The Land of Diesel Gods
by Shashanka Nanda
30th October 2004: It was time to say goodbye to Hyderabad.. where I had spent the last 9 months setting operations for my company. I was moving back to Delhi but had planned to take a vacation in Goa with friends before that. After much research, bookings & cancellations to find a suitable mode of transport to Goa from Hyderabad. it boiled down to taking the Rayalseema Express to Londa & then on by road.
I was seen off by my friend Nikhilesh at Begumpet while a farewell party awaited me at Lingampalli comprising of Poochi Venkat, Lakshman & Roopesh. From there on it was just me and myself on the side lower berth while looking out of the fully open emergency window. The setting sun lit my last glimpses of that wonderfully laid back city that was home to for the most interesting 9 months. A couple freights led by the usual WDG3s and 4s passed us by but nothing out of the ordinary. Since it was to be a chilly night and I didn't have much warm clothing to wear.I drained out my quota of rum and after munching some nice chicken sandwiches.I dozed off.
Got up at Guntakal to find my train undergo the elaborate shunting that mixes and matches the various portions of the Rayalseema / Haripriya combine. After a 25-minute halt, we set off again, with our direction reversed. Waiting at the outer was a WDG4 hauled BOXN freight. After taking the sharp left around the oil depots outside the yard. I entered uncharted territory. I had never been on this line before but had heard a lot about the tremendous freight action from fellow members and decided to stay up.
The new set of drivers, working the Guntakal WDM2 (this was the loco which brought the set coming from Tirupati) was pretty energetic pair and we were beyond 90kmph in only a few minutes. The night sky was brilliantly decorated by zillions of stars while the faint moonlight provided enough illumination to enjoy the scenery, which in itself was pretty unremarkable ;o) We passed a couple of small stations whose names I could not make out as there was no power. but at almost every station there was at least one freight headed by multiple diesels.
Little did I know that I would keep seeing them well into the day next day!! We halted at Bellary and then reached Tornagallu after about 50mins of running. This the station where the line branches off to the famous iron ore mines of Rajitpura. Two rakes headed by twin WDG4s were waiting for clearance in the yard. It was my first sighting of twin WDG4s and man did they look awesome!!! Each set was over 40 metres of steel packing in 8000hp, just waiting there to unleash its might!! In that eerie moonlight.. The marker lamps of these monsters glowed menacingly while the low whirr of the engine gave little clue about the strength packed within.
We moved on, while my head still reeled with what I had just seen. We picked up speed again reaching Hospet after about 40mins where another set of twin WDG4s waited with an empty BOXN rake, flanked by a loaded rake headed by 3 Gooty WDG3s!! It was just getting better!! We halted for a long time at Hospet as we were waiting for an incoming passenger train to clear the single line section. I chatted with the drivers, who were to work the train till Hubli. They were a pretty young crew and I had a very long discussion with them about dynamic braking, and they were surprised and delighted at the fact that non-railway person understood their job and even appreciated it. They even got me cup of chai from their own thermos, but a request for a footplate was politely refused. I learnt that the MPS on this section was 105kmph, but most trains ran at a booked speed of 95kmph as the track despite maintenance sees heavy wear and tear due to the immense freight traffic.
The incoming train was a passenger headed by a KJM WDM2, but I could not spot the destination boards. Settling down into my seat. I dozed of for a while as dawn broke around me. I woke up as we entered Gadag. We were to halt their for a long time as again a train occupied the section ahead. With a awful tasting chai and a navy cut. I went for a stroll along the station. On the siding next to us waited a rake of loaded wagons classified as BOST-HS. These look like BOXN wagons, but are much longer; almost as much as a BOXN wagon. There was a WDG4 attached at the Guntakal end with a caboose behind it. I had presumed that it was just a case of a rake reversal. but was shocked to find two more WDG4s at the other end!!!! The nearly 45 car rake had 3 WDG4s powering it!!! It was a sight that would have nearly given some diesel lovers on the group multiple o***sms!! I spoke to the crew in the lead loco and they confirmed that they were trying out these new wagons with augmented capacity on this section and as a measure of safety, an extra WDG4 had been provided as a banker.
To boot there was triple headed WDG3 BOXN freight on the next line.. and on the other side stood 2 YDM4s. The MG beasts were dwarfed by the sheer presence of these beasts!! One of the YDM4s was getting ready to haul a passenger to Bagalkot. The incoming train was a passenger headed by a WDM2, and after getting clearance we set off again!! The MG line ran parallel for about a km before veering sharply to the right.
What awaited me though, was a brutal display of power. next 4-5 stations were nothing but a pilgrimage to the land of the diesel gods. at each station all 3 lines apart from the through line kept free for us stood a freight headed either by a triple WDG3 set or by a twin WDG4 set. Including our loco the total horsepower count at any given station the total horsepower count was touching 25000hp.. that's more power than the entire starting grid of a formula 1 race!! I was literally overwhelmed by this unashamed display of metal madness. and it just went on and on till Hubli. Each wayside station had at least two multi headed freight waiting!!
Going by this. I was expecting Hubli.. which is the base of the EMD locos to be infested with them.. but all I saw was a solitary WDG4 lying silent in a siding. The station itself was bare naked except for a few departmental rakes (UBL is the HQ for SWR). Ours was the only train in the station and half interested vendors doled out the greasy bread-omlette that's synonymous with IR. Shoving one down my throat. I had another cup of bad chai while the train literally emptied itself. About 70% of the passengers got off at UBL.
Despite its importance though. the station itself was a mockery of a zonal headquarter. Even Gorakhpur has a better station. I mean at least it 'looks' important. Departing from UBL, we went through a sharp series of curves and at the next station I saw my first WDM3A. #11004 was heading a short rake of TK tankers coming from the Londa side.. The blue white beast looked much better in the morning sun than it looks in the pics. the ugly cattle guard notwithstanding!! We reached Dharwad, which is Hubli's sister town whatever remained of the passengers in the train. got off there!! Apart from myself. there were only 2 more passengers in my coach who were booked till Kolhapur.
Dharwad onwards, the scenery was spectacular.. Rolling hills, gentle gradients and the sound of a WDM2 puffing with all its might up. The bright sunshine brought warmth despite the chilly breeze and the door was simply the place to be. The speed hardly went beyond 60kmph.. and the traffic at intermediate stations was next to nothing compared to the obscenities that I had encountered an hour back. Railfaning anyways went out of the door. it was time to sit on the door. watch the countryside go by. the men rode shotgun on the plough, while women weeded the fields. little children waved at us with smiles that would stay honest till they grow up. while their mother looked up to keep a watchful eye on any errant urchin. it was simply a joy to watch India lay out its inner beauty right in front of you. and for 250 bucks. the door of coach S13 was the best place in the world.
The run from Dharwad till Londa passes through dense groves of bamboo, while the hills have step farms lined up on the flanks. the line snakes through an endless series of sharp curves, and for once Goa ceased to be my destination. Alnavar Jn. came and went.. but the countryside stayed as lovely as ever. As much as I was missing my camera.. it felt nice to be able to see the beauty with both eyes open, rather than squinting through one eye via the viewfinder. But alas, it all was short lived as Londa arrived on time, and as I trooped off in search of a ride to Goa. A blast from a WDG4 reverberated through the hills. Reminding me that the Gods want me back.