Observations from my Solapur trip
by Shashanka Nanda
Just came back this morning after a lighting run to Solapur and back. Departure was by Hussain Sagar Express which rolled into BMT a minute late hauled by KZJ WDM2 #17228 running LHF. Load was the usual 18 coaches with the composition being Loco- SLR- GS - 2A - 2 X 3A- 10 X SL - 2 x GS - SLR. The coaches were clean but none of them of more recent build than 2001. My own coach was 00 series RCF built.
The driver started the train with a short note from his horn, which is of the newer irritating variety which sounds more like a harmonium than a locomotive. The run to Sanathnagar (SNF) was behind caution signals at 20kmph. Crossing the airport I spotted a small Cessna turboprop taking and could see a Russian build cargo plane taxiing away. Fortunately we didn't have to stop at SNF outer and crawled our way through. The yard was starting to fill up with a loco less BOXN and BCNA load waiting for despatch to wards WADI. A pair of KZJ WDG3As refueling on PF2 side while the electric trip shed had was playing host to 6 units. 2 LGD WAG7s and 4 Bhilai WAG5s all in different liveries!! There seems to be a sudden glut of BIA WAG5s in SC area with at least one pair being spotted daily. This is a very recent phenomenon and I wonder if RTPS is being provided with coal from any of the SECR mines.
A light pair of 13XXX series WDG3A Shaktis was spotted beyond Lingampalli running towards SNF. The lead loco was in a turquoise livery, while the trailing one had a deep brown paint coat instead the usual saffron hue. Hot on their heels was a rake of empty BOXNs hauled by a screaming WDG4 #12029 running LHF. After that, till Wadi there was a solitary movement in the SNF direction which was that of the SUR-FM passenger with a Pune WDM2 in charge.
The run till Wadi is littered with halts, mainly serving the limestone / cement centres of Vikarabad, Tandur, Seram, Malkhaid Road etc. The speeds were very disappointing, not even once did the driver cross 80kmph for the run till Wadi with cruise speeds hovering generally in the 60kmph region. Despite this, we were always a few minutes early at each station. Now this has me wondering.... this section is fit for 105 kmph running, then why can't the train be speeded up. Currently the maximum booked speed for all trains on this route is 95kmph only, and this includes the Rajdhani as well!!! The track condition is fair enough, the traffic can be termed as moderate only, and it is all MACL territory, so why can't things be improved here??
Neither the 7001/2 nor the 7031/2 have pantry cars, but there is no lack of food & drink available on the train. SCR authorsied vendors in a smart maroon uniform patrol the train with tea/coffee, water, cold drinks, snacks etc. In addition the omnipresent unauthorized vendors also make an opinion, and one of them served excellent bhel-puri. Around Seram, one fellow went along the train taking orders for dinner which was to be uploaded from Wadi. Suprisingly, the vegetarian folk were given a wide berth as only egg or chicken birayani was on the menu. I ordered an egg biryani simply to check out the quality of the stuff.
Reaching Wadi I saw a turquoise - white WDG4 running LHF, waiting on the bypass with a rake of BOXN empties. Wadi station was bereft any other action for the 5 mins we waited there. The Vada Pao's were fresh and hot, and I tucked in a few to douse the hunger pangs. The new set of drivers were a bit more energetic and the running speed went up to 90-95kmph with occasional 100kmph bursts. We crossed a twin ED WDG3A hauled BCNA rake about 30 mins out of WADI. This rake was closely followed by a 35 wagon BCCN rake belonging to ACC cements hauled by another ED WDG3A bearing the number of the beast (#14666).
At Gulbarga we crossed the SBC bound Udyan Express hauled by a KJM WDM in 17XXX series which I suspected to be a WDM3A. I couldn't see R against the road number, but there was the tell tale bulge on the LHF accomodating the large air filter indicating a rebuild. The run to SUR was completed without further drama, and the only other bits of action were a freight or 2 that we overtook and one lone passenger train that crossed us with a GTL WDM2 incharge. The egg biryani arriveed closer to SUR than to WADI. Apparently, a single person is incharge of serving the entire train. Since he starts from the AC coaches upfront, it takes him the better part of 2 hours to reach the sleeper coaches near the tail. The biryani, a bit cold now, was satisfactory though the same couldn't be said about the gravy, which was promptly given the boot.
We kept close to 100kmph while approaching SUR but were made to wait for for 5 mins at SUR outer before being let in on PF #2. The Mumbai Nagercoil Express was on PF1 with an ED WDM2 incharge, while PF3 was occupied by the PA-HYB passenger with Pune's 17444 doing duty. A GTL WDM2 stood idling on sidings next to PF1 wih a 2 car Accident special, but with no driver.
