movements of a WDS4 and WCAM1.

We then proceeded to Pratapnagar which is on one end of Baroda and houses the Railway Staff College, the Baroda Divisional Headquarter office, the railway officers colony as also the Pratapnagar workshops for NG & BG.

Pratapnagar (PRTN) used to be the central maintenance workshop for all of WR's NG system. Well it still is but in name only - what with the heavily reduced NG services, trackage and rolling stock and of course the doing away of steam locomotives. I had visited the workshop in 1988 last while my father was posted in Baroda and things have changed quite drastically since. There was always a BG track into the workshop which used to branch of the mainline at Vishvamitri. The BG track also served a BG-NG good transhipment siding (yes they had freight on NG many yrs ago!) which was located to the east of PRTN station. Although POH of BG stock - 4 wheeler tanks, 4 wheeler saloon cars and 4 wheeler Tower wagons was well in progress at the time of my 1st visit in '88 the BG lines occupied a small part of the workshops. Today BG POH is the mainstay which focusses only on 4 wheeler tanks and BTPN stock and the NG repair area is only incidental! Signs of the times I guess!!

We were taken around the workshops - our main interest being in seeing the remaining ZB's there. There were 3 of them in the shops - Nos 73 and 91 with the 3rd one's number erased for some strange reason. A 4th ZB had only recently been transported to the Patna Zoo - I wonder what use an NG steam locomotive is to a zoo? It's not likely that there going to run it there or then is it that theyre short of attractions?? Needless to say the ZB's are all in a pretty pathetic condition and no one seems to know what their future is there. Other narrow gauge stock which lay scattered around included about 8 coaches and 5-10 wagons. Wagon POH has of course stopped some years back. Most notable amongst the coaches was RA6 - a delightfull little NG saloon. In the meanwhile BG POH was in full swing with notices all over proclaiming that the workshop had recieved ISO certification for POH of BTPN stock!

Workshop visit over, we then proceeded to the NG diesel shed which is adjacent to the workshop. PRTN diesel shed was set up during the last few years of steam. As with the workshop, this was to be the main homing shed of all diesel locos to work WRs remaining NG system. The shed homes 22 ZDM5s which serve the lines in and around Dabhoi and Vadodara touching the WR mainline at Vishvamitri, Miyagam Karjan and Bharuch while remaing interconnected at all times. The shed also provides locos to the 4 isolated branch lines - Bilimora-Waghai, Nadiad-Bhadran and the recently re-opened Kosamba-Umarpada and Ankleshwar-Rajpipla. The last 2 lines have been re-opened after a gap of 10 years and I can't seem to figure out why?! Anyways it helps take up WR's NG trackage from 500 to 623 and total remaining sections from 10 to 12!!:-)

There were 4 locos in the shed at the time which accounts for a pretty good outage! This shed also carries out POH to these locos. Apart from these locos we saw a 3 car-consist of an NG railbus (the ones manufactured in Mysore I think?) with CR markings - looking heavily abused and urgently in need of repair but suprisingly bound for ER's NG system! They never worked on WR so I don't know how they got here in the 1st place?!

As it was time for our 1st NG journey, we proceeded to Pratapnagar station. On the way we passed 2 more NG saloon cars in the yard - RA7 which was the designated DRM's inspection saloon painted in orangish-red and looking the part..coupled to RB700 with a more sober IR maroon.

Pratapnagar has a nice old railway building, 3 NG platforms, a tiny railway yard and 8 trains (up & down) a day to boast of! Apart from this, it serves as the point where locos more often than not detach from their trains to return to their home shed thereby completing their maintenance cycles/links. In return for the incoming loco, PRTN sends out another smart looking ZDM5 to do the day's honours! Our nominated loco for that day was No.501 which had taken over from 519.

Had a few more local snacks at the station which needless to say were well appreciated by one and all and after stocking up with timetables and water we proceeded to our coach - 1st from engine. However there were still a few mins left for departure as we had to await the train from Jambusar which is exactly where our train was headed! That train came in spot on time with loco 527 on a 4 coach load. We were off soon enjoying the cool breeze blowing - it was nice and overcast that day - and of course the long forgotten sway of NG coaches! The NG trains we used - 4 in all - were largely free of any sort of crowding and thankfully so!

After trundling past the Baroda palace grounds (there was once a spur of this line which was used by the Gaekwad in the contruction of the palace) we soon arrived at Vishvamitri station. After a rather long hault there and after our requests for footplating were turned down by an otherwise friendly crew, we began our run to Jambusar Jn. on what was to be the fastest speed we would ever achieve on any of our 4 NG journeys - 35 kmh!!! Other sections on WR are restricted to 20 kmh on account of poor track condition. This of course we were to soon find out by lookng out the door and beyond the loco - the track at some places could hardly be seen..it was completely devoid of balast or any visible sleepers and mostly covered with a mixture of grass, mud and sand! But the train trudged on regardless!

