Farukhnagar Trip Report
by Mohan Bhuyan
On a working day earlier this week I decided to declare a holiday and visit the Farukhnagar branch of the Delhi Sarai Rohilla-Rewari MG line, reportedly the oldest MG line in India. Added bonus - I would be riding the loco with my Driver friend all the way and back - a Sabarmati YDM4.
Farukhnagar (FN) is about 47 km away from Sarai Rohilla (DEE) and 11 km from the junction at Garhi Harsaru (GHH).
My train was 1 DF (dep: 10.30, arr: 1225). On meeting my Driver friend at DEE, I found out that we would be touching FN twice because we would return to GHH as 1GF at 1250, go back to FN as 2 GF at 1350 and finally return to GHH as 3 GF at 1500. We would then return to DEE as spare crew on 10 RD, while the rake and loco would remain at GHH till 1835 whereupon it would make it's final run to FN as 4 GF. While the rake and the Guard remained at FN overnight, the loco would return light all the way to DEE and only come back at 4 am to bring the first train of the day (2DF) to the city.
Between DEE and Patel Nagar, slums line the track on both sides. There is a lot of filth, including mounds of plastic trash that almost bury the sole MG line in a few places. No wonder the Palace on Wheels and the Fairey Queen start at Delhi Cantt!
DEE to Patel Nagar Jn is tokenless territory governed by MACL's. LQ Semaphores take over afterwards plus the Neale's Ball Tokens. The parallel BG track to Rewari and Jaipur is tokenless.
MG runs left of BG till Delhi Cantt, after which they switch sides till the entrance to Rewari (Samit to note).
It's no fun being a goods Driver: a BG flatcar rake (some with containers) preceded us out of Delhi Cantt. We caught up with it at Palam where we both had to wait for crossings, but we left before it did. When I returned in the evening, I saw that this train had only made it as far as the next station Bijwasan - 7 km in about 7 hours! Needless to say the crew had long since shuttered up the loco and left!
The new Barmer-Delhi Express runs combined with the older Jaisalmer-Delhi Express from/to Jodhpur. This was the train that the ill fated flatcar rake was waiting for at Palam. It came behind a Bhagat Ki Kothi WDM2.
The MG track was quite overgrown and green, though the BG was spotless. The Driver said that it would have been worse if not for a poor monsoon thus far. However, deep screening work was going on between Gurgaon and GHH, for which we were flag halted for nearly 10 minutes. Of course, we were expecting this because it was mentioned in the Caution Order from DEE (reinforced at Gurgaon).
I sat half seat with the Driver to observe his actions, we were driving LHF. This is the second time I was with him, so I was familiar with his rapid notching and 30 kmph turnouts. This time the speedometer was to his right and just outside his peripheral vision. Still it was amazing to see how he instinctively knew that he had reached his max speed of 65 kph and would notch down, without so much as a glance at the speedometer.
This time I noticed that the Drivers don't really wait till the Termination Point for the Caution Order before picking up speed again. They slow down alright, but begin notching up immediately after the loco has crossed the weak bridge or whatever it is the caution is for. I observed this on the return journey as well, when someone else was driving. Of course it's not as if they race off, but certainly the rest of the train is at a speed higher than the limit for that particular spot.
LHF isn't all that bad, at least on the YDM 4.
The Assistant looked a tad old to be an Asst. but he was a conscientious type faithfully calling out signals well in time, checking the gauges, hurling invective at people who ignored the approaching train at first, etc.. He even lifted the Driver's heavy box to make a seat for me refusing all my offers to help, thereby embarrassing me. On the return trip he even fulfilled part of the functions of the assistant on duty, though he was spare and probably not required to do so..
Our train was fairly crowded with returning milkmen and vegetable wallahs. A few people were on the roof, though it wasn't as if there was no space in the coaches. Habit, I guess. The morning and evening passenger trains on this line are extremely crowded, however, bearing a part of Delhi's floating population to and fro. On another train I saw that some people appeared to be fast asleep on the roof, lying flat on their backs breadthwise on the roof.
After GHH, one finally gets to feel the real countryside. The ground is rolling rather than flat, necessitating 1:100 gradients at one or two places. It's a One Train Only section and the crew receive a wooden staff as authority to proceed (I'll post a photo some day).The Guard carries the key to the FN point with him, for added measure.
