The International Steam Pages
Steam in Gujarat, Autumn 1999
I have now moved Lars-Åke Holst's report as it too now has pictures and the combined file would take too long to download!
I have just returned from Wankaner (I work in that region) in Gujarat where the Supt told me that they have enough coal to work into 2000; nine locos operable and in use and 6 supplying spare parts. While I was there one YP was loaded onto a BG wagaon and taken for major overhaul to AJMER thence to a museum in the USA. I have the details of the Delhi middleman who has negotiated the deal, which appears to be a corrupt deal outwith the normal procedures of the Indian Railways Board and Rail Bhavan. I was told that orders have been given for no further YGs or YPs to be scrapped. 2 of the Wankaner lcos are going to a museum in Tamil Nadu; the Southern Railway having suddenly become interested in its heritage. About 60 are still extant. Some will be auctioned at Gorakhpur on November 14-16; presumably Saharsa locos. The next 2 months are probably your last chance to see the Wankaner depot at work. There is still a dead YP at Jetalsar. For those interested in rail art, the Loco Painter at Wankaner, a Mr Kumar, has a fabulous mural on a whole wall of one of the toll rooms recently completed; a complex pantheonic theme of deities and railways; a fitting epitaph perhaps. I have video footage of it but had no flash on that day I visited. I have many pictures of the Wankaner depot in October as it seemed worth documenting as the last working MG depot. The financial state of Indian Railways is now extremely dire as Mamata Banerjee, the new minister has discovered. This is almost excusively due to the ballooning costs of the insane gauge conversion scheme. The full appalling implications of this are now apparent. The section from Indore to Khandwa through the Narmada gorge, which cannot be recut will now cost 45million dollars to relocate; and it is one of many hundreds of necessary realignments. Overhasty dieselisation and electrification has also caused costs to go entirely out of control; largely because of the opportunities for bribery/commissions in the purchase of foreign equipment; all of these problems stemming largely from a largely ideological policy not to continue or develop steam, which being 100 percent locally produced, and with low maintenance cost was far far lower in net costs to IR and far more appropriate to Indian conditions. (Information from Chief Engineer Western Railway and Ms Rupa Srivastava, Deputy Accountant General Indian Railways Delhi.) The freight income from metre gauge has almost entirely gone and is unlikely to return while the policy to drop small loads continues (roads in India are now getting clogged by the truck traffic that has resulted). One station alone, Talala Junction, I was told lost 4 lakh (400,000) rupees per annum income as a result of the no small loads policy. IR is thus on a steep path of decline very much like USA and Railways in the early 50s; and for India this is a a far more serious development, all due to 2 policy decisions, dropping steam and trying to unify the gauges.
"I had the chance to find free time enough to fly to India for one quick week, I went straight to Gujarat. After my arrival Monday 18th at 11.00 pm in Mumbai I flew early morning 6.45 am to Ahmadabad. I met there my very good friend Gurjit Singh who is an Architect like me and we use to work together. He decided to come with his wife Komal to Wankaneer by car. We arrived there on the evening 21st October. We rush to the first level crossing on the MG line just in time to meet the last steam train of the evening.
This is the report of the situation there:
Steam is still running only between Wankaneer and Morbi. There are 8 trains a day, all passeger trains with a maximum of 2 coaches, plus sometime a good carriage.
Timetable from Wankaneer to Morbi:
From Morbi to Wankaneer:
(The trains with * cross at Makansar station)
Preparation for convertion to BG is evident, but you can still take good photographs. Even the main bridge north of WKR is not so spoiled, despite the concrete reinforcements (Maybe it is better to use B&W photos there). The drivers are delighted to have foreigners on board, I had a polaroid camera with me, and they were very pleased to have a photograph without having to wait for the post from Europe.
