The Day 2951 climbed the Thull Ghat
by Shashanka Nanda
Day 1: The Day 2951 climbed the Thull Ghat
It was the monsoon of 2002, and I was on my way to Delhi from Hyderabad via Bombay. After an uneventful journey on the Hussain Sagar Express, I landed in Bombay only to learn that the monsoon had washed away a bridge near Palghar effectively cutting off Mumbai WR (BCT) from the rest of India. Most trains to Bombay had either been cancelled or terminated short but a precious few, like the 2951/52 Rajdhani Express were re-routed via the Central Railway route via Itarsi - Manmad - Kalyan - Vasai Road. The August Kranti though, stood cancelled.
That being my luck, I reached BCT that sultry afternoon to catch the 2951 which was slated to depart as usual. Those being pre LHB rake days, rakes were not a problem as the 2951/52 was using the 2953/54 rakes as well in case of late arrivals. That day, the rake was a 19 coach one (the max that BCT can handle) but the crowd on the station was enormous with many hopefuls even willing to sleep on the floor and go to Delhi. The TTEs and station staff were having a tough time handling these people, but bang at 1655 the starter was given and the WCAM2P let out what could only be described as a sour throated donkey's lament for his beloved. and we were off!!
Negotiated the points leading to the mainline, where a Churchgate bound fast local waited on the BCT outer to let us cross. Normally Mumbaikars don't pay a second glance to a normal Mail / Exp train, but the Rajdhani draws appreciative glanced from the First Class coaches, and looks of awe from the Second Class. Behind the smoked glass of the AC coaches, the harshness of the of an average Indian's life is somewhat softened.
The Raj rumbled steadily through the suburbs of Bandra, Andheri, Borivili and finally reached Vasai Road (BSR) where it slowed down to enter one of the platforms and entering the yard, I could see a WCAM2 (No P) ready on a siding next to us and as soon as we cleared, the points were reset and the WCAM2 was already rolling towards us even before we had halted on the platform. The lead loco was detached and the staff came running with the telephone instrument from the loco ahead while the guard packed up his stuff and ran to the other end. The entire exercise of switching ends and instruments was over in 5-7minutes and we were ready to roll. The crew in the loco now consisted of 4 people - 2 CR drivers and assistants (Vasai - Dombivili - Diva is CR territory), 1 WR Loco Inspector (to troubleshoot) and one WR asst. driver.
Crawling out of the yard, we took the sharp left curve leading to the CR tracks and into the hilly territory that is infested with leopards and some spectacular scenery. It was my first run on that line and I was rooted to the door and instructed the coach attendant to serve me my evening snacks at the door itself.
The progress in the initial half hour was painfully slow with the top speed never exceeding 40kmph. There was an engineering block on the opposite line (towards Vasai) and there was no traffic at all. But the scenery was absolutely gorgeous, the setting sun was glowing bright orange, which was glinting off the green treetops washed clean by the monsoon. In the middle of it all a shiny (I am sure it was rain washed, rather than WR washed) red - cream train snaked through the curves and the whole scene was simply magical. It took us nearly an hour to reach Bhiwandi where the Diva - Vasai push pull train waited. It had a matching livery white-blue-green WDM2 from Kalyan (KYN) doing duty mid-rake while we ambled on. Past Bhiwandi, the speed picked up a bit and we were now close to 70kmph, but the scenery was now marred by the industrial establishments that dot the area and here and there little streams or rivulets were stained in all sorts of colors pointing out the total lack of pollution control norms.
Soon, we reached Dombivili and taking the RoRB (rail over rail bridge) over the CR mainlines, we looped back and halted at a signal just outside the mainline. A few hundred meters away a freight train waited to move towards the loop with twin KYN WDM2s at its head. At this point, we were made to halt for close to 40 minutes as locals and expresses zoomed by non-stop caring two hoots for the Rajdhani. By then, almost half the train had gotten off and here or there you could spot groups of people discussing the usual - corrupt politicians, Sachin's form and there was one guy taking bets on the time it'll take to move from this spot and reach Delhi.
Finally, after a Pune - Mumbai intercity crossed followed by 2 Kalyan bound express, we were given the starter and joined the CR mainline and immediately hit about 80-90kmph and reached Kalyan. The time in my watch was 2000 hrs, 3 hrs and 5 mins from BCT and we were barely 50kms away from Bombay!! At Kalyan, there was a crew change again with fresh CR staff taking over. Here the WR asst. got off as well, while the LI remained to accompany the train till Igatpuri.
We halted at KYN for about 8 mins after which dinner was served while we passed suburban towns like Titwala, Asangaon etc. At Kasara we crossed three howling WCG2s which were attached to our train in a jiffy and we proceeded to climb the steep Thull ghats where the grade is as tough as 1:37 in parts. It was my first time on the Thull ghats, but the late hour and absence of moonlight prevented me from savoring the sights of this famed locale.
Igatpuri was reached at 2150 and the WCAM2 was immediately detached. While I waited to see the loco change, the Ferozepur bound Punjab Mail pulled up on an adjacent platform and I was wondering if CR would give preference to its own train rather than the 'alien' Rajdhani. All this while, I was hoping that My train would be hauled by a WAP5 or a WAP4 but was secretly hoping for an exotic loco link as well, as extra-ordinary cases like these can result in weird loco links. As I stood there waiting, two headlamps lit up in the distance, one a waist level lamp, while the other a top level one.
I was convinced that we had a WAP4/5 for us while the Punjab mail would get its usual WAM4. As the waist level lamp moved towards us, to my horror it swerved right and headed for the Punjab Mail!!! As it came close, I saw that it was a Ghaziabad (GZB) WAP1. That really broke my heart and in the darkness I could almost now visualize a Bhusaval (BSL) WAG5 being allotted to us!!
