Journey By 'Heritage Special'
by Karthik M.V.
Yesterday's trip by the Heritage Special was truly an unforgetable experience and adventurous too.
Before, starting the narration I would like to convey my sincere thanks to Rakesh Sir, and other IR officials for making the steam run a reality and success.
As for photos, Mr.Srinivas is having a digicam hence I request him to put up some photos as soons as possible.
Now here is my detailed report (very long:-) divided into several sections
Description At SBC and pre-departure
I left my house at 7am. Caught a 'Jana Priya Vahini' and reached SBC by 8am. I bought a platform ticket and had breakfast at the can'teen. Then I proceeded to platform 8. As I crossed across the tracks, I saw an assortment of electric and diesel locos. But, for once they failed to attract me ;-)
I was only thinking aout the WP. At platform 8 the rake named 'Heritage-Special' was parked scheduled to depart at 10am. The red livery rake had 4 II class chair car and two SLR. The WP was yet to be attached. The rake was fully decorated above the windows. It gave the impression that it was to carry a 'baarath' (marriage party )!! All the coaches had a loud speaker tied up at one corner. Each Coach was 'reserved' for particular group of people. For children, press, invitees, rail officials. The SLR were to be for public. But, it is a different matter all together wether this neat arrangement was followed once the train started!! platform 8 track was being fully washed and cleaned off all the filth.
Meanwhile, I went to have a look at the WP. It was parked in the mini shed of SBC. It was abt 5 sidings away from platform 8 and was receiving last minute touches. It was fully decorated with flowers. Suddenly, the loco shot out steam from top. The steam raised to abt 10m high, seemed to be like a fountain. There were a group of photographers standing at the far corner. So I delightfully pulled out my camera and mingled away with the press!!
Around 9am I met up with fellow IRFCAites Mr.Srinivas, Mr.Ravi and Mr.Manoj. It was a happy feeling of oneness to witness the memorable occasion. The crowds were just beginning to pour in. Around 9:15 am the WP whisitled and moved....woosh-woosh.... It is a unique pleasure to see those huge wheels and crank rods moving up and down (raw power.....). With in a few minutes it was coupled to the rake. Meanwhile we were all clicking away and for today the RPF was going to stay away. I saw some people using camcorders too!! Some RPF guys and public thought I was from the Press. One guy even asked me I was from which TV, to which I bluffed that I was from an internet agency:-)
Around this time a 'band' arrived a were playing out some nice music. All the public (around 300) was admiring only the loco. Now as it was time for minister to arrive the RPF had to keep the crowd at some distance.
Meanwhile lots of goodies(eatables) were being loaded into the coaches. It was supposed to be distributed to the passengers (all complimentary). This was supposed to be 'IR 150 years Birthday Party' celebration by SBC division. The seats of all the coaches were being sprayed with perfume! and the clean toilets were receiving last minute inspection!! Around 10am the minister arrived. The train staff were all present in full uniform to greet him. Meanwhile all the coaches were packed to capacity! Probably the IR did'nt expect the huge crowd. At 10:15am the WP whistled and took off. We irfacites quiclky boarded the 'rail officials' coach and occupied the doors. But this too was a packed coach.
Run through SBC-YPR-YNK
As train left SBC, people and passengers were cheering and waving hands. One could see smiles all around. The loco then picked up speed (around 40kmph) and chugged towards Malleswaram. As, the train whistled along, the traffic on the neighbouring main roads came to a stand still. The two wheelers braked to a stop so that they could admire the train. The public was not along the tracks (like in Mumbai) because the event was publicised only two days in advance. But, just as the loco used to whistle by, people just stopped their work, and came rushing out of houses, shops, classrooms, factories....... just to wave and cheer us and one could see them smilling with glee. Just for a moment the people had forgotten their daily tensions. Let me tell you, even a VIP convoy would not have evoked such a spontaneous feeling of happiness for the public! Truly the steam loco and railways in general has some 'spiritual' pulling power in it!!
As we neared YPR one signal failed near a LC gate, so train stopped there. Immediately myself and Srinivas got down and took a snap of the loco one coach ahead. After a few seconds Srinivas got back, I was still admiring the loco from far. But, suddenly WP blew whistle and took off! Then I ran a few meters and clinged onto the door of a packed SLR. Though the door was overflowing with people, they were courteous enough to give me some space to place my foot on the footboard! For the next 4mins, I was dangling out until arrival at YPR.
At YPR there were lots of people and school children. Just as the train came to a halt people rushed to the loco and took snaps. Many climbed into the cab and pulled the whistle. This was the trend at all the stations we stopped. Meanwhile some officials got off the train, the minister AK moorthy suddenly appeared outside the door where I was standing and distributed toffees, there was quite a scramble. Today, the security was quite easy, so I really did'nt feel that I was standing next to a minister!!
