RCF visit trip report
by Bharat Vohra
A pre-arranged visit to RCF had been in the pipeline for a while and when we finally decided on the dates we thought there would be more takers but suprisingly there was just Vaibhav, Meghraj and me!
We had intentionally planned on taking the Dhauladhar Exp from Delhi as that for starters would be diesel hauled all the way and would take us on a route less travelled! So the 3 of us met at about 8 pm on the 5th of November night at the Ajmeri Gate side of New Delhi station. From there we took an auto to Old Delhi (DLI) station - a transit which we realised later we could have done faster walking! Quick dinner at Comesum followed which needless to say was quick, reasonable and of a good quality to - an admirable feat given the volume of customers they handle there!
We were in coach S5 and the train departed on time from DLI. Windows were kept open to enjoy the winter nip as also to hear our locomotive revving up from time to time. Shakurbasti was reached in 20-25 mins after an uneventfull and slow run where all we had was a WAG7 hauling a BOXN rake crossing us - coming from the Ambala side and heading towards the Gaziabad side straight through DLI! At Shakurbasti there was a lone WDS4 in the yard..standing a little away from it's home shed and then just as we were about the pull out of the station a double headed (with the rear loco dead) passenger train pulled in from the Rohtak side. Loco in the lead was a TKD WDP1 and to our suprise the loco being hauled dead was an Itarsi WDM2!! Wonder how that landed up there?! The train they were hauling was a VB rake of 7 coaches which also had 2 8 wheeler tank wagons (possibly of the milk carrying variety) as a part of it's consist!
From then on it was unelectrified double line territory with lower quadrant signals taking over. The line had a considerable amount of traffic as well with about 3-4 trains crossing us on the short run to Rohtak. The train accelerated swiftly from Shakurbasti and Bahadurgarh (its only other stop enroute to Rohtak) and maintained a good clip of over 100 kmh. We were impressed! The track quality was excellent to - especially so for a non-trunk route and the coach, old as it was, rode really well!
We pulled into Rohtak on time - close to 11 pm. Meghraj and I stepped out for a quick cup of tea which is always enjoyable at this time of the year and at that time of night! Not much happening at Rohtak at the time..2-3 passenger rakes parked in the maintenance yard and an announcement being made for the arrival of the late running Ferozpur bound Punjab Mail! The train pulled out soon after and after looking out of the window a bit more - the little that we could see and after several protests from fellow travellers that the cold draft was to much to handle, we downed the windows and shut shop by 11:30 pm!
Arrival at Jullundar Cantt. was on time at 0515 and I have to admit it was a lot colder than we expected. Time for another hot cup of tea we thought but first we had to make it up front to check on the illustrious power that was hauling the Dhauladhar! We were of course expecting a trusted Ludhiana steed at the helm of affairs but to our suprise we had 15530 - a WDP3 from TKD in Pushpak livery! That pretty much explained the superlative performance!
We spent a little over 30 mins at Jullundar Cantt (JRC) and the station was buzzing with activity even at that time. There were 3 trains (including the one we arrived on and the one we left on) which came in and left in the north bound direction and 2 in the south bound direction. Best part was that 4 out of 5 of these trains were diesel hauled! So despite all the electrification thats been done there only a handfull of trains are hauled by electric locos. We were waiting for a train to take us to Jullundar City (JUC) and knowing there'll be plenty heading that way at this time in the morning, we confidently sipped on our tea and took in the early morning atmosphere of the charming little station of JRC. The station has 3 platforms in all - a main platform and an island platform and these are covered by a single canopy of the old world style. This is complimented by an old station building. Jullundar was literally waking up at the time what with all the birds - which had taken shelter in the steel trusses of the station shed - chirping away to glory! It was quite an orchestra!
Ours was the only electric hauled train at the time. GZB WAP1 was at the head of the Hatia-Amritsar Muri express. We pulled into JUC station in a little under 10 mins where the Delhi bound Shatabdi was due to arrive. Retiring rooms as usual were not available so we made our way into town to scout for a decent lodge/hotel to dump our stuff for the day and freshen up before making our journey to RCF. We located a hotel about 500 mtrs away from the station, checked in, did all our morning routines and trekked back to the station where we had a quick breakfast at the refreshment room. We got our tkts and headed over to platform 1A from where the Firozpur bound DMU was to depart.
JUC has lines going out in 5 directions and these in turn are served by 5 platforms - 2 of which are terminuses like 1A where we were catching our train from. 1A handles trains on the branch line to Firozpur and the other terminus platform on the southern end handles DMU services on the branch to Nakodar. Pf 1-3 handle trains on the Delhi-Amritsar main line, trains heading to Pathankot/Jammu from JUC via the triangle as well as DMU / pass train services for the Hoshiarpur branch which is via Cantt. The triangle that I am referring to has JRC on one end, JUC on the other and Suchi Pind (1st station from JRC as you head to Jammu) at the apex. So as you can imagine JUC is a busy junction no doubt and has a lot of DMU services as well which necessitated the building of a DMU car shed here some years ago. This car shed is on your left when you head north through JUC and has been built on the site of the old steam locomotive shed which was one of the largest on NR in it's heyday!
