Thursday, 2 October 2014

Trekking the longest Railway Bridge in India

It was April 2012. I had already readied my itinerary for the northern Kerala exploration. The term ‘exploration’ may sound grand, and you may take it for exploring the wilderness. But in reality there was nothing as such and not exactly related to regular tourist spots. In fact I had something different in mind. For long I was speculating on the lengths of the upcoming railway bridges. As such, our Bogibeel would be the longest followed by Deegha Ghat bridge at Patna which is nearing its completion and already opened Vembanad Bridge in Kerala. So I had set my target, it was Vembanad (also known as Vellarpadam) that time. Already I did my research on that bridge and found the length as 4.62 km.
So, let me begin with a brief description of my journey. That time I was residing in Lucknow. From the mid of March summer heat had started to roast us and in April it generally crosses 40 in Celsius scale. I thought of breaking away with the north Indian heat-wave which is accompanied by dry Loo wind. I made my reservations for the southern sojourn with two intermediate breaks. First I booked from Lucknow to Mumbai by Gorakhpur-Lokmanya Tilak Terminus superfast which would take 22 hours for the first lag of my journey. Spending the whole day at Mumbai and meeting some friends over there, I’d catch the Mandovi Express to Madgaon in Goa. I wanted to enjoy the scenic Konkan Railway during the daytime itself and thus booked in Mandovi which departs in the morning from CSTM station. Spending another two days at Goa to explore the fascinating Dudhsagar waterfall next lag of my journey was to be done by Mangala-Lakshadweep Express till Ernakulam Junction. Trip reports of each lag will be uploaded later.

Arriving at Ernakulam and getting refreshed, I rang up one of my old classmates. And I was quite surprised to find that she was getting engaged on that very day! She directed me to reach her home for the grand event and accordingly I caught a newly introduced Mercedes Benz bus to her place. It was almost 40 km journey. So the first day was spent that way. On the second day I woke up a bit lazily and for a while pondered about executing my plan. I went outside the station building and asked the autowalah there regarding how to reach my target point. They told me that I should take a town bus till Maneka ferry port and from there I can go. From the directions they gave me, it appeared that I should take a ferry from Maneka to Vembanad. So without making any farther delay I hasted towards the bus stop and took a bus to the ferry port. Arriving at the ferry port I enquired about ferry to Vembanad port. There I was informed that no ferry goes to Vembanad from there. I asked again for farther directions, but the guy on the other side apparently had no idea. For a while I walked to and fro the ferry port and then again returned to the bus stop. There was a market area nearby. What should I do now? And more importantly is it going to be a futile visit to Ernakulam? I went to a paan seller and asked for a cold drink to which he responded with a locally produced soft drink. Then only I recalled that Pepsi and Coke products were banned in Kerala. Grabbing a smoke from him I hesitantly stated my problem, expecting least for any satisfactory answer of course. But I had already determined that since I have reached so far from my place and so near to my destination, I’d visit it at any cost. In broken Hindi he pointed me to a bus. I aksed him once gain to confirm, “Vembanad?” “Haan, cheri cheri”. Still I was not convinced and with a frown I went to the conductor and asked, “Vembanad?” “po”. I could guess that to be a gesture to board since he didn’t say anything sounding similar to “illa” (no). I boarded the crowded bus and was charged rupees 2 till Vembanad. What I had guessed was that the distance was almost 3 kilometres. I asked the gentleman standing next to me to tell me where to get down. He asked where I am heading to in Vembanad because there’s nothing except the port. I stated my intention of visiting the railway bridge. After a few minutes we had arrived at a road bridge over the backwaters. He told me that I should get down at the other end of the road bridge I should get down and so did I. 

I deboarded from bus at this point. Just in front of Vellarpadam dock. The railway crossing is visible ahead

Getting down from the bus I looked around. Yes, there was absolutely nothing like human settlements. Only the high walled port was at one side of the road and on the other side road was being widened to four lanes which gradually slope down to some mangrove bushes submerged in backwaters. At the point where the existing road bridge ends, there one could see a railway track crossing the road and entering the port. “This ought to be my track for today,” I told myself. I walked down till the railway crossing. I stood facing towards the road bridge, the port was on my right into which the railway track goes and to my left there was the starting pint of my exploration. Both rail and road bridges were almost perpendicular to each other. Another rod bridge was also coming up as part of the four lane project which also avoids the railway crossing by going above it.

