Footplating on the Bokaro Shatabdi
by Mani Vijay (AKA Vijay Balasubramanian)
This was one of the highlights during my visit to India last Dec-Jan. My uncle had earlier suggested that I proceed to Dhanbad by some overnight train and then hop onto the WAP5 hauling the Rajdhani Exp. to get back to Calcutta. However, dense fog, particularly in the Danapur and Mughalsarai divisions caused Calcutta bound trains from the North and West to be unpredictably late. Even the Rajdhanis were running under heavy caution orders in many sections and were running as much as 12-14 hrs. late. This prompted me to change my plans and opt for the Bokaro Shatabdi instead.
Since Anand (Krishnan) has so beautifully described his footplating experience on a WAP4, portraying the atmosphere inside a WAP4 cab with excellent photos and descriptions, I will choose to concentrate more on the trainspotting aspects of this trip. So here goes......
The last time I had been on the Howrah-Asansol section was in winter of '86 and was looking forward to some significant changes in this section in terms of rolling stock, etc. One thing that was painfully obvious was the dearth of Bo-Bo locos. in this section (WAM1, WAP2/3, etc.). One of the few sightings that I had was of a MUed WAG4 pair (most probably from Asansol shed) heading a BOBS(?)-rake at Masagram. I also observed that Howrah-Chandanpur is a triple-track section with the 3rd track under AC wires as well. Is the entire Hwh-Barddhaman stretch slated for a 3rd track upgrade?
The prospect of a Shatabdi footplate was exciting and I was up and ready even as dawn descended upon the streets of Calcutta on the morning of Jan. 8. Reached Howrah station barely 10 mts. before the departure of the Shatabdi. Not much activity around the 7-coach train headed by WAP4 from MGS shed (have to check the #). Was greeted by the driver and asst. drivers and an asst. electrical engineer who would be my companions till Asansol. The cab interior was pretty much the same as the WAP3 one that I had traveled in 4 1/2 years back. Promtly at 6.05, the loco. sounded its pleasant two-pitched sustained horn, and my camcorder was ready for some exciting footage. Mr. Engineer informed me that there was a RR (route-relay) speed restriction upto signal #72 (1 km) and then we would get onto 130 kmph. However, I took a look at the caution orders and observed that there were quite a few restrictions till Barddhaman after which the train would be capable of traveling at a sustained 130 kmph. speed.
As we snaked through the various points, the Rampurhat-bound Ganadevta Exp. was right next to us, having left the adjacent platform at the same time. This train would give us company till Bally after which it would proceed towards Bandel. Even as we went below the road overbridge and left the Tikiapara-bound tracks to head towards Liluah, a Howrah EMU crossed us on the next track - so, for a short time there were three trains next to each other. The Ganadevta's loco was somewhat ahead of us and I could see its smoke disappear into the sky with the mist-filled dawn providing a perfect backdrop. We crossed the rake maintenance yard with the needle hovering around 60 kmph. I observed a few DC-type single OHE poles that are so familiar on Mumbai-DC territory. As we accelerated towards Liluah, we crossed a WAP4-headed 18-coach train. I failed to observed the name but noticed that most of the coaches belonged to ER. If running at right time, I would have safely concluded that it was the Kalka Mail but b'coz of fog-induced delays, I wasn't sure.
We caught-up with the Ganadevta Exp. and overtook it. This was a 10 coach train (1 AC chair car, 2 regular CCs, 2 break vans, rest GS) hauled by WDM2 #17550 from ER (Andal shed?), long-hood leading. The horn was sounded constantly as we passed Liluah - I spotted some Rajdhani-type coaches on the far-side beyond the platform limits. Around 6.15 am, we slowed down miserably for an amber signal and the Ganadevta overtook us, never to reappear. Liluah to Bally had patches of thick fog and I could well imagine the ordeal of driving through dense fog especially at night. We crossed a 14-coach WAM4-headed train, most probably the Danapur-Hwh. exp. Couldn't get the shed name of the loco. - it was in Rajdhani livery - Asansol shed? Passed through Belanagar at 100 kmph. Slowed down on our approach towards Dankuni (around 6.22 am). I observed the rail overbridge that housed the tracks towards Sealdah. We passed Janai Rd. at a cool 120 kmph. (booked speed), 4 minutes behind schedule. By 6.35, the sun was up but the fog persisted in patches. Past Chandanpur, the 3rd track was still in construction with sleepers in place minus the ballast. The OHE poles were in place as well but since there was no catenary, the support levers had folded sideways. At 6.55 am, we were at Belmuri outer and stopped for about 4 mts. at a red signal. The asst. driver made a note of it. The Howrah-bound Saraighat Exp. was on the Dn. line at Belmuri stn, headed by WDM2 #18567R from Hwh shed. The train was miserable late - nearly 2 hrs. 15 mts. It had 16 coaches (11 non-AC sleeper cars, 1 AC sleeper 2-tier).
