Indian Narrow-Gauge Lines 2002-2003

Compiled by Simon Mortimer

This compilation of material from Rinbad is reproduced here by the generous permission of the author Simon Mortimer and the editor of Rinbad, Brian Philp. The original is available here. Copyright for this article is held by the author and Rinbad. A few annotations have been made to bring some items in this article up to date. These are set off in italic font to distinguish them from the original material.

This page was updated on 13 February 2004.

The paragraphs numbered 2801 to 2801.8 appeared in the Rinbad newsletter during the first quarter of 2003 (following a visit in December 2002).

The paragraphs numbered 3580.1 to 3580.7 and 3588 to 3596 appeared in the Rinbad newsletter during the first quarter of 2004 (following a visit in December 2003).

RMI references are to the official Railway Map of India (1979 edition).


[2801] India: narrow-gauge lines: The main railways in India are broad-gauge (1676mm=5ft6in), but important parts of the network were built to metre-gauge, and many metre-gauge lines remain. Narrow-gauge means gauges less than metre, generally 762mm (2ft6in) or 610mm (2ft). Tourist or 'toy train' lines to former 'hill-stations' such as Kalka - Shimla (R.0587; 762mm-gauge; RMI F4); New Jalpaiguri - Siliguri Jn - Darjeeling (R.0588, 2410; 610mm-gauge; RMI L6) and Neral - Matheran (R.2148, 2801.8; 610mm-gauge; RMI D10) appear reasonably secure in this format, but other lines face possible gauge-conversion or closure. Some have already been converted to broad-gauge, and conversion work continues on others. Freight traffic is no longer important, and often non-existent. The irony of many narrow-gauge lines is that their trains can and do run packed with people, inside and clinging to carriage sides and roofs, but ticketless travel is so rife that passenger traffic and takings seem small when viewed from Indian Railways headquarters, Rail Bhavan in Delhi, especially compared with the costs of the traditional and widespread overmanning. Lines may provide useful benefits to the local economy, both to passengers and in providing jobs for railway staff, yet be at risk of closure. In these circumstances, investment has been limited, and with some exceptions, the narrow-gauge lines tend to be run-down, with track barely fit for purpose, speeds averaging 20km/h with a 50km/h maximum, passenger stock decrepit and dirty, and locomotives indifferently maintained. What they do provide is insight into the life of India, during journeys that may be day-long odysseys to areas that rarely see a European face, where the traveller is a source of curiosity but not hostility.

Northern Railway

2801.1] Pathankot Jn - Baijnath - Joginder Nagar: (RMI E3-F4) From Pathankot on the Northern Railway 107km north-east of Amritsar in Punjab province, this 176km 762mm-gauge line lies for most of its length in Himachal Pradesh. Longer yet much less well-known than the 762mm-gauge Kalka - Shimla (R.0587; RMI F4) line in that province, it is similarly well-kept and has an almost main-line ambience. No fewer than six trains a day run east to Baijnath (c.km150) and two of these workings cover the full length, taking c.9h. A round-trip takes two days. Narrow-gauge trains formerly left Pathankot from bays on the northern side of the (Delhi -) Jullundur - Pathankot broad-gauge line, but the layout was altered in December 2002, just before our reporter visited. Leaving from a spacious single-track terminal platform under a new canopy on the southern side, the narrow-gauge now swings across the end of the broad-gauge platforms to head through the town. In the insanitary streets of Pathankot our reporter's train hit a cow on the head, killing it stone dead, though this did not hold up progress. East of the town the train, packed with people but orderly, entered Himachal Pradesh and began to climb in the clear air of the Kangra valley, the mountains just appearing from the clouds many km away. With so many services, trains cross fairly frequently, affording opportunities for taking tea and photographs. The line has some considerable structures, at one point crossing the second-highest bridge in the province, twisting and turning over deep gorges, diving into tunnels, unusual on the narrow-gauge, and climbing to over 1000m. Here the evening air becomes cold to freezing, and in winter swept by blizzards. The scenery becomes increasingly treeless but not barren, characterised by rough pastures and terraced fields with the Kangra Range rising above. At Baijnath is a small sub-shed with long inspection-pits for whole trains. The final c.25km up to Joginder Nagar is very tortuous, through sparsely populated country where even the terminus seems to provide thin traffic. Good accommodation was found at the Hotel Uhl there. The line is worked by no fewer than 14 Class ZDM3 diesel locomotives, and Pathankot shed also held an apparently serviceable 2-6-2 tender locomotive #21366.

