Barddhaman-Ahmadpur NG Trip
by Vikas Singh
Reached Barddhaman at 0830 hrs by Black Diamond Express from Howrah. Immediately went to NG platform to check the status of 1030 train to Katwa. The train had been cancelled and next train was at 1910. Taking this train meant no real fanning opportunity. So decided to stay back at Barddhaman. The day was spent in visiting the royal palace, now home to the university and some temples.
The first train leaves at an unearthly time of 0345 hrs.Next day sharp at 0315 hrs I was at the NG platform. The rake had come the previous day at 2200 hrs from Katwa. It was pitch dark and coaches had no lights. It was a three-coach rake powered by ZDM5. Two of the coaches were already full with vegetables and coal sacks. The locals pilfer the coal from coal rakes at Barddhaman and later sell it at different stations between Barddhaman and Katwa. It was with great difficulty that I could secure a seat for myself.
Sharp at 0345 hrs the train left. Since it was pitch dark it was difficult to observe anything. The average speed was 20-25 kmphs. There are a total of 14 stations between Katwa and Barddhaman. The entire 53 kms track is without ballast and has wooden sleepers. Most stations en route are halts with a booking window that was closed at most places. There are no major bridges and track is almost in straight line. The track in last 9 km stretch from Srikhanda station to Katwa is in very bad condition. The driver also intentionally slows down the train so that coal sacks could be unloaded before Katwa station. This is to "protect" the people from GRP guys. It took us 1 hr to do the stretch arriving at Katwa at 0645 hrs.
The same rake then doubles up as Katwa- Ahmadpur passenger leaving Katwa at 6050 hrs. The loco was sent to diesel shed for inspection. I was told that train would leave around 0745 hrs. Since there was good one hr I decided to do some quick inspection. A condemned 1859 hand crane manufactured by R.C.C Old bury was spotted. For some strange reason the crane had been plinthed. A four-coach rail car was ready to depart for Barddhaman. It was for the first time that I had spotted a NG rail car. The details were:
- ZRB 10605 (maiden run 13.3.04). Second sitting cum guard coach
- ZRB 10602 (maiden run 26.11.03) Second sitting
- EZZS 7034 (maiden run 7.3.03) Second sitting
- EZZSR 7036 (maiden run 27.1.02) Driver cum second sitting.
The engine was Leyland manufactured. All coaches had maximum speed limit of 28 kmph. Two steam engines were also spotted near the diesel shed. 2-6-2 BK 13 and 2-6-2 AK 15. The builder plates were missing. These have been built probably by WG Bagnall Ltd. I was told that five engines have been shipped to different parts- England (Phyllis Rampton trust), Asansol, Jaipur (Rambagh palace), Howrah (near Dutta cabin) and Howrah (ER headquarters). The engine was soon shunted back and at 0745 hrs the journey to Ahmadpur began.
The Katwa-Ahmadpur line had been built probably for movement of sugar from the Ahmadpur sugar mill. The line was built and managed by McLeod and Company. The route once had eight pairs of trains. This has now decreased to just three pairs. In April 1966, IR took over the management. The track was similar to the Barddhaman-Katwa stretch- no ballast and wooden sleepers. Around 2 kms form the station before first station of Chowhatta is one of the two major bridges on this route. This bridge (No-167) is on river Adjai and has ten spans of 60 feet each. The NG and BG tracks share the same bridge. The well-maintained BG track is quite in contrast to the NG tracks. The other major bridge is No 40 on river Barkeshwar. It has two spans of 40 mts, four spans of 60 mts and 2 spans of 25 mts.
Of the 13 stations between Ahmadpur and Katwa 8 have been given to contractors for sale of tickets. They are given a fixed monthly sum of Rs.575 plus a 10% commission on total tickets sold. Unfortunately at 6 of these 8 stations the booking office was not open. The contractors seem to be content with rs.575 only. There was speed restriction of 15 kmph when the train was not vacuum braked. The train is now vacuum braked but the speed restriction continues. There are no functional signals and drivers operate on paper line clear tickets T/C 1425 for up, T/B 1425 for down direction. They are also given advance authority to pass defective signals (T/369.Crossings happen at two fixed stations Kandra and Kimahar station. Iron sleepers near Maheshpur halt are replacing wooden sleepers. A huge pile of iron sleeper could be seen at Maheshpur. We reached Ahmadpur at 1110 hrs. A distance of 52 kms covered in 3 hrs 25 minutes. Despite this the train was actually 20 minutes before time.
Sometimes the rail car operated on this line. There is however no turntable at Ahmadpur station. Instead there is "tunnel" which is actually tracks laid down in shape of triangle. A safe manufactured by W. Leslie and Co, Calcutta could be seen in stationmaster's room. An original ticket-punching machine from the time of McLeod was also seen and promptly photographed. Had a sumptuous lunch of "moorhi" and egg curry with the guard and driver in running room. Somehow I have found rail staff on NG routes very friendly and extremely hospitable. After a one-hour stop at Ahmadpur we commenced the journey back and reached Katwa at 1530 hrs.