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:
4th January 1980 Ajmer.
I arrived in Ajmer at 06.50 on 4th January 1980. It was pitch black and cold, to fill in time I rode the Nasirabad local (YP) out and back. High hills overlook Ajmer, some had fortifications. Not far out we crossed a WD on freight, a surprise as the class seemed to this point confined to pilot work. Nasirabad was a rural hamlet, the locals gathered to stare at me, (fly undone again?). It was still bitterly cold and most men had a scarf wrapped around their head. The engine which had set out tender first ran around, billowing clouds of white steam and we were soon heading back to Ajmer. The return trip had a full contingent, this was a train for workers. I settled back to watch the passengers playing cards whilst one of the company sang for their entertainment.
Back at the station it was now light enough to see the shed was not far away and I negotiated my way through the yard area where I came across a YP in olive green and black livery. This was a CR engine and the livery was unusual, it was ex works in a freight consist, together with a black YL. A WD was at the head of the train and it seemed likely to be going towards Mhow and Khandwa. I did not know at the time it would be my only sighting of a metre gauge engine in CR livery. Not long after the SCR took over the only section of metre gauge operated by the CR. The light was wrong and I did not bother to photograph the locos.
Formalities at the shed office took some time whilst my pass was carefully scrutinized and particulars noted. Whilst the paperwork was being completed I admired prints left by previous enthusiasts now sitting under the glass top of the foreman’s desk.
At the front of the depot on the exit roads was BR 31040 (WB 1949), a large, squat 4-6-0 in passenger livery. The class was much more powerful than other B class engines and had been used on the steeply graded Marwar – Khambli Ghat line from where it had recently been displaced. The loco was being prepared by its driver as his son looked on; ready for a footplate trip, (it was school holiday time). The engine was rostered for the midday passenger to Kishanagarh, a short out and back working that until recently had been worked by a D2 tank.
The ash pit cleaning crew are oblivious to WD 1517 being pushed back into the shed by a YP. The ash pits were being cleaned out by a team that included women and children sifting the ash and lifting heavy loads, the men dug out the overflowing pits. Gangs like this were often employed from contractors, as they did not have the same pay or protection that a railway employee would expect. British style water cranes were in use, whilst the shed’s enormous water tank towered over locomotives being serviced.
MJ 31094 (Hunslet 1939), a light 4-6-0 was also being made ready for departure. The engine’s high dome and chimney gave it a vintage appearance, it was based on the standard BESA passenger design dating back to 1903. Another MJ and BR 31038 were inside the small shed being prepared for work.
Behind the small covered shed were a couple of lines of locos divided into passenger and freight link duties. Facing me was a line of clean YP/G types in passenger livery including 2445 - one of the cleanest engines I had seen, which was being worked on by fitters although work was interrupted as I become the focus of attention.
Looking out of place was one of the 4-6-4 tanks, D2 189 (Ajmer 1928) in fading passenger livery. In the next row were freight link YGs including 4120.
Whilst the far row had other D2 tanks included 354 and 334 in black livery and more light 4-6-0 types. These would soon be replaced by YPs and YGs.
A derelict YF 2-6-2 was awaiting its final trip to the works for scrapping whilst on the mainline outside a fine gantry of semaphores could be seen against a backdrop of barren hills.
The coal yard was busy and I had trouble convincing the railway policeman in charge of the area I had permission to photograph the engines being hand coaled. Steam coal grab 43037 lay out of use, contract labourers heaving heavy loads into the tender, being a cheaper option. Nearby was a row of condemned engines including some interesting small wheeled, but large 4-6-0s including G 40 (Ajmer 1926). The locomotive was a G1 type and had a rather British appearance, now that its headlamp had been removed. The G showed Ajmer Works were prepared to design and build locomotives that did not conform to BESA specifications.
Some D2 tanks were also awaiting scrapping, they were based on the G class design and shared the same boiler. There seemed little work for any of the non-standard types as diesels released more YGs from mainline freight work to less important duties. However, G2 352 was at work in the carriage sidings.
Ajmer station was a disaster as far as photography was concerned, fence palings and water stand pipes cluttering the area. I watched a D2 leaking steam from many joints and wheezing in misery. After completing its final shunt it headed laboriously back to the shed; I doubt it was to last much longer. BR 31040 departed on the Kishanagarh pass which had been previously reported as a D2 duty. Two G2 class, 300 (Ajmer 1929) and 352 (Ajmer 1930) were busy on pilot work and the carriage siding offered photographic possibilities.
The visits to Mahesana and Ajmer had enabled me to see old metre gauge engines still at work. By the time I returned to India in 1982 most of these older engines had been swept aside.
I left Ajmer at 14.20 on 14 Fast Passenger with YP 2189 (KM 1954) on the front for the journey to Jaipur. Not far out from the station we passed a 4-6-0 shunting s small yard. A replacement YP hooked on whilst another train arrived from Jaipur behind a YP and departed for Ajmer. In the opposite platform was another YP on a train for Jodhpur, very busy but dusk had set in.
The new train engine had a much louder beat than its predecessor and it was a pleasure to listen to it, despite its weak whistle as we ran through the night to Jaipur. I was now sharing my compartment with a large family group and arrival at Jaipur was thirty minutes late at 8pm.