Western Railway

3588] Nadiad Jn - Petlad Jn - Bochansan Jn - Bhadran: (RMI D8) Built at the behest of the Gaekwar (= ruler) of Baroda (= Vadodara), this 762mm-gauge line opened c.1920 from Nadiad in Gujarat province, on the Western Railway's Ahmadabad - Nadiad - Vadodara (- Mumbai) broad-gauge main line, and makes flat crossings with two broad-gauge branches off the main line (Anand - Petlad - Khambhat and Vasad - Bochansan - Kathana) before reaching the sleepy settlement of Bhadran. Other narrow-gauge lines in the area were all converted to broad-gauge by the early 1990s. The four trains daily that once ran the full 59km length of the line have been reduced to a solitary Nadiad - Petlad - Bochansan - Bhadran working, taking c.3h each way (running daily except Sundays according to staff, not daily as shown in the Indian Bradshaw timetable). An additional Nadiad - Petlad round-trip runs daily (not Sundays only as shown in Bradshaw). Most of the traffic seems to be on this 38km section, and south of Petlad the train is not busy. Petlad shed staff take pride in the line's two Class ZDM5 diesel locomotives (#537 and 538) and have never let them become simultaneous failures! A ramp at Petlad allows narrow-gauge stock to be run on and off broad-gauge wagons, and on 29 December 2003 a smart-looking coach was being delivered from works in this manner. A little to the south at Bochansan Jn signs still advise rather hopefully the connectional opportunities that are available once a day. At Bhadran the rather derelict station presents a sad sight where once - as it says on the walls - a proud station-master would have co-ordinated passengers, goods and packages.

3589.1] The Gaekwar of Baroda's narrow-gauge lines centred on Dabhoi Jn: (RMI D8) Also built at the behest of the Gaekwar of Baroda, and still in Gujarat but on the southern side of the river Mahi, this 762mm-gauge system's first line, from Miyagam in 1862, initially used bullock traction. The Dabhoi Jn - Samlaya - Timba Road line to the north is now closed but four routes still radiate from Dabhoi: west (Dabhoi Jn - Pratapnagar - Vishvamitri Jn - Jambusar Jn; 79km; 2 trains a day); south-west (Dabhoi Jn - Miyagam Karjan Jn; 33km; 5 trains a day); south (Dabhoi Jn - Chandod; 17km; 2 trains a day); and east (Dabhoi Jn - Chhuchhapura Jn - Bodeli; 25km; 2 trains a day; and Dabhoi Jn - Chhuchhapura Jn - Tankhala; 53km; 2 trains a day). Both Vishvamitri, just south of the city of Vadodara, and Miyagam Karjan offer interchange with the Western Railway's (Delhi -) Vadodara - Mumbai broad-gauge main line. Traction seems exclusively Class ZDM5 diesel locomotives, of which 12 were seen. Dabhoi Jn still has quite a British atmosphere - until you leave the station. Our reporter could identify nothing that looked like a hotel but he enjoyed free and exclusive use for a night of the Upper Class Waiting Room, with tap and toilet, much as a European traveller might have done in the days of the British Raj. Over the several days of his visit in December 2003 the staff on this system were very friendly, in particular a Senior Commercial Inspector who offered him breakfast, and the train-crews who allowed him more than one footplate ride, including driving experience!

3589.2] Dabhoi Jn - Pratapnagar - Vishvamitri Jn - Jambusar Jn: At Pratapnagar, 28km west of Dabhoi, is the works for the system, which was not visited, but from the passing train looked empty. At 31km from Dabhoi, the narrow-gauge line runs beneath the broad-gauge at Vishvamitri to enter its own station at right-angles to the main line. After long layovers at both Pratapnagar and Vishvamitri, the train continued (without our reporter) to Jambusar Jn on the Bharuch Jn - Samni - Jambusar Jn - Kavi 762mm-gauge line (which he had visited in 2001). These layovers, and the low line speeds, make the two daily trains slow even by narrow-gauge standards, taking 5h to cover 80km.

3589.3] Dabhoi Jn - Miyagam Karjan: Heading south-west across land that supports thriving agriculture where irrigated, but only scrubby vegetation otherwise, the 33km run into the broad-gauge station at Miyagam Karjan takes c.1h30min. Two more narrow-gauge branches from here to the south (Miyagam Karjan - Choranda Jn - Moti Koral; 28km, and Miyagam Karjan - Choranda Jn - Malsar; 38km) are difficult to visit, for each has only one round-trip a day starting at the branch terminus and running largely during hours of darkness.

3589.4] Dabhoi Jn - Chandod: The afternoon train, only comfortably loaded, ran around the rather fetid outskirts of Dabhoi past a magnificent carved gate that once formed part of a continuous but long-demolished town wall, and off into pleasant agricultural countryside seemingly dominated by tobacco production. The 17km run takes only 40min, possibly the shortest run on the Indian narrow-gauge. Intermediate stations are in poor condition, but the terminus at Chandod is well kept, and still has its station-master selling traditional Edmondson-pattern card tickets.

