Branch Line to Farukh Nagar

by John Lacey

This article was originally published by the Indian Steam Railway Society (ISRS) in its newsletter, and is reproduced here by permission, which is gratefully acknowledged. Copyright for the material here rests with the ISRS and the author(s) of the article. The ISRS is the premier organization in India engaged in preservation and efforts to promote awareness of the country's railway heritage.

This article originally appeared in the ISRS Newsletter No. 4, Winter 2000.

I recently had the opportunity of attending, for the first time, a meeting of the ISRS. It was a day full of interest, not the least for me was the pleasure of meeting fellow members whose names alone were known to me prior to this get-together.

The plan was to travel in a MG Conference Car attached to the 10.30 Passenger from Delhi Sarai Rohilla to Farukh Nagar on Sunday 12th November. Forewarned the previous day hy Harsh Vardhan I was not surprised to find neither Conference Car nor fellow members at Delhi S. R. However, there was one passenger who stood out from the others, could he be a member? Indeed, it was Mr. S K Kashyap. The remainder of the group joined the train at Delhi Cantt. Station, and thanks to the hospitality of the guard, the party was accommodated in the Luggage section of his van, and the train of 6 bogies hauled by YDM4 6254 sped through the Delhi suburbs. The guard was indeed a kind and hospitable gentleman, for while this was not the first occasion I have travelled as an unbooked parcel, it was the first on which the guard telegraphed ahead to have the group served tea and biscuits on arrival at Garhi Harsaru Junction.

There was another example of his consideration here. The branch line starter was cleared, the driver whistled to depart, but the guard held the departure back so that we could obtain a crossing shot with the Chetak Express exchanging tokens at speed. It was a stunning sight indeed even though there was no gleaming YP steam locomotive at its head.

In contrast to the speedy passenger along the main line, the train travelled at 20km/hr along the historic branch line to Farukh Nagar. This line was opened in 1873 as a branch from Asia's first MG main line to serve the salt pans. The branch is a pleasant undulating line and halts were made, rural style, at level crossings en route. The lower speed made conversation easier, and many and varied were the topics broached.

At the terminus some members went in search of his historical relics (old rails), inspected the abandoned steam engine shed, or rode the loco while running around. The hospitable crew provided draughts of fresh milk while the teenaged son of Munish Sen applied his lessons about the whistle code.

Then the return journey to Garhi Harsaru was made. This train was empty, and the majority of members decided that now there was an opportunity too grand to resist to ride on the roof. This was taken up with alacrity.

All too soon the journey was over for the train terminates at Garhi Harsaru Jn., where a van was waiting to return the party to Delhi. But the day's interest was not yet over. Trains were signailed on both MG and BG lines heading south, and there was also smoke visible in the distance. Soon a YDM-4 appeared on a heavy load, with over 50 passengers on every roof and milk cans hanging from every window. This arrival was quite a sight but the picture was completed by a fast moving WDM-4 overtaking on the BG, smoke trail flying.

And now for some serious stuff, and perhaps the reason why I, as an outsider, was asked to write this report?

What did this outing have to do with steam, or the aims of the ISRS? Well, apart from the difficulty the Committee has in organising any outing with steam, centered in a part of the country which has no active steam (excepting Fairy Queen and Royal Orient), there has been a proposal to run a regular tourist steam train operating along the line to the Bird Sanctuary at Sultanpur. So this was an opportunity to travel the route and consider the prospect at first hand.

Part of the appeal of the line to Farukh Nagar, it seems to me, is that the line is a rural branch line, bucolic in its charm yet so close to this major metropolis. Are the two compatible? Will the necessary changes to make the line a tourist drawcard kill its charm? Or will it not appear due to its dusty indeed, decrepit, infrastructure? What will be the target market?

There are no easy answers to these questions.

However, the most original response I had to this day's outing -- apart from my disappointment at the lack of rescission motions and nullings of dissent from the chair -- was how similar this outing must have been to the early meetings of the Australian Railway Historical Society which was founded in 1933. There, a small group of people met to pass on news, discuss developments, relate recent observations and in short to share their interests in railways. Here in Delhi, more than 75 years later, much the same was taking place. There are differences of course, and Delhi already has that great Railway Museum so full of potential. But I sense the same enthusiasm; who knows what the ISRS will come to achieve?

My point is that the whole railway preservation movement in Australia where there are now preserved railways operations including a weekly main line steam hauled express, in every state and territory, developed from the meetings of six men with similar interests in 1933.

In six an atavistic number? The reason I ask is that I know that the Friends of the NRM, predecessors of the ISRS, began with six members. I wish the ISRS all the best.

The author was a Director of the NSW Rail Transport Museum in Australia for a number of years in the 1980s.