Agra Fort MG Explorer Trip Report
by Bharat Vohra
Photos from this trip can be found here: Agra Trip
It wasn't the most conventional way to start a sunday but Roopesh Kohad, Mohan Bhuyan, Tamish Singh, Meghraj Kalase and yours truly thought otherwise and landed up at Nizamudin (HNZM) station promptly at 0445 hrs on the 10th of October morning! What was to be a rather ordinary itenerary - or so we thought - turned out quite otherwise! Read on for more..
We were to catch the Chattisgarh Exp that morning who's scheduled dep from HNZM was 0513. Tamish was the first amongst us to get there and found out beforehand that the train was running 15 mins late. That gave us enough time to down a much needed quick cup of coffee at the 24 hr Comesum Food Plaza.
The 1st suprise of the day was to be the loco of our train..instead of the usual Bhilai WAM4 we had an Arrakonam WAM4 20505 - one of the 1st few of this class to be built (Rabibrata pls confirm). We were in the 1st coach from the loco and found seats quite easily. Departure was eventually 20 mins late. The AJJ WAM4 accelerated smoothly and what seemed like a smooth run through to Mathura became quite the opposite once we hit Palwal!
Actually the 1st suprise of the day was'nt really the AJJ loco at the head of our train..it was in fact the presence of the HNZM-Bhopal intercity express standing on the middle line at HNZM at that unearthly hour while we were waiting for our train. We were soon to find out why..
About 30 mins into our run the familiar livery of the Taj Express rushed past us - 'what on earth was this train doing in the north bound direction at this time in the morning?' was the question on everyone's mind..before we could quite recover from that we had a WAP5 hauled train sailing past..this time the NDLS bound Bhopal Shatabdi running no less than 8 hrs late!! We knew something was terribly wrong somewhere!
The Asaoti - Palwal section had seen a derailment sometime back (as reported on IRFCA) but we were'nt quite sure when. 10 coal laden BOXN wagons had derailed on the 3rd line and this had disrupted traffic on the Mathura-Delhi corridor. We crawled through the accident site which had at the time a plethora of workers clearing the tracks. Coal was spilt all over the tracks as 2 bulldozers worked to clear it away and the OHE on the 3rd line had snapped as well. A tower wagon could be seen attending to that. Behind all of that was a lovely looking Katni WDG3c which had 'Cheetah' written on it's side and in a smaller font '3300' showing of it's power rating! It was at the head of a bunch of wagons carrying sleepers for replacement. At the earlier station - Asaoti - we had seen a BSL WAM4 at the head of an Accident Relief Train and knew exactly what we were headed for!
We crawled through the site of the accident - glued to the door and windows at all times and just when we thought we had gone through our only disruption for the day, we were sadly mistaken! There was a huge backlog of trains to be cleared at the time and the Chattisgarh bore the brunt of it..with no less than 3 overtakes that it was subjected to and some very very slow running from Asaoti to Mathura - so much so that we just about made it to our connecting MG train at Mathura!
Between Palwal and Rundhi (the nxt stn as you head south) we crossed a record 6 trains - almost all stationery - parked bumper to bumper or buffer to buffer if you like and some without even an intermediate block signal to protect them! Quite a sight that was. 1st up was the DDR -ASR express with a GZB WAP1 in charge, a few metres behind was the BRC WAP4 hauled Swaraj Exp, then the Erode WAP4 hauled TN Express, then the GZB WAP1 hauled Bilaspur Rajdhani, then a BRC WAM4 hauled Dehradun Exp and lastly a train headed by a WAM4 which we couldn't quite catch as we had picked up sufficent speed by then. But it was a sight to behold - we could actually look out of our windows and see these trains parked one behind the other!!
Once we were through with Rundhi, 3 passenger trains passed in quick succession at rather high speed..all within a span of 5 minutes..this was a real suprise. One only gets to see this kind of thing on the Bombay suburban section - so many trains passing you in so little time. But these were loco hauled trains at much higher speeds and with not as many intermediate block sections...we were just hoping they'd be able to brake in time before they met up with the other 6!!!:-)
Traffic jam over, we eventually pulled into Mathura 1 hr 20 mins late..losing a cool 1 hr after our departure from HNZM! All our hopes of having breakfast with a hot cuppa at Mathura station were dashed and we were soon scrambling for the thankfully late running (by 10 mins) MG Marudhar Exp bound for Agra Fort!