3589.5] Dabhoi Jn - Chhuchhapura Jn - Bodeli (- Chhota Udepur): This line used to run farther east, but the Bodeli - Chhota Udepur section closed in 1990. One of the two Dabhoi - Bodeli daily workings runs through from and to Pratapnagar. The Dabhoi - Bodeli run takes c.1h30min for the 25km. For no obvious reason the eastbound train had a locomotive on front and rear, and only the rear locomotive and coaches returned as the next westbound train. Chhuchhapura Jn (known even to local people as CCP!) is east-facing and the two through trains daily from Dabhoi reverse here for their 38km run south through dry and dusty desert landscape on the Chhuchhapura - Tankhala branch. The whole branch is subject to severe speed-restrictions, initially 25km/h falling to 15km/h for the last 24km - so the train-crew deemed it suitable to hand over to a novice driver for several hours! A fine feature on the line is a slender fenceless bridge over the waters of a broad canal bringing irrigation water south from Rajasthan. At the dusty terminus, Tankhala, the crew took our reporter to their rest room, shared their lunch and posed for more photographs, before letting him drive all the way back to Dabhoi.

3590] Bilimora Jn - Waghai: (RMI D9) From the Western Railway's (Delhi -) Vadodara - Vishvamitri - Miyagam Karjan - Bilimora - Mumbai broad-gauge main line, this 762mm-gauge line, another of the Gaekwar's creations still benefiting Gujerat, runs 65km east up into the Satmala hills. The two trains a day work out and back from the terminus, but their timings allow an 8h round-trip from Bilimora with an hour at Waghai. The line is quite scenic except for the section that seems to bisect an aggregates quarry. Leaving tranquil pools and lakes flanked by lush vegetation, the line climbs at its eastern end into drier uplands where eucalyptus trees flourish. Substantial timber traffic was once carried, but - as virtually everywhere on the narrow-gauge - no freight trains now run. The station at Waghai is somewhat run-down. Traction is two Class ZDM5 diesel locomotives (#510 and 539), but rusting at the back of Bilimora's small shed lies what remains of Class W 0-6-2T #585 Bilimora, built 1923 by WG Bagnall and condemned in 1999.

Central Railway

2801.2] Dhaulpur Jn - Bari - Mohari Jn - Tantpur / Sirmuttra: (RMI F6) Dhaulpur is south of Agra on the Delhi - Mumbai broad-gauge main line. The Maharajah of Dhaulpur financed this Y-shaped 89km 762mm-gauge system, completed between 1908 and 1917. It later formed part of the Gwalior Light Railways and is now part of the Central Railway in the province of Rajasthan. Heading west from Dhaulpur, Bari (km32) is the system's main intermediate traffic centre and of greater importance than the physical junction at Mohari (km41), a remote spot, where the tracks diverge to Tantpur (km59) and Sirmuttra (km71). The countryside is mostly verdant agricultural land becoming a bit more rugged towards the two termini. The area is littered with a kind of red stone for which Sirmuttra is famed and which is used all over the world in paving and cladding. Stone traffic used to provide substantial freight for the railway, but now justifies 'emergency' specials only when the local roads get washed out during the monsoon. The passenger service comprises one early-morning trip (Dhaulpur 04:00 - Sirmuttra - c.10:15 Dhaulpur) followed by a more complex working (Dhaulpur - Tantpur - Bari - Sirmuttra - c.19:30 Dhaulpur). One consequence of this service pattern is that the incoming morning train gets diverted to a very obscure platform at the end of the carriage-sidings well away from the main station, whose only narrow-gauge platform is occupied by the second train awaiting departure. Despite the line's modest allocation of two Class ZDM5 diesel locomotives, Dhaulpur shed boasts 25 staff. It also holds two 1954-built Kawasaki Class ZEZ552E 2-8-2 steam locomotives #47/55, rusting where their last fire was dropped. Though the service is thin, the system is run down and the staff talk of closure, the trains remain well-used.

