WAP4 stalls with 23 coach train! Big blow to electrics!

by Alok Patel


OK! OK! I am sorry for the tabloid headline.

Here's what happened:

Saqib Karori is in Nagpur for a couple of weeks. And Electric Fan-atic Zubin from Amravati was passing through on his way to Delhi by the Gondwana Express. We thought it would be a good opportunity to meet up. Ram Kinhikar was also invited but unfortunately could not make it due to other engagements. The weather was perfect for railfanning - an overcast sky and a light drizzle. And the temperature was just right for an extended stay on the station without getting roasted in the already extreme Nagpur heat.

Zubin's train, having oodles of slack between BSL and NGP, reached Nagpur ridiculously early. It reached NGP Home signal at 1115 instead of its scheduled arrival of 1215! Being the electric extremist that he is, Zubin credited the early arrival to the 'powerful' WAP4 and its 5000 horses. The fact that the train was only 14 coaches long, and the huge slack in the schedule, was conveniently downplayed. ;-).

We met at the 'gourmet' (should be pronounced governemt instead ;-)) restaurant Comesum. To our dismay, the Comesum wallahs refused to give anything except 'meals' at the time - Zubin had had parathas sometime ago at the same place and had no desire to eat a full lunch. How nice. A lesson for those of you folks still not having eaten 'Goaway'sum. We then opted to visit a stall on Platform 3 for Idli Sambar and chatted away.

Yes, I am getting to the bit where the WAP4 stalled, diesel fans ;-). Some more patience please.

Anyway, we walked back to the GOndwana Express and promptly went to the starter to 'inspect' the loco. It was a BRC WAP4 of all things. Where on earth did this come from? The loco had DBR units and was fairly well kept. The Loco Pilot was busy testing brake continuity, meaning he was almost ready to leave should he get the starter. Soon it was 1300 hrs and almost time for Zubin's train to leave. We walked back to the coach, took a group snap while the loco sounded its horn. The Gondwana Express left at 1310 hrs. Zubin was probably drooling with anticipation at the fun the WAP4 would have with the puny 14 coach train - something that electrics are best at. Good luck ;-)

Anyway, Saqib and I explored the station a bit and set out to observe a Nagpur tradition - a visit to the Diamond Crossing.

This is where we got lucky.

As we approached the diamond crossing, we saw a train coming in from the Howrah side. It was the 8030 Shalimar LTT Supercrawler. For those who have not been here, the NGP Diamond Crossing requires trains from the Howrah side to lower pantographs before entering the crossing and to raise it again when the loco has passed through and is safely out of the zone. This is to avoid pantograph entanglement at the crossing. The locomotive has to coast for some 50 metres before it can apply TE again.

Back to the train: The Shalimar LTT Express had its usual link - a HWH WAP4. But 22640 had a nice surprise in store for us. As the loco exited the crossing, the train was barely doing 10 kph. The driver raised the pantograph and started the loco up. We could hear the blowers come on and a couple of notches being applied. So far so good.

Strangely enough, the train didn't pick up speed at all. In fact, it almost came to a stop. We could then hear the familiar hiss of compressed air pushing sand onto the wheels. The sanders were being brought into play! This is not usual for a passenger loco. We were witnessing a stalling!

The Nagpur Diamond Crossing is a quirky place even without the crossing. It is a hump with all lines radiating outwards heading downhill ;-). So a train has to struggle up the hill on the crossing. The loco then has to coast on the crossing while the train is still climbing the gradient. This would be a tough climb - but only for a freight train. And those do not usually enter the Diamond Crossing from the Howrah end. They go into the goods yard. For a passenger train, this is normally easy enough. Take a look at Nagpur yard in Google Earth, Maps or Wikimapia and you will see how that works.

Anyway, the 23 coach SHM LTT Express was showing the rolling resistance it was capable of applying. The WAP4s woes were multiplied with the light drizzle having wet the rails. Wheels of the leading bogie were slipping, causing the notches to regress. Not one to be deterred, the driver was working hard with the MP and the sander. I couldn't help being amused. Here was the WAP4, praised to the skies just half an hour ago by the king of electrics, short of breath with a 23 coach train at 5 kph and less ;-).

Inch by agonising inch, the WAP4 struggled forward. The driver was pumping away on the sander pedal, trying to get enough traction to get a few more coaches on the downhill side of the crossing. He would apply a couple of notches and pump the sander, hoping to get some grip on the rails with the leading bogie. But it wasn't working. The loco finally came to a halt, the burden proving too much. By this time, the loco and a couple of coaches were past the crossing.

I was ecstatic. Frantic attempts to call Zubin at the time met with no success. His train was probably in a no coverage area. I couldn't wait to tell him about the exemplary performance his favourite electrics were putting up. Knowing what eventually happens in such cases, I was just waiting for the driver to call the 'diesel' shunter to ease the WAP4 headed train out of its misery. Saqib even had a camera to capture the glorious event.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. The driver went back to work on the loco. More sanding and notching up. The loco moved slightly. I was still confident that 22640 would give up. It was not a diesel, after all. Encouraged, the driver put in more notches, and more sand. Inch by inch, the loco moved forward. Another coach had travelled over the crossing by now. And the going was getting easier. A notch more, some sand. The 2AC coach was also past the crossing. Some more struggle and the loco started picking up speed. By sheer luck, the loco gathered enough traction and momentum to pull the rake out. Saved from the embarrassment of being pulled to safety by a miserable little WDS6! We saw the train crawl into the station with the exhausted driver and loco looking forward to the rest. A (literally) damp squib for 'anti-electric fanatics'.

Sorely disappointed, we walked on ahead to see 8030's partner Shalimar bound 8029 LTT SHM Supercrawler leave the station and pass over the Diamond Crossing. Saqib was lucky to see the process of raising and lowering of pantograph yet again within such a short span. The loco in charge was 22401 from HWH.

And that was the end of a satisfying day's railfanning. Saqib and I plan to get together again while he is still in Nagpur. We might get to see something else stall even ;-) Anyone else coming?

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