We were 20 mts. late at Belmuri and the driver stepped up a few more notches. We thundered through Gurap at 130 kmph. and crossed a 16-coach WDM2-headed train, most probably the Amritsar-Howrah Mail. It took some effort on my part to hold the camcorder steady against the massive drag as I popped my head out through the side window. At Jaugram, we overtook a MEMU and crossed the double-headed Poorva Exp. - 21 coaches including two AC 2-tier sleepers, two AC 3-tier sleepers, one pantry car, 12 non-ac sleeper cars. Alas, the brilliant red-cream color had disappeared and some coaches had a cream-maroon color, remniscent of SR trains of the mid-90s. The train was supposed to have arrived the previous evening but had evidently been delayed due to fog. At Masagram, I spotted the twin WAG4-pair (in typical green-black ER livery) that I mentioned before.
Around 7.24 am, the electrified double-tracks from Bandel joined us from the right and we are now on four-track territory traveling on the leftmost track. AC masts gave way to DC-type masts but carrying AC (obviously as a result of conversion). We crossed a WAP4 (Shatabdi livery) headed 18-coach train. Couldn't get the name - maybe the Bagh Exp. The speedometer was at 115 kmph. as we crossed Saktigarh. I noticed how the switches were being operated at neutral sections to shut-off/turn-on power to the motors. 5 minutes later we slowed down on our approach to Barddhaman. Spotted a MUed WAG5 heading a BCNA rake and a WAP4-WAG5 coupled together. Went through the crowded station at 60 kmph. and were promptly switched onto the fast Up track.
All OHE structures were now standard AC. Instead of four separate poles, a single structure enveloped the tracks with hanging masts serving the middle two lines. It was interesting to observe the customary exchange of wires for a 4-track section. Between the windows and towards the top was written - 'CAB2 WAP4 22302'. What does CAB2 signify? We crossed a WAM4 (from GZB shed) hauled container train - some of the containers had 'YANG MING' written across them - what does this stand for? Around 7.43 am, we crossed a WDM2-headed 17-coach train on the Dn. slow line (rightmost track). We were on a sustained 130 kmph. run. Crossed a WAG5-hauled BOXN train loaded with coal and then overtook an LPG train hauled by a WAG7 with the front panto up. At 8.02 am,. we thundered through Panagarh - this has an army base, right? We were running 10 mts. behind schedule.
There are not too many sharp curves on this section. On a couple of occasions, I got to see the 7-coach load behind us. Around 8.10 am, we slowed down for the 1st passenger halt at Durgapur. There was a huge crowd on the Dn. main line waiting for the inbound Coalfield Exp. Even as we came to a halt 2 minutes later, an Asansol-bound MEMU took off from the leftmost platform. The drivers hopped off to answer Mother Nature, and I followed them. Not being used to public urinals in India for quite sometime, this was a nauseating experience. After relieving myself, I was relieved to be back on the cab :-) The WAP4-headed Coalfield pulled in next to us, 19 minutes late. This was a long train with 20 coaches - one First AC, two AC chair cars, one pantry car, two brake vans, and the rest being non-ac chair cars.
Breakfast arrived in neat packets, four of 'em including one for myself. I was looking forward to my first offical breakfast on a cab. After a 4-minute halt, we were off to Asansol. At one point, there was an unexpected lurch and one of the packets fell to the floor, messed-up beyond 'repair'. However, good sense prevailed and we all shared the contents among the four of us. I have always enjoyed omlette-toast on IR trains and this was no exception. Crossed the sprawling yard at Waria - observed a WDS6 shunting an LPG load. Overtook the Asansol-bound MEMU at Waria. Around 8.28 am, we slowed down on our approach to Andal. An electrified line crossed us from above, took a sharp turn and joined us on the right - most probably the central flyover connecting distant parts of the yard - there was a load of ballast wagons. Crossed two freight trains in quick succession - a WAM4-hauled freight train on the Dn. fast track which was a mixture of flats, containers and BOX wagons. The 2nd was a WAG9-hauled BCNA load which was standing on the Dn. slow track. This was my first sighting of a WAG9, most probably from Gomoh shed. The shell is pretty much the same as the WAP5 except that this is a Co-Co loco. and the panto. structure is slightly different.
At 8.33 am, we crossed Raniganj and were back on 130 kmph. Crossed a lone WAG4 in BZA livery (orange-blue). What was an SCR loco. doing on ER territory by itself? Raniganj to Asansol was dotted with innumerable OHE masts since each track now had its separate mast. In some cases, the old masts had given way, so new poles had been erected next to them holding the wires. At Kalipahari, we overtook the Barddhaman-Hatia passenger headed by a WAM4 in Rajdhani livery (MGS shed?). 10 minutes later, we pulled into Asansol, PF3. The train was still 12 minutes behind schedule. Took some parting footage of the MGS WAP4 in Rajdhani livery minus the stripes. After a 5-minute halt, I bid goodbye to the crew as the train took off for Dhanbad. And so, my 2nd Shatabdi footplate came to an end.