Adventure in the dark
by Shashanka Nanda
Recently, myself and HYB gang's latest recruit Roopesh Kohad had an opportunity to FP the SBC Raj upto Raichur (RC). We arrived at SC station well in advance to check out the action preceding the arrival of the Raj. SC as usual was at its chaotic best with a host of evening departures and arrivals lined up. The Narayandri & SBC Expresses were waiting to depart with their usual WDP4s, while the Kakatiya Passenger looked proud with its newly acquired WAP4 status. There was the usual collection of GY, GTL, MLY, KZJ & KJM diesels around the yard, as were the ubiquitous LGD, BZA electrics. The lone exception was BRC's WAP4 #22562 which had arrived in the early hours with the JP-SBC Express.
The Raj came in 25 mins early behind its usual LGD WAP4. Both the gen cars were in the now common Raj cum Shatabdi livery. We clambered into the cab as soon as the starter turned amber and the chief after receiving the okay from the guard in the walkie talkie engaged first notch and we were off!! The loco was one of the four special duty WDM2s from Kazipet shed which work only on the SC-SBC run of the Rajdhani Express and that too short hood leading always. The locos are fitted with Caterpillar turbos with a slightly higher boost pressure. Another peculiar thing I have noted about these locos is their idle note. They have none of the rig-a-jig-jig-jig sound that we always associate with a WDM2 at idle... instead its a constant low pitched hum that these locos emanate.
We crossed the speed limit termination board near James Street station at about 20kmph in 2nd notch and after that the chief let the horses fly.... moving directly to eighth notch we accelerated quickly to 75kmph before he notched down to idle, and approaching Sanjeevaiah Park and the 15kmph restriction on the HSJ triangle.. he engaged the train brake slightly before releasing them and then brought the Dynamic brakes (DB) into operation. As soon as the lever was brought into the B position, a shrill high pitched roar that I dearly love engulfed the entire cabin and got louder as the chief brought the DB lever almost level with the throttle lever at idle. The speed dropped to about 25kmph when he released the dynamics and engaged the train brakes again to reduce the speed to 15kmph as we carefully made our way through the triangle onto the Begumpet arm. Entering the platform, the guard's voice crackled over the radio to let us know that the points had been cleared and within no time we were screaming at Notch 8 again!! The signals through to Sanathnagar yard were amber all the way so we maintained a steady 45kmph and after crossing the yard, populated by the usual WDG3As and sundry electrics we opened yet again to touch 75kmph near Borabanda station and maintained that speed while we crossed Hi-tec city, Hafeezpet & Lingampalli in quick succession. At Lingampalli we overtook a KZN rake of coal laden BOXNs hauled by twin WDG3As.... The speeds were now in the 80-85kmph range and we maintained those except when we had to slow down for PSRs at Shankarpalli & Nagalapalli yards. The Chief made ample use of his DBs and used train brakes only to make drastic speed reductions like when we had to slow for a 10kmph crawl over a bridge that looked more like a sandbar to me!!
Notching up again, we transitioned from series-parallel to parallel mode at 42kmph which was characterised by a sudden drop in engine noise and a forward lurch after which the revs picked up again and we accerlated steadily to 90kmph. In a relatively long caution free stretch beyond Nagalapalli we hit 100kmph for the first time, though we didn't stay there for long. As I had mentioned in a previous post, the booked speed for the Raj till Wadi is 95kmph only with a MPS of 105.. so we got to see the ton very rarely on this section.
At Vikarabad Jn we overtook a late running Rayalseema Express which was hauled by a GTL WDM2 and had another GTL WDM2 tagging along dead behind the lead unit. The yard also had a WDG3A hauled BCN rake and a WDG4 hauled BOXN. Beyond Vikarabad we hit the limestone/cement town belt and in the distance the numerous cement factories loomed like alient motherships with their glittering lights. We stuck to our schedule and made our first halt at Seram (or is it Sedam?). Apart from being a convinient railhead for the numerous cement plants, this town has no claim to fame and it beats me as to why the Rajdhani Exp halts here. There were no more than 4-5 passengerrs standing on the platform waiting for the train, and a posse a white kurta pyjama politician types about who I reckon were their to receive their neta arriving from Delhi. We also had a nice tea party enroute with piping hot chai served fresh from the Asst's flask.
Reaching Chittapur we were greeted by the sight of danger signals on the mainline. The stationmaster's voice crackled on the radio informing us that a KZN load had not cleared the Wadi bypass because of which we were held up. Almost when we were about to stop, the signals turned to proceed again and we scampered to 65kmph crossing Sulehalli and then slowing down to take the left arm of the Wadi bypass triangle to turn towards Raichur. Though the entire SC-WADI section is MACL governed, the bypass section is ruled by UQ semaphores. Crossing Hallakatta Halt which lies on the bypass line itself (Samit Da please note... you were right on that) we joined the mainline again and back to MACL territory.
Chief informed that this section allowed the Raj a 110kmph MPS and a few moments later, we were thundering past dimly lit villages at the aforementioned speed. it was my first time in a WDM2 at that speed and to my surprise I found the ride quality infinitely better than that of the WAP4. Apart from one or two places where the the track made us sway violently, the loco was rock solid with very little lateral movement and the damping was execellent over the points. It hardly felt like being in a loco. On the way, we crossed quite a few expresses hauled by KJM, GTL locos as well as assorted freights. I was surprised by the number of WDG4s we saw on the section. All in all we spotted 6 WDG4s between SNF and RC, though only 4 locos are suposedly alloted here. On this section, we had the second of our tea parties supplemented by nice cahsew biscuits bought at SC station.
