MGing in MP
by Mohan Bhuyan
On the last day of last year I decided to explore what Bill Aitkens described as the "last of the leisurely lines". I was staying at the lovely Military Cantonment town of Mhow about 21 km south of Indore, and after ensuring that my family had plenty to keep themselves occupied with for the day, I set off for Mhow Station. I had originally intended to head farther south, across the Narmada to Khandwa. But return connections were uncooperative. So instead I decided to go to the beautifully named Fatehabad Chandrawatiganj Jn and back - a 120 km round trip.
Far from being leisurely, the single track MG lin is in fact a fairly busy commuters line, especially between Mhow, Indore, Ratlam & Ujjain with quite a few passengers and one or two expresses plying back & forth. All the trains I saw on this section had a full complement of passengers, even a few on the roof! Trains begin as far north as Ajmer and head as far south as Purna. Of course, before Project Unigauge, trains went much farther - till Secunderabad. However, I didn't see any goods movement, just a lone POL tank wagon hogging one of the loops at a way station.
I caught the Khandwa-Ujjain passenger, pulled by a YDM4 from the Sabarmati shed, (Cab end in bright orange, hood in standard maroon, a rather unfortunate combination I thought) and within minutes I was revelling in the high pitched throb of a speeding YDM and the rock n' roll of the metre gauge. Unfortunately, except at the beginning, the train didn't go beyond 60 kph - many stops on the approach to Indore and speed restrictions beyond Indore put paid to that. At Indore I had a brief chat with the Asst Driver, who said that all the YDM4s on this line were Sabarmati (Ahmedabad) based. When I remarked that Sabarmati was far away and that I had always thought that the MG shed would also be at Ratlam like the BG, he said that a new (satellite) shed had been recently completed at Mhow, though no locos were based there yet.
I was expecting Fatehabad Chandrawatiganj to be little better than all the other small stations en route, perhaps slightly more elevated in importance due to the presence of a third line. Far from it. FCJ was a bustling place with 3 proper covered platforms, a goods siding, numerous tea and samosa stalls & trolleys and many people waiting to catch a train. The SM (was quite busy) told me that the speed restriction towards Indore was because the rails were recently replaced. My return train was late (Chittauragarh-Mhow Fast Passenger) but the chap who exchanges tokens came out early. Upon spying a round metallic object in the wrapping on the ring, I asked him if this was indeed Neale's Ball Token ( I dont know much about tokens). He looked nonplussed, so I asked him again, this time omitting "Neale". He confirmed it was a ball token. Was it Neale's? someone pls let me know.
On reaching Indore on the return journey I screwed up my courage asked the driver for permission to footplate. He asked if I had any "authority", and when told I had none, he politely declined. He was also in a hurry to reach Mhow (home base for drivers in this section), and whistled impatiently for the Asst who had gone to fetch tea. All this while, the signal was down and the guard had long since given up waving his green flag! Or perhaps the driver had mollified him over the walkie talkie.
The Fast Passenger lived up to the first part of its name on the final strech to Mhow, stopping only twice and thereby touching 60 kph or thereabouts. At Mhow, I was the first passenger to be accosted by ticket checking staff. After proving my credentials as a bonafide traveller, I chatted with the driver again who was now hurrying home, along the tracks. He then invited me to footplate with him to Khandwa the next day. For a moment I was undecided whether to thank him or strangle him, because I had to return to Delhi the next day!
After a last look around the station, I went home to family & friends who all asked me if I had seen anything "special". As usual I had nothing to say! What can one say to the disinterested?