The International Steam Pages


Once upon a time, long ago,
India's Satpura Narrow Gauge Lines, 1981

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index.


The Satpura Lines consisted of just over 1000 km of 2' 6" gauge in Central India and were part of the much larger South Eastern Railway. A series of main and branch lines, with connections to the broad gauge at six different stations, services could vary from five passenger and mixed trains a train on the busier sections down to just two a day on some of the more remote branches.

In October 1981 three classes of steamer (and the occasional diesel) were in use on the system. The older BC (class B converted to superheat) were restricted to light duties, on trains heading to the branches the BS (B superheated) seemed to be the motive power: a 2-8-2 type that had been built between 1915 and 1924. The mainline super power was the ZE: a solid looking 2-8-2 that were a modernised version of the BS. An engine weight of 46 tons made them the the heaviest narrow gauge steam engine in India by about 5 tons. They had been built in two batches: the first group between 1928 and 1931 followed by a further series in the 1950s.

The named train and star attraction of the system was the steam hauled Satpura Express. On the narrow gauge speeds were generally low but between Jabalpur and Gondia the Satpura Express covered the 228km in just eight hours....that's an average of 28.5km per hour......not bad for the 2' 6". At first light ZE 30, built by Krauss-Maffei in 1952, is seen taking water at the wayside station of Shikara. If I remember correctly Jabalpur departure was 5am so I reckon this photo would have been taken around 6. The notion that the train was a crack express is slightly spoilt by someone's bicycle up front.

Nainpur was the half way mark and engine change time. ZE 30 came off and ZE 11, built by Corpet Louvet in 1950, became train engine for the remainder of the trip......again the baggage upfront takes away from the express mystique but then, as I was to find out over the next few days, it seemed to be just the accepted thing on this system. The letters NIR on the smokebox door stand for Nainpur...the shed the engine was allocated to. Gondia locos used a G whilst Motibagh (Nagpur) just had the silver painted smokebox door and no lettering.

As the express headed out of town I grabbed a shot of Nainpur 'loco'. On the left ZE 32, Krauss-Maffei from 1954, and on the right ZE 43, Kawasaki Rolling Stock from 1954, with another two ZE in the background. Nainpur was a large junction on the main ng north-south line with another major line heading out to the west plus a branch heading east. It had a suitably large depot and the necessary water tanks can be seen in the background.

The Satpura Express spent an hour at Gondia before heading back to Jabalpur: this time with ZE 41 in charge. 41 was another of the 1954 batch by Krauss-Maffei of Germany.

From an earlier era BS 637, Yorkshire Engine Co in 1924, makes a fine sight shunting the Gondia freight yard. So fine a sight in fact I reckon its worth showing both pictures I took....similar but different!

Late afternoon at Gondia and ZE 100 is heading out of town on number 3GK passenger: an all stations stopper heading north on the mainline as far as Balaghat and then running on the branch to Katangi. It has climbed the embankment out of Gondia and is just moving onto the the bridge crossing over the broad gauge tracks. 100 was one of the earlier model ZE's built by Hannoversche Maschinenbau in 1931.

A couple of days later sees BS 621 bringing empty coaching stock up the grade into Nagpur, another of the Satpura lines connections with the broad gauge. It will change ends to become the train engine for the morning run to Khapa. Waiting departure is the diesel that has arrived with the overnight mixed from Nainpur. It has already changed ends and will run the empty stock down to the carriage yard. Local belles, with water containers on their head, add to the scene. 621 was a North British (their number 21094) product from 1915.

A short distance from Nagpur and 621 is seen leaving Itwari Junction where the ng splits and heads both north and south. Broad gauge platforms can be seen to the right.

Later that morning BS 632, from Nasmyth Wilson in 1922, heads for Itwari Junction with the morning train from Khapa. This would have to be the type of 'people everywhere shot' that we all associate with Indian Railways!

Next morning 621, with crewman striking a suitable pose, is again seen at Nagpur waiting to leave with the Khapa train.

The only BC seen in steam was 643 and even that was being shunted by a diesel!

Engine and line details taken from 'Steam Locomotives in India Part 1 - Narrow Gauge' by Hugh Hughes and Frank Jux published by The Continental Railway Circle in 1980.


Rob Dickinson

Email: webmaster@internationalsteam.co.uk