Railfanning in Chennai with Raghu Ram
by Poochi Venkat
Last week, RaghuRam, IRFCAian from SBC was in MAS for a few days and we decided to make the most out of his visit. On day 1 we started with TBM station. Taking the MG local from Guindy I arrived at Tambaram 8am sharp.Spotted YAM1- 21913 shunting MG rakes. On one of the the BG platforms was a WDP2 in attractive orange& cream livery, with 6120 Nellai Exp., obviously an hour late. Though Raghu had described himself to me, I had no idea what to expect and was watching out for anyone wearing a green checked shirt!!
On platform 2, the empty MG rake of 6853 (Cholan Exp.) was getting ready to recieve passengers and there was this fellow wearing grey jeans and....green checked shirt!! Sensing my purposeful movement towards him he smoothly walked away towards the loco...and got into the train! I wondered if Raghu had changed his plans and opted to go to Trichy instead!
A sharp "puuaaam" diverted my attention and hey! there was this clean, freshly-painted, gaudily decorated WDM2 snaking its way across the points from the south!! By the time I realised this was the just-inaugurated Thirukkural Express (Kanyakumari-NZM) on its way to NZM, the train had moved into the adjacent BG platform. Expecting it to halt, i ran up the footbridge as if a hundred demons were behind me....but the train just slowly went through!! The one thing I did spot was the saloon, NCR 98999, right at the back. This was the same fellow who had gone down south with the inaugural Kudal Express (Oct. 2nd).
Staring wistfully at the dear departing train, I regretted not spotting the loco properly. Well, no use crying over escaped locos! I trudged back to platform 1. My cell tinkled raucously - it was Raghu promising he'd be there in 10 minutes. It was now half-past eight and getting real sultry already. A staccato announcement proclaimed the arrival of 6714 (Sethu Exp. from Rameswaram). Neat YAM1- 21917 pulled in, gently oscillating as it quietly rolled past. Passengers disembarked.
Then a young smiling chap came straight toward me. Aha! so this was Raghu and that was the green checked shirt! No time for proper intros: Cholan Exp. was about to start. We hot-footed to P#2 south end: A fine YAM1 - 21920 was on duty with both chief & asst. drivers in position. They gave us a curious stare as we stood nearby discussing YAM1 bogies loudly.
Ok! Green!....a great "sssshhhhhh" as the loco's main blowers came on.....asst. appears at the door with his customary green flag unfurled...a smart wave....a lovely, determined "paaaapooooon"....chief twisting the angled silvery wheel to notch#2....and YAM1 moved out smoothly. Ah! great feeling that was! We watched Cholan express negotiate the maze of points, successfully go past that notorious outer level-crossing and finally become a speeding speck.
Raghu and myself decided to catch action at Beach Station, the northern terminus for MG lines. After a quick munch of idlis we boarded a local. By this time crowd had swelled: we were sort of squeezed into a corner! One advantage with MG local lines in Chennai is that, for any particular direction, platforms always come on the same side - you can peacefully settle down at the opposite door and not a soul will disturb you! As our local neared Egmore (MS), surprise! the freshly-painted WDM2 was at one of the BG platforms, its decorations still in place! That's all it took to get us hurriedly jumping off at MS!
We hastily made our way to the BG side. One tiny problem in MS is that you can't directly go to main platforms from the suburban section! You've to get out of the station building and re-enter. When we arrived breathless at the BG platforms, the WDM2 had disappeared!! A desperate hunt took us to the BG sidings where our loco was resting, fully switched off. It turned out to be 16564 from ED shed. There was a cut-out of Qutb-Minar on the radiator side and a large board in front with Sage Thiruvalluvar painted on it. Of course, knowing that diesel power is only upto Chennai, it was amusing to see the Qutb-Minar-adorned loco at MS!
Both of us got busy with the locos. there were three WDP2s, all in attractive orange-cream livery, stabled at the sidings: 15524, 15519 and 15516. Incidentally, this 15519 is the same loco Apurva had snapped earlier (image is in his website). The livery was blue&white then. There was also a GOC WDM2/16884 on the other siding. The empty rake of 6704 Pearl City Exp. was at one of the platforms with a GOC WDM2a 16879, switched off. We made a beeline for the loco and observed the controls from outside.
