The International Steam Pages


Case Notes - India, 1980
The Southern Railway - Part 6
Niligiri

Terry Case writes about his travels for steam. Further tales will follow from time to time covering more of Australia, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Pakistan.

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For other Indian tales in this series, please see:


After arriving at Mettupalaiyam (Metta) on the 25th January 1980 I was devastated to find the Niligiri hill train cancelled due to a landslip. The Gods had a far more interesting journey in store for me as I crammed into a shared ramshackle taxi. It took a few minutes to pin down why the car smelled of petrol, the driverís assistant was pouring it from a can into a pipe feeding to the engine whilst we were on the move, thus began one of the most frightening journeys Iíd undertaken. The road was steep and full of hairpin bends, it took its toll on overloaded trucks, buses and taxis! Following a stop to allow the radiator to cool, we started rolling backwards, the brakes did not work and the engine refused to start. We evacuated as the taxi continued to gracefully roll backwards, the driverís assistant trying to halt the progress with stones placed under the wheels. We laboured behind buses and trucks pouring out poisonous clouds, welcome to the Blue Hills! When the fan belt broke the driver flagged down cars until he found another taxi driver willing to lend a spare. It was a painful experience. 

I stayed at the Hotel Hampton a couple of km out of town, it was a reminder of a different time and history. I admired the views across the valley and visited the English looking church next to the hotel. In the cemetery were buried the British dead; Indian Christians were buried elsewhere. An amended passenger service was running to Ooty, consisting of a morning and late afternoon departure, I learnt the rack section had been closed since the 10th January due to a landslide and was not due to reopen until February.

I rode the afternoon departure, the 1st class coach was at the head of the train, I settled back to listen to the impressive stack talk from X 37386 pushing at the rear and enjoy the evening views from the train. The carriage was like an observation car with windows to allow forward views, the seats were well upholstered and had been cleaned; amazing!

Crossing the viaduct at Wellington was the prompt for kids to hang out and scream in delight, singing and shouting to hear the echoes. Aravankadu was the site of a munitions factory with its own internal railway and photography banned signs. Freight trains no longer carried munitions since one had run out of control and derailed. Now explosives were sent by road, hardly safer if my recent travels were any evidence. It seemed the journey had hardly begun before we had a stop for tea at Ketti before continuing to Lovedale (32km) near the top of the grade. At Lovedale we crossed the opposite passenger hauled by 37387, I transferred trains to return to Coonoor. The brakesmen now discarded their flags and swung coloured lanterns to relay signals to the driver. We rattled downgrade and were back in Coonoor for 7.30pm, a very pleasant outing! 

Next morning, 26th January 1980. I stood on the hill and took this picture of Coonoor shed and station. I spent the afternoon down at Mettupalayam.

The next day, 27th January, I photographed the morning departure to Ooty at Coonor station, X 37393 was in charge. Whilst doing this, I struck up a conversation with Walter, a recently retired driver who invited me to join the crew for a footplate ride to Wellington. The driver made me welcome, he had once been Walterís fireman and had seen his share of rail fans. 

The cab was a tight fit for 5 people, the second fireman was busy opening and closing the firehole door between shovels of coal to maintain the draught. The fireman had to bend low when scooping coal from the bunker floor and was in danger of being bombed from coal spilling over the top. The cab was dirty, but enclosed, a blessing with the rockets of semi-burnt coal being expelled with great vigour from the chimney. The noise was deafening, the hard work resulted in a rather jerky motion but my lasting impression is of that roaring fire glimpsed through a quickly opened firebox door, lightning the dark cab.

A group photo was taken at Wellington and then shots of the train on the hillside near Walterís home, in the railway colony on the upgrade to Aravankadu. The houses in the railway colony were for the loco-foreman, drivers and a couple of firemen. Inside they are dark, but cool with earthen floors.

Later, the morning train descends from Wellington to Coonoor.

I had been invited by Walter to look at his collection of photographs that including a framed print from Laurie Marshall. There were also a number of photos of 38 class and R class Hudsons left by Australians (Wal Larson and Ted Godwin) plus photos from American and French fans. In a country were most photos were still taken in a studio such prints were greatly appreciated. I had been shown photos from Laurie and others elsewhere and now might be a good time to thank Laurie Marshall for being the inspiration for my visit to India. I had come across his articles of his first trip to India in 1970, a decade later I was completing the first of many trips to India and Pakistan.

Walter had told me the rack section was to be tested by an engineerís inspection train later that morning, I took a taxi down to Runnymede and walked down the hillside to the station. I photographed the train approaching the station where the engine was serviced, I wondered what sort of reception I would get from the railway officials, I neednít have worried as they were welcoming. After some group photos I watched 37389 spew out a cauldron of black smoke to restart and engage the rack as it pushed its consist across the river bridge.

Departing Runnymede the train crosses the river bridge.

I scrambled up the steep hillside past the tea plantation, my taxi then taking me to Kateri Road station. I had time to to run down a small path and reach the tunnel to see the train cross over a bridge and approach the tunnel. I took two shots as the train emerged from the tunnel, using the last of my slide film for the trip.

Making my way back to the taxi I could hear the engine working frantically as it continued up the cog section, I was able to reach a final photo spot before the train reached Coonoor. looking down and seeing the line crossing the river near Runnymede.What a fantastic end to my stay here!


Rob Dickinson

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