Some Reminiscences

by Mr Janardhanan, SE, ERS, 2005

Below are some reminiscences by Mr Janardhanan, Senior Engineer of the Ernakulam Loco Shed, from his long career in the railways. Compilation by Jimmy Jose.

The WDM-2 (ALCO DL-560) Locomotive

WDM-2 locos are the best diesel loco design suited for Indian Railways. Ease of operation and simple maintenance make them superior to all other options available. That's why even after forty years, they are still the most preferred loco for both drivers and maintenance staff. Maintaining them is the simplest of all locos. Give me a spanner set, a screw driver set and some rods, I can strip them to their frame in less than half a day and refit them with the same time. We have tried to modify the basic design in several ways, like the WDM-3A, WDM-3D, WDG series etc. But none of them have fared as well as the original Alco design.

I joined railways as an apprentice in 1960. Those were the days of steam rule. Workers at steam sheds were like kings. A few Metre Gauge diesel locos worked in Western Railway, but these never made to the mainline. Some lines in Central and Eastern Railways were electrified, but did not work to it's full economy. Slowly, the world was turning away from steam and India too gearing up for this change. Just imagine, coal had to be brought from Bihar to run a train from Madras to the place were this coal was mined!!

We had many plans before us. Alco was the well known diesel loco and engine manufacturer of those days. They presented us with many options, the two important ones amongst them were the ALCO 1980/1830 CV (Alco DL-500 series world locomotive) and the ALCO 2635/2430 CV Series C-26 (Alco DL-560) series. General Motors presented their GT 16 model as an alternative. British Locomotives too were considered along with Soviet and German. The transmission type was restricted to Electrical. A tough decision to make, the General Motors design was beautiful. They gave very good high speed and low performance. Alco designs on the other hand were rugged and maintanence was simple. Finally, one batch each of ALCO and GM locos were imported. Clearly, it was a difficult task to settle. GM finally backed out and ALCO became the clear winner. A grave mistake by GM and it took 40 whole years for them to re-enter India. By the time they returned, ALCO was dead and gone, otherwise, ALCO should have offered a tough challenge. Though the ALCO DL-500 series loco (later WDM-1) is well suited for operations anywhere in the world, it had only forward motion. So it to fell out of the race, leaving the ALCO DL-560 (WDM-2) loco to rule Indian Railways for the next 40 years. The DL-500 design did reappear in the form of the WDM-7 decades later, only to disappear once again quickly.

The first WDM-2 arrived Bombay port in 1961. I do not remember the dates exactly. This was the first batch of 40 locos supplied. Further three more batches were imported and several batches of kits were imported before we started production in 1956.

I would like to describe the unloading and installation of these locos from the ships. All the locos were offloaded at Bombay port. There used to be four locos in a row. The bogies were kept separately. First the bogies were unloaded followed by the superstructure. Each time a loco arrived, the ALCO person in charge (like Mr. Young about whom I write below) along with several of his Indian subordinates made a quick check inside the ship. There used to be a surprise present kept inside the loco cab for the first person who opened it. Just simple things like a Transistor Radio, a box of chocolates etc. Each loco had a separate tool box. The bogies were offloaded and kept in position with pin-point accuracy and the superstructure just slid into it. I would like to mention that there is not a single rigid joint between the bogie and superstructure of any loco. Had there been, the loco would topple in less than a kilometer. Each loco before being started was given a Puja. Several sets of Pujaris did puja simultaneously. The locos were towed away to a nearby diesel filling area. From here, the supervisor did the final checks and the loco was started. I was startled since none of these locos gave any trouble during start-up. The locos went to their destined sheds from here. All the locos in the south were homed at Gooty. Other sheds were Bondamunda, Katni, etc. Most of the operation was done during night so that the routine work at Port was not affected.

The trip from Bombay to Gooty was even more exciting. The ghat section between Bombay and Pune was electrified and some electric locos assisted the juvenile diesels! Each loco had not less than 10 people traveling in the cab. So, many of us sat outside the cab while travelling. It was easy since the locos never went more than 30 km/h and always went short hood leading. Unlike steam, these locos could go great distances without a stop. The bogies were well adapted to IR specs. On most occasions we had several enthusiastic well wishers and startled onlookers. Finally, each loco was given a warm reception at Gooty. Local people named these diesels as Minsara Vandi meaning dream vehicle. The steam trains were Pukai Vandi, meaning smoke vehicles.

Diesel locos worked only goods trains for some years. Later, they started operation on shuttles. SER and ER were working many of their trains on diesels. The first major SR train to be dieselized was the Tamil Nadu Express. Soon, the train was being hauled by twin diesels, with drivers in each cab. The Grand Trunk, Madras-Cochin Exp, etc., followed suit. The last major BG train to be converted from steam traction to diesel was the Mangalore-Madras Mail, in 1982.

