John Lacey in Pune

by Apurva Bahadur


Pune was fortunate to have the mega traveler John Lacey with us for a few days. As you are aware John is on a two month 'squeeze the Indrail pass' mission. He has already covered 20,000 Kms (!) and would add another 10,000 Kms more by the time he returns to Australia. Those of you who have met him would remember him as a jolly, genial and extremely knowledgeable man. John has a big flowing beard, kind twinkling eyes, a 'generous' body and a loud HO-HO-HO laughter. My 5 year of daughter Aditi actually believes that it was Father Christmas who had come to our house.

I trust you have already read his regular reports by now - he was due to come to Pune by the 6529 Udyan express ex Kalyan after arriving from Bhopal on the 2138 Punjab Mail. However he chose to take go to Dadar and missed the Udyan connection. He had to travel in the general coach of the 7307 Koyna as he was not aware of the higher classes in the rear of the train. This train has TWO non aircon first class sleeper coaches AND an AC chair car at the Mumbai end. However this is not mentioned clearly in the timetable and hence the confusion.

Once in Pune after a crowded ride, John was to find that the hotel he intended to stay has closed for renovation for the last two months and had to locate another hotel further down the road. He called me by the same evening (19th Dec 2000) and we agreed to meet the next day. 20th Dec. I was not free in the morning / afternoon so I requested John to visit Karjat and back during the day. I had requested the yard master to help me with the arrangements. The helpful man picked John from the hotel and escorted him to the station. He gave him a tour of the control cabin and introduced him to the driver of the KJT shuttle. John could footplate the WCAM 3 between Lonavala and Karjat in both direction through the Bhore ghat.

Vasu and I were on the Pune platform when the KJT shuttle arrived in the evening when we met John for the first time. We dropped John to his hotel. Later in the evening Shirish took John and I for dinner nearby.

21st Dec:

John visited a friend of mine for lunch, and was at my place for dinner. Vasu was joined us and stayed overnight with us the trip next day - read on....

22nd Dec:

The nearest IRFCA has come to an organised outing - Viraf ended his wedding anniversary early and came to Pune on the overnight bus with Venky from Mumbai. They could have come by the 1325 passenger, but the margins were too tight. John meets Shirish, Vasu and yours truly 'under the chandeliers' in the Pune station foyer.

We had decided to take the 7384 Gondia - Kolhapur Maharashtra express to Jarandeshwar and return by 7308 Koyna to Pune by evening. In the current tradition of IR operation, the train arrived at the platform much before time and was waiting on the platform with the short hood leading Pune WDM 2 already attached to the rake. A driver I knew well was working the 7384 that day. The driver was aware of John's visit and had made elaborate food arrangements (multiple courses - all food tastes catered for !) including separate flasks of tea and coffee. This was really an extraordinarily generous gesture from him, however this just goes to show the warmth and hospitality that exists in the hearts of many railwaymen. 'sweetest community in the world' was a description I had coined for such railwaymen a few years back.

John and others in the group traveled in the loco footplate till Jarandeshwar. I rode the first coach recording the loud barking of the dependable WDM 2. As expected, the first coach was a sleeper and the vestibule door could be opened to savour the big loco in action. I say this once again - this section is SUPERB. I find much Pune janata responding with a blank stare when I tell them about the scenic beauty of this section. Only fools (or people like me) take the day trains to Kolhapur, the majority travel by road as that is quick and convenient. A large number of people travel in the night trains sleeping and never know about the great landscape or the unique operating procedures of the line.

At Jarandeshwar we saw the operation of the Niele's ball token machine as we waited for the 316 passenger which would take us to Adarki. The station master accepted a freight train from Satara before the 316. We could hear the freighter for many minutes in the quiet Jarandeshwar morning before the double headed Guntakal powers (both locos long hood leading) and the BCX rake slogged into the station. The sound reflecting from the numerous hills and cuttings gave misleading idea of the location of the train. The heavy rake took a long time in accelerating and delayed our 316 passenger.

The 316 has two locos that day. The second power was either defective or being returned dead to the parent shed at Pune. The 316 starts from Miraj at 0605 hrs to reach Sasvad Rd. at 1330 hrs. The SSV station is 9 Kms from Pune, but the train is now allowed to come to the main platforms apparently because there is no place to stable the rake. I think the reason is more to do with the hostility that exists between Pune (CR) and Hubli (SCR) division. Once at SSV, the loco is uncoupled and travels light to the Ghorpadi loco shed with the train crew. Once the loco reaches GPR, a fresh loco and crew travel to SSV to work the rake as the 377 Dn SSV-Satara passenger. Needless to say both these trains are quite empty due to the extreme isolation of the Sasvad Road station. However any passenger wanting to travel to and from Pune climb onto the light power's frame and get a ride between SSV and GPR. This is the standard operating procedure for these trains. Our own Vasu did the same as he wanted to get to Pune earlier.

So we got to Adarki by the late 316 passenger to find that the 315 passenger from Pune was already waiting on the platform. On the 8th Dec I had done exactly the same thing with Phil Wormald and group and got a grand view of both the 316 as well as the 315 passenger on the horseshoe curve. However on this trip we saw only the 316 in this spectacular location. In the pics of the event, Vasu claims that the white dot in the second door is him, desperately waving at us and trying to shine the sunlight at us using his spectacles. After the 316 departed, the 315 was still waiting for many minutes as the Adarki water tanks were being filled. The brake vans of the 315 carries a black Sintex water tank to supply to stations like Adarki which are waterless otherwise.

The 315 power had an EXCELLENT horn - one of the sweetest I have heard, I suspect that this are the same tooters as found on a WDG 2. I have a sound recording which you would hear soon.

We arrived at Wathar to photograph the 315 power departing and to a reasonable lunch. Actually we pigged ourselves - double omlette with bread, tea, soft drinks, puri bhaji (later in the train).

Wathar serves as a base kitchen for the 7308 Koyna express. I was surprised to find out that the contractor maintains such a large facility to serve only *40* meals per day and that too only for the 7308. Other trains like 7383 Maharashtra use Nira as the base kitchen.

The 7308 arrived at Wathar. Viraf had a return ticket to Mumbai in the C2 coach. Coincidentally the three seats around him were also marked in the charts as persons with the surname 'Mulla'. These like named souls were booked ex Pune but then we could persuade the janata sitting on those seats to clear as the gang of 'Mullas' had arrived.

We were still one seat short so at Lonand station, Shirish, Venky and I moved to the empty 1st class coaches at the head of the train. John remained in deep conversation with Viraf in the C2 coach. It was great looking through the vestibules at the leading coaches snaking around the curves. The rake had no lights and the train raced into tunnels which could be seen thorough the vestibules as the darkness snaking from coach to coach. Rest of the journey is idyllic - empty 1st class coach, the twisty mountainous single line with upper quadrant signals, warm winter afternoon, company of like minded dear friends and the loud thrash from the full open throttled long hood leading Guntakal WDM 2.

We arrived back to Pune at the exact time. Viraf and Venky continue to Mumbai by the same train.

23rd Dec:

Dinner at my place with John, Shirish, Vasu, Jayant was invited but could not make it. Earlier in the afternoon John met the earlier day's driver who had arrived on the 7308. A camera case that John had forgotten in the loco and given up for lost on the Jarandeshwar trip was returned to him by the driver.

24th Dec:

John goes to Daund on the 1130 hrs shuttle with the double decker coaches and returns to Pune by the 1078 Jhelum. John has dinner (of leftovers !) at my place.

25th Dec:

I see John off on the 2124 Up Deccan Queen. He would spend the day with Viraf and then be Chennai bound on the 1063.

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