Izzatnagar YDM4 6456 was at the head of a rather long MG rake of 18 coaches! The Marudhar Exp was made up of 10 coaches from Lucknow (Aishbaug) and another 8 from Kanpur. These ran amalgamated from Kasganj Jn to Agra Fort. Departure was also 10 mins late which gave us just enough time to organise a quick breakfast of puri-aloo and kullad ki chai - which we gulped down almost as quickly! We were 2nd from loco and 6456 had the most melodious WDM2 style horn which we enjoyed every bit of and the driver never dissapointed. It became apparent later on that Izzatnagar shed has changed the original horns on most of their fleet of YDM4's. We were to get another melodious horn on the way back - this time of the WAM4 variety!
MPS on the Mathura-Achnera stretch was 75 kmh while on the Agra Ft - Achnera - Bharatpur stretch it was limited to 50 kmh. The run to Achnera starts with the line heading in a south easterly direction - a very different alignment from the BG line to Agra. It takes a good 5-6 kms of spirited running before it actually cuts across the BG mainline in the form of a rail over rail bridge (RORB). After crossing the BG mainline, the MG route now heads southwest towards Achnera. The BG yard at Baad (have I got the name right?) can be seen on the left near the overbridge and looming larger than life in the horizon is the Mathura Oil Refinery. To give you an idea of the size of the refinery, it stretches from the BG tracks in the south east direction to the MG tracks in the southwest direction - both going off in extreme angles to each other! Simply put - this refinery is HUGE and provides a great backdrop for a good 10-15 mins of the journey to Achnera! Mohan and I while standing at the door were just wondering what an awesome sight this would be by night! Not so long ago, MG tank wagon freights also served this refinery and I myself have seen a picture of a twin YDM4 headed freighter entering Mathura station coming from the refinery side. What a sight that would have made!
There is only 1 station the Marudhar exp doesnt halt at on it's run from Mathura to Agra Fort and though we were standing at the door our cameras were'nt handy at the time and so we missed capturing the token pick up which was quite an impressive sight. The token was hung on a post by the lineside - with no token man actually there to hand it over to the driver. The assistant driver picked it up with quite a flourish!
2 chain pullings and a run with almost no sense of urgency later we pulled into Achnera Jn. There was a crossing here with the Achnera bound passenger from Agra. Achnera station bore the signs of a once busy MG junction being the strategic meeting point of the WR and NER MG systems. What seemed like a medium sized freight exchange yard and a busy steam shed was now reduced to a 2 track station with the other tracks removed in such a tearing hurry that they forgot to remove their corresponding signal masts which stood in the yard like ghosts - complete with their semaphore arms removed - that had been witness to a long forgotten era called Metre Gauge! We were to stop at Achnera again on our journey back from Agra Fort to Bharatpur so will talk more about that later on.
YDM4 6534 brought in the 9 coach passenger from Agra Fort before time. Achnera station has 1 rather long platform with a crossover in the middle so as to accomodate 2 trains at the same time. The passenger was headed into the other half of our platform. It was getting quite hot and sticky by then and we scouted around the platform to find any signs of drinking water but came away dissapointed. We were now just waiting to get into Agra Fort and replenish ourselves! The late running Marudhar express only made matters worse!
On the stretch from Achnera to Agra Fort, signs of BG invasion were more than evident with cement sleepers strewn all along and new BG bridges and their corresponding alignments already constructed at certain places. We were to discover later on that the MG section around Agra would close in December this year to allow for gauge conversion. Suprisingly we didn't see any conversion activity on the stretch between Mathura and Agra leading to a lot of speculation amongst us and the eventual belief that this portion would be truncated after the Agra Ft - Achnera - Bharatpur stretch is converted. It made sense as well - trains coming in from the NER MG system in Uttar Pradesh would start terminating at Mathura and the new BG line from Bharatpur to Agra would serve as an extension to the recently converted Bandikui - Bharatpur section and in doing so form an alternative route for freight originating from Gujarat/Rajasthan and bound for the eastern parts of the country and vice versa.
