A tribute to the Darjeeling Mail
by Joydeep Dutta, 2004
I guess it is a very long time I am writing on the IRFCA. However with Darjeeling Mail in the news I could not really hold back and decided to write something about the train which has a special place in my heart. Definitely the Darjeeling Mail is the train on which I have travelled the maximum number of times.
Like the Deccan Queen in the west the Darjeeling Mail has accquired a legendary status in the east. For me the Darjeeling Mail was the train that took me home on every vaccation and brought me back to my boarding school at the end of it. I guess in that sense I always loved 43UP while I wasn't very happy to be in 44DN. However the Darjeeling Mail had silently made a mark on my mind. I guess I have been travelling on this train from the early seventies when it was WP hauled. During those days the locomotive and the crew of New Jalpaiguri worked the mail till Rampurhat from where a Rampurhat loco and crew took it all the way to Sealdah. There is an old saying in North Bengal which I guess is still true. It says the following : New Jalpaiguri springs to life with the arrival of the Darjeeling Mail and sleeps with its departure in the evening. 19:15 in those eraly days was the famous time when the mail left Sealdah in the up direction and New Jalpaiguri in the down direction. From my home in the railway colony every evening as child I used to see the WP thrusting forward with the mail and the cab had a red glow followed by a string of lights which made an everlasting impression. Even during diesel days in the eighties when I was at home during the vacation I used to reliieously see the departure of the mail. At 19:15 hours one could hear the notch up sound of the WDM-2 and the within a few mninutes it rushed by with a string of ligths following it. The train was so popular that it was very difficult to get a reservation during any time of the year and there was a real fight among waitlisted passengers to get a berth. The TTE's really had a good time and made fortunes on the mail. Apart from catering to two slip coaches from Haldibari the mail also had two slip coaches for Katihar which was detached at Kumedpur. Though those slip coaches to Katihar were later abolished the mail continued to stop at Kumedpur and the small junction near Barsoi from where the line divergerd to Katihar.
The Darjeeling Mail is indeed a true Minister's train and all West Bengal VIP's visiting north bengal travel by it. In fact on one occasion I even had as my co-passenger in AC 2-tier the current Chief Minister of West Bengal. The Darjeeling Mail earlier used carry second class 2-tier coaches which were later abolished. Initially three first class coaches were the sole upper class segment of the mail and being a railway child I always travelled in them. However one of them was later replaced with AC Chair cars. The Ac Chair cars on the two rakes of the mail had names. They were called Kailash and Nandadevi and these two coaches belonged to NFR/NJP while the rest of the rake belonged to ER/SDAH. Though New Jalpaiguri is only a secondary maintainence depot for the Darjeeling Mail yet nearly complete primary maintainence schedule is carried out for the mail. In fact the railway staff and even the officers take at NJP take a special pride in the Darjeeling Mail though the train officially belongs to Sealdah. The staff in Sealdah is also equally proud and I guess the best idea to increase this pride is to have one rake of NFR and one rake of ER for the mail. In fact at the coaching depot at NJP the best spare coaches are kept for the mail. The depot also has spare name boards for the mail. The Darjeeling Mail departs from platform number 1 at New Jalpaiguri (this was earlier platform 3) and arrives on platform 2. The controllers give the mail the highest priority and if any down train arrives at NJP around the departure time of the mail it usually is made to wait till the mail departs. The top officials of NJP are present almost regularly during the departure of the mail.
However during the eighties the services of the mail deteriorated. In both directions it ran late and poor coaches were provided. The coaches were essentially the old coaches of another legend the Kalka-Mail. It also had a very low priority on the Howrah-Bardhamann chord which the mail joined from Dankuni. Most of the days it used to be overtaken by Kalka and Imperial Mail (Bombay Mail). It used have a WAM-1 to haul it to Bardhamann and then a WDM-2 of Bardhamann shed took it to NJP. The WAM1 gave a poor performance since in order to save the old traction motors the DEE of SDAH had instructed the drivers not to go beyond the 17th Notch and requested them to coast most of the time. Thus sometimes it took more that 3 hours to cover the distance of 107 kms. However in the mid-nineties with the introduction of the air-brake rake the Darjeeling Mail regained its old glory and its priority again went up and it started running on time. From 1995 it was also completely dieselized which for me was indeed a dream come true. It in fact has a very accident free record though in 1975 with a WP it plunged into the rear of a local train at Ultadanga (now called Bidhanagar Road). I am sure that I can tell a lot of stories about the mail which I will definitely do again though I will stop for today.
I remember a very curious incident while in high school. I was travelling with a friend who hails from North Bengal. Since we were travelling on a short notice we had no choice but to travel in second class general. It was the second one from the engine and the train was running before time and at 7:30 a.m. next morning we approached Rangapani the station just before NJP. While one crosses the outer-warner at Rangapani (the signalling at the time) there is a tight curve and the train leans into the curve and then enters Rangapani yard. As usual I was looking out of the window to see the driver in the cab. But suddenly I saw that the loco got detached from the train and sped off and luckily since the curve had 15 km/h restriction the Darjeeling Mail slowly came to a halt. The driver and the assistant recognised it much later and they were already at the NJP outer-warner. In fact it took two and a half hours for the loco to return and take the train at slow speed to NJP. We were lucky that we were slow on the curve or else who knows what would have happened. So our right time journey turned sour. I will continue later with some more stories of the Darjeeling Mail.