The line has a 20 kph limit on it [at times we reached 30:-) ]. It's very old, with wooden sleepers - the Driver said that the rails are from British times, and was full of praise for their strength & longevity.
The first 3 km after GHH has been renewed. The wooden sleepers have been replaced with steel strips and ballast has been added. The plan is to do the entire 11 km, but work is very slow. The Driver did mutter something about the contractors not being paid, certainly no work was in progress on the day I was there. Speed Limit on the renewed line is also 20 kph. The Driver expected it to go up to 40 kph once the whole line is renewed, perhaps even more.
There is a village about halfway to FN called Sultanpur Khaliwas with a halt station comprising of an asbestos roof shed and little else. Obviously no tickets were sold here, though a few people got off.
The Sultanpur Jheel (lake) with it's bird sanctuary and grotesque multi storyed hotel is nearby. The Driver offered to drop and later pick me up at a handy level crossing so that I could visit the lake, but I declined. Who wants to forsake FN to trudge around a crummy lake in the heat?
I was expecting FN to be either in the middle or on the edge of a small town. It turned out to be in the middle of nowhere. Except for a level crossing (manned), the station and an abandoned Dharamshala (inn) there was not a building in sight for miles around. So, what possessed the British to lay a line to this godforsaken place? The answer (I was told) is salt. Apparently decades ago the salt used to be produced by evaporation in the surrounding flats, perhaps the Sultanpur Jheel also played a role in this. of course there is no salt today & goods traffic has long disappeared, just milkmen, vegetable vendors and daily wagers. The small market town of Farukhnagar is about 3 km from the station.
FN is a totally nondescript two-line station, where the second line is used for the loco to change ends. The station building is old though it didn't look like it had been built in the 19th century. The only structure that did so was the abandoned steam shed, just big enough to hold a single loco for an overnight halt. The Driver said that the building still stood because it was well made in spite of the fact that no cement was used, just mortar and lime.
We may have been on a one-train branch line to nowhere, but procedure was followed strictly. The gatekeeper also functioned as the pointsman and with his help the engine changed ends. In order to rejoin the first line the loco would need to move beyond the level crossing. So we would faithfully come to a halt, to allow the pointsman to dismount from the loco, change the point and then lower the barrier, again raise the barrier, change the point back again and finally remount the loco for the coupling. On both visits to FN, nobody was waiting to cross at the LC! Meanwhile another chap would switch the red & white LV sign to the correct end.
On our second trip to FN we had lunch on the run. I had only brought some mithai (sweets) so the Drivers were kind enough to share their food with me (tasty but spicy as hell!) While the assistant was eating, I got a chance to blow the horn at two men with a cow (an unnecessary long blast which he hurriedly cut short!).
On the second trip there were quite a few school children among the passengers. In fact there was a small fleet of Vikrams waiting on either side of the FN LC for passengers from the train.
When we finally returned to GHH, and handed over the train, we were informed that the wait for 10 RD (which would take us back to DEE) would be longer than usual, as it was late. So there was plenty of time for chat & photographs of the passing Chetak and Ashram Expresses (the latter with twin ABR diesels). Our Guard informed me that GHH's claim to fame was that it played a stellar role in Richard Attenborough's Gandhi, masquerading as night-time Pietermaritzburg. Apparently even FN had a role, as the station for the Mahatma's ashram.Also, a new officer's rest house had been built at GHH around the time of the shoot, which is still in use today. According to my friend the facilities in this rest house are quite magnificent. The gossip among the junior railwaymen & canteenwallahs is that the rest house serves no other purpose except as a haven for "Ayyashi"! (Bacchanalia). I guess
I was introduced to the crew of 10 RD as a photographer from the Museum and given a VIP seat with the Assistant!
This YDM4 had a pronounced lurch between what I took to be the 4th and 5th notches, why is this?
We returned without further incident to DEE. Waiting at DEE was the last train of the day to Rewari - a spiffy MG DMU in a nice blue livery. My friend drives it once in a while (as well as the sole BG DMU that is with the DEE based Drivers), so I guess, that's what I'll target for my next footplating outing!