The International Steam Pages
Steam in India, April 1998
A small group has been visiting the last haunts of steam on the metre gauge in India. Bernd Seiler reports with pictures by Heinrich Hubbert.... There are more pictures now and maps of the Wankaner and Jetalsar areas - click here for them.
The never ending story:
Wankaner and Jetalsar
Just before I started to India I red the Internet-report of the mysterious Mr. Henry Posner III, mentioned the end of all IR-steam. This was a very bad joke! (Sorry Berndt, don';t shoot the messenger. Rob D.) In fear of spending a lot of money for nothing I contacted immediately all known sources, even via hotmail Heinrich Hubbert in India, but nobody could tell me the exact situation. So I went to India with mixed emotions. Dont't worry, be happy ... Wankaner is still 100 % steam and according to the foreman the situation will not change until March 1999. They have two problems. First the staff. Indian Railways are not permitted to dismiss any employee. So if they don't change the traction they don't need a special programme for giving the workers new jobs in Wankaner or other places. The second problem is, the diesel locos are too heavy for the light track and also too heavy for the special bg transport cars. Wankaner is an isolated system, the mg locos transferred by special bg wagons. It looks like that they will not change the situation until regauging. But there is no fixed date for starting broadgauging. Maintenance work continued normally. The locos are in bad external condition. With the exception of YG 3360 all locos faced Wankaner. We found no change to the timetable or the way to operate the trains including the freights (salt). One special was the banked freight between Morbi and Rafaleshwar because YG 3430 was not able to bring 15 wagons plus van over the gradient. The first departure at 09.30 am ended with the roll-back to the station at Morbi. The YG of the 415-passenger had to help. Even beyond Rafaleshwar, YG 3430 was single again, the train stopped at the free line to give the loco time to boil some steam. The normal freight has only 12 freights plus van, now I know the reason. 15 wagons are allowed in former times as the locos were well kept, but the times have changed ... The staff was kindly as ever, only the station master of Makansar prohibited photography at his station without the permit from Delhi. Makansar has to be mentioned in the permit! A good place to stay in Morbi is the Thakkar-lodge in the Jail road. If you like western style food you can visit the "Good Friends Food" restaurant nearby (six minutes to walk).
The picture shows the morning departure of passenger 412 with the magnificent skyline of Morbi with its impressive mandir.
Jetalsar has now only five YP, all are serviceable. There is no sign that the IR want to finish the steam operation. Three locos are required per day. The loco for the Dhari-train departs about 4.20 pm empty to Junagadh, takes over the 6.20 pm-train to Dhari, stays there during the night and returns at 9.40 am to Junagadh. During the day this loco has to do all shunts in the station and the small workshop for freight wagons. It goes back to Jetalsar between 2.30 pm and 7.30 pm usual empty. Sometimes, may be one or two times per week, the loco takes some fresh repaired freight wagons from the workshop to Jetalsar. That will mostly happend in the best afternoon-light. A pacific YP with a freight train at Indian Railways is still possible! The third loco runs the Dhola train 331/332 7.35 am dep. Jetalsar, back at 7.55 pm. Regauging just started between Jetalsar and Junagadh. Until the end of May 1998, before monsoon, they will enlarge all bridges. After monsoon the regauging should start. Till that time the steam operation should be certain. But you never know! Photo positions are well known now therefore I won't give all the suggestions once again. In some weeks you may have another look at this report and you will find some photos of the lines. Beer and other alcoholic drinks are not available (with normal efforts) in Gujarat.
The picture shows Passenger 387 passing a hillside, just 2 km out of Visarvadar.
I have not visited here. But Heinrich Hubbert (we travelled some time together) is checking the situation just now and you will find his report soon. At the end of March (after March 15th!) there were still steam operations to Ratlam and at the ghat-section. The pcture shows the the crew of Mhow's YP 2825 making an effors to recover the 45 minutes delay of their well patronised fast passenger 89 UP steaming over the Chambal-bridge near Gautampura-Road between Ratlam and Indore.
The Nilgiri-Railway is diselised between Coonoor and Ooty by the new arrival of a second YDM4 just before the season started. But all traffic on the rack section is still steam. X-class locos 37384, 37386, 37389 and 37391 were in use late April 1998. X 37384 has no working rack gear and is only spare for the diesels. It was used for movie-pictures at April 22nd. The locos are in better conditions than the other meter gauge steam locos. But there are serious difficulties with the frames and all the mechanical parts. The boilers are not the problem here! The railways are still looking for a diesel-solution at the rack-section. The offer of new steam locos from Switzerland is too expensive. The decision is hanging around, the final solution should not be the closure of this fantastic line, I hope. Staff was kindly. A footplate ride is possible if you don't enter the loco at the main stations. The drivers ask for some money, pens, photos etc. But it is an outstanding impression thrashing through the tunnels and cuttings in the tight cab of the loco. Don't miss it if you ever stay in the Nilgiris. White shirts are not recommended. The Blue Hills Hotel in the Mountain road charged 360 Rupees for a double room ordinary and 480 Rupees for a better one. Both facilities are good. If you need luxury you can stay in the Taj Hotel, a double for 105 US-$ during the season, else 75 US-$.
Wonderful sights can be discovered along the rack: "Lamb's-Nose"
Passenger 561 makes it through Runneymede on its afternoon trip down to Mettupalaiyam. It needs some patience to get afternoon-sunlight in the hills (Any sunlight from my experience! Rob D.).