But then, things were not all that bad because our loco turned out to be a GZB WAM4-6P+ABC (yes, that was the gentleman's full name). The loco looked freshly scrubbed and the driver who took over was a youngish fellow in his late 30s and I asked him if he was an A Grade driver to which he replied in the affirmative. I then commented that he must be really looking forward to the run as he would have never driven a Rajdhani normally and he admitted that as well, but all this sweet talk still did not buy me a place in the loco:o(
The driver assured me though that I better hang on tight to the door if planned to hang around and sure as hell, we had topped 100kmph even before I could Jack Robinson.. The driver has surely taken fancy for his steed and he was ripping through the countryside like a man possessed and with every passing kilometer the smile on my face was growing bigger. We thundered through Nashik Road, which was merely a blur of tube lights and it was then that I decided to hit the sack, as I had had a long day and had been standing on the door virtually since Vasai.
Day 2: The Day the 2951 went bananas
I was woken up by the jerks of a sudden braking halt, and rushed out to see where we were and what had happened. By virtue of the reversal at BSR, my 3A coach was now near the end of the train and I could someone or something under the 2^nd last coach and it turned out the be the remains of a man and his buffalo calf who were by then halfway between the gutter and the stars. It took the guard and the drivers about 10mins to do an all-OK check and we started again.
Having had a 'wonderful' start to the day, I was in no mood to hit the sack again, so there I was back again at the door. Thankfully, the trackside door was not the one where the washbasin is, so the morning janta did not disturb me one bit. About 15mins later, we halted again at the famed Itarsi Jn. outer and in the distance I could see the AP Express curving away towards Nagpur. A few minutes later, we pulled into Itarsi, where there was again a crew change and water was taken in and toilets cleaned much to the chagrin of the passengers who were being admonished by the sanitation staff for using the loos at the station.
The WAM4 now had a tough task ahead of it as it had to find its way through a packed CR day with many priority trains running ahead of us. The run till Hoshangabad was a fast one after which we slowed down for the Narmada river, which was brimming with muddy brown water. The famous Budni loop lay ahead of us and the Raj looked majestic is it executed a wide 180° turn to join the Down line on a ridge above it. Crossed Mid-Ghat flag station through a tunnel over which runs a catch siding for descending trains, and then on towards Barkhera & Bhopal.
At Bhopal we halted for about 5 mins taking on caution orders and stuff and from there on it was a steady 100-105kmph clip towards Jhansi while breakfast was served. Reaching Jhansi (JHS), we were made to halt on an island siding instead of a platform and we waited there for more than 20 mins. There was an empty passenger rake on the platform next to us, and I was tempted to jump across and have a bottle of my favorite flavored milk (highly recommended at JHS, GWL and MTJ) bottled by the local milk - cooperative. But then, I didn't know how long we'd halt there so I decided to leave that Gwalior or Mathura, should we halt there.
Gwalior was skipped totally and we crawled through at 15kmph through the platform line and were made to halt at Birla Nagar (next station after GWL) for about half an hour for no rhyme or reason. We simply waited on the platform, while I smoked and chatted with the drivers (those were not so strict days) about the WAM4's performance.
In their opinion, the WAM4 & the WAG5 were the most rugged locos they had seen and they could work like donkeys no matter what the load and could be depended on at any given day:o) Their opinion on GZB locos was that despite their performance, they were about the dirtiest lot running on IR!! A clean GZB loco would be a cause for celebration literally though for some reason the WAP1s were worse than the WAM4s.
We got the starter and I ran back to my coach, where lunch surely the most unappetizing fare ever served on board a Rajdhani consisted of watery Dal (lentils), Rice and 2 bananas per passenger!! The bananas were the reason for the halt at Birla Nagar as they were loaded there!!
Many passengers were grumbling and some even threatened to go to consumer court for being served this down market meal!! Some snooty nosed passengers refused to touch the meal and demanded to see the Train Supdt. The poor fellow was summoned and he explained that Pantry can stock food only till breakfast and beyond that it was not in their hands. Furthermore, he pointed out that the meals included in the Raj fare were applicable only till breakfast and the passengers had no right to grumble on what was essentially the Railways' benevolence towards them!!
Grudgingly, the snoots ate their meal and most including me barely touched the dal-rice (it was BAD) and concentrated on the bananas instead. In this commotion, I suddenly realized that the Chambal River was at hand and ran out to the door to be rewarded with the amazing sight of the Raj sweeping gently on to the bridge, which allowed trains to be run at 105kmph over it then!! It's a super feeling to go over huge bridges at that speed and the din that the Raj created over the metal girders was Toccata & Fugue in D Minor to me:o)
Agra Cantt. was a one-minute halt to pick up caution orders but from there on the Run to Mathura (MTJ) was a painful one, with at least 4 freight trains blocking our path and twice we were made to go around them on the loop lines. Mathura was skipped as well and the Raj was finally back on its charted territory but that late afternoon hour was way past its slot and poor little 2951 was constantly riding the yellow signals till Hodal, where we overtook a passenger train and there on the driver let it rip. We were thundering through lush green fields bordering Delhi and Ballabgarh - Faridabad - Tughlakabad were simply decimated as the WAM4 went horns blaring through the stations.
Entering Delhi, age crawl from Okhla to New Delhi took over and we finally reached New Delhi at 1710 hours, a full hour and 10 minutes after the poor train was scheduled to leave back for BCT!! But then one should recognize that the train made it to Delhi in 24 hrs and 15 mins with a 19 coach load and a WAM4 at the head.. Not a bad job at all.