The Pratapnagar-Jambusar section was built in 1917 and is 51 kms in length spanning 11 stations. The running time is 2 hrs 15 min and suprisingly we managed to keep time all along! Semaphore signalling exists only at a handfull of stations on the route - Pratapnagar, Jambusar Road and Jambusar Jn. Other than this at a couple of LC gates as well. Crossing loops have been removed at all intermediate stations with the heavily reduced traffic on the section. Some stations have 'pucca' platforms and even lighting whereas others just have a shelter and a name board. Only a few of them are actually staffed.

501 put on a rather spirited performance and while we enjoyed the run alterating between standing at the doors and lounging on our seats, we could'nt quite keep pace with road traffic. Gujarat has an excellent network of highways and that probably explains just why the NG network has been reduced to an under-utilised, poorly maintained system. The journey to Jambusar was parallel to the road for quite a while and passed through a fair bit of habitation and small scale industry.

The line from Jambusar Jn. goes east to Pratapnagar, north west to Kavi and south west to Bharuch. Jambusar Jn. has a small sized but very neat looking railway colony, a fully functional running room and even a health unit! 4 tracks, 1 platform and 1 goods siding complete the picture for a station that serves only 6 passenger trains a day. Jambusar was to be our base for the next 3 hrs as we found out our connecting train to Bharuch was late on account of new speed restrictions on the Kavi-Jambusar line. We treated ourselves to a hearty meal at a nearby highway dhaba and then returned to the station for some relaxation in the well appointed 1st class waiting room. We found another such waiting room at Dabhoi with antique furniture but the funny thing is, there are no 1st class coaches left!!

We inspected the station in great detail hoping to find some old relics but apart from the furniture in the waiting room and the old benches on the platform there was nothing else to be had. However the station was very neat and well kept with a simple yet elegant design for the station building. Could have done with some whitewash though! Sandeep Sharma who took a special fondness to the station noticed something which we all overlooked - that the fire prevention stable that one sees on all stations had mud and water filled in every alternating bucket and the buckets were secured with locks!! Obviously someone was paying attention to detail there - apart from our very own Sandeep ie!

Tea was ordered from the nearby stall and was served to us on the platform itself which we had made our home by now! It was a perfect setting from then on..chatting with the railway staff there and enjoying the cool breeze blowing as the conditions grew from overcast to heavy dark clouds to almost threatning rain. The play of colours between the clouds and the evening sky was almost magical and the cloud formation often looked like a twister in the distance..almost touching the earth. We clicked away frantically trying to capture the moment..a railway setting like no other!

506 brought in the Kavi-Jambusar passenger at 1600 - already 2 hrs late! Our train was forced to wait for this train as according to the timetable a service exists from Kavi to Jambusar and then onwards to Bharuch. So what the running staff had done earlier was to split our 5 coach train into 3 + 2 with the 1st 3 coaches remaining attached to the loco and facing in the direction of Bharuch. The other 2 coaches would lie in wait for 506 which came in from Kavi with a 3 coach train. It would then couple onto these 2 coaches and then start another Jambusar-Pratapnagar service. The passengers headed to Bharuch were of course expected to transfer to our coaches. Quite a unique operation that and it made 2 things clear - trains on the Kavi-Jambusar-Bharuch line run with a 3 coach formation whereas on the Jambusar-PRTN line and beyond, trains run with a 5 coach formation. This in turn also helps to rotate the rolling stock and send it back for it's maintainance cycle in time.

Talking of rolling stock, we were suprised to find that the coaches in use on WRs network aren't that old - some of them would even put the AK Rajdhani rake to shame! The years of manufacture were 1990, 1992, 1993 and quite a few from 2002-2003 as well! The most recent ones came from Kalka workshops of NR and the earlier ones were from Mysore (SR).

Departure from Jambusar was 2 hrs late and eventual arrival at Bharuch was 3 hrs late - losing another hour on the run. The Jambusar-Bharuch section is 48 kms long and the scheduled running time is 2 hrs 10 mins. There are only 2 stations operative inbetween - Amod is the 1st and Samni which is a now defunct juntion, the 2nd. The rest of the stations on the line have been closed. Samni being a junction in name is still manned with a 3-4 track yard and is the only station on the route with semaphore signalling. The branch from Samni used to go to a place called Dahej which is today famous for it's LPG pipeline. The line was closed for services only recently. Once again the road is never to far away from the track on this section and has with it the resultant industrial areas and habitation giving one the feeling that we are not quite on a desolate NG section! This section proved to be a lot more scenic than the earlier one..a lot greener to start with..possibly because we were closer to the sea but also due to the fact that we were there post monsoons. We passed quite a few river bridges or they were probably just nullahs but scenic and lush green all the same and with ample water content to boot!

One interesting train operation that was noted here was that of a gateman travelling on board the loco. The train would stop short of an unmanned LC. The gateman would get off, close the LC gates then flag the train through. The train would stop again after having cleared the LC and wait for the gateman to get back onto the loco. This happened at least 6 times on the run and caused a total delay of 5-10 mins each time. Most of the crossings had a reasonable amount of traffic as well!

Bharuch was eventually reached at 7 pm and we made our way outside to the main street where we sought to find accomodation for the night as the retiring rooms were full up. Checked into a rather nice and very economical hotel with aircon rooms and clean bathrooms - much needed after our very tiring day! Freshened up and then proceeded for some gujrati thali dinner. Did a bit of trainspotting after that - to salvage some of the time we lost at Bharuch courtesy our train getting in so late. We had hoped to get there at the designated time of 4 pm and then do some trainspotting on the exit of the Narmada river bridge at Bharuch..quite a scenic spot indeed! Missed out on that I guess!

Even though I've passed by Bharuch station umpteen times, have never noticed the beautiful station clock there which stretches out from the station wall with the help of a beutiful wrought iron arm onto the main platform. That has got to be the most beautiful clock I've ever seen! The station building is very impressive to with a large shed encompassing the 2 main platforms - gives it that old terminus kind of feel. The building on the outside is nice to except for the ugly councourse extension they've added to the front of it!

After a good nights rest we were up early to catch the 0555 Bharuch-Vadtal BG shuttle to Miyagam Karjan. BRC WAM4 20585 was at the head of this 7 coach train. Departure was 10 mins late and so was the arrival - courtesy a CONRAJ being let ahead of us! The journey was quick and extremely pleasant which would have been expected for that time of the day!

Miyagam Karjan Jn. is a tiny station on the BG mainline while on the NG system it is a bustling 3 platform affair!:-) The NG lines branch out in 2 directions from here; south east to Choranda which is another junction splitting the lines to Moti Koral on one spur and Malsar on the other. To the north-east of Miyagam Karjan is the branch line to Dabhoi with upto 5 services worked each way making it the current busiest NG section on WR!! This section also happens to be the oldest Narrow Gauge line in the subcontinent dating back to 1862 when it was 1st laid and then 1872 when it was relaid with heavier rails. So we were about to travel over a stretch of history!

BG action at Miyagam Karjan Jn. entertained us for the 1 hr + that we had there between trains. A vendor on the BG platform provided us with piping hot pakodas and tea - a good start to the day for sure! First up was a twin WAG7 headed north bound BOXN train lead by a JHS WAG7 coupled to a dead Ajni WAG7. This train was to move onto the loop which lay ahead of the station as against being parrallel to it. The same loop concept applied to the the up (south bound) line as well. BRC WAM4 hauled Gujarat Queen came in next and after a brief halt departed towards ADI. WCAM1 hauled Sayaji Nagari Exp bound for Bombay was next..again a breif halt and then it was off. WCAM1 hauled Karnavati Exp bound for Bombay followed on it's heels..passed at great speed but I was sorry to see that only a hint of the old livery of this train remains today! There was diesel action to be had as well in that short span of time - Erode WDM2 hauled Ernakulam-Okha express passed at great speed bound for Okha. Last piece of action before our departure was a TKD WAG5 hauled south bound CONRAJ.

526 departed on time with our 5 coach train to Dabhoi. There was no fast (!) running to be had on the oldest piece of NG track in the country and we were limited to 20 kmh throughout eventually pulling into Dabhoi 20 mins late. The early morning run was very refreshing indeed - slow as it might have been - there was a cool breeze throughout, lush green surroundings and lovely light for photography all the way to Dabhoi. Most stations were tiny with a shelter and name board save for 1 which had a crossing loop in place - the 1st one we had seen in 3 NG sections so far! The crossing would be needed for sure with 10 trains (up & down) traversing that line each day. Semaphore signals existed at this crossing station and also at Miyagam Karjan. We were'nt to see any more till we hit Dabhoi. The stop and wait system for unmanned LC gates was not followed on this section and the absence of a busy road nearby might explain that. The section was 33 kms long and spanned 6 stations in all - all of them in use. Scheduled running time on this section was 1.5 hrs but as mentioned earlier we lost a further 20 mins due to speed restrictions.