After a 4mins halt the train left YPR and chugged towards Lottegola halli. Meanwhile goodies were being distributed. I think there was some shortage due to the train being 'over-subscribed' and we did not receive any goodies too. Anyway, at each stop I was jumping out and switching coaches! So, I never new exactly what was going on inside!! Meanwhile a live musical group had parked themselves in the last coach and were playing out songs through the loud speakers. But one negative aspect was, that one could not hear and enjoy the WP sound. We reached Yelehanka around 11:10am. Well behind schedule. Here a KJM WDM2 was waiting to be connected to the rear, because the train had to reverse to go towrads CSDR-KJM. After a 10mins halt the train left YNK. The ever-reliable WDM2 reached CSDR (my home) in 15mins and hence we made up lot of the lost time. Also, now the officials had instructed that halt times be reduced to 2mins from scheduled 5mins. So, I had to quickly run to a spot which I had chosen one week in advance to take a snap. As the train departed, I went to an SLR to take snaps on the very sharp KJM curve.
KJM-SBC and footplating experience
At KJM, WDM2 was disconnected. The WP tender was filled up with water from a water lorry. After 10 mins the train chugged out and somehow Srinivas go into the cab which was also totally packed with abt 10 people. After halts at BYPL and BNCE, the train entered the gradient at BNCE. Here, I took out my walkman recorder and recorded the train sounds upto Bangalore can'tt. But one bad thing was, that the loud music from the loud speakers, messed up with the melodious WP sounds.
Later, at BNC myself and Ravi got a chance of life time to footplate to SBC about 10mins journey. Actually the WP and tender are two seperate vehicles with a part of the tender going underneath the loco. So, the cab forms a junction between tender coach and loco. As the loco departed, suddenly two NDTV cameramen barged into the already packed loco. They began taking video shots leaning out at all precarious angles.
Footplating was a good learning experience for me too. As the loco started I could feel the wheel slip vibrations. As loco reached to abt 40kmph I could also feel the hammer blows from the crank rods. Due to lack of space, I was standing in such a position that I was leaning on to the tender while my feet were on the loco. As a result my feet were moving in all 3-dimensions. So, It was like a dancing floor and good exercise to my waist too:-) But one thing for certain, a steam loco cab is quite an uncomfortable place for long journeys. The modern day diesel and electric drivers are just nothing in comparison to the steam guys. I salute the steam drivers as they are true hard workers!! Meanwhile, I recorded the WP sounds till we reached SBC. At around 1pm, we whistled away into SBC and were the synosure of all eyes on platform 1. I was really proud of this royal treatment because usually the prestigious Brindavan exp (running behind us) gets Platform 1, but for today it was put to platform 3.
After we got down from the Loco, we thanked a few IR officials and bid good bye to the great WP. For me, the footplating experience was the icing on the cake after a memorable 3 hour journey. Although I was satisfied, I felt a bit sad that I could not see the WP run from the outside. Personally I feel, seeing a WP in action from the outside is more enjoyable than travelling by a WP hauled train. It is a thrill to see the raw power of huge wheels and synchronous movements of crank rods and steam puffing out.
Anyway, I am really happy to see one of my dreams getting fullfiled. I am waiting for the photos, but I guess it will take a month or two.
Few personal thoughts on yesterday's WP run
- The rake used for WP run was from MAS division. I think it was the same thing used for the Chennai Heritage run as well. The loco I think belongs to Erode shed with no.1761
- During the WP run, I saw, a few loco staff and Mr.Srinivas too wearing handkerchief over their head. I thought this must be for protecting their hair-style from wind!! But, I got the real answer only today! While I was taking a shower I found that my hair had trapped plenty of ash/coal particles. I had to use a sachet of shampoo to remove all the dirt!! I just wonder, how did the passengers of the 1960s GT express manage two full days, under a blizzard of ash/coal!! Especially ladies might have had to spend hours washing their hair:-) Also, I feel this problem is quite dangerous too. As some of these particles enter the eyes and cause plenty of irritation. In comparison the new diesel and electric locos provide a safe and clean journey. So if I am given an option, I would choose steam for entertainment only and prefer WDPs,WAM/Ps for long journeys! But no problems If I get an AC coach:-)
- I think IR should have charged a nominal fare of atleast Rs.10/-. This might have prevented all and sundry from travelling on the train. I found that some were using it as a free commuter service!!
- Now just one more personal thought, As the train was approaching YPR, I could see the Udaya TV camerman standing on the platform and filming the train. As I was hanging out of the door of first coach I thought it would be embarassing to be filmed in an awkward position! Luckily, as the train neared the plfrm I found that the guy had forgotten to remove his lens cover:-). I was relieved!