A closer look of the two road bridges from the railway crossing

 The board says it all. My quest actually starts here
 The bridge was only one year old that time. Starting the construction in June 2007 the whole work was finished in March 2010; a feat achieved in less than three years. Yet to complete the tests and finally opening it had to wait till February next year. The bridge passes through three small islands also. Vembanad in fact is the name of the large lake over which the bridge had been constructed. It was an RCC bridge with a fine sidewalk at one side which puts the width at 5 metres, but on the other provisions for doubling the track is kept. There are 132 spans in all out of which 33 spans are 20 metre long and rest of the 99 are of 40 metres. Average height above water level is almost 7 metres. Pillars of the sidewalk were painted in sky-blue and the railings in white. Aha! What a view that was! Till then all the bridges I had seen in Indian Railway network were either painted in silver or in rusty red. But this one was a real bliss to the eyes.
 One more glance at the point from where I started

Enthusiasm was quite high in the beginning of the day, but later developments completely made me to forget about water. So armed only with my camera the tracking of the rails started from the end of the bridge. Usually that much of distance is comfortably traversable while trekking the hilly terrain. So even without water that distance is manageable.

As I looked ahead I saw the bridge taking a right angle turn and I could see the apparent end point. But I was wrong. That was the first island beneath the structure. I stopped there for a moment and was in two minds whether to take a photograph or not. I knew that the view I was enjoying at that moment would never enter through camera lens (that’s one of the reasons why a photographer never gets satisfaction from his work). I dialed my phone to home. At the other end my mother picked up and asked where I was at that moment. I told her that walking down the longest bridge in India. She asked again, rail or road? “Obviously it got to be rail”, I replied. She enquired about the length and surroundings and structure etc, I knew worried with the normal perception of a girderlesss railway bridge. Then she passed the phone to my father. Luckily that was a Bohag Bihu vacation in Assam, so both were at home. He asked me gain where I was. Again I replied the same. Then he asked from which end I have started. I said from the tail end. “I thought you’d. That’s easily reachable from Ernakulam. Do you have water etc with you or not? Because from the beginning point of the bridge, which is your apparent end point, Idapally station is quite some distance. You got to reach there to get any conveyance or refreshment or anything. So be careful. Good that you’ve visited that. I cannot think of it now.”
 The first island over which the bridge passes appears on the right

After a brief conversation with father I hang up the phone. I started walking again. As I was walking through the surrounding blues, one thought was disturbing me. The spirit of visiting the least visited and unexpected places I inherited from my father and grandfather. Towards the end of his life my grandfather would try to share as much his experiences with me whenever I used to visit him. He studied Hindi in Agra and was quite fond of travelling by trains. During my PhD also, he suggested me many libraries to be visited in Agra, Varanasi and Lucknow itself. I could only try to fathom that longing in his old but spirited eyes, but perhaps could never dip into the bottom. That day father’s voice also echoed the same tune. He knew what kind of bridge it was, terminal points of the bridge and exact stretch of distance it serves; it’s not possible that he’d not want to walk down through the ends. Just for his love of railways in his youth he’d traversed Barpeta to Nalbari stretch of railway tracks and several others outside the state on foot. So this stretch was nothing for such an ardent enthusiast. Yes my old man is a born geographer and he is quite proud of his subject knowledge, of course legitimately. He really knows his Geography!