2801.3] Gwalior Jn - Sabalgarh - Sheopur Kalan: (RMI G6-F7) As with other light railways in the former princely state of Gwalior (now part of the Central Railway in Madhya Pradesh) this 200km 610mm-gauge line was originally sponsored by the Maharaja of Gwalior, reaching Sheopur Kalan in 1909. It is not clear why this particular line was built to a gauge as narrow as 610mm, for it has few major engineering works. (The nearby 84km Gwalior Jn - Bhind line was converted to broad-gauge in 2001.) Gwalior is a significant town on the Delhi - Mumbai broad-gauge main line, and after threading its fetid streets the narrow-gauge track runs west across an increasingly arid landscape that ends as a stony desert with thorn-bushes and camels. The area has been afflicted by drought for some 50 years and even substantial irrigation projects have been of limited value due to the water-table having fallen. (One of these schemes, including a viaduct bearing pipes forming a giant siphon is depicted on INR100 banknotes.) A daily through train runs the length of the line, starting after 06:00 from each end, crossing at Sabalgarh (km93) and arriving around 16:30. Short workings also run to Sabalgarh from each end but do not allow a through run, so a round-trip takes two days. Sheopur is a very Indian town, with no signs in western script, so a hotel had to be pointed out to our reporter. (His accommodation cost him INR100 =c.GBP1.30 = c.EUR2, and was of a standard appropriate to that price!) The line has ten Class NDM5 diesels, almost the whole of this Class. At Gwalior the well-tucked away motive-power depot held some unusual single-ended locos numbered 1001 and 1003 and a single diesel inspection railcar 798.

2801.6] Achalpur - Murtajapur Jn - Yavatmal: (R.2268; RMI F9-G9) Unusually this 189km 762mm-gauge line is still owned by a London-based company, though run by the Central Railway, a 1903 lease having recently been extended from 2003 to 2006. From Murtajapur (or Murtazapur) on the Mumbai - Kolkata (= Bombay - Calcutta) electrified broad-gauge main line, the narrow-gauge, known locally as the Shakuntala railway, is operated as two separate branches north 76km to Achalpur and south-east 113km to Yavatmal. In December 2002 Murtajapur shed had three Class ZDM5 diesel locomotives, plus a diesel railcar apparently undergoing trials on the run to Achalpur. Few passengers seem to buy tickets, and even by Indian standards the line is lavishly staffed with train-crew, station-masters and crossing-keepers to run a daily train to each extremity. Trains leave any time after 07:00, the crew stopping for breakfast soon after leaving for the trundle out to Achalpur, returning up to an hour later. Arrival back at Murtajapur might be about 15:00 from Achalpur or 17:00 from Yavatmal, but the timetable is not strictly observed. The line to the north does not seem to serve any significant settlement and the Achalpur terminus is little more than a village, though a throng of passengers seemed to enjoy their free trip. The line to Yavatmal climbs on a long curving embankment to pass over the broad-gauge line on a bridge before heading off through eucalyptus trees and sand, serving some quite large settlements, where passengers boarded with huge bundles of firewood. Stacked shoulder high and extending not only the entire width of the train, but up to a metre on either side, the wood from time to time snagged lineside objects and threatened any unwary bystander the rest of the way. Yavatmal is a significant town, its station occupying a wasteland of now-abandoned goods-yard.

3591] Pulgaon - Arvi: (RMI G9) From Pulgaon on the Mumbai - Pulgaon - Nagpur - Kolkata broad-gauge main line, Central Provinces Railways in 1917 opened this 35km 762mm-gauge branch north to the town of Arvi. Central Railway now run two trains a day (except on Sundays, though this exception is not made clear in the Indian Bradshaw timetable), using two rebuilt Class ZDM4A diesel locomotives (#200 and 217) to haul rakes of four bogie coaches across dry scrubby semi-desert scenery. The round-trip takes a little over three hours, including 30min at the branch terminus, now an educational centre. The station-master at Arvi, kept busy with paperwork by his two trains a day, was proud of his British signals, though these are completely defunct, the line being worked by ticket. The run-round loop's outer point is still worked by a century-old lever-frame, a solid piece of ironmongery bearing the inscription 'Railway Signal Co Ltd, Liverpool, England 1895'. The Class ZP 4-6-2 steam locomotives that came from the Bangalore area and worked the line from 1976 until 1997 were in December 2003 still at Pulgaon, #2 and 3 (allegedly 'preserved') in the yard next to the broad-gauge station and #5 (allegedly 'condemned') at the back of the small locomotive shed a few hundred metres up the branch. All three seemed in a similar state of dereliction.