In WKR locoshed the following locos are still on duty:
3261 YG - 3334 YG - 3360 YG - 3437 YG 3318 YG - 4369 YG - 2825 YP
Nobody I met could told me exactly when the steam will come to an end. Some said mid November, others at the end of December. It is best to go as soon as possible, a last ride on the MG is so electric. We were dancing during the whole trip to the rhythm of the loco, full power, all 3 of us together with the crew, and at one stage with a passing lorry driver!
Place to stay In WKR: Hotel Laxmi, good Gujarati food. Room costs 300 Rs., near Pool Darwaja 363 621 - Tel 20541
Place to stay In Morbi: Hotel Thakar, very good Gujarati restaurant, room range from 220 Rs up to 500 Rs with AC. Jail Rd 363 641 - Tel 31578
It is too sad that steam in India is dying out. Do you know of any organisation working to save at least some of these moving beauties? There must be some way to preserve them as you brilliantly managed in England."
(In answer to the last question check out the Indian Steam Railway Society. (RD)
Dileep Prakash reports "I visited Wankaner in the first week of August 1999. The line to Navlakhi has been blocked beyond Dahinsara so has the line to Maliya. In fact I was the last to shoot the YG at Maliya on 12th August. Western Railway has readied a Rail Bus which will start plying shortly. However, the steam operations till Morbi will go on till at least end to next month."
Viraf Mulla was here at the end of August 1999 with Michael Smyth.
"Left home at 4.15pm on Friday 27th. after promising my wife & elders in the
family that - I will not lean out of the running train.
Caught the 9017 Saurashtra Janta Express which arrived on dot in Borivali at 16.56. We
were side tracked at Palghar & Valsad to let the 2951 & 2953 Delhi bound Rajdhanis
pass. Hit the sack after Surat. Woke up at Viramgam & noticed that the train was
running 30mts behind schedule. Wankaner was reached at 7.15.
After clicking the 7.25 departure of Morbi passenger behind YG 3318 went clicking around the loco shed. The shed houses 9 steam locos: 3 YPs & 6YGs. YPs are nos:2257, 2825 & 2684, YGs are nos:3318, 3360, 3261, 3437, 4369 & 3334. YPs bound for U.S.A. are 2257 (restored to it's former glory & painted in bright red & black) & 2805 (the loco shed staff are not aware of its whereabouts. Might be in Ajmer or Sabarmati Shed). All the freight rolling stock will be transfered to Bhavnagar division.
On the BG the sharp curve toward Rajkot with the 4 signal gantry makes a nice location for photographing mainline trains. I clicked the 9005 Saurashtra Mail there. Back to MG - caught the 11.00 mixed passenger to Morbi. It was a YG 4369 without smoke deflectors at the head of our train. Morbi station had impressed me the first time I saw it. This time I was more impressed. The empty station had a busy look with 3 locos in steam. This gave Michael an idea to click a lineup of these locos. We requested the Station Supdt. & he gave us the permission to have the locos wherever we wanted on the tracks. Boy now we were instructing the drivers where to stop, when to have more steam for that special effect etc etc. & Michael was having a gala time clicking away. Unfortunately it was a very dull cloudy day which has marred the quality of my photographs. We footplated all the way to Wankaner on YG 3318 heading 13.45 2 coach passenger from Morbi.
The 9018 Saurashtra Janta Express to Bandra Terminus arrived on dot again at 15.22hrs at Wankaner Jn. It was on time at Viramgam where it has an official halt of 30mts.(any guesses why?) but it was almost after 1-1/2hrs. later that we resumed our journey back home. I was too tired to venture up to the loco and inquire with the driver the reason for the delay. By the time we reached Ahmedabad we were famished so I ran to the fast food joint on platform no.1 and bought ourselves delicious & filling club sandwiches. Just after Nadiad I was fast asleep in my bunk. The hustle & bustle in my coach woke me up to realize that we were approaching Borivali.
None of the railway officials in Wankaner or Morbi are aware of the possible dates of the closure of the steam workings. Some guess that it will end with the consumption of the present coal stock & yet others had the opinion that on the arrival of diesel railcars the steam era will end."
These are from Dileep Prakash: