The International Steam Pages

Steam in India, 2001

Donald R Bell reports on the remaining steam activity in India and other matters of railway interest:

Southern Railway - Nilgiri Rack Railway (metre gauge) Mettapalaiyam-Ughadamandalam (Ooty)

Hotel: Savoy, Ooty $85 per night. Fine old fashioned place. Fernhill Palace is closed. Booked through Taj group, London.

Taxi: Mr Baloo (a shortened version of a name suited to a Sri Lankan cricketer) of Hawkes has an Ambassador in good repair and knows the railway well - though he is more a video than a stills man. 4 hrs and 100 km will cost about R 900 (65R=1). The railway features in two current TV adverts for Tata tea and the HSBC bank. The latter was probably shot a few years ago as it features steam on the adhesion section. Access to the line at Highgrove, from the road at Hairpin 9, Runneymede, Glendale viaduct and Kateri road. Rack section (Abt) 1:12/13 from Kallar-km7 to Coonor km28. Diesel locos on the adhesion section 1:40/50 with a short start from Coonor at 1:25 keep at the lower end. Messages have to passed by flag men on each of the four coaches. Only one through train per day (Mett 0710 Ooty 1200/1455 Mett 1825) connecting with the overnight Nilgiri Express to/from Madras/Chennai. on 22/2 this left Madras behind electric 22221 (ecs brought in by 060 diesel shunter. After reversal (at Coimbatore?) arrived Mett behind WGM2 Diesel. A second train runs April-May and there are morning and evening returns between Coonor and Ooty. The best seats are on the left of the front compartment. The buffet at Ooty has a print of a 1995 SLM proposal for new 082RT steam locos with high-pitched boiler, Skylined and smoke deflectors, with some resemblance to a Czech 477.

Locos seen at Coonor, all 082RT class X (37384-90 SLM 1922, 37991-5 SLM 1952)
37384 On shed. No rack gear
37386 In Steam
37389 Working 23+25/2
37390 Plinthed at Coonor. Fitted smoke deflectors
37391 On Shed
37393 Working 24/2
37395 Repairs (cab off)
Diesels (YDM4) 6379/6481 Working

Main shed at Coonor. Small shed at Mett. The upper, adhesion section is easy to access and runs through eucalyptus plantations. it should be possible to arrange a steam loco on this section, but beware the barracks and rifle range at Wellington and the Gunpowder factory at Aravankadu.

North East Frontier Railway - New Jalpaiguri-Darjeeling (2ft gauge)

DHRS Group Arrived by train from Calcutta, left by train for Delhi (26 hrs). The nearby Bagdogra airport is controlled by the military and civilian flights only operate M/F/Sa. This is supposed to become daily later this year. The 35 large party enabled us to charter a special for two days, but was too large to get decent photos. There is now so much traffic that street photos of the train are hard to get.

Hotels Siliguri: Cindrella. Modern, Vegitarian. Darjeeling: Windamere, spendidly old-fashioned unchanged from 1930's. Cucumber sandwiches for tea and roast beef followed by Tibetan food at dinner. Weather disappointingly hazy-perhaps to be expected this time of year, but with a better chance of the line operating after monsoon damage has been repaired.

The designation of the DHR as a UNESCO heritage site in November has led to greater local awareness of the importance of the line. An excellent museum has been opened at Ghum station (but not advertised at all). The turntable at Kerseong has been excavated from below a mountain of ash and there are plans for a new dining car for a 3 coach luxury train. Works have been carried out to mitigate the effects of the monsoon, especially at the two crossings of the Pugla Ghora where the railway has been given its own bridges away from the road (so that the rocks can fall on the road!). Steam locos are in poor condition and the line has yet to realise that 'Maintenance' is more than 'keeping them going'. The one daily through train leaving NJP 0900 and Darjeeling 0915 is usually diesel (3 coaches) but is steam if a diesel is OOU. 604 was 00U on 28/2 and 1/3, 605 on 6 and 7/3. Nothing ran at the Darjeeling end on 4/3 because of a general strike called to protest against a political murder. 0630 Kerseong-Darjeeling 'school' train is steam and the 1500 return. A tourist train runs from Darjeeling to Ghum at 1000 returning by 1230. Scheduled for steam but only runs in peak periods (Oct/Nov/Dec and mid Mar-May). Probably needs a minimum number of bookings at prices which at R200 are high by Indian standards. With over 850 staff the line is said to lose R100 for every R1 income. The asking rate for putting steam on the service train is said to be R45000 (USD 1000). All monsoon damage (if any ) had been repaired.

