The End of Steam, Part 1

The End of Steam in India, As Recorded in 1997

By John Smith, 2010

This article is from the website of the Stewartry Camera Club and is reproduced here by generous permission of John Smith. On this page is Part 1; while Part 2 is here. The original article at the Stewartry Camera Club web site can be found here.

In Britain the use of steam on regular passenger services ended in 1968. In India steam survived on the metre gauge lines in Rajasthan and Gujarat until February 2000. I visited the area in 1997 and at that time there were just two pockets of surviving steam workings, one on the Chittaurgarh to Mhow service and the other on the branches north of Wankaner Junction in Gujarat.

Monday 21st July 1997

My stay in Gujarat was centred on Rajkot where I can recommend the Rainbow Restaurant though the VJ guest house was dismal indeed. On the standard gauge express from Rajkot a group of musicians came down the train and seemed very upset that I had taken their photograph. The other passengers sent them on their way saying 'He doesn't understand' which on reflection is often the case. The train took me to Wankaner Junction where behind the station stood the metre gauge engine yard and shed. After a brief wander around the shed I boarded the train to Morbi as the YG class loco number 4138 ran down the line and backed onto our set of coaches.

Arrival at WKR Station
On the way to Morbi
Train waiting at Morbi

On arrival at the small town of Morbi a quick walk into the centre revealed an interesting 'furt' market which had plenty of bananas, but no apples or oranges, and a town square where I bought an outdated Kodak film which I used back at the station. There I had to keep dodging the station master who insisted that I needed a permit from Mumbai before I could take any photographs. The station building at Morbi is quite a grand place sporting a clock tower. My return ticket to Rajkot cost me all of 13 Rupees.

Posing for a photo at Morbi station
Morbi station
4138 at Morbi

Back at Wankaner Junction I had a very friendly welcome from everyone at the engine shed and I spent the rest of the afternoon taking photos and doing a quick sketch inside the shed. Most of the time I was surrounded by about 12 railwaymen who discussed in Gujarati every new addition to my drawing with the conversation interspersed with the english words for all the locomotive parts.

Gloriously Grubby
Discussion in front of the shed
Wankaner steam shed

In steam that day were YG 2-8-2s 3525, 4138 and 4369. Out of use was YP 4-6-2 number 2813 while YG 3509 had it's motion dismantled and 4182 was propped up without it's wheels. These were almost all that remained of the many thousands of steam engines that had served the railways of India and even then, like back in the UK in 1968, it was difficult to grasp the reality that soon they would be gone forever. The final timetable included 4 passenger and 2 salt trains and the service was the last regular steam route in India, with the end coming on Thursday 3rd February 2000.

Under Repair

Saturday 2nd August 1997

After a stay at the lovely old hill town and pilgrimage centre of Pushkar I travelled the 11 km to Ajmer by taxi to catch the 8.15 departure to Chittaurgarh where arrival was at 13.50. Chittaurgarh, or Chittor, is famous for it's fort set on top of a commanding escarpment. I stayed, very comfortably, in the Pratap Palace Hotel. Lunch in the Shakti Restaurant was a half chicken tandoori with rice and lemon tea, and though very tasty, the chicken had clearly died of starvation.

A short walk to the station to enquire about the next leg of my journey to Ratlan and Bhopal led me to the realisation that I had stumbled across the only other surviving steam service, for sure enough, a cloud of steam rising from the yard to the south of the station was the indication that metre gauge YP pacific 2150 was shunting there. I was soon invited over onto the footplate and then into the shed 'to meet the boss'. I was told that steam was due to end on this route between Chittor and Ratlam in March 1998. In fact it ended in January, but the Ratlam to Mhow service continued until the end of 1998.

At the time of my visit there were two daily steam services between Ratlam and Chittor, and I waited for the '18 o'clock' service to arrive hauled by a very run down YG 2-8-2 number 3333 which came on shed for servicing and turning ready for it's 05.30 return to Ratlam. The second steam service was due in at 23.00 and departed for Ratlam at 07.15.

I was shown over a 1200 hp diesel and taken up the yard in it and into the station where the loco supervisor took me for tea. He gave me the address of his family hotel in Udaipur which he was sure I should try to visit.

Sunday 3rd August 1997

Arrived early at Chittor station to photograph the 07.15 departure and then returned to the engine shed late in the afternoon to spend an hour and a half doing a drawing of 2150. It was my intention, the following day, to catch the 07.15 to Mhow in order to visit the engine shed there, but when I arrived at the station at 07.00, the train was already pulling out of the platform, and with no alternative bus service I gave up on the idea.

These few days at Wankaner, Morbi and Chittaurgarh when steam in India was about to be eclipsed by diesel and electric are now but fading memories, but at least I have a few photographs to remind me that … I was there to see steam pass into the history books. The abiding memory, though, is of how overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming were all those railwaymen I met at Wankaner Junction and at Chittor steam shed in Gujarat and Rajasthan, India in 1997.

Continue on to Part 2