Steam on Three Gauges
by Vikas Singh
Kurseong 20th August
I reached New Jalpaiguri by 2506 NE express, one and a half hours behind schedule at 1000 hrs. I had arranged for a taxi pickup and we immediately left the station for Siliguri steam shed. Nearing the shed we saw a three coach rake (FCZ 26, S 363, SLR 154) being hauled by NDM6 602 towards Darjeeling. My first reaction was that 1D was late. Later at the shed I came to know that it was DRM special. The newly appointed DRM of Kathiar division, Mr. Singh was traveling till Rangtong for inspection purpose. At the shed the following locos were spotted: 780B (in steam), 786B (in steam), 806B (dead), and 787B (dead). 802B (dead) was getting readied for 23rd August run. NDM6 601 was getting fresh coat of paint.
After spending some time at the shed we left for Sukna. On the way we stopped near the bridge on Panchanai River. For quite sometime the hill cart road and DHR shared the same bridge till a new bridge was built for the road. The old Kishanganj NG branch line had junction with DHR at Panchanai. But when the line was converted to MG, there was a new alignment through Matigara. Talked to a number of people there but nobody could point out the place where the station existed. We reached Sukna station just as the DRM special was entering the station. On the way we had seen at least six jeeps with railway officials following the special. Though the museum was open nobody in the jamboore thought it worthwhile to visit. Leaving them behind we commenced our journey.
At the Tindharia loco shed we saw 804B undergoing schedule IV POH. An under frame of A class loco could be seen there along with boiler of 93B. At the station we saw that flat wagon BKU 919 had been moved from there to Sonada. We crossed the 1D near pagaljhora at 1155 hrs. Though I have been to Darjeeling many times, it was the first time I could photograph a DHR rake crossing the bridge at Pagaljhora. It was a three-coach rake (S-119, FCZ-121, SLR-155) being hauled by NDM6 604. The crossing with 2D happened at Mahanadi at 1225 hrs. 2D was hauled by NDM6 605 (S-86, FCZ-122, SLR-116).
We soon reached Kurseong. 805B (in steam) and 795B (dead) were at the shed. After checking into Cochrane place and a quick lunch we left for Darjeeling. On the way we saw the Salesian college. In old days there used to be a Salesian college halt and passenger trains used to stop here. At the Sonada station for the first time we saw posters on the 125th year of DHR celebration. All along at no station there was any indication of the celebrations planned for 23rd. At the shed behind the stations the following wagons were seen: Flat wagons- BKU 675 and BKU 919.Four wheeled covered wagons- C-551 (1943), C-601 (1944), C-589 (1926), C-576 (1943). The wagons had been recently painted and appeared in good shape. The interiors of the station were being done up and looked pretty good. Tea board is probably setting up a tea museum there. It is highly inappropriate that the place that gave the world famous Darjeeling tea does not have a dedicated tea museum. Apart from Tata Tea's tea museum at Munnar there is no tea museum in the country. But the stationmaster was not sure when the museum would start. After Sonada in the old days passenger trains used to stop at Jorekhola siding and Rangbull siding. Though there is no board at Jorekhola siding, there is a small faded blue and white board at Rangbull siding. Trains used to stop at Rangbull ropeway station. The ropeway had been built by British Ropeway Engineering Co. Ltd, London to carry coal to and tea from Dooteriah and Kalej Valley tea estates. The ropeway is no more in use having lost out to road.
At the Darjeeling shed 791B was in steam. 10D powered by 779B with three-coach rake (S-107, FCZ-118, SLR-153) left on time at 1625 hrs. There was only one couple in the first class coach. We then went to Windmere hotel where we were served Orange pekoe tea in Daisy's music room. There is an old Victorian age letterbox at the hotel. Though one can see a number of such letter boxes in Darjeeling area (Chourasta, Ghum station, etc) they are all made of concrete. The one at Windmere is built out of cast iron. A postman still comes everyday to collect the letters from that letterbox. I bought some DHR picture post cards from the souvenir shop and posted them there. We then started back for Kurseong. The hill cart road is in very bad shape. There is not even a 30-meter stretch that is not broken. The ride back was equally bumpy and tiring. We crossed 10D at Sonada at 1800 hrs. It later arrived at Kurseong at 1930 hrs, fifteen minutes behind schedule.
Kurseong 21st August
Went to shed early in the morning. At 0620 hrs 779B was shunted into the station. It left with the same three-coach rake of previous day's 10D at 0630 hrs, thirty minutes behind schedule. Later in the day I want to see the Elysia building. On was saw the NFR guesthouse being cleaned at a frantic pace. Enquiries revealed that GM was going to stay there. A shoddy patchwork was being done on the road connecting the guesthouse to the HC road. The rest house has been given a fresh coat of paint and looks elegant. If only the same consideration could have been made for the stations as well. During the Kalka-Shimla centenary celebrations, all the stations had been painted majestically in blue and white. Even the equipments like weighing scales, ticket-punching machines, and cupboards had been painted. The brass fittings too had been polished. The entire track had been cleaned. All bridges-major as well as minor and all tunnels had their numbers freshly painted. During the week I was there I could feel celebration in the air. Alas all that is completely missing on occasion of 125 years of DHR! Maybe 23rd August would turn out to be a surprise.
The Elysia building looked grand. Peeping through the window and the doors I could see that entire interior has been done up including some basic furniture. Two gardeners were laying fresh lawn on the slope in front of the building.
Later during the day at 1215 hrs, 2 D arrived hauled by NDM 6 604 with three-coach rake (S-119, FCZ-121, SLR-155). It was late by forty-five minutes. After the train left I spent some time at the DHR archive room. At 1410 hrs 1D arrived hauled by NDM6 602 with three-coach rake (S-114, FCZ-120, SLR-151). It was one hour behind schedule. The first class coach was well patronized. I left station and had lunch at Cochrane place. When I returned at 1700 hrs I was amazed to see that the train was still there. Apparently the compressor oil had finished and they were waiting for the oil. The train finally left at 1710 hrs. The 10D later arrived at 2035 hrs.
Kurseong/Siliguri 22nd August
It as raining heavily in the morning.9D left at 0620 hrs. After breakfast left for Siliguri via the pankhabari road. En route I wanted to visit the 1861 established Ambootia tea estate. But all taxi drivers at stand advised me against it as the road was in very bad shape. Along with Makaibari and Castleton, Ambottia is the third best-known estate for its Darjeeling tea. Ditching the idea we drove straight on.
We stopped at Sukna station. The whole station has been freshly painted. The tracks have been cleaned. Wooden sleepers in the entire stretch from Siliguri to Sukna has been replaced with cast iron sleepers and freshly ballasted. If only the same attention had been paid to other stations and the entire track. I was later amazed to see concrete sleepers near the over bridge. Perhaps they now want to replace the cast iron sleepers with concrete sleepers!
Later checked into my favorite hotel in Siliguri-Hotel Manila. In the afternoon went to the steam shed. The following locos were spotted there- 806 B, 802 B, 786 B, 780 B (all dead), 788 B (in steam). Freshly painted four coaches gleamed in the carriage shed. It was a pleasure to see the shed staff attending to those coaches with so much of luv and affection. The door handles were being polished to perfection and the interiors were being cleaned. The heritage coach too had received the first coat of paint. But I was sad to note that the blue color being applied is different blue now and not the original blue.
WP 7160 had been steamed up and was at the BG line in the shed. It was soon shunted back to the diesel shed. The meter gauge loco MAWD 1798 (2-8-2T) was also in the shed and steamed up. This loco had come to the shed in second week of May from Guwahati and was in a very bad condition. Slowly and carefully it was fully restored by end July. Mr. Deepak Dash who has recently been transferred from Alipurduar to Siliguri shed expressed his wish that now that shed will home two steam locos, the old diesel shed can be suitably modified into a steam shed.
I then went to Siliguri station. I had last seen the station on Sunday and was amazed to see the transformation. Every thing was clean and freshly painted. Both the FOBs have been painted the platforms have been cleaned and painted. The RPF barrack at the station too has been given fresh coat of paint. The water pipes have been painted in bright blue and white color while the water columns have been painted in red and black. Even the rubber pipes have been replaced with new bright green pipes. The drinking water taps were being cleaned. Mosaic work has been done on the exterior of the station. The garden in front where Baby Sivok was once plinthed has been cleaned up and two new fountains have been installed. The NG platform has been renovated and finishing touch was being given at a frantic pace. There is a huge deployment of police at the station but they too seem to have in given in to the jubilant mood at the station. Nobody bothered me while I was taking photographs at the shed or at the station.