A 30 min run from Achnera brings up the outskirts of the city of Agra which unlike it's famed monuments is a bit of an urban dump. The only relief being provided by the BG electrified single line that joins us from Bayana Jn on the WR route. From about 5 kms west of Agra Fort station the MG and BG lines run parallel. The CR mainline is crossed yet again in the form of an RORB, only this time we were at the bottom and the CR mainline over us! Soon after this RORB one can see a BG line coming down from the Agra Can't side on the CR mainline which joins the WR line bound for Agra Fort. This line is used mostly by freight as also by a couple of passenger trains - the most notable being the Udyan Abha Toofan Exp. Idgah Jn station is next which once again bears the signs of a glorious past - the delapitated remains of an ex MG steam shed on the one side and a an ex BG steam trip shed on the other and a well rusted dual guage turn table to boot! 10-15 years back at this very station would have been heavenly..sadly not so today!
The MG and BG lines then meander their way through to Agra Fort station in the form of giant S curves and one can see the classic lines of the monument of Agra Fort in the distance and all the way through till the MG terminus is reached. Even more imposing is the giant Jama Masjid on our left which almost seems like the gateway to the MG side of the station. But the magic had only just begun..
As we soon found out, Agra Fort station has a setting like no other. It is flanked by the Agra Fort on the south - which runs along the length of the station and from which it derives it's name and the Jama Masjid on the north west. The Yamuna river is only metres away on the east side. The station building itself is a work of art reminiscent of the fine colonial architecture of it's time. A giant canopy supported by solid steel trusses stretches from the BG side of the station (platform 1) to the MG side of the station (platform 2) and is one of the most elegant station sheds I have ever seen. An old foot overbridge - used mostly by monkeys - connects the 2 gauges. Intricate wrought iron staircases form the landings at either end. When viewed from the east side one can see 3 distinct styles of architecture - that of the Agra Fort, the station building and the Jama Masjid. As I said, a station with a setting like no other and GRAND is probably the only word befitting it! The best part is that MG still holds sway at this magnificent station with 8 arrivals and a corresponding 8 departures daily and 3 platforms to boot! The BG station on the other hand probably has more freight passing through in a day than passenger trains and survives with just the single platform. All that, however, will sadly change soon!
After a 1 hr late arrival, downing ourselves with some much needed H2O and soaking in the views of the station - clicking away while doing so - we proceeded on the most exhilirating trek over the Yamuna River Bridge. The bridge is 640 mtrs in length and was built in the 60's by Richardson & Crudas of Bombay. Am assuming that the BG line was extended to Yamuna Bridge station at around this time. What perplexes me though is the photo which appeared on the cover of National Geographic many years ago - that of an MG MAWD loco shunting at Agra with the Taj Mahal as a backdrop. Where was this photo taken from? The only plausible explanation is that there was an MG bridge over the Yamuna till the BG one was built, replacing it. I would love to have some more insight on this..
The Yamuna bridge is flanked by a road cum rail bridge on the north side and by the magnificent structures of the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal on it's south side which in turn are located on the west and east bank of the Yamuna river respectively. If Agra Fort is a station with a setting like no other, Yamuna Bridge (the WR one) is a bridge with a setting like no other! To give you an idea of how enthralled we were by all of this - if the bridge were to be walked up and down at one stretch it would take an everage human being not more than 15-20 mins - we however ended up spending no less than 1.5 hrs on it!! And although there is a full fledged walking path alongside which is also used as the local 'tour de france' circuit we decided to explore different sections of the bridge which not only included walking on the railtrack itself (when there were no trains on it of course!) but also scaling the height of the girder which had ladders on either end to provide access to maintainance crews. While we would'nt advocate this activity to anyone because of obvious safety concerns, I have to admit, the views to be had from there are second to none! One can get the most magnificent and unhindered views of the Taj Mahal in the distance and by just turning a little to the right one can see the elegant lines of the Agra Fort. A splendid view indeed!
