The WDM-2 Loco - A Tribute

by Joydeep Dutta, 2001

All of us by now must be aware of the new ALCO Museum that is expected to come up shortly in Schenectady, USA. So I thought it is high time that we also pay some tribute to our own home ALCO and one of the succesful ALCO designs -- the legendary WDM-2. Unfortunately the saga of the WDM-2 is one of the most neglected part of our railway history. So we all at the IRFCA should contribute to our best to keep alive the contributions made by this great locomotive.

The story is such that IR authorities were still contemplating with GM EMD for a suitable technology transfer. WDM-4 is the export version of SD-24 just as WDG-4 is the export version of SD70MAC. Unfortunately for GM EMD the ALCO guys took our fellows for a party and spoiled the game and thus WDM-2 entered the IR scenario.

WDM-2 is basically based on the design of the Century Series which were ALCOs last weapon to ward off the competition from GM-EMD. The Centurys were really powerful beasts and could pull anything out of the yard including the YARD OFFICE. I bet our WDM-2s can do the same.

The earliest WDM-2s arrived in 1962 and the first one being numbered 18040 and the second one 18041 is still at Kalyan loco shed in Central Railway. With a 251B ALCO diesel engine with sixteen cylinders in V formation and with a high nose short hood WDM-2 is indeed a handsome beast. Whether it is a cross country mail express at 110 km/h or a heavy drag frieght or a lowly all stop local the WDM-2 works all of them with equal ease.

I still vividly remember my days in Kharagpur when nearly every evening I use too watch memersized as the Coromondel Express thundered across the Hijli Station on it's way to Madras with a Kazipet WDM-2 and the feeling of beign lulled as the driver was notching up while running through the station. The express were followed by air braked freight in succesion and all WDM-2 hauled.

DLW guys call January 3rd 1964 as the break-through day since the first DLW assembled WDM-2 was turned out on that day. It was numbered 18233. It was a great excitement when I first spotted her in New Jalpaiguri and now this great locmotive belongs to the Andal shed on the Eastern Railways and most of our officials oblivious of the historical importance of this locomotive.

My own WDM-2 training was at Kharagpur and my teachers were the friendly drivers of KGP and the Railway School staff and I am still in touch with most of them. They some how believed in the capability of the WDM-2 and they kept on telling me that IR needs to strengthen the tracks and use the full potential of the WDM-2. I do believe that what they said were right. I remember those chilly winter nights in the cab of a WDM-2 out on the East Coast Route on some frieght or on a fast mail or express. Just out of Hijli on a down gradient the driver (a great friend of mine but would't mention his name for reasons known to you all) used to do his brake test in those vaccuum brake days. The throttle idle and the sound of the air rushing in through the port no 8 (if I remember well) in the short hood and all our eyes in the cab fixed on the needle of the vacuum gauge drop towards zero and as my friend looked out to see the the relative slow down of the train was a drama on high iron. With a OK brake we then notch up again and have a distance green and home double at Benapur and as we hit the curve at speed before approaching the stations and you can hear the S-contactors drop and the P-contactors pick up in the second transition to Parallel traction motor connection as we rush through Benapur at 65 km/h. Then gradually we pick up speed and touch 105 (max allowed on East Coast Route) and the again face a 45 just after leaving Narayangarh and seeing the great driver control the train with the same ease as he accelerated it and the great machine responding with complete faithfulness were those golden moments in life when no other wishes in life mattered.

WDM-2 is definitely one of the most (if not the most) reliable locomotives in the history of Indian locomotives. South or North, east or west this locomotives can be seen at work every where. The locomotive that came to be just a transition locomotive helping IR to change from Steam to Electric came down to become it's mainstay and will go down in IR history as the greatest work horse it ever had.

Return of the Diesels

These writings are my memories of my beloved locomotive for all to see and enjoy. It was 1995 and the place Kharagpur. My friend called me up telling that he is working the legendary Howrah Madras Mail on that day. It was July and that day it rained heavily. Tierd at the end of the day from my research I thought of dropping the idea, but the very thought of WDM-2 boosted up my energy and thus at 10 p.m. I landed up at the Kharagpur station and found my friend on the longest plaform of the world. The Kazipet locomotive was standing there on the next line. His assistant was in the loco while he was waiting for me. He said that the train was late by three hours since the Santragachi Coaching terminal and the Howrah yard had been flooded.

