The International Steam Pages
Notes - India, 1980-7
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:
Godhra station is now notorious for the deadly 2002 attack on a train carrying radical Hindus who had ransacked an historical Muslim mosque and were returning to their homes in Western India.
I arrived from Bombay on New Year’s Day 1980 to find a Railway Community working in harmony. I arrived on the Dehra Dun Express in time to see one of the Western Railway’s small allocation of WL light Pacifics, 15040, depart on the branch passenger to Anand. By now I was becoming familiar with slow departures that allowed late runners to heave heavy sacks into the parcels van and others to join the moving train.
I had planned to spend the day riding the narrow gauge train to Lunavada, but when I located the platform tucked away near the loco shed, the rusty tracks indicated the train had not run for some time. Instead I watched a black WG being cleaned on the shed:
A member of the engine crew came over and asked me to take a group shot. I was then escorted to meet the shed master Mr George d’ Souza who was smartly dressed. A neatly folded copy of “The Times of India” newspaper spoke of a country depot where pressure was not so great. A bowl of flowers on his desk was to celebrate New Year’s Day. Mr d’Souza was a Christian and the rest of the staff were Hindus and Moslems, but they all celebrated the holiday.
I wondered what Mr d’Souza was doing in this back-water, it turned out Godhra was important as a re-fuel point for diesels on long distance trains and was to be a stepping stone for him to secure an appointment as shed master at Vadodara within the year.
Decorating the wall behind his desk was the all-important engine management board, listing mileages for each loco, service dates and failures, (nil). It also showed crew details whilst a section that showed much recent use contained chalked figures for the depot coal figures. I was told there was only sufficient coal to get them through the afternoon shift, cancellations would follow if the expected delivery was not received that afternoon. The coal shortage had paralysed parts of the Indian rail network, in Godhra it resulted in the cancellation of steam hauled turns including freights from Ratlam and Vadodara to Godhra. Decorating the board were various slogans such as “He who rests rusts” and “Plan your family/Help the nation/ Help yourself/Delay the first/Space the second/Stop the third.” These slogans referred to the controversial family planning policies of the Congress Party. I wondered who had sanctioned the propaganda?
After a cup of tea I was taken on a guided tour by Mr D’Souza ; who told me the WLs were “problem engines” with their flues often blocking and suffering from weak superheater elements; Godhra had received them five years ago. Prior to the coal crisis a Godhra WG had a turn on a local goods to Vadodara plus the 10.30 goods turn to Anand. Ratlam AWE class had worked another local goods, one of the last line workings for this class; I doubt they were re-instated after the coal crisis was over.
The narrow gauge engines were stored due to lack of coal (a year later it was reported due to lack of traffic!). W 570, a Bagnall loco built in 1912 had its wheels removed and they had been sent away for repairs; whilst W 580 (WB 1920) was in good condition. I was surprised to be told they also had a ZB that was on a “temporary transfer”. I was informed one engine was needed as pilot; it seemed excessive!
Whilst we were admiring the n.g. engines the Sabarmati Express swept in from Ratlam with a WP at the front. I was asked if I would like to have a ride on an engine, you bet!! The afternoon passenger was chosen as it was already on my itinerary.
WG 8497 was ready to depart on the morning freight to Anand, an old steam tender acted as an auxiliary water tank. I observed the freight thread its way out of the yard past a maze of signals and collect the token for the single line. The signalman can just be seen offering the token in the pictures
It was then I was intercepted by a policeman and told to go to the signal cabin. Expecting another hospitable reception I was taken aback to be met with hostility from an annoyed official who soon ascertained that my pass did not mention Godhra. I felt lucky to be let off with a warning, after he had taken down details of my passport and permit number. It was no surprise that I failed to obtain a photo permit for my next trip.