Mr. Young

Gooty was and continues to be one of the best sheds on IR. The shed was constructed according to ALCO specs — maybe this is the only IR shed whose construction was supervised by Americans. The first foreman (equivalent to a Sr. DME) here was Mr. Paul Young, lovingly called by us Mr. Young. Workaholic was an understatement for him. He turned the laziest of men into the most active workers. He never used any abusive language, but he was an example for others to follow.

He even supervised the building of the garden at Gooty shed. He used to be there, out in the scorching heat along with the gardeners. Everything they did were acceptable to him, except the grass lawns. He experimented with several varieties but none satisfied him. Finally he had a batch imported from the USA. This satisfied him fully, though they were just like the ordinary buffalo grass seen here.

He missed his family so much. The only mode of communication those days was through letters. If he booked a call to the US, he had to wait for 24 hours to get through. And all international calls were monitored. So he asked us to get an Indian wife for him. Somebody arranged a mistress for him and he stayed with her for long. Finally he took her back to the US with him.

My attachment with WDM-2 #18337

I had supervised the unloading of this loco from the ship. This was the only loco I supervised. In November 1965, I had been promoted. The ALCO engineers had gone back. So we took turns in unloading locos. I was allotted #18337. It was a stormy night but we pressed with unloading of the locos. I had opened her cab; she was waiting with a present for me, a transistor radio. I still have it with me. As usual, she was driven to Gooty and remained there till the inauguration of Erode shed in 1969. She was transferred to Erode almost immediately. She worked on several important expresses, like the Tamil Nadu, the Madras-Cochin Exp., the Howrah Mail etc.

Diesel locos were handling goods services with ease. They were not certified for passenger services, though they were used in short shuttles. I had been transferred to DLW. I got training in the US on maintenance of governors, something I specialized in till my retirement. I got transferred to many northern sheds. Everywhere, I used to be called "Governor Man" and my room, the "Governor Room". I visited the US several times, undergoing trainings. In 1980, I went to Nigeria on deputation under RITES. I worked there for seven years. I worked with RITES till my transfer to Ernakulam in 1998.

Ernakulam Shed was a very small shed then. It handled just 25 locos. It had just 7 WDM-2 locos, and all of them were old. As if waiting for me here was #18337. She had grown old but was never tired. Soon, the orders came for scrapping her. All locos more than 35 years old, and those which missed conversion to the WDM-2C class were to be scrapped. This meant that #18337 was doomed. Soon, I started my work to restore her. But time was running out. Another option was to preserve her. She was given a fresh coat of paint; I spent the money for this. Finally, the board heard my pleas and allowed her to continue for 5 more years.

People at the shed soon nicknamed her Janardhanante Makal meaning Janardhanan's daughter. Maybe because I do not have a daughter! On the day of my retirement, she was brought to the Ernakulam Jn. station for me to pose with and to be photographed in front of her. This is the last loco for which I supervised the maintenance schedule in March 2005. She will soon be scrapped and I am trying to organize sponsors for preserving her.

Though the WDM-2 locos are old, they never run out of their youthfulness. The newer WDM-3D is the latest adaptation. But why all the computerization and PLC controls? They just work fine without all these sophistications.

WDM-7 Locomotives

This is a case of a 100% failed loco design. This is actually based on the WDM-1 rather than the WDM-2. They were intended to haul slow branch line expresses. Shed after shed rejected them and finally, all 15 were dumped at Ernakulam — maybe each shed to the north rejected them and they were transferred to sheds further south. There are no more sheds further south of Ernakulam so they settled here!

There was no slot for these locos. Finally we put them up on the push-pull passengers working around Ernakulam. Soon many sheds started taking notice of them. Many wanted them back. They are much suited to work trains with less than 10 coaches. So, 8 were transferred to Golden Rock.

They are well suited for small trains and consume less fuel than WDM-2. So, they can be used with trains like Shatabdi Expresses, Jan Shatabdi Expresses, etc. But now they have run out of time and will remain as shunting and slow passenger locos.

Investigation of accidents

I have been assigned to investigate many accidents. Most of the time, these investigations lead to dead ends. Our job is to certify that there was nothing wrong with the loco. But there is not a single accident caused due to malfunctioning of the loco.

One such accident involved the loco #18209 from Gooty, now based at Erode. The loco was working a freight train near Wadi. Sadly, both the drivers lost their lives. We had to break open the cab to bring them out. Now, this cab had something very special. The daughter of the deceased driver, Mr. Govindarajan, was getting married soon. He was carrying a bunch of wedding invitations with him. We read through the invitations. He had proudly written his name as "Govindarajan, Diesel Loco driver, Southern Railway". This brought out tears in all of us. The wedding did not take place on schedule. The cause of the accident was never known. As usual, the fish-plates were blamed.

We find all sorts of personal articles in the cab of locos involved in accidents, like lunch boxes with chapatis or rice inside, spectacles, etc. This is the worst part for a loco engineer. For that matter, sometimes during check-ups at shed, we even find parts of human bodies in the bogies and cattle guards of locos!