Loco position:
040 WT/ST BABY SIVOK O&K 1881? Darjeeling
040 ST B 779 HIMALAYAN BIRD SS 1889 Darjeeling (for Tourist train)
780 GREEN HILLS SS 1892 Darjeeling
782 MOUNTAINEER SS 1899 Tindharia Wks. Almost complete
786 NB 1904 Kerseong. In Steam 3/3
787 NB 1913 Kerseong
788 NB 1913 Working schooltrain 3/5/6/7-3
791 NB 1914 NJP Working. Pilot 28/2, 1/3
Special UP 2/3-3. DOWN ecs 5/3
UP/DOWN service train 6/7-3
792 BLW 1917 Tidharia wks stripped down
794 BLW 1917 Not seen
795 BLW 1917 Tindharia shed
802 NB 1927 Tindharia wks complete
804 QUEEN OF THE HILLS NB 1928 Tindharia shed repairs (rods off)
805 NB 1928 NJP Worked UP/DOWN service
28/2,1/3. Then pilot
806 NB 1928 NJP Repairs
NDM4 604 Diesel . working
605 Diesel. working
779 faces NJP. Others face Darjeeling. 794 is said to be in works at Mumbai for future use on the Matheran Railway. Frames of an A class 040T can be seen at Siliguri jn.
Tindharia works has belt driven (diesel powered) machinery, including a working Sharp Stewart planer of 1894 and a 1925 wheel lathe. Special saloons 650 HIMALAYAN PRINCESS and 300 EVEREST are being restored with lovely wood carving and brass handbasins.
On 1/3 Diesel 605 collided with a lorry at a level crossing above the first zigzag and at the site of the old loop 2. The lorry came off worse.

Indian Railways budget was published on 27/2. Funds are included for the restoration of the Teesta valley line of the DHR to improve communications with Sikkim. Most commentators thought that the minister, Ms Banerjee was looking to the forthcoming elections in Bengal (her home state) rather than to any sense of the practical. At the Kalimpong Road end of the branch, bridge abuttments and piers can be seen. The line was abandoned in 1950.

CALCUTTA METRO. One Line only from Dum Dum in the North to Tolleygunge. Broad gauge with third rail contact. 8 car trains with through gangways. Trains run at 10 or 15 minute intervals. Fares are 3/5/7 Rupees depending on zones. This is much more expensive than tram or bus and restricts use to the better off. surprisingly clean and tidy. Dum Dum is above street level with side platforms. All other stations to Maidan (except Park Street) have island platforms. Bylaws prohibit the carrying of dried fish or dead poultry. (Nearer to home certain named types of cheese may not be carried in Lille taxis).

CALCUTTA TRAMS. Single deck two section units on three trucks. Single ended and with a variety of body styles. Two smartly painted trams in Green and gold colours were celebrating the twinning of Calcutta and Melbourne trams. Fare Dalhousie Square to Victoria Memorial was R1.80.

Flights London/Madras and Delhi/London by BA using airmiles. Flew Coimbatore/Madras/Calcutta by Jet airlines, an excellent private company. 15 Day Indrail pass Dollars 180. Fortunately the newspaper headline 'INDIAN AIRWAYS CRASH'' referred only to their cricket team.

Rob Dickinson