Though few people were about and temptation to get into the loco was very strong, we wisely decided not to! The DLW plate was, thankfully, not painted over. The number: 1-3389-03-2588, AUGUST 1998.
The guard/general coach was from NF Railway! (no. 98716). A short while later, the empty rake was shunted out by a WDM7. The WDM2 then powered up with a blast of rich black exhaust and smartly throbbed out to join its friends at the sidings.
We spotted a rusty MG shunter no.2025, full-green-with-yellow-ribbon livery at the MG sidings. It was marked YDM (shouldn't it be YDS?).
A short "paapooon" got us twisting our heads violently....YAM1- 21918 breezed in with 856 Fast Passr. from Pondicherry, a quarter-hour behind schedule. A couple of minutes later, with a wave of green , 856 proceeded to Beach.
Quickly partaking in soft idlis and cold pepsi, we took a local to Beach. By this time, YAM1 - 21918 was alone at the platform, all locked up and pantos down. We then decided to move on to Mylapore on the MRTS. As we climbed the FOB to the BG side, I spied ITARSI-shed WAG5ha/23812 (cream&maroon livery) facing northward, with a really long BOX-N train. Looked like it was standing there quite a while: the asst. driver was dozing in the cab with his head tilted 45 degrees and feet stretched out over the notching-wheel!! A most relaxed position, i must admit!!
The BG platform was empty save a smattering of people who, we assumed, were also waiting for the MRTS rake to start. This is a real short one: three cars only! just then another 3-car MRTS local pulled in and was the one to start back next. The sparse crowd stepped into the cars and had a tough time choosing seats: they were all empty!!
A small girl attired in bright picnic dress complete with water-bottle, lunch-bag and protective-mother, was plainly excited. Mother indulgently gave up her window seat for the daughter who chattered away nineteen-to-the-dozen! Promptly at 12noon our train got going with a powerful lurch. All locals have great pickup and you really feel the g-force when an active driver takes over!! we proceeded smoothly upto Park Station and then lifted...er...moved onto the elevated lines.
The accelaration was terrific. We stopped briefly at Chintadripet and other elevated stations. Even though i've been in Chennai all my life, it still amazes me how different this city looks from a "few" metres above ground level!! Raghu and myself were at the door, enjoying the sights and just 16 minutes later we were at Mylapore!! The same trip by bus would've taken a good 30 minutes. I feel SR is not adequately promoting the MRTS. It's a boon to commuters during peak hours. Everyone got off at Thirumayilai Station (that's what Mylapore MRTS station is called). That little-girl-and-mother promptly got back into another coach! so they were going back to Beach....ah! railfans in-the-making! Should get them into IRFCA asap.....
Both of us descended to Earth and took a bus to my house. After some intense rail discussions, videos (from Jay), sounds (from Apurva), and book-reading , Raghu suddenly realised it was getting late (always happens when you're right bang in the middle of something interesting). so back to the bustop we went. Safely depositing him in a suitable bus i walked back home.
Most of Day#2 went in trying our luck at ICF but no avail. They've stiffened entry rules. i'll write about these in a separate posting. Finally it was the Chennai Rail Museum. Raghu was thrilled with WCM1-20068 (who isn't??). He inspected every switch, nut and bolt; we transformed ourselves into senior express drivers zooming on the Bhor Ghats and diligently blowing horns to clear the lines.....
Raghu pressed one of the levers and...... wheeeeoooooo.......a loud two-tone siren started off somewhere!!!! Quick...press the other lever....i think the loco's moving....hey.... the brakes.... :-))
TCHA! it was just the siren at ICF Furnishing Division announcing time (4.30 pm)!! For a moment.....we really thought....! After a walk through the main displays and models in the building, we interacted with officials there: Mr. Rajagopal from ICF had just become in-charge of the museum. We lost no time in introducing him to IRFCA....unfortunately no IRFCA visiting-cards. We must get them made immediately. I then took a snap of Raghu at the door of WCM1 and that concluded the museum visit and our railfanning sessions.
Dropping Raghu at T. Nagar I rode back silently thinking over all the exciting rail stuff that'd happened in the last two days....after all that's what we IRFCAians live for, right?