At 1 a.m. in the morning the Mail appeared behind a Tatanagar based WAM-4. When the WAM-4 was gone my friend attached the WDM-2 and we were ready to pull off as I climed abroad. Starter right master...called the assistant driver as the driver released the SA9 (independent brake) and put the reverser forward and the throttle to the 1st notch. The great Mail started to move and we notched out of Kharagpur. The Hijli Distant was combined with the gate signal and was on a tight curve and one had to be careful while moving towards Hijli. Then we found the Gate-cum-distance green and Hijli home double and my friend gradually notched up as we hurtled past Hijli. I waved to the familiar station master who waved back grinning may be a bit surprised to see me standing at the back of the driver. Flat out in the country at 110 km /h and hearing the chime of the 251B engine was like a dream and appeared to be the best thing in the world. I enjoyed by showing the green light to the passing stations and noted on my friends diary the time of crossing each station. The lights of the cab were put off to be a better visibility of the signals and then as we flew past a station and then lit up the light and copy down the time. Earlier I used to be afraid that some top official may spot me in the cab but with the lights turned off there was no chance.

Though we may boast that for example a single WAP-4 or even WAM-4 can take Tamilnadu Express from Chennai to NewDelhi. But T.N. kept a better schedule when it was Twin-WDM-2 operated. Unknown to many there is an interesting fact. In the mid-1980s (1983-84) for a long time the Howrah-New Delhi Rajdhani Express was Twin-WDM-2 hauled under the wires with two Howrah Diesel shed locos. Remember there was no via-Patna those days. The WAM-4 was replaced for this arrangment and later on the WAP-1 took over.

For any diesel lover I feel it is a very interesting thing to stand in front of an WDM-2 at the end of the platform and see the driver and his assistant carry out various duties jsut after the engine has been attached. At night particularly when the cab lights are off and there is only a faint glow of the gauge lights from the control stand illuminating the shape of the driver with his right hand resting on the hand rest had always in my mind elevated the status of a diesel driver to a folklore hero. Unfortunately (I am sorry) electric traction didn't provide me with such pleasures. Then as the signal is taken off and you see the driver move the first notch while making a silent prayer by touching the A-9 Automatic brake handle is sight that can be relished as many times you see it and then with the second or third notch open and the chug chug sound from the exhaust and the little blisters coming out from the exhaust stack as the rake obediently follows the great machine is a scene which only a WDM-2 can enact in India.

In that particular working on the Madras mail that night I remember an owl come and hit the front glass on the friver side and fall off dead. The loco was on it's high heels that night and we did a 55 minute jorney between Balasore and Bhadrak in 42 minutes. This was in short hood. While returning with the Howrah bound mail the next day from Khurda Road we were working longhood and believe me or not the Commissoner of railway safety had his saloon just attached behind the engine. My friend had to keep up the booked speed of 90 km /h unfortunately but we reached on time.

Those of us who think by electrifying we could do without the WDM-2 are mistaken. In the financial year 1999-2000 the Western Railway had given a report to the Railway Board that they are saving a lot of their costs by running diesels under the wire. The Eastern Railway realized this fact much before and they re - dieselized atleat 13 trains which runs 100 or more kilometers under the wire. Poorva and Rajdhani Expresses via Patna are good examples. The South eastern railway will do it soon and the Madras mail will go by a Vishakapatnam diesel to Howrah straight rather than a electric change over at Kharagpur.

Comparison with the 'Century' Series

Railway Enthusiasts whether they hate or love the diesel-electric locomotive cannot just but have an awe for this great locomotive. Today I am supposed to talk a bit more on the technical side of the WDM-2. The ALCO specification for WDM-2 is DL560C and I found in a drivers handbook given on the NF Railway that it is of the model RSD 29 though it has lot of features similar to the famous Century series.

This similarity was pointed out in the ---GREAT BOOK OF TRAINS(1996)-- an encyclopedaic work by Brian Hollingsworth and Abraham Cook regarding the 301-most popular locomotives of the world. Note that WDM-2 finds a place there. May be DL560C is the export version of RSD 29 for ALCo just as WDM-4 is the export version of SD-24.

If one has a careful look at least at the wheel-set of the WDM-2 one will find that it is very similar to that of the Century Class C628 series. These are the famous ALCO Co-Co Trimount bogies known to drivers all over for their rough ride. The Century series of locos were the last attempt by the great ALCO to ward off the competition from the all conquering GM-EMD. There were several railways in the USA who were a very devoted ALCO customer. The most devoted among them must be Delware and Hudson who brought hundreds of them followed by the romantic Leigh Valley Railway. These Century class were mighty movers and could bascically move everything. They were put into a lot of tests. Very recently a veteran railroader wrote in the Railroad Press magazine about his experience with Leigh Valley ALCOs. He mentions how the C628 class was put into all sorts of test including climbing steep grades without bankers and with a heavy coal train. The Centuries suceeded in all of them but unfortunately they had to give way to the superior SD-40-2. One of the main reason for removal of the Century Class was the damage that was inflicted to the tracks by those huge Co-Co Trimount trucks. The WDM-2 however lives on and infact the Co-Co trimount bogies became popular in India and even used on electric traction like WAM-4 and WAG5.