Anyway soon my stream of consciousness was interrupted by an enviable view. To the left of my movement I saw a few houses. I guess right at that moment no one could appreciate the comfort of such a house other than me who was walking with a scorching sun above. I knew those houses could never be mine as each costs more than 10 crores each. Yes, Kerala has become quite costly in real estate business. Well, it has got every reason to be. Flourishing tourism, quite a huge population abroad, and overall costly life style have led to such costly business.
 Felt jealous of the dwellers of those houses

When my eyes were busy appreciating the surroundings and my legs were performing their basic duty, my brain started thinking of a job, quite a queer and unnoticed kind of job. That is the job of a railway Gangman. A railway Gangman has to walk 4 miles up and down a railway stretch checking each and every bolt and clamps of the rails. He is the real unsung hero of the railway system. If the Gangman says to stop, you have to, no matter even if you are travelling by the Rajdhani Express or the President is travelling by the grand Presidential Saloon. They are the safety keeper of the railways. And yet as we travel by a train and see them working on the tracks waiting for our trains to pass by and then continue their work again, do we ever give a single thought on their toil? Or as we sit by the window, and then enjoy our face hit by the fast blowing cool wind and then we eat (rather gulp) our food and throw away the plastic dish outside through window, do we ever give a second thought that our eaten food remains may hit the face of a working gangman who was busy inspecting whether each and every wheel of our train was working properly or not? (I’ve come a long way away from the topic, but couldn’t help sharing the line of thought on those unsung knights of the railways. My request to the readers is that, now onwards please use the wash basin instead of washing your hands out of the window, carry a bag to put your trash and dump it in garbage bin at a station instead of throwing them away through window which would save environment as well as save the little pride those hard working souls have.)

If I were a gangman working on that bridge! But that was just the beginning thought

The bridge had some ladders to climb down to the base of the girders for the convenience of the maintenance of the bottom structure. In the absence of the human settlement those pillars were inhabited by some honey bees! Their home was yet to be built, but seemed like they were gathering there to initiate the laying of foundation stone (or wax perhaps?). It amused me; far from vegetations they were making a nest there? Even to bring pollens and honey they’d need to fly a huge distance over the back waters. Yeah, they are real hard workers. 

Oh! Some more dwellers on the bridge!

Gradually I sensed a bit of uneasiness. Everything was perfect till then. I could see more than what I had expected. I had found no pictures of the bridge on internet, so had no idea of it how would it look like. And when I saw it for the first time, it was more beautiful than what I had expected. And yet, I was feeling a bit uneasy. With a sweat drop toppled over eyebrow reminded me of the humid heat. Yes, it was different from the climate I was accustomed to. Summer in Lucknow was dry, and here it’s highly humid. We never used to sweat in North Indian summer, but in a humid place like this sweating is obvious. But in both the cases loss of body fluid does occur. And my present feeling was caused by that. Yet, it was bearable. If you stand by the seashore you’d feel the torrent of wind shaking you. You don’t feel like how hot the weather actually is. Here I also thought of resting upon that comforting breeze. Yes, it was comforting.

It was all blue…. Yes my favourite colour!

and bluer…

As the bridge took a right angle turn, I looked back to gauge how far had I come. It would be a long stretch over the vast expanding blue. Only patches of green isles and islands look like embroidery in that large blue scarf. I wonder how it’d look like in an avian view! By then I had traversed only one fourth of the total length. Another seventy five percent was yet in line. And who knows what sceneries are waiting to surprise me?

As I was walking and appreciating the blues, my thought was again struck by the punch-line of Kerala Tourism “God’s own Country”. Well, frankly speaking I don’t subscribe to any religion or religious belief. But I wondered why that punch-line became such a success. I found that the sense of exoticism is highlighted very tactfully by KTDC. And once you become successful in branding and projecting something as exotic, more than half your business is done. Kerala may  have (and they indeed have) different sub categories of tourism, but the umbrella term is so catching that it’d impart that sense of exoticism into the listener. Such a strategy still keeps alive the tourism in J&K also; Jannat-e-jahan (Paradise of the earth) attracts people from far ends of the world.

