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

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

A Pleasant Suffer

It was a journey which was planned of and then re-planned of thrice and modifying the tickets twice, cancelling once! And finally it was fixed to 5th of September, 2011. Combination was 12502 Poorvottar Sampark Kranti from Kanpur Central (CNB) till Guwahati (GHY) and then 15605 GHY-JTTN Intercity Express till Jorhat Town (JTTN). 12502 was scheduled at 06:20 hrs and in order to catch the train from CNB I had to leave Lucknow (LKO) previous night. So, I caught the Marudhar Express which was attached with Ghaziabad (GZB) WAP7 #30279 at LKO. With a wonderful action it took only one and half hours to reach CNB (including the waitings in outers of CNB and LKO). At CNB I had to wait till morning and discovering the waiting hall fully packed I decided to shunt through the platforms in light after putting my luggage under cloak-room's responsibility. Here railfans may question why I chose the Sampark Kranti to GHY instead of other trains. I knew that this train never arrives on time. So if it gets perfectly delayed then I will have the glimpses of the beautiful Dooars area during daytime instead of passing through it at night. Sometimes behind the schedule run becomes a boon and there 12502 never disappoints you. Actually I wonder had this train ever run on time since its introduction! At least I have never been so lucky in last five years.

Before shunting through (you people will say strolling, but me is a railway freak you must understand and hence no apologies for my using of railway jargons) I looked for an idle space suitable to spot almost each and every rail movement to and from CNB! So there was a spot -- at the western end of the PF4, just below a signal on a Loco Pilot's (LP) trunk!!! It was wet due to the rain some two hrs ago. So I brought out a backdated newspaper from my laptop bag and got my majestic Singhasan (well that is the term coined by my roommate for those temporary seats during railfanning sessions!). I was quite comfortably seating there ignoring the drizzle creating awesome auras around the station lights. Only trouble was to pull the piece of folded A4 sheet out of my shirt pocket and protecting it from heavenly drops while making notes of the locos passed by and then again securely pushing it in. Anyways, with lots of previous experiences one can gain mastery over that too. Now I could note down the things which are following below may be to your interest or a tool to bore you for a while ;-)