While I was at Kharagpur I was a frequent visitor to the System Technical School of the S. E. Railway at Kharagpur. They had a very big model room depicting all the parts of the WDM-2 including the drivers control stand (To which I was more attacted naturally), and the electrical panel. The back panel of the electric panel had three interesting relays called the speed sensitive relays which used to read the speed from the voltage supplied by the axle generator and trigger the transition by changing the traction motors connections. The WDM-2 has four types of traction motor connections. They are:

  • Series-Parallel (2-in series by the each of the three blocks in parallel)
  • Series-Parallel, shunted field (32km/h)
  • Parallel (55km/h)
  • Parallel, shunted field (81km/h).

So with four types of connection one needs three transitions and thus we have three speed sensitive relatys. These relays are now replaced by the BX/BX electronc cards and naturally there are three of them. Instead beign in the backside of the electrical panel the BN/BX cards are now in the front side. It was also interesting to note that in 1965 it was a Century series locomotive that first had an AC/DC transmission. In India in the late eigthies 11 locomotives in Tughlakabad was made into a AC/DC model but later reverted back to the same old DC/DC version mainly for maintanence reasons. It was again a trail at Lucknow on a WDM-2 for an AC/DC transmission has led to the development of the WDM-2C in the mid 90's (1994).

The 2600 Hp prime mover in a WDM-2 wastes 200 HP in running the compressor and exhauster unit. In fact it has been mentioned in GREAT BOOK OF TRAINS that it is only the addition of exhauster unit in the WDM-2 for working vaccuum braked trains is where it differed from the century series. The original braking system used in WDM-2 had compressed air brake for the loco and vaccuum brake for the train and was termed the 28 LV-1 system while the current one is the 28-LAV1 system with the A to mean that it can operate air-braked trains also. The Kazipet shed and some other sheds in the south used to write a big A in the cab side meaning that it is fit air braked rake operations. When DLW started churning dual braked locos in the late 80�s mainly keeping in head the need for the new BOXN and BCN frieght trains coined the term WDM-2A. Again with the rise of the air-braked passenger services they put forward a loco termed WDM-2B with dummied exhauster unit and is used to operate only air-braked trains. The first WDM-2B that I experience was at Kharagpur and it was numbered 16711 and had alittle different radiator design with a more fuel efficient engine than the regular WDM-2. 16711 went on to be a regular performer on the Bhubaneswar Rajdhani Express between Bhuabaneswar and Kharagpur.

The WDM-2 controls has a very scientific layout in a sense that it cleary divides the pneumatic part and the electrical part. All those who think of the WDM-2 cab as their second home knows about this fact very clearly. The air-braking controls are on the right with brake-valves and pressure gauges along with Sanding and MU2B valve and on the left are the electrical controls which are the throttle handle, reverser handle, selector handle, the loadmeter, (the electrical speedometer on the long-hood facing stand), the headlight switch, the hotengine,lowlubeoil, crakcase failure and auillary generator failure, wheel sleep indication panel. Just above the selector lever is the Generator Field Switch (one of the major component) the master controller and the fuel-pump circuit breaker.

There was another type of braking system used on the WDM-2s called 6SLAV-1 and I had seen such a system fitted in some locomotives of Vishakapatnam. The SA-9 (loco brake) was pretty strange and rather odd looking in this set up.

WDM/2 Emotions

It was rainy evening at Kharagpur on a usual day in July 1995. I somehow after the institute hours went to visit a very close driver friend of mine. He said that he was working the Madras mail that night and invited me to be on the footplate with him. I am sure no one would leave such opportunities.

So I was right there at the barline at 10 p.m. but we came to know that the mail would be three hours late since the lines were inundated due to heavy rains in the Howrah yard. I went off to the platform to have a look and then at around 12: 45 a.m. in the night a WAM-4 brought in the heavy mail on platform 1 of Kharagpur.