When the bridge took almost a right angle turn, I looked back to gauge how far had I come

Concrete mushrooms growing up

Here I come to the first island crossover. Distant skyscrapers looked like small mushrooms. Since I was alone, I found no one to pose for me holding the buildings between his/her fingers! I could hardly count the floors even after zooming my lens into fullest at 144mm. Thickly growing coconut trees appeared just like a dark green ribbon at the edge of the water. It reminded me of Assamese poet Nawakanta Baruah’s He Aranya, he Mahanagar (Oh Forest, Oh City). Our population and our sense of appreciation of beauty and wilderness are inversely proportionate. The former is growing fast. And as I was looking at the huge concrete structure I found no architectural beauty in it. Modern architecture sells each and every inch of a building, but hundred years ago architects would have spent more time in aesthetic design of a huge building rather than putting a clerk’s table at the top floor corner. Thus we had more archs and curves and decorations in 19th Century architecture (watch archaic buildings in Kolkata next time), and now we had more rectangular cubicle based building structures. Earlier people amassed wealth and ordered something to be built, now builders build it and sell later cutting his profit. So investing the money in architecture has also changed, and so is the purpose and aesthetic structure. We have become so used to in living in apartments that we decorate it from inside in best possible way, but from outside we may fail to notice how ugly it looks like.

By then I realised, I forgot something. 

Yes, I should have carried at least a bottle of water

That's the dock to where the rails lead

As I looked back towards the dock, which was almost two kilometers away, I saw those huge cranes lifting gigantic loads. Perhaps more concrete high rises would come up. Even from that distance their existence could impart a sense of awe in me. Or perhaps my distaste for unhealthy grow of modernity has made me blind to appreciate them.

As I looked down below to the edge of the water of that island, I saw some herons searching for food leaving behind the imprint of their soft claws in mud. They were a bit different from our pond herons and had black beaks unlike the orange ones of ours. Water provides so many life opportunities! Some live aquatic life and some live on aquatic lives! Their cool attitude intensified the feel of heat. Yes our feelings are also highly relative immeasurable in any scale. How did the old steam engine drivers bear the oven they drove? Against all odds and racial cries, Anglo Indian drivers used to dominate trains only because of two reasons: they could bear the heat like Indians and they had the spirit of disciplined working like the Englishmen. Thus Anglo Indian drivers swinging from their locomotive footplates received most of the firebox heat of the steam era in Indian Railways. And yet they were the most punctual defying every odds. (A tribute on them will follow in a later article.)

Buddy, I am a bit thirsty and you are enjoying down there? Can you lend me your wings for once?

Arriving over a road in the first island

Lonely, yet distinct!

I crossed over the road below and soon entered the territory of thickly growing coconut jungle. I guess only the queer most individual would show his/her distaste for tender coconut water. For me it’s always been prioritized over cold drinks. It was season for those tender coconuts, tempted the onlookers hanging from the trees. And each of them were in such a perfect shape, size and colour! I wonder if any Urdu poet had seen them what would have been his labzein. Unfortunately Urdu doesn’t have synonym for it due to cultural dissociation of coconut in Islamic countries. Even we don’t have any piece of good poetry in Assamese that emphasizes on any aspect of the coconut! Seems it’s not a thing of beauty to become a joy forever, rather a thing of religious importance to constitute the paraphernalia of our rites. Not only monkeys, even we don’t value the coconut!

Huh! Could I reach them? I tried, but I couldn't

With earlier impeding thirst I felt more thirsty looking at those coconuts. Well, they were beyond my hands’ reach. By then one third of the length I had traversed. A feel of regret started hitting me inside. How on earth did I forget that basic companion, a bottle of water? That time I felt like understanding Coleridge’s Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner properly,
Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”

I looked back to see what I had crossed by now...water...tender coconut...but not at my disposal

I looked forward. Another 5 kilometres to walk till I reach the next station

My favourite colour, brought me distress for the first time 

Wish I had a boat to sail through those all day long!

Another 4.4 kilometres to walk 

I felt like riding one and then jump to the water and swim!

So, here endeth the bridge!

Finally I reached the end (actually starting point of the bridge). There from the elevation I could see another two parallel tracks coming down from Ernakulam Junction (ERS) via Ernakulam Town (ERN). But where is Idapally (IPL) station now?

But where is Idapally Station??? Oh! Another 2.3 km???
Lines from Ernakulam North arrives to my right

I had to walk more towards north, another 2.5 km stretch. All the surrounding greenery was hot now in the absence of the cooling effect of water. As I walked down the gradient I heard the honk of an ALCo locomotive and hard chugging. A train was climbing up the gradient from ERN side. Turbo chargers of the ALCo locomotive emitted a nice jiggling sound matching that of the ghoongroos of a classical dancer. Soon I could see the head of the train, and to my luck there were two engines on doing that train! That was a real treat for me, twin locomotives operations are rare these days. I waited to see which train was it, my watch said it should be Netravati Express. And yes! It was Netravati indeed as the train passed by silently and the driver put the notch in idle mode while tumbling down towards IPL. 

Wow! Someone with a load is climbing a gradient from Ernakulam North side! 

Ahem! What can be a better delight at the end but to find Netravati with double headed ALCo??? Wasn't I lucky?

Want to what happened at the end? I was too tired to click any picture, so IPL station will not appear in photographs. Well, I reached IPL station and looked for any stall selling water etc. But to my dismay, there was not a single stall at all. Next I enquired about any train towards ERS or ERN which stops at IPL too. But there was none at that time. The booking clerk suggested me to go to the bus stand at a distance and catch a bus from there to Ernakulam. I followed his instructions and reached the bus stand. That was a make-shift bus stand under a banyan tree. Then by the bus stand I found a small shop and that day I appreciated water like never before. 2 litres of water and 1.2 litres of cold drink pacified a little. Body demanded more water, but intestine couldn't absorb that quick. Oh! How can I forget that expedition!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Two Tones of Coal Consumed by Bovine

Indian Railways’ chief source of revenue is iron ore followed by coal. Apart from meeting the domestic needs, India exports the red earth from different ports. Several first world countries depend on highly rich Indian iron ore. Even if you fail to notice the heavy ore carrying box type wagon (BOXNHL wagons) freight trains in the east coast, you can imagine the magnitude standing at busy Vishakhapattanam dock, large vessels sailing off loaded with iron ore. And for coal, the trend is just the opposite. India’s coal consumption is highest in two industries, first comes the thermal power plants and followed by steel industries. Highly sulphated Indian coal is unsuitable for power plant use, thus India has to import high quality coal mainly from Australia. But that doesn’t lessen the burden on its own coal mines. Eastern India still witnesses a busy coal movement over iron rails. With all the iron and coal mines around, industrial freight movement in eastern India is quite dense compared to several other parts in India. When several parts of Indian Railways still cry for doubling the tracks, eastern India feels as if quadruple tracks are not sufficient to connect craters with chimneys.

Here goes my experience on ‘black country of India’, which once drew attention of Prince Dwarkanath Tagore who bought over the collieries and Carr and Tagore Co. led the field in 1835.

The story is from Raniganj, a coal rich area in West Bengal has been centre of interest for many parties (not political parties but equally corrupt nevertheless), big industries as customers, groups of miners, local transporters, contractors at railway yards to load freight trains and of course the railways. That’s a fine coordination which we can imagine as a stream of divisive labour. One player’s withdrawal would mean complete collapse of the business. Anyway, lots of people found their bread and butter in this business and some other found ways to make a few (?) extra bucks. Cast coal has to be processed before transporting. Technical term is beneficiation, but in case of coal the broader term is coal preparation and narrower term is coal cleaning. Through this process pure coal is separated from pebbles. Percentage of pure coal present in a certain stock determines the richness of the coal. But that processing takes place much after the casting, with labourers draining all their sweat and contractor paying them off. And after the whole week’s casting, it may turn up that the stock is worthless in terms of percentage of pure coal. At that point separating coal from pebbles would cost more than what the coal would earn. And if somehow you dodge the checking process and transport the stock to the destinations, there is a certain possibility of return of the stock by the customer. But contractors did spend their money, and needed to refill their capital. So trick would be played in cleaning process itself on the already cleaned coal stock.

Pure coal soaks water and becomes several times heavier. So mining contractors intentionally keep the pure stock soaked in water. And when wet coal is loaded for transportation, obviously it makes a huge difference between real weight and logged weight. But once you pass through the weighing process, your responsibility is over; you got paid in accordance to weight. Now dumpers exiting from mines would deposit the stock at railway yard, mountains of such stock waiting to be transported under rough sun. Our stock is being loaded to the BOXNHL wagons, paperwork has been done, and stock moves towards the destination. And during this whole process our stock suffers from dehydration! Finally when customer industry receives the stock, they weigh, they find less than what it should be, concludes that lapses in railway led to loss of volume while transportation. As transporter Indian Railways has to compensate the loss. So railway has to carry double burden.

But how long can one milk cash in such ways? So soon an investigating committee came into existence including members from Coal India Limited along with Railway Board members. They scrutinized the whole process from coal seams till the power-plant chimneys, and discovered that the loss actually occurs in between the coalfield exit gate and the railway yard. So a second time visit to the railway yard was planned. But in India the most classified news moves faster than any wheeled vehicle. So the responsible contractors were made aware of the inspection by some moles. Next day when the investigating team arrived at the railway yard, they discovered one more coal consumer: our holy bovine eating coal happily shaking their horns and waving their tails!

You may wonder how it is possible. Contractors got one molasses supplier to mix his sugary substance with piles of black diamond. Our human eyes and nose may not sense it, but those animals around voluntarily offered for the scam job. And thus it was reported bovine consumed two tones of coal just in front of the investigation team!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Train to Pakistan sequel: Locomotives to Pakistan

The Express Tribune published an article The Collapse of Pakistan Railways in its September 20, 2010 issue. The article gives a substantial introduction to our neighbour Railways from the beginning till now, and its past glory and achievements as well (for instance its exports to Bangladesh and Srilanka in past years along with meeting its local needs). The glorious days lasted till the 90's in the last century. And then Musharraf government took over and appointed General Javed Ashraf the railway minster, General Saeed the chairman and General Hamid Butt the general manager of manufacturing and services, all of whom had no prior experience in railways. So Pakistan Railway's (PR) suffering was inevitable (somewhat the same is also noticed in Indian Railway in recent years in terms of mismanagement, but being a massive network and an efficient freight traffic have managed to maintain the equilibrium at its own cost). This was the period when PR's balance sheet saw a rapid decline.

Popular jokes of Chinese maal really proved right with the new arrival of all the way inefficient locomotives from China which were far inferior than the existing 30/40 years old locomotives in PR. These locomotives had a higher axle load much above the bearing capacity of the mainline tracks in PR and far beyond the branch lines. Additional impact for spare parts procurement valued at $15 million annually made them the most expensive locomotives ever procured by PR. There was a burden of 64 such Chinese maal. And now in recent years (2009-2010) an additional order for 75 brand new locomotives has been bagged by the same Chinese middleman Dong Feng Trading House (DFTH) and Mishan Locomotives Works bagged an additional order for 75 brand new locomotives. And still the damage caused to PR was felt not enough by the diplomats and Railway officials. So 200 passenger carriages at an exorbitant cost are also being procured, although the same could be manufactured by the factory in Islamabad with imported raw material. Those in India who feel amazed at the achievement of high speed trains in China must also scrutinise the 'high quality' railway products in China and draw a parallel between recent RCF (Rail Coach Factory, Kapoorthala) in India and the aluminum toothpaste tube. China can really produce high quality junk and export to the neighbouring countries just like their electronic gadgets.

PR has almost 500 locomotives to its stable, but more than half of the diesel-electric (or simply diesel) locomotives are now stabled due to lack of spare parts from foreign agencies and electric locos is in need of infrastructure to operate. Some sources claim that PR now has only about 70 locomotives in perfect condition, whereas Indian Railways (IR) manufactures about 250 diesel locomotives a year and has 4,214 electric and 6,000 diesel engines in its inventory. Pakistan, at this point, is facing an acute shortage of locomotives that has forced its railways to suspend operations of as many as 128 passenger trains in recent months. Recent news in  The Telegraph's Calcutta edition dated 18th May, 2012 says about a recent development in Pakistan Railways involving IR as well. “A team of officials from Pakistan had met the Indian counterparts and broad consensus emerged on leasing the locomotives,” a senior railway ministry official said. IR sell locomotives on purchase basis to other countries but this will be for the first time that IR is considering giving it on hiring as PR prefers leasing to buying. According to sources IR may provide 50 locomotives on lease at the rate of Rs 1,500 per hour per engine of 3,000 HP. This is the first time that IR is leasing out its locos to any country. But why PR went for leasing than buying the locos? And why PR chose only IR locos for this deal? These might be the causes that concerned:
1. A depreciation fund, which was meant for scheduled preventive repair and maintenance of locomotives, carriages and tracks, has been disbanded.
2. Pakistan Railways had compatible locomotives from GE, Hitachi and other companies – all with different axle loads but compatible with the railway tracks. Their main line tracks have the capability of handling a load of 22 tons per axle, while branch lines can sustain 16.5 tons per axle.

And remember Chinese locos had a much higher axle load above these limits, practically unsuitable for functioning in the network. A special dispensation was issued by the Railways allowing their operation on sections where it could prove dangerous and this is still in force. This has led to numerous accidents and loss of precious lives.

From the specifications it is evident that IR will lease out WDM3A class of locomotives with axle load of 18.8 tonnes and total weight 112.8t. Although WDG3A class freighter locos also share the same power-pack and extensively used in passenger services in India (sometimes spotted even with prestigious trains like Rajdhani Express), yet the higher axle load of 20.5t appears disadvantageous for PR. (For Diesel Electric loco specifications click here)

A DLMW rebuilt WDM3A locomotive (origin WDM2A) of New Guwahati Locoshed

A DLW built WDM3A of Gooty Locoshed

Now this is really a neighbourly help rendered by India for a country that is considered as a potential threat. But there are some other doubts which linger to railfans' (that is the popular term used for railway fanatics in the subcontinent, not to be confused with mechanical fan in the summer season) minds. It is evident that IR is proceeding considering the axle load and condition of the railway tracks as officially quoted. But decades of ill-maintenance including the lack of schedule preventive repair of tracks may pose as a threat to the underframe of the IR horses as well. With a failing system we cannot expect the proper training of loco pilots in PR which may enable them to efficiently run locos with modern technology. So at first operational speed will be quite low. After all those if the Indian locos do not exhibit a high rate of fuel efficiency, then there is a fear that Pakistan may stop the leasing payments. One can perceive that Pakistan has been reduced to a “Begging Bowl” as the Economy has been shattered, to say the least, and there is no money for anything and everything. Thus Indian Railways should create a foolproof contract with irrevocable Bank Guarantees from Major International Banks or otherwise I. R. and thereby India will end up with Egg on their Face by suffering huge Financial Losses.

Funny Railway-Political Drama: Pakistan has one WDM2 locomotive (an Alco based 2650HP diesel locomotive) of IR as a war captive! In 1969, one WDM-2 locomotive of Indian Railways was appropriated by Pakistan and incorporated into Pakistan Railway's fleet. There are few details available about the circumstances of the appropriation, and the road number of the locomotive assigned by IR is not known, although it is thought to be from a batch erected by DLW-Varanasi in 1965. PR initially assigned it a road number of 3770, but it was later renumbered to 4621 to fit into the ALU26 loco series since the WDM-2 is an Alco DL-560 model. As late as 2000, the loco is said to have been active and based at Rawalpindi shed. The locomotive was nicknamed 'Indira Gandhi' by Pakistan Railways. So, in case a war breaks out between India and Pakistan, the number of prisoners with upgraded technology will rise to 51. On the other hand, during the India-Pakistan war of 1971, a locomotive from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) which had arrived at Howrah was detained and never returned after the war ended. It is located now at Bandel, although it has never been operated since its appropriation.

(Inputs from IRFCA acknowledged)

Santulan Mahanta
Research Scholar
The English and Foreign Languages University
Lucknow Campus-226001
Mobile: +919473826815