As I just I took my seat, I heard the announcement for 12226 Kaifiyat Express bound to Azamgarh arrived at PF3 of CNB led by GZB WAP7 #30252. This train will get the traction changed at LKO to Siliguri Junction's (SGUJ) WDP4 link that arrives with Vaishali.12417 Alahabad-New Delhi (ALD-NDLS) Prayagraj express came behind MGS WAP4 #22814. Two and half hrs delayed 12381 Poorva Express via GAYA arrived led by Howrah's (HWH) WAP4 #22862 at PF2. 12380 Amritsar-Sealdah (ASR-SDAH) Jalianwalabagh Express showed up led by HWH old fellow WAP4 #22414. I was basically facing towards the PF1 and just behind me were standing three monsters in their night's sleep only to wake up for their duties in the early morning: WAP4 #22296 of CNB, WAP5 #30025 of GZB and WDM3A #18766 of Jhansi (JHS) in old rebuilt WDM3A livery. The third one was interesting: It got the shed codes marked both in Hindi and in English at the generally Anglicised end, whereas the other end was patriotically dedicated to Hindi only! I wonder whether railfans have come across such rare markings elsewhere or not. I was keen to take a snap of that but thought better not to take out my mobile to direct water exposure. So, railfans you missed the evidence, and I leave it to your spotting of that piece. At the open line beyond PF9 there Andal (UDL) freighter WDG3A #14992 was waiting with a freight load for quite some time. Interestingly this diggy was in red instead of peculiar UDL's military green livery. On the open line between PF 7 and PF8 arrived Abu Road's (ABR) WDG3A #13259 with BOXN rake. As just I noted down it, I had to turn my head again to my original position to discover the monster just arriving in front of me! JHS WDM3D #11289 brought 11016 Kushinagar Express to PF4. Announcements were being made long since, but I couldn't make out on which PF it was coming until then. It was a 24 coacher that day with 14 SL, 2 ACIII, 1 ACII, 3 GS, 1 PC, 2 SLR and 1 Extra SL -- quite a load for the JHS deemer. While Kushinagar was still there, 12309 RJQ Rajdhani appeared at PF2 led by MGS WAP4 #22750. Next I heard the announcement for 12876 Neelachal Express coming on PF4! It was supposed to arrive CNB at 12:30hrs on Sunday but somehow got abnormally delayed. Soon it entered the PF led by GZB WAP5 #30014. A great improvement to this train with loco link changed from WAP1 to WAP5 now a days. Next train appearing on the scene was Rajendra Nagar-New Delhi (RJQ-NDLS) Sampoorna Kranti Express at PF2 led by CNB WAP4 #22301. It was followed by 12403 Alahabad-Mathura junction (ALD-MTJ) Express headed by CNB WAP4 #22228. 12554 Vaishali Express had shown up behind CNB WAP4 #22608. Its loco will be changed to SGUJ WDP4 at Lucknow Junction (LJN). After a while 12404 also appeared in the scenario led by CNB WAP4 #22230. Both up and down trains got CNB link with a single gap in loco numbers!!! Amidst the busy humdrum, derated Agra shunter WDM2 #17360 painted in yellow passed by PF4 quite reluctantly without paying heed to happenings around. Somehow I missed the loco number of 13111. Now I got to be active after sitting at the same position for a long time. I just wonder how LPs manage to do that in a hot oven like loco cab. Slowly I walked towards the eastern end of PF4. At the open line between PF3 and PF4 two diesel monsters were sleeping quietly: JHS WDG3A #13058 Shakti and Itarsi (ET) WDM2 #17577. The latter was recently POHed as it appeared to me. Then I heard the sounds of gongs in unison and found JHS WDM3D #11291 passing by PF7 with empty BOXN rake. I took the foot overbridge to go to waiting room at PF1. There after getting afresh I went to inquire about my train status. It was wonderfully delayed by one hour. Perhaps no one will get delighted on finding his/her train delayed ;-) In the meantime I preferred to miss the morning Rajdhani actions at CNB which otherwise would have been a great attraction for any railfan. I took a cup of tea outside the station premise and then got my luggage out of the cloakroom. When I entered PF1, it was the 12033 CNB-NDLS Shatabdi standing there. The loco in charge was GZB WAP5 #30025 which was a nighttime company to me before it woke up. It was great to see the train getting some passenger response these days. I went to PF6 where my train was supposed to come. That was at that time occupied by 14164 Sangam Express brought by CNB WAP4 #22299. On PF5 came Islampur bound 12402 Magadh Express behind CNB WAP4 #22225. Shramshakti came to PF4 behind CNB WAP4 #22584. 12534 Pushpak Express bound to LJN was led by JHS WDM3D #11284 to PF5. At PF7 came 12419 Gomti Express just on time with usual CNB WAP4 loco link which happened to be #22659 that day. It was a horrible scene; the train was packed like anything. Only commuter trains in Mumbai and Kolkata areas can beat it! From nowhere GD WDM2 #17832 passed by PF8 in light! 13484 Farakka Express banged at PF1 with GZB WAP7 #30234. Soon after Gomti's departure, 14056 Brahmaputra Mail became the occupant of PF7 headed by Mughalsarai's (MGS) WAP4 #22739. This 24 coacher always holds a charm for me. It was loaded with the pantry supplies at CNB. This service need new rakes and proper adherence to its schedule, particularly delays in Bihar has made it infamous. Now after it left the PF, I was again waiting for 12502. Since PF6 was still occupied by Sangam, it was inevitable that 12502 would arrive at PF7 making not much difference. At last the announcement was made the train arrived 2hrs 30minutes behind schedule. Well, well, now there was a wonder as it slowly entered the PF, it was led by GZB WAP5 #30015!!! For the first time I guess it was assigned behind a WAP5 which is generally used to be WAP1.

                                          12502 arrived with GZB WAP5 #30015

I boarded my coