A Steam revolution in Mumbai

2002-04-16

by Rajendra Aklekar

History was indeed recreated on 16 April 2002. Central Railway's heritage run was much more than success. Two WPs 7015 and 7161 hauled a fourteen coach train (seven heritage and seven Alsthom LHB) ---the past and the future. A commemorative stamp was released on the occasion and the icon of 150-mascot Bholu, an elephant signalman, was seen all over the place.

The WPs mesmerized Mumbaiites. Tens of thousands of people had lined up along the railway tracks for 34 kms, all the way from CSTM to Thane. And when the WPs were taken to Diva (or Kalyan), people, women, with kids in arms, and more people still waited for the steam beauties to come back and have at least one more glance. Climbed on roofs, treetops, partition walls you could see people and people everywhere to watch guess what the WPs in action. Long live, steam. The crowd was very excited and happy. Tears of joy rolled down the eyes of many as steam memories were brought to life.

It was nearly a law and order situation to control the crowds. This is not an exaggeration but plain truth. I have clicked pictures of the crowd and you should see it to believe it. Even as I am writing this at 7:30 pm, people at still waiting along tracks to see the returning WPs.

In fact there was more excitement, if I may say, than that during 1853 to see the first train. The twin WPs steamed and whistled and whistled their way to Thane, with crowds waving hands, cheering, shouting, excited and more excited. There was never such positive excitement in the air. It was a steam revolution indeed.

I can still feel the sweet steam soot and dust on my body.

The plan

Central Railway had plans to run a heritage special to mark the 150th anniversary of Indian Railways. The train was planned on the lines of the first train run on the Indian soil between Bombay and Thane. The coach had seven new German Alsthom LHB coaches and seven vintage ones. It was supposed to be hauled by two WPs 7015 and 7161.

The midnight trial

Earlier since Thursday 14 April 2002, we steam and railway fans in Mumbai (Bombay) had prepared an action plan to capture steam in action. On Thursday night, Ajay Kumar, a die-hard steam buff, called me up and informed me that the WPs would be doing a trial run on Friday midnight. It was sheer ecstasy, joy, happiness and thrill. A live, hissing and puffing WP, in fact two of them, with 14 coach, including five ALSTHOM LHB ones.

I started from my home at 12:15 am. Viraf and Sarosh were at Dadar. ISA at Kurla and myself at Bhandup. All set to capture the WPs on film. This was after a very long time that WPs would run live on Central Railway.

On my way back from the office, I had spoken to the Bhandup station master and informed that I would be doing some clicking around after 12. Initially, he asked for a permit, a letter but later gave in and eventually said OK.

Bhandup station at 12:30 am is a deserted scene. The constables were shooing away drunkards and ruffians. I spoke to them and the RPF chaps and told them that I would be at the station till 2 am. After all, it was steam on CR after a long, long time.

Official nod

Now that most of the station staff was aware of my presence, and it was safe to flash my camera openly (It's a small Kodak KB-10). I waited for the train like anything. The sheer thought that I would be seeing a steam live thrilled me. I wanted to tape the sound but did not have the means to do so.

Everytime, I saw headlights and a train approaching the station, I was ready but it turned out to be something else. The Mumbai-Varanasi Holiday Special hauled by a WCAM3 passed by. It was followed by a couple of WDS4Bs (two of them) and later by the Mumbai-Pune passenger.

I searched for some good lighting on the station where the running WP could be seen properly. But with food stalls closed and half the lights on the station switched off, the illumination on the platform was poor.

It was then that I heard a chug-chug. Initially, I thought it was a WDM but no. The chugs were distinctly different and lovable the sound just entered my heart. It was a WP - two of them. Its glaring headlights and speed proved a hindrance initially but I did manage to get some good shots.

Romancing steam in the dark

The freshly-pained shining, gleaming green WPs gave a sweet, soothing whistle as they thundered passed the station, followed by 14 coaches with some guests in it. The train with the black beauties was soon gone, but it left its lingering whistle and the chug-chug still blowing in my ears. 'Yeh Hai Asli Rel Gaadi' quipped a old signal man, who was standing beside me all the time, imitating the WP's chug-chug.