2801.8] Neral - Matheran: (R.2148; RMI D10) From the junction of Neral on the Central Railway's Mumbai - Pune (formerly Bombay - Poona) broad-gauge main line, this 610mm-gauge line opened in 1907, taking an extremely tortuous and steep route (126 tariff-km, 21 actual rail km, 6km as the parrot flies, journey-time 2h!) to Matheran. This picturesque 'hill-station' 86km from Mumbai was once much favoured by Bombay-based British administrators of the Raj and their families during the 'hot weather' season, and is now a popular tourist destination served by the 'toy train'. The line is well-kept and terminates in a balloon loop at Matheran. A tax of INR20 is charged to leave Matheran station, past people touting horses etc for hire, allowing the visitor to enter the forested traffic-free park, by Indian standards very tidy and a cool relief from the plains, especially in summer. After being established for many years, the service pattern changed from 15 November 2002. Neral departures are at 06.50SSuMO, 08:30, 10:00, 12:40SSuO, 15:30SSuO, 17:00 and Matheran departures at 06:20, 09:10SSuMO, 12:10SSuO, 13:20, 16:10, 17:50SSuO. The Mumbai 10:30 - Neral Konya Express therefore no longer provides a convenient connection for a trip to Matheran except at weekends, which seems a retrograde step. Neral shed has two refurbished Class NDM1 centre-cab articulated diesels and four Class NDM6, plus the ex-Darjeeling B-Class 0-4-0T steam locomotive #794 introduced in 2002 during the 150th anniversary celebrations of Indian Railways.

South Central Railway

2801.7] Miraj Jn - Pandharpur - Kurduvadi Jn - Barsi Town - Latur: (RMI E11-F10) Owned until 1954 by the London-based Barsi Light Railway Company, and now part of the South Central Railway, this 762mm-gauge line ran 325km across the flattish dry landscape of the western Indian state of Maharashtra. Around 1998 its middle 52km Pandharpur - Kurduvadi section was converted to broad-gauge to carry heavy twice-yearly pilgrimage traffic to Pandharpur. In December 2002 the 137km Miraj - Pandharpur section remained narrow-gauge but stocks of sleepers and ballast were already on site, with gauge-conversion expected over the period to 2005. The 136km section from Kurduvadi to the sizable town of Latur is likewise to be converted, and some bigger structures like bridges and cut-off embankments have already been built and await the broad-gauge track, perhaps by 2006. From Kurduvadi the line north-east runs beside a main road where lorries often weave in and out of the train's path, before it threads the narrow congested streets through Barsi Town. The Miraj - Pandharpur section has one daytime and one overnight train each way, and Kurduvadi - Latur two daytime trains, in each case taking about 5h, hauled by Class ZDM4A diesel-hydraulic locomotives. Update: Latur-Kurduwadi has no service now [1/05].

South Eastern Railway

3580.1] Madhya Pradesh / Maharashtra narrow-gauge: the system centred on Nainpur Jn: (R.2801.5; RMI H8) At the end of 2003 the South Eastern Railway operated, in the provinces of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra in central India, a system of 762mm-gauge (=2ft6in) lines still extending to some 700km, probably the largest such system in the world, taking a minimum of four days to traverse. As with other metre- and narrow-gauge railways, considerable lengths have already been converted to India's 1676mm broad-gauge (=5ft6in). Further conversion is under way, and Indian Railways propose to convert the whole remaining system, perhaps by 2010. The main purpose of conversion is not so much to provide better service for local villagers as to open up more direct routes for through broad-gauge traffic, especially freight, on a national network that needs to make full use of capacity. The advantages to local users are however considerable: as an example, Jabalpur - Gondia by narrow-gauge took ten hours, but after regauging the journey should take only five.

3580.2] Interchange from the broad-gauge can now be made at five places: Jabalpur on the Mumbai - Jabalpur - Allahabad main line; at Chhindwara with the (formerly narrow, now broad) (Amla -) Khirsadoh - Chhindwara branch; at Nagbhir Jn with the (formerly narrow, now broad) Chandrapur - Nagbhir Jn - Gondia (- Balaghat Jn) secondary line; at Nagpur Jn with the Mumbai - Nagpur - Kolkata main line; and at Itwari Jn, 5km from Nagpur.

3580.3] Geographically right in the centre of India, Nainpur Jn can be regarded as the hub of this narrow-gauge system, and is perhaps the busiest 762mm-gauge junction in the world, with four routes radiating from its well-used station: north (Nainpur Jn - Jabalpur; 71km); south (Nainpur Jn - Balaghat Jn - Katangi; c.156km); east (Nainpur Jn - Mandla Fort; 30km); and south-west (Nainpur Jn - Chhindwara - Itwari Jn - Nagpur Jn; 290km). This last line continues south (Nagpur Jn - Itwari Jn - Naghbir Jn; 111km). Each of the lines has at least three departures and arrivals daily at Nainpur. Trains are timed to meet there, resulting in a frenzy of activity about three times a day, including some services running through during the small hours. Nainpur has no hotels but its First-Class Waiting-Room offers acceptable refuge from the cold night air for a few hours.

3580.4] Jabalpur - Nainpur Jn - Balaghat Jn - Katangi: The Jabalpur - Balaghat north-south route (c.187km) is the spine of the network, with packed trains loading to eight bogie coaches running four times daily, including an overnight working, taking 7-9 hours. Nainpur Jn - Katangi trains run twice a day, morning and evening, reversing at Balaghat. The Katangi service used to run Gondia - Balaghat - Katangi, but the 34km Balaghat - Gondia section has closed for conversion to broad-gauge, and in December 2003 only the trackbed remained as evidence of a line visited in December 2002. Local buses make the link for passengers. New bridges and earthworks are already well advanced along the c.40km Balaghat - Katangi section, which will be the next for closure and conversion, before reopening as a Gondia - Balaghat - Katangi broad-gauge branch.

3580.5] Nainpur Jn - Mandla Fort: On this 30km branch one of the three trains works through from Balaghat, with the locomotive running round at Nainpur, another runs through from Nagpur, with a nominal 1h layover at Nainpur, and the third originates at Nainpur. The branch trains, like those on the 'main line', comprise rakes of several coaches so at worst are only comfortably full. From the north-facing junction the line heads east through dry and almost treeless countryside, with camels to be seen by the lineside. The many level-crossings are a new handicap, for the line no longer employs crossing-keepers and traincrew operation of gates involves stopping twice. These delays, plus lack of co-operation from road-users, make the unchanged timetable unworkable and late arrivals inevitable, though turnround time at Mandla and layover time at Nainpur allow on-time departures, in theory at least. The station at Mandla Fort is on the outskirts of the town, surrounded by open scrubby desert, though some of the space was once clearly occupied by sidings and the like. Nothing like a fort was visible from the station.

3580.6] Nainpur Jn - Chhindwara - Itwari Jn - Nagpur Jn: The 290km journey, reversing at Chhindwara, is the longest continuous run on the narrow-gauge in India, involving some thirteen hours on an unpadded wooden seat! The line has three through services daily, one train in each direction running overnight. The train stops at about 35 stations, descending steadily from dry upland (noticeably colder, especially at night) through varied scenery including extensive eucalyptus forest. North of Chhindwara the train encountered track works and ploughed its way through some indiscriminately shovelled ballast, with much crunching, grinding and flying stones - and a tirade of abuse (needing no translation) from the driver to the leader of the track-gang. One of the coaches had badly broken springs that made it tilt at an alarming angle, but it survived its run of over 140km to Chhindwara, where it was finally removed with the usual drama associated with such procedures in India: staff arguing; driver of shunting locomotive getting conflicting instructions and consequently going off in wrong directions; and passengers looking on in a state of resigned, rather cheerful curiosity!

3580.7] Nagpur Jn - Itwari Jn - Naghbir Jn: This southernmost remaining section of the narrow-gauge system has three return services daily, with one pair shown in the public timetable as starting or terminating 5km south-east of Nagpur Jn at Itwari Jn, also an interchange station with the broad-gauge, which runs parallel on the Nagpur - Itwari section. In fact these 'short workings' run empty directly from or to Motigarh, a traction depot, carriage sidings and works accessed by a triangular junction on the Nagpur - Itwari narrow-gauge running line about 3km out of Nagpur. It proved possible to ride the empty stock from Itwari Jn to Motigarh, make a hurried visit to the works, chat to railway staff, and catch the next empty train around the third side of the triangle back into Nagpur, the last leg in the locomotive cab! The 111km run is through landscape that is naturally dry and scrubby but has patches of well-irrigated agriculture. The trains typically load to eight bogie coaches, well filled, though very close to Naghbir they become empty rather abruptly. It seems Naghbir Jn has few attractions in its own right or as an interchange station with the broad-gauge.

(The following paragraph has been partly overtaken by paragraphs 3580-3580.7 above, but appears for the record)

2801.5] Gondia Jn - Balaghat Jn - Nainpur - Jabalpur Jn: (RMI H9-G8) Spine of the South Eastern Railway's 762mm-gauge system, easily the largest narrow-gauge network in India, this 226km line leaves Gondia northwards climbing over the South Eastern's Raipur - Nagpur electrified broad-gauge line. The 40km section north to Balaghat Jn, c.1.5h away, is being converted to broad-gauge, with parallel works like viaducts already well advanced in December 2002, though completion is not due till c.2006. North of Balaghat the line traverses some very empty terrain, with few stations and beautiful dense eucalyptus forest, to the all narrow-gauge junction of Nainpur, bustling with activity. At Jabalpur the train creeps almost apologetically into the solitary narrow-gauge platform on the edge of the Central Railway's large station on their Mumbai - Allahabad electrified broad-gauge main line. Three through Gondia - Jabalpur services run daily, plus other short workings, the whole trip taking some 10h. Nothing more luxurious than a wooden bench is available on either the daytime or overnight workings.