Apart from all the fabulous monuments, there was some railway activity as well - after all we were there precisely for that! First to pass on the bridge was a BRC WAM4 hauled 7 coach passenger train headed to Yamuna Bridge station. The crew was friendly alright and lent us quite a few waves but they must have been pretty stunned to have a battery of photographers stationed at each girder clicking away as the train approached them! Next to pass was a MGS WAG7 hauled BCN freight headed in the direction of Bayana. The bridge being rather old has a speed restriction of 10 kmh giving one ample time to set up a shot and not be blown away by a train thundering past! After making it to the other end, we contemplated walking over to Yamuna Bridge station but that seemed to far and since we had overdone our anticipated time on the bridge and by now were short on time for lunch and our next departure, we decided to head back to Agra Fort station. After the bridge the line curves sharply towards the north east - in the direction of Tundla and in doing so meets up with the NR line which breaks of from the CR mainline at Raja-Ki-Mandi also suggesting that the NR alignment was the earlier of the two. There is a small container terminal at Yamuna bridge station and although there was no rake there for loading, there were quite a few containers stacked up in the yard. There was what seemed to be the leftovers of another steam shed in the distance but since we never walked that far, we could never confirm it. Will probably go back there someday just to check that out!
On our walk back to Agra Fort station the weather changed quite a bit..it suddenly became overcast and cool and not only that, we had yet another treat in store for us..this time action on the rail cum road bridge parallel to us! A WAG7 hauled BTPN rake trundled past on that bridge with probably the same caution order we had on ours and it was an awesome sight as the rail track is laid over the road on that bridge and one gets an unobstructed view of the train passing. Before we could reach the end of our bridge, the very same shuttle that had passed us earlier was now making it's way back to Bayana and passed us by with the same crew waving back to us!
Lunch was gorged down at a nearby dhaba - 5 people eating to their hearts content for a princely sum of Rs.62!! Tickets bought and water stocked up we proceeded to board the 1500 departure of the Agra Fort-Bharatpur passenger. However the 'rake to be' was still standing in the pit line (which is sandwiched between platforms 3 & 4) and couldn't be backed in as all 3 MG platforms were occupied at the time. It could only occupy platform space after the departure of the Gonda bound Gokul Express. The Gokul was running rather late that day and eventually departed an hour late. As it was pulling out, Mohan got this urge to board the train, turned around and said to us, 'why wait? lets get moving, detrain at Achnera and then board the next one to Bharatpur'..that didn't sound like such a bad idea and although initially we thought he was kidding, he actually went towards the moving train. We quietly followed suit! So Gokul Express it was for the run back to Achnera. Great - 2 MG express trains in 1 day we thought!!:-) The Gokul would carry on to Mathura from Achnera and we would wait for our passenger which was following it to take us on to Bharatpur. The only thing worrying us now was making it to Bharatpur in time for the BG connection to Mathura!
6456 with it's melodious horn was once again at the head of our train - good loco utilisation we thought! The journey to Achnera was a lot more enjoyable than the one from as the weather had changed for the better by now and there was a light drizzle all through. It was the most refreshing experience to be standing at the door - with that 'wind (& drizzle!) in your face' feeling..pure unadulterated air alongwith the coolest breeze possible..all this while passing through endless fields, sleepy villages and the ever so enjoyable sway provided by the MG coach!
Mohan's bright spark at Agra - to board the Gokul Exp instead of our designated passenger - proved to be a blessing in disguise! We had a clear 30 odd minutes between trains at Achnera and that gave us ample time to explore the old MG yard and more importantly the remains of the steam shed. On doing a rough count we figured that Achnera Jn. had a 15+ track yard in it's prime of which 5 tracks made up the steam shed, 2 the platform area and the rest the freight and shunting yard. We could also see the remains of a carriage and wagon depot towards the east end of the station showing clearly that this station was of great importance not so long ago. The signal masts as mentioned earlier, 2 disused flood light masts and a long foot over bridge spanning the width of the yard were all leftovers of a once bustling railway township. On closer inspection of the steam shed, we found a builders plate for the shed structure which read, "I.S.R. Westwood Baillie & Co. Engineers & Contractors, London, 1883". We were overcome with nostalgia - a piece of history lay right in front of us.