There was a massive ticket checking drive on at SUR station with hordes of officers wearing special duty badges checking each and everyone except me!! There were repeated announcements on the PA system directing them to penalise the guily and also asking them to check the pantry car and toilets as well, and also to penalise any unauthorised vendors and beggars on the train. Right on the 7002's tails was the BZA-LTT express which came in with its customary MLY WDM2. The train which runs only once a week has a single rake, and had run unbroken with its set of 03 built ICF coaches since introduction. However, the first change in the rake was seen yesterday with the arrival of a 01 built 3AC coach.
I left the station to catch some dinner and found a nice place (Vikas resto-bar) about 2 minutes walk from the station. The place is tastefully done up and boasts of cheap food and drink but the stuff dished out was extremely good and the Chicken Tikka Masala was really great. However, a burly fellow on the table next to me took fancy to the low prices and had a drinkl too many. When his bill was produced (124 rupees) he simply refused to pay and said it was thievery to charge anything more than 100 bucks for what he had consumed and threw 2 fifty rupee notes on the waiters face and started abusing him. The manager of the place was still very polite and asked him to pay the remaining 24 rupees but this guy was beyond control now. So the entire waiter force was summoned to summarily life him up and place him near the nearby drain. That certainly livened up the conversation among other patrons and I double checked the cash in my wallet to ensure that no such fate awaited me atleast.
At about 2130 I walked back to the station and then I glanced at the beautiful ZD class steamer plinthed outside the station building. The light on the loco was sufficient enough for me to attempt a pic, which was foiled by the traffic cop posted in the parking who refused to let his jeep be used as a replacement for the tripod I didn't have. Sadly I walked into the station, to learn that my train was running 20 mins late. The SUR - Pune passenger was waiting on PF1 to depart. I learnt that the train uses the same loco which brings in the Siddheswar Superfast from Pune. The latter mentioned train itself was occupying PF2. I chatted up with the drivers waiting to take up my train to Wadi. I commented that the station was too small for a divisional headquarters, with only 3 PFs, 4 -5 loops for freight, and a 3 line rake maintenance depot. The Pune WDS6 (#36006) was busy building a BCN consist, while a twin WDG3A set rested on the far side along with what looked like one of the Deccan Odessey WDM2s from Pune. I couldn't make out for sure as the lighting wasn't any good in that part of the yard.
The drivers told me that plans are afoot to expand the yard by adding two more platforms and some more loops in the freight yard on the West side. This would necessitate the dismantling of the current freight yard, as well as the yard signal cabin. Two apartment blocks quartering CR employees will also have to be torn down. Due to this the expansion work is pending the completion of alternative accomodation of the soon to be displaced. Then the topic of conversation veered towards loco haulage and maintenence and these guys were of the opinion that KZJ / GTL locos are none to great though in terms of haulage power but very reliable with less number of breakdowns. Surprisingly they were all praise for KJM locos which rated very highly alonmg with Pune and Erode WDMs. I said that I've heard that KJM has poor maintenance but they opined that whoever said that doesnt know a thing about locos. They also rated KJM locos as the cleanest locos in those parts while Pune beasts were the dirtiest.
Just about then, my train arrived and I hurried to catch my berth. There was a slight commotion in my bay when some rude fellow woke up a sleeping passenger to vacate the berth as he claimed it was his. The passenger gently said that it must be a mistake as he has a valid ticket already endorsed by the TTE from Pune but theis old fellow would have none of it. Though of genteel appreance, his language wasnt. He took out his ticket and waved it inches from the other guys nose who broke into a smile.... it was that old buffoon who was wrong, He was a day early!!! Since the compartment was full and no accomodation was available, I was witness to my second boot out in a matter of hours:o)
For once I was glad that I had an upper berth, cos I was pretty tired and the chilled beers were lulling me to sleep, so all nocturnal railfanning plans were abonded (pun intended) and I climbed my berth and was asleep soon. I should have realised that winter is approaching and a bedsheet would have helped. The air got pretty chilly in the night I was literally shivering. I got down to go to the loo around 430 and saw that we had reached Lingampalli.... two freights with coal loads were waiting to go towards RC.... Proceeding further... we reached SNF yard which was brstiling with action.... 3 WDG4s, 4 WDG3s and atleast 6 electrics I could spot and I guess one or two more could have been lurking in the corners, but I couldn't identify any due to the light.
Begumpet was reached in at 0510, and getting off I walked back home for another few hours of sleep and this day at office:o)