3592] Raipur Jn - Abhanpur Jn - Dhamtari and Abhanpur Jn - Rajim: (RMI H9) From Raipur on the Mumbai - Nagpur - Raipur - Kolkata broad-gauge main line, the South Eastern Railway's Y-shaped system runs south to Abhanpur Jn (km27) and Dhamtari (km72), with a 17km branch to Rajim. The stock stables overnight at the solitary 762mm-gauge platform outside and to the south of the main station, while the Class ZDM4A locomotives, four or more of them, use a dive-under to run to and from the depot on the north side of the broad-gauge line. Three trains daily run from Raipur through to Dhamtari, offering branch connections, and a fourth runs through to Rajim. At termini and major junctions the line retains tall signal-boxes clad in corrugated-iron, but it has eliminated level-crossing keepers, leading to late-running of up to 1h30min on the nominal 1h Raipur - Abhanpur timing, trashing the whole timetable! Raipur was the only place on the 2003 visit to India where an officious guard asked our reporter not to take photographs, for no real reason. More normal were the reactions of other staff on the line, with a station-master asking for copies of pictures taken locally to be sent to his address, and a train-crew offering a ride in the cab on the promise of reprints of group photos of themselves and all their friends.

3593] Ranchi Jn - Lohardaga: (RMI J8) This South Eastern Railway 762mm-gauge line was visited on 21 December 2003, ten days before it was to close on 31 December 2003 for conversion to a broad-gauge branch. Daily (except Tuesdays, an exception not mentioned in the Indian Bradshaw) the single mixed goods-and-passenger train left Ranchi at 06:30, taking a timetabled 4h15min to run 69km west to Lohardaga. Though Lohardaga is a sizeable town, and the surrounding area was able to feed the line with heavy bauxite traffic, the tribal population are poor by Indian standards, with low literacy. The train was well used, with local people cramming the coaches and riding on the roofs of coaches and vans. The eastbound Lohardaga - Ranchi run took over 5h30min, mainly because of lengthy calls at intermediate stations to load agricultural produce in enormous sacks into the box vans. Such traffic would of course be seasonal and difficult to allow for in the timetable. Though the line had no fewer than six Class ZDM4A diesel locomotives, these must all have been in poor condition, for the one selected to haul the train kept failing and required much tinkering to revive it. New earthworks and bridges were already evident along the line, as were big stockpiles of broad-gauge sleepers and other material, but local opinion was that trains would not be running again during 2004. When service resumes, SER are to offer two trains a day, with journey-times halved.

3594] Rupsa Jn - Bangriposi: (RMI K9-K8) From the Kolkata - Chennai (= Calcutta - Madras) East Coast main line this South Eastern Railway 762mm-gauge line headed north-west inland for 83km. As the sun rose over Rupsa Jn on 23 December 2003 the timetable-board still bore the times of the day's narrow-gauge trains, as did the current Indian Bradshaw, but the ticket-clerk said the line ceased to operate in about June 2003, and was being converted to a broad-gauge branch. Material stockpiles were evident but none of the track around Rupsa had been touched. The last narrow-gauge coach sat on its broad-gauge transporter wagon waiting to be piggy-backed into history.

3595] Naupada Jn - Gunupur: (RMI J10-I10) Further south-east on the East Coast main line this South Eastern Railway 762mm-gauge line also runs north-west inland for 90km, climbing into the high land of the Eastern Ghats, whose tribes have their own local languages and agricultural lifestyles. The line, built at the behest of the prince of Parlakimidi and opened in 1900, is scenic. Dome-shaped mountains rear up from the fertile plains, which grow all manner of fruits, nuts and vegetables. Two round-trips a day operate, with a rake of four bogie coaches, only comfortably full. Timekeeping has been ruined by elimination of level-crossing keepers, for delays are cumulative: the 05:30 Naupada - Gunupur due at 08:15 arrives at 09:30; the 10:15 Gunupur - Naupada due back at 13:15 arrives at 14:30; the 13:45 Naupada - Gunupur leaves at 15:30; and the evening Gunupur - Naupada due at 21:30 arrives at c.24:00! Traction is two Class ZDM5 diesel locomotives (#523 and 532) which took over from steam on 23 April 1992, the date being affirmed by being painted on the shed wall. The narrow-gauge coaching-stock is unusual in being finished in the two-tone blue livery normally reserved for broad-gauge air-braked stock. The foreman said he sought special permission for this paint-scheme from his superiors, who obviously thought the likelihood of customer confusion too small to be of concern! It may seem odd that a relatively lightly-trafficked line should be a candidate for conversion to broad-gauge, but the converted branch may be extended north-west to join the Vizianagaram - Raipur broad-gauge line at or near Singapuram Road, providing an alternative cut-off route from the coast, saving time and reversal of freight trains. The narrow-gauge branch may have closed on 31 December 2003, but is likely to have been reprieved for a year.