YDM4 6593 brought in the Bharatpur bound passenger already running 50 mins late. This particular loco was probably one of the few Izzatnagar powers with the old Maroon livery. Most of the other YDM4s we saw that day had a rather impressive orange livery with a yellow stripe..however most of these were in dire need of a paint job having been subjected to the rigours of the dusty plains of Uttar Pradesh! Departure was quick and gave us just enough time to organise yet another round of 'Kullad Ki Chai' and select the coach of our choice. The run to Bharatpur although devoid of any rain was equally pleasant as the one from Agra Ft to Achnera. Once again we alternated between standing at the doors and enjoying the views from our windows and although the MPS here was also 50 kmh it seemed we were doing a wee bit more. I think the change in weather conditions had not only lifted our spirits but also that of the driver who actually made up 10 mins on the short 1 hr run from Achnera. There were no crossings to be had on this section..what with only 4 trains running up and down daily - only a shadow of what was once a busy MG corridor connecting the WR system with that of NER. The pleasant journey to Bharatpur was marred time and again by signs of BG construction at each station we passed. This section in particular had more signs of 'BG - coming soon' activity than the other sections we had traversed that day. While the alignment was largely the same, there were new platforms and station buildings being built everywhere and ditches being dug for cable laying suggesting that MACLS would be the order of the day once the big bad BG invaded this territory! The biggest blow for MG was yet to come..
Our run ended rather abruptly just as we were parallel to the BG goods yard at Bharatpur. The actual station was about half a km away..all we had here was our track and another loop line and that was it. Everyone got off at this point and people started to board almost immediately..at first we thought it was some sort of flag/halt station outside Bharatpur but soon realised that it was the end of the MG line! It had been rudely cut off in the middle of nowhere with no semblance of a passenger disembarking area, leave alone the station building and platform of Bharatpur it once called it's own. So off we trudged along the tracks to the main station building..a good half km away..as did hundreds of other passengers who seemed to have resented to this situation quite sometime ago!
It was not even 17:30 then but it was almost pitch dark with the clouds having moved in threatning us with their thunder and lightning. There was lightning all over by now and while it provided for a beautiful setting, we were running for our lives as the rain had started to come down quite heavily by then! Made it to the platform shelter at Bharatpur - which was now all BG - a little drenched and more importantly dead tired! Picked up our tkts and had to endure getting wet yet again as there was no FOB between the old MG platforms and the BG ones. Finally made it to the mainline side of the station and spent some time on the FOB surveying our surroundings as lightning struck all over the place..now what we were protected, it was a sight and sound to relish! It had become quite chilly by then as well and with the wind still blowing quite strongly it didn't help our case to much! We eventually proceeded to the platform we were to board our train from and while waiting for it enjoyed a steaming kullad full of chai. A TKD WAG5 headed CONRAJ waited patiently on the loop line with it's headlight on - piercing through the sheets of rain. Just then lightning struck what appeared to be ground level somewhere and with a clap of thunder the station lights, signals and supply to the OHE went out! Bharatpur was engulfed in darkness and that only added to our chilly setting! The OHE supply and signals were on soon enough but the station remained unlit which enabled us to enjoy the sound and light show that evening.
After spending a cold albeit very memorable 30 mins at the station, BRC WAM4 20561 pulled in with the 7 coach shuttle to Mathura which once again had originated from Bayana. We got place quite easily - we were lucky that day in fact - and soon we were on our way. 20561 made light work of the puny little load it had behind it and glided into Mathura only 5-10 mins late despite all the rain induced delays. The journey to Mathura was cold to say the least..we had to put the windows down, close the doors and switch of the fans to maintain some sort of comfort in the coach!
Mathura was plunged into darkness as well and the rain had'nt given up just yet! We checked on the status of the Taj Exp which we were booked back on. It was running 4 hrs late and was likely to get further delayed. Since it was already 7 pm by then, we decided to board the 1st available train to Delhi and that happened to be the Mysore Swarna Jayanti. It came in at 1930 and eventually pulled into HNZM at 2300 taking 3.5 hrs to cover the distance which normally takes no more than 2 hrs. The day's backlog due to the accident had obviously not cleared and we were'nt spared on the way back either. We parted ways at HNZM and headed back to our respective homes highly satisfied with the day's accomplishments!