My friend backed up the sparkling Kazipet WDM-2 on the train and attached it without a bump. The WDM-2 locomotives based in the Southern Indian states are usually maintained very well. The cab was very clean with cushioned seats very unlikely of a WDM-2 from the Kharagpur Shed. I stood behind my friend as we pulled out of Kharagpur and slowly negotiated the curve on the approach to Hijli and then a ran through at notch 8 through Hijli station. The Kazipet locomotive was responding to the throttle like a race horse and very soon we touched 100 km/h when my friend eased the throttle and then applied the brake for a test.

This was a vaccum braked rake and the brake test was compulsory. Now heading south towards Khurda we raced along the next station Benapur at 100 km/h. The East Coast Route takes the burden of heavy freight and the lateral hunting in the cab was pretty high which again confirmed the rough ride of the ALCOs. I looked back to see the smoke at the 8th notch and it was nearly negligible which showed the care Kazipet has teken to maintain the fuel injection nozzles of the locomotive. Usually black smoke is what KGP loco gives out.

It was a sheer joy as we crossed each station one after another trying to make up some time and as we accelerated and deccelerated I could hear the sound of the contactors dropping and the other contactors picking up. As we all know that due to the wear and tear experience by the wheel rim due to wheel rail interaction the wheel diameter actually varied and the Kazipet shed had put up the corrections to the speed read by the speedometer corresponding to a given wheel diameter. The whole run was a pure joy and as we passed each train going towards Kharagpur one thought came to my mind. There must be something to this locomotive that makes it the dominating locomotive of the Indian Railways. All trains that were passing by us were obviously WDM-2 hauled.

The answer lay in many aspects of the locomotive. I will put forward a simple example. The word CAB ERGONOMICS is usually kept out of the Indian Railways dictionary. Though lately the WAP5 or WDG-4 came in with Ergonomic cabs and DLW also tried out this

Ergonomic layout in WDM-2c, WDG-2 and WDP-2 with a desktop layout and tap changer type throttle and other small design changes like putting all the pneumatic parts like MU2B and HS4 valves in one control panel in the shorthood. What they have not done is to have a closer look into the cab of WDM-2. To my knowledge it is the WDM-2 which gave the most comfortable operating environment to the driver. In that monsoon night I stood behind my friend and observed how he was driving in a complete relaxed manner. As I have already mentioned that the layout of the controls in a WDM-2 are pretty scientifically done with electrical and pneumatic controls completely separated and everything is under the easy reach of the driver's eye. Just one can have a look at the cab of WDP-2 and realize how uncomfortable it is for the driver to drive.

I know of many drivers complaining that driving a WDG-2 or WDM-2c is problematic with the left hand desktop controls since with your left hand engadged on the controls in a WDM-2 you can at least take some food with your right hand but that is not possible in the the WDM-2c or WDG-2. WDM-2 is a locomotive with a lot of built in qualities like the above which should have been used to design the new diesels but that was not the case. IR never discusses with the men who runs the machine before building one.

For example in USA when the great UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD ordered for 1000 SD70M locomotives from GM EMD they wanted them to have the usual AAR type control stand very similar to the ones on WDM-2. I am sure that if you ask any Indian diesel driver about which is the locomotive he has driven with more comfort and ease and enjoyed it and which the one he feels have always performed it's best and hardly ever failed him. I can close my eyes and bet that the answer is WDM-2.

That night while running towards Khurda I realized what could be a very cost effective solution for our transportation needs. We should upgrade our tracks and use the full potential of the WDM-2. In that way we could have progressed a lot but unfortunately even the East Cost route which was a diesel kingdom a few years back is under the sceptre of electrification. Whatever it may be in the areas where the new broad gauge lines are built or meter gauge is converted to the broad it is the WDM-2 which is at the helm of all actions. It is definitely the most reliable locomotive ever in the history of our railways and has been a workhorse unparalled by any other locomotive in any form of traction. WDM-2 is not only a symbol of India's transportaion power but also a symbol of it's self reliance and that what makes it more important to the history of our progress. This was the first locomotive where most parts were indegenized except the parts like the crakshaft which was imported. The first WDM-2 from DLW 18233 which now belongs to the Andal shed on the Eastern Railway is an important symbol of our transportation progress and should definitely be preserved.

With moist eyes I would like to end up this article but on the 100th Anniversary of ALCO let me do it with a little story. As a teenager during my vaccations I used to spend most of time roamng around in the station at Newjalpaiguri. I used to go and watch mesmerized as the crew change used to take place on the WDM-2 locomotives that used to bring in those long distance runners. It used to watch keenly when the Assitant driver opened the engine room doors and bet in my mind --what shall I find written on the Fuel Injection Pump (FIP) cover--DLW or ALCO --- and in many occasions I did find the honoured name ALCO.