Dabhoi was reached at 0940 and we were there till 1300 hrs. Dabhoi hasn't changed much since my last visit there in 1988 except there is no steam there any more and for Narrow Gauge steam this was once the mecca of all steam sheds - not only in India but possibly all through Asia. And the best part is the locals whom we spoke with all seemed to know about that fact and were very proud of it. They spoke of days when Dabhoi was a bustling trade centre supported almost entirely by the railway with it's network of lines branching out in 5 directions (also happened to be the largest & busiest NG junction in India) with umpteen passenger trains bringing in people and rake load after rake load of freight! The goods yard we were told was a round the clock affair as was the steam shed of course! There were as many as 50 steam locos in Dabhoi's holding in it's heyday and today all thats left of the shed is a barely visible pit line, the skeleton of the machine shop and the delapitated Shed Foreman's office..the rest of the area which once made up the steam shed is covered over with scrubs and wild bushes. A really pathetic site to see. I carried with me a photo taken by a Britisher in the 80's of the bustling loco shed and held it out against the reality we were seeing - the contrast was stark to say the least!

Today Dabhoi still retains it's grand station building, it's 6 platforms and possibly India's only pedestrian foot over bridge in an NG station! Out of the 6 platforms, the main platform is a longer one accomodating 2 trains so in effect it has only 5 platforms. 4 are in use today with the last one having been taken over as a rake stabling facility due to a drastic drop in traffic. Out of 5 branch lines, 4 continue to operate - the line south-west to Miyagam Karjan which we had just come in on, the line west to Pratapnagar which we were to head back on, the line south-east to Chandod and the line north-east to Bodeli and Chotta Udepur. Dabhoi still handles 20-25 passenger trains a day making it quite a busy junction certainly by NG standards - though thats still a far cry from the 50 odd trains that used to call on this station each day. Dabhoi is also the central coach maintainance depot for the NG system of WR and also houses an ART (minus crane) and Medical van.

We spent time in the station area initially - watched some arrivals and departures, then moved to the carriage yard to watch some shunting and then onto the remains of the steam shed before heading back into town to grab a bite and chat with the locals there! Our train's scheduled departure was at noon but we had been informed it would be an hour late today. It left at 1300 eventually hauled by 510 with another 5 coach formation in tow.

The distance to Pratapnagar was only 28 kms and this was covered in 90 mins providing an avg of just under 20 kmh! There were 3 stations en route - all operational but only 1 manned. No restrictions on unmanned LCs yet again but in this case the driver would slow down - almost to a halt, horn, exchange signals with the guard and then proceed again. Although it did slow things down it wasn't quite as slow as our experience on the Jambusar-Bharuch section! Apart from these unmanned LCs there were also 3 manned crossings - all of them fairly busy with a lot of traffic waiting at either end giving us a sense of false importance!!

PRTN was reached at 1430 and on the approach to the station we saw the entry of the BG line into the workshops as also the NG line entering the workhops - where it all began for us the previous morning ie! A Vatva WDS6 was at PRTN station awaiting clearance to proceed to Vishwamitri with 9 freshly POH'ed 4 wheeler tanks. We were to see this consist again a couple of hours later at BRC station!

We hired an auto and proceeded for lunch after which we stopped along the way to BRC station twice to photograph first the Gaekwad's palace and then MS UNiversity - both spectacular structures!

Our last 2 hrs of railfanning were spent at BRC station - north end of platform 1 as well as the north facing FOB. It was rush hour at the time - between 1600 - 1800 hrs with 22 movements taking place in all! The arrivals and departures in ascending order were as follows:

  • DN - Departure of Surat-Jamnagar I/C Exp hauled by VTV WDM2
  • DN - Another WDM2 (RTM) hauled passenger train departed - couldn't get the name
  • DN - WAG7 (CNB) BCNA rake passed
  • DN - BRC WAM4 hauled Firozpur Janata Exp departed
  • UP - BL WCAM2 hauled Shatabdi Express arrived
  • UP - ASN WAG5 hauled BCNA rake passed
  • DN - WDS6 (VTV) with PRTN shops working departed
  • LE - WDS4 (VTV) backed in the BRC-BL I/C exp
  • LE - WAP4 (BRC) + WCAM1 (BL) went through on the platform line; WAP4 was 22540 'Rajhans' which was to haul the I/C exp to BL
  • DN - BRC WAM4 hauled Saurashtra Express departed
  • DN - TKD WAG5 hauled CONRAJ passed
  • UP - Ajmer-Bangalore express arrived behind BL WCAM1
  • UP - MEMU arrived
  • DN - ED WAP4 hauled Navjeevan departed
  • UP - WCAM1 hauled passenger arrived - couldn't get the name
  • DN - WCAM1 hauled Paschim exp arrived and then departed behind BRC WAP4
  • UP - WCAM1 hauled Ahimsa Exp arrived
  • DN - WCAM1 hauled BCT-ADI passenger departed
  • DN - WAG5 (BZA) hauled BOXN empties passed
  • UP - RTM WDM2 hauled Dahod-BRC passenger arrived

At 1800 we made our way to Baroda airport to board our ATR72 (Jet) flight back to Delhi and with that came to end a most eventfull weekend.

Material provided by Bharat Vohra, Copyright © 2003.
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