Eastern Railway

2801.4] Barddhaman Jn - Katwa Jn - Ahmadpur Jn: (RMI K8-L8) From Barddhaman (or Burdwan) on the Kolkata - Delhi electrified broad-gauge main line, 95km north of Kolkata=Calcutta's Howrah station, the Eastern Railway's 762mm-gauge line heads north-east for 53km to its base at Katwa (or Katoya) and on for 52km north-west to Ahmadpur, linking another two broad-gauge routes running out of Howrah northwards. At Barddhaman the narrow-gauge trains depart from the north side of the large broad-gauge layout straddling the main line, but in December 2002 the platform area was undergoing restoration so trains started from the run-round loop. The service is quite lavish, five daily trains taking just under 3h to reach Katwa, apparently all worked by single-ended diesel power-cars, half cab and half passenger-seating, hauling three or four small coaches. These coaches are decrepit even by Indian narrow-gauge standards, being little more than metal-clad wooden boxes on wheels, with gaps rather than doors and windows, a few wooden benches and the lighting ripped out. The line runs through pleasant agricultural countryside, often following a low embankment among rice fields, serving tidy villages. The train provides not only free rides but a free distribution service. Villagers clambered on with all manner of agricultural produce and sacks of coal which they delivered to more isolated settlements by occasionally kicking items off the train as it rambled along. Presumably passers-by learn to look out for and dodge such deliveries. On the train people filled every space and then clung to the sides. The train left whether or not people were safely aboard, often leading to frenzied scenes. Our reporter craned one screaming infant hanging on by a door pole into the train where its mother had become trapped inside in the crush.
At Katwa, on the (Kolkata -) Bandel Jn - Katwa Jn - Barharwa Jn broad-gauge line leading north to Malda Town and ultimately New Jalpaiguri (for Darjeeling), the time between trains allowed a visit to the narrow-gauge depot, which held Class ZDM5 diesels and two 2-6-2T steam locomotives used on the line before dieselisation, kept painted but unserviceable. Leaving Katwa to the north the narrow-gauge follows the broad-gauge alignment for some distance with a short section of interlaced track where both lines share a bridge. The difference between the gauges being 914mm (3ft) this may be the most disparate-gauged interlacing in the world. Locomotive-hauled trains work this section, running thrice daily and taking c.3h30min to Ahmadpur Jn on the (Kolkata - Barddhaman -) Khana Jn - Ahmadpur Jn - Barharwa Jn secondary broad-gauge line.

3596] Shantipur Jn - Krishnagar City Jn - Nabadwip Ghat: (RMI L8) Originally owned by the private company McLeod & Co, and transferred to the Eastern Railway in 1966, this 28km 762mm-gauge line lies on the eastern bank of the river Ganga (= Ganges) north of Kolkata. It shares its southern terminus with the terminus of the electrified broad-gauge Kolkata Sealdah - Shantipur branch, and its intermediate station at Krishnagar City Jn lies beside the electrified broad-gauge Kolkata Sealdah - Krishnagar City - Lalgola line, affording a second point of transfer. From Shantipur the train runs in an almost straight line north across perfectly flat country, mostly through the backyards of villagers living very close to the line, but this section has but one intermediate halt, and loadings are light. By contrast, at Krishnagar crowds crush on for the mercifully short run to Nabadwip Ghat, on the river Ganga. Loadings on the return journey are similar. The three round-trips a day take 1h40min one way. Single-ended diesel railcars (#7031 and 7041) towing matching trailer vehicles (#7038, 7040, 7042 and 7045) form two train sets, which require running round and turning on turntables. Similar units are found on the Bardhamman Jn - Katwa Jn lines (R.2801.4), but those also have other traction. The diminutive coaches, requiring a tall passenger to crouch when boarding, make an incongruous sight sitting in the same station as a twelve-car broad-gauge electric unit with vehicles the size of a barn! No obvious sign was seen of imminent broad-gauge conversion, but with flat terrain and a complete absence of major engineering works the conversion would be easy and would provide a useful alternative electrified loop - at the expense of losing a charming narrow-gauge railway.

Permission to reproduce this article on IRFCA generously granted by the author, Simon Mortimer, and Brian Philp (editor, Rinbad).
Copyright © 2003-2004 Simon Mortimer and Rinbad. All rights reserved.