Our DMU departed 30 mins late as they let a LDH Jumbo ahead of us and the LC gates took forever to close! That 30 min delay allowed us to see the south bound Paschim Exp make it's entry into JUC after a good 20 min wait at the outer - waiting for nothing else but the LCs to close!! Paschim was a 19 coach affair hauled by a GZB WAM4. We eventually departed at 0925 and after repeated horning by the motorman the emergency brakes were applied and we came to a grinding halt. Reason - we had almost run over someone on a cycle! The crowds at the LC gates in JUC are to be seen to be believed - completely unruly! The up and down mainline to Amritsar was completely blocked by people who had crossed the barrier gate - with little or no regard for the railway line or their own safety! After that near incident we proceeded on a suprisingly good stretch of track to RCF halt which is the 4th station out of JUC on the line to Firozpur. The DMU rode well despite the fact that we were in the 1st coach a little behind the drivers cab and was easily cruising at speeds of 75-80 kmh on most stretches. At the 2nd station enroute there was a crossing with a VB passenger train worked by an LDH WDM2 and at the next station Kapurthala we overtook the Jumbo (which had delayed us slightly) which was there to take over a BCN freight. 26 kms out of JUC the single line, single platform station of RCF halt was reached!
RCF is actually located near a place called Husainpur and not Kapurthala as is commonly believed. It uses Kapurthala as a matter of convenience - Kapurthala being a large district HQ! Husainpur also happens to be the place where the exchange sidings between RCF and NR are located. RCF was built in 1985 with it's first coach rolled out in 1988. It is built on a sprawling campus of 1200 acres out of which the production area comprises 400 odd acres. The rest consists of the administrative blocks and staff housing and colony. Suffice to say that it is a mini city in it's own right. To give you an example of the scale of things, it has a road network of 19 kms within it! Almost 7000 people work at RCF and half of them are housed on the campus itself. The residential areas are beautifuly built complete with 5 schools, 2 clubs, a full fledged market, hospital, swimming pools, an 18 hole golf course and even a lake!! All very very impressive no doubt! Power supply requirements are taken care of by a direct feeder line from the nearby Nangal Dam so candles and generators aren't a commodity you'd come across there!
Our guided tour eventually started at 11:30 and lasted almost 3 hours. This included jeep rides from one production area to another and a lot of walking inbetween! By my estimate we walked no less than 5-6 kms that day! The 1st covered shed we walked through and possibly the single largest shed there measured no less than 800 metres in length! This shed is where it all begins in fact - steel is received here in wagons in the form of coils or flat sheets. Then it goes through the process of pressing and cutting using mamoth machines located at umpteen places across the shed area. The smaller machines (relatively speaking) are the ones that handle precision cutting where a CAD/CAM like specification is fed into the computer and the robot arm of the machine goes about it's business thereafter. It is a really impressive sight to watch! Most of their machines are CNC based through laser or plasma. We watched 2 such operations carefully - the 1st with surface cutting and the 2nd with underwater cutting and both were a joy to watch!
The steel pressing and cutting areas soon give way to the fabrication plant which is where the coaches are actually built up from scratch! The steel parts have been sorted by then and from there on it's a production line where as you walk along the length of the shed you can see the coaches in their various stages of construction - the chassis and floor mountings, the side walls and shell and eventually the roof. It is fascinating to say the least and an eye opener for all of us who take coach building to be just another process! The amount and complexity of tubing, piping, insulation, padding, rivets, joints, casts and what have you that go into making a coach is to be seen to be believed! I mean when you see the incomplete coach in a certain stage of production with all the wires hanging, a lot of parts still to be tucked in, you think to yourself, how on earth can they possibly piece this together and make a finished product??!!
Among many things that were of interest and new to us, one aspect of contruction stood out - that of building up the coach shell within a framework of metal bars..akin to a metal cage surrounding the exterior of the coach. This is intentionally done so as to ensure that everything falls in line and not a cm of metal sticks out thereby conforming to IR's strict standards - is loading gauge the correct term for this? Imagine a scenario of an overhang in a coach colliding with a signal or some other p.way structure - complete disaster!
LHB coach production was on in full swing and in fact a third of the shed's production lines were dedicated to LHB coaches. We were taken up a ladder (which is a part of the metal frame that I mentioned above) to inspect the putting together of an LHB and a conventional coach - where the panels are placed and where the various joints and welds are made. All extremely fascinating to us! There were at least 10 LHB coaches in the fabrication shop in various stages of production - right from the chassis upto a full fledged shell. The fabrication shop also had conventional stock in different stages of production which included a lot of saloon cars, DMU and MEMU sets and of course the usual GS, WGSCN and some ac coaches!
We were then taken to the bogie manufacturing unit which is a parallel process and employs a seperate shed building for that purpose. Here again we could see 2 distinct styles of bogies under various stages of production - the LHB bogie which is based on the EUROFIMA design by FIAT and the conventional ICF bogie based on the old swiss design. While all the ICF bogies were self generating (SG) units the LHB ones were mostly without with only a handfull having the SG components on them - those made for non Rajdhani/Shatabdi trains which do not carry an EOG car. The bogie manufacturing process seemed more like an assembly with a lot of components coming from other vendors such as springs and bearings. In this assembly process what could clearly be identified were the bogie frame, bogie bolster, dampers, braking system and of course the wheels and axles!!:-)
Next was the paint shop which has 2-3 lines running through it and the coaches in turn are passed through giant paint tunnels and before doing so put through a process called shot blasting which makes the surface of the coach even and pure to apply paint on. The LHB coaches on the other hand go through something called sand blasting. The paint shop had as would be expected an overbearing smell of paint and we had to quickly walk through it to save our senses! While there we saw a few MG coaches as well which looked to be a part of a DMU set. Also saw some LHB coaches with the red coat on and the grey coat still to come on and then the usual compliment of conventional ICF stock in their trademark dark blue - light blue livery!
Then came the fitting shop which is where everything from the undercarriage equipment (including the bogies) to the wiring and furnishings are fitted in. For the MEMU and DMU sets, the electrical components including pantos (MEMUs), driving consoles and diesel engines (DMUs) are fitted in at this point. I was wondering how they test their MEMU stock as the nearest OHE is 26 kms away at JUC. The answer to that came in the form of a short single track stretch outside the shed which had OHE laid on it! Another noteworthy thing since I mentioned that even the bogies were fitted in the fitting shop - the coaches are transported on dummy bogies throughout their building process till it's time for the actual bogies to be fitted in the fitting shop. There appeared to be only BG tracks in the factory sheds and yards and it turns out that even the MG coaches are supported by these dummy bogies which are to the BG specification. 2 giant size traversers operate at either end of the sheds to transfer coaches into a different bay/shed. Shunting of ready coaches is taken care of by 3 Mercedes Benz road cum rail vehicles which effortlessly shunt the coaches around. At the time that we were there only 1 such vehicle was in use while the other 2 were in the repair shop!
In the fitting and finishing shop (adjoining the fitting shop) we could see what seemed like a full LHB Rajdhani rake which could easily be shipped out in a few weeks time..certainly by year end! We also saw a full and almost ready LHB Shatabdi rake which would obviously be heading out to NR sometime soon. Apart from these there were a lot of non Rajdhani/Shatabdi LHB stock which included GS coaches, sleeper class coaches and ac coaches to. While the ac coaches look almost identical to Raj/Shat stock, the non ac coaches left a lot to be desired. The use of small squarish (ICF type) windows with bars just doesn't cut it with the LHB shell design. Worse still the livery chosen for non Raj/Shat LHB stock is very dissapointing and not practical either! It's essentialy a lot of cream/off white (which would get dirty in no time in Indian conditions) with a grey band in the middle and a smaller blue band accompanying it! If there's any solace to be had, at least it's a break away from the dark blue - light blue livery of today! Again in terms of head count, these non Raj/Shat LHB coaches would easily make up a full 24 coach rake ready to be shipped out in the not so distant future!
The last thing we visited was the CAD/CAM centre which is really where it all starts from. Each new component, each part, each modification or improvement in design is carried out here. The CAD centre uses the most high end machines and servers complimented by some heavy duty printers for their line and 3d drawings. Very impressive indeed.
Thankyou's and goodbye's said, we proceeded to RCF halt yet again and had some great spicy lunch at the highway dhaba located a few metres from the LC gate. Our train back to JUC was yet another DMU service and as seemed to be customary on this branch line, was running ridiculously late! We eventually left RCF halt a little after 4 pm..a good 1 hr + after it's scheduled departure! The motorman was a spirited one and accelerated and braked rapidly between stops making up about 15 mins on the short run back to JUC. This time we pulled into pf3 as the same trainset was headed for Amritsar a little later!
While Meghraj waited at JUC station, Vaibhav and I went back to the hotel to pick up our stuff and check out. Back at JUC station for some evening train spotting which lasted an hour before the Shatabdi to Delhi was due and was almost 100% diesel action in the form of WDM2 hauled passenger trains and DMU services - save for a lone WAG5 from LDH which cruised through the station light.
The Shatabdi pulled in on time behind a GZB WAP1 and this was to be my first journey on the famous IRY20/IR20 rake. Coach was C5 and the highlight of the journey apart from the very good food served was the LCD panel that Vaibhav mentioned in one of his earlier posts! There was some quick running on most of the stretches with on time or before time arrival at all stations including NDLS which was reached 10 mins before time! The coaches were comfortable, rode pretty well and of course looked good from inside and outside. While they were better in every respect to the standard ICF stock - which included an airline style trolley being wheeled in and out during meal service - they were'nt quite in the league of LHB coaches!
And with that ended a most fascinating visit to RCF..