I knew it would come back from Thane. I enquired with the station master and he said 'AAdhe Ghante Mein Wapis Aa Jayega' (It will be back in half an hour).

I decided to wait. It was around 1:33 am and the last train from CSTM, a Karjat local, had just gone. There was literally no one on the station now, except the can'teen boys. Just then three engines, 2 WDM2s with a freshly painted WDS6 in the middle passed by. I thought this was to haul back the steam train as the WPs would not come back on their own power. This was followed by a WCG2 after some time. But it was not the case.

Some long shots

This time I decided to wait on the opposite platform for a better view of the WPs. It was then that I saw the headlights and the train. It was led by a camaflouged WDM2 locomotive followed by the train returning from Thane. The WPs were trailing at the last but looked majestic. I waited till the locos melted away in the darkness, leaving smoke, smoke and more smoke. It was 2:30 am and the trial run was over for Bhandup at least.

ISA managed some clicks at Kurla station. So did Viraf and Sarosh who came all the way from Borivli to click the WPs and finally thanks a ton to Ajay Kumar who managed it all. He was the lucky one who was.ON the WP, right from Parel to CSTM. He had come all the way from Panvel. Die-hard fans indeed.!

Bright summer trial

The next was a daylight trail run of the WPs and I knew it would be a feast. This was planned on Sunday 14 April, 2002. This was supposed to be a rehearsal for the big day. The WPs were to start from CSTM at 3:35 pm and reach Thane in an hours time. Viraf and Sarosh were with the WP since CSTM and Ajay Kumar was it since Parel. I was not able to make to CSTM, but decided to wait at Thane.

The WPs were supposed to come on pf 7 and I positioned myself at the edge of the platform. There were a few more press photographers to click the WPs. They had positioned themselves on the opposite side of the track. But there was a chance that they could miss the whole thing if a DC EMU (Mumbai's local train) passed by.

Suddenly, I could hear a shrill but distinct whistle. It had to be the WPs and yes they were. They were merrily negotiating a curve, belching thick grey smoke and whistling all the way towards me and the platform.

Beauties indeed

WP 7161 was leading coupled to WP 7015, followed by the train. I managed a few good clicks. The huge wheels, the huge boiler. I was seeing all this right in front of me. The lovable monster.

For a moment I stopped clicking pics of the WPs and had a good look at them -- again and again with my naked eyes. All this time I had seen them through the lens of the camera. They are indeed beauties.

The train passed with the heritage and Alsthom coaches. I rushed to the other end of the station after getting a few clicks of the camaflouged WDM2 and the coaches and their couplings.

Viraf was there. He had followed the WP from CSTM in a local rain. Sarosh was there with his slimcorder and so was Ajay. Ajay had climbed over the railings of the footover bridge to get a good view of the WPs and the coal tender.

There was crowd and excitement all over. Both the WPs soon blew whistles --- one had a shrill one and one had a sharp 'piercing the heart' one -- and were off amid claps and shouts. The WPs were being taken to Diva and would be retuned back to Parel in the night. I walked till Kalwa following the WPs but soon they gathered speed and vanished into the Parsik tunnel.

THE day

16 April was a Tuesday, a working day. But I had taken a leave to capture the event. I started from my home at 10:30 am. On reaching the station, I found local trains (DC-EMUs) adorned with a 'INDIAN RAILWAYS 150 YEARS' banner and lighting. I clicked a few images of the decorated EMUs.

Currey Road station 12:25pm

Viraf and Ajay had already gone to the Parel loco shed early in the morning. I got off at Curry Road, one station after Parel from where the locos would be brought. After informing some officials and cops at the station, I positioned myself towards the CSTM end of the platform in blazing sun at 11:30am.

The WPs were not in sight, but managed to get a few clicks of a WDS6. It was around 12:30 pm that the WPs came out, the same shrill, piercing whistle and the same lovable movements. All this wait had proved its worth. The WPs were on their own power, reversing their way to CSTM. (the tender of WP 7015 was leading). I waited till the WPs vanished under the bridge of Chinchpokali station (next to Currey Road towards CSTM). The hot summer sun of Mumbai made the WPs look more brighter and beautiful.

Then caught a local train from there and stood at the footboard with the camera ready, hoping to see the WPs running parallel to our train. But could not do so. The starter at Masjid was red and we had to halt for two minutes. Reached CSTM and found all crowd and security for the function. I decided to use my defunct press card and it worked like magic. I was allowed in and was able to click the heritage train.

Cooling under shade

Then ran to the long-distance platform of CSTM and found the WPs cooling themselves from the blazing April Mumbai sun under the shade of platform 13. This was a good opportunity and managed very good pics. The 150-year Indian Railway celebrations mascot, Bholu, was placed in both the locomotives. The position was the same WP 7161 was leading coupled to WP 7015.

The engines had fresh builder's plates with the name of Parel Loco Workshop, Mumbai 400 012 and the name plate of the driver AH Khan (This was for WP-7161). Managed to get a good front view and a good shot from the platform. The WPs were then taken away towards Masjid Bunder station to be put on the platform number seven at CSTM, from where the official heritage train was supposed to leave.

Stalking the beauty

I followed the WP till the CSTM electric shed and waited near the Haj House building, a place near the CSTM station for the WPs to return. The crowd was mad and shouting and clapping and waving hands. There was excitement all over as the WPs reversed slowly. I managed to get atop a signal cabin and get a few clicks of the WPs with the mad crowd following it and touching it. Some even joined hands and touched the bottom of the WPs in reverence. Kids, railway workers, the elite and women families, collegians and people of all age and religion had gathered on that narrow platform.

There were around 10 big-time politicians on the opposite platform but the crowd was not bothered about them. It was the WPs that had mesmerised them. The minister and his followers examined the train and the locos. I managed to click a few good shots of Nitish Kumar in the WPs but later thought it was a waste.

By 3:20 pm, I was at the Masjib Bunder bridge The WPs would be passing from there at 3:35 pm. But the immense crowd on the bridge would have hindered taking good shots. I came down from the bridge and positoned myself near the Crawford market curve of the tracks. Here the WPs would take a sharp curve. This time, surprisingly, I was joined by RPF guys, who were sharing the excitement of WPs with me. What a change the WPs had brought about!

All in the family

A few railway workers requested me to click their pic and I obliged and asked them to pose under a WCAM3 (AC-DC) which was later in the day to haul the Mumbai-Pune Pragati Express.

The same shrill piercing whistle again, the same heart throb again and the WPs were here. But unluckily, a local train hindered my view of the curve and I was nearly run over by that EMU (70256) as I had placed myself on its track. The motorman, who too had his eyes on the WP, just missed me and applied the brakes.

The final clicks

I then followed the WPs till they were under Masid bridge, running after them. The cries of the crowd were becoming more and more louder and the railway police had to call for extra force from the city police to keep a tab on the crowd. Tears rolled down the eyes of many as they cherished old memories after seeing steam in Mumbai after so long.

The WPs made their way through the down through line. The ministers and MPs were standing at the doors waving to the crowd of the heritage train, but the crowd was more interested in the black beauties.

I ran to back to CSTM to collect the earlier film rolls which I had given for developing and refilled my camera. Then I took a train to Thane. But there was some operational problem with slow trains and reached Thane late. The WPs had gone.

But the same mad crowd was waiting, waiting and waiting for the WPs to return back. They had been taken to Diva. Quite a day. Quite a day. Now back to the home front. My wife and the 9-month old-kid seem to be quite angry with my absence over the three days. Cheers.

Thanks to Ajay Kumar for all the inside information and my friends Viraf, Sarosh and IS Anand.

PS: I just realized that I am not a good photographer, but have managed to gather a good collection.

... ends (finally!!!)

Material provided by Rajendra Aklekar, Copyright © 2003.
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