Apart from a few caution orders here or there, the run was by and large at speeds above 100kmph. Chief mentioend that this was the first time in many days though, the train was on time. Normally it would run almost 25-30 mins behind schedule due to traffic delays. Despite that, we ourselves were actually 2 mins late in reaching Krishna (KSN) station. The coal rakes bound for Raichur Thermal Power Station (RTPS) derive their name from this station, though in reality they are marshalled one station ahead. After KSN the dual tracl merges into one to cross the Krishna river and splits back into two after crossing. The speed limit over the bridge was a measly 20kmph. Just after crossing the bridge, a GTL WDM2 hauled 6011 MAS-CSTM mail crossed us. It was easy to spot this train because of its shiny RMS coach.
The RTPS loomed large on our left lit up brightly and its four smokestacks towered into the sky, with danger lights lighting up intermittently to ward off any aircraft... Steam emanated from all of them,and Roopesh likened it to the Titanic!!! Crossing that, we found suddenly that the cabin lights were switched off and the assistant had his nose pressed to the windscreen infront of him and chief too was peering ahead in rapt attention... for a moment there was silence in the cab, and the rumble of the V16 behind us grew tenfold.... we couldn't see much ahead as the view was block by a road - over- bridge... suddenly I saw a green speck in the distance and chief's finger went up in ihis inimitable style and at that very moment the asst. cried "RC outer caution".... this was might by a cheerful r"right" by chief and the cab lights came back on, and the banter resumed!! I was wondering why the asst called it caution when the signal was green... soon I found out the reason... it wasn't a MACL green proceed, but a LQ semaphore with its signal arm drooping 2/3rds of the way down. We entered RC station 5 mins late as a result of slow running to spot the signal.
Getting off... the chief handed over the charge to SCR GTL Divn crew, and muttered an intsruction or two about the performance of the loco. After that we saif our thanks to Chief who made his way to the running room for a well deserved rest while we were to fend for ourselves from here on. Since Raichur town was dead as a dodo at that hour, there was no other option but to slug it out at the station itself for our return journey, which was planned by the Rayalseema Express due to arrive at 0300hrs. We enquired about the availabilty of a retiring room and sure enough we got one, after all the occupancy charts in the TTE's room never showed more than 54% occupancy for the various facilities. An orderly showed us our room which was a huge one adorned by a double bed and a dressing table. Even then there was enough space that one could lodge a good 4-6 people more. Built sometime during the Raj, the ceiling of the room was so high that builders in Mumbai could have carved out 2 floors from that. The station architecture itself was a curious mix of South Indian & Gothic architecture. The shelter on platform 2 was one of the weirdest I had ever seen.... built of wood, it had a steep sloping roof and was positively Gothic (as Asterix would say) in style, but the pillars supporting the roof were the typical hexagonal ones found in numerous temples around South India. The Platform fenced by a tall grille on the PF1 side and was very narrow, barrow 6 feet across. The only train we saw using that line was an empty BOXN rake hauled by a WDG4 which we spotted from our room. Dinner consisted of Sandwiches & Chocolate procured at SC itself, and then we crashed out for a 2 hr nap.
Woke up at 0245 and made our way downstairs. We bought 2 general tickets from the counter, where the poor clerk was in danger of falling off his chair oscillating between attempts to sleep and attempts to stay awake. The only refreshment available at that hour was a sickly sweet tea on the platform stall after which we trooped over to Pf3 awaiting our train. Before that, the majestic Karnataka Express led by ET twin WDM2s made an appearance while on its way to Delhi. About 19 of its 23 passenger coaches were 04 stock and the 24th coach was a blue parcel van. Then started our long wait for the Rayalseem s Express which was nowhere in sight, The silence of the night accompanied by the sounds of a devotional song wafting in the chill breeze from some far off temple, but this serene atmosphere was broken intermittently by the long howls of a street dog who was hell bent on waking up the dead.
It was 0345 and our train still wasn't in sight... suddenly the tea vendors who were also waiting for the Rayalseema got up and made their way to PF1, before we could figure out was happening, an announcement on the PA system told us that "Due to technical reasons, the Rayalseema would arrive on Pf1 instead of 3." Hurriedly we went over to Pf1 but the train took an extra 20mins to turn up. The TTE who was to take over duty from RC directed us to the 2A coach in the rear half of the train where we found comforatble lower berths in 2001 built coach. Soon we were off and after paying the fare difference, we made our beds and settled in for the second part of our nightcap.
Morning, we woke up near Vikarabad and treated ourselves to more of the Masala chai. We were running about 20mins late then, and maintained that time till Lingampalli & Hafeezpet where we were made to halt on the main through line. Within minutes a SC bound MMTS train pulled over to the PF line, followed closely by a GTL WDM3A in the old ED livery. All 3 of us stood for a while side by side when to our horror, the MMTS was let off before us!! Imagine an Express being overtaken by a piddly suburban train!!! While we waited for our train... a light WDG4 thundered through the station towards LPI. Soon we too were on our way and after crawling through Sanathnagar where again I saw a pair of Bhillai WAG5s which was my 11th pair in 7 days!!! We reached Begumpet 30mins late, but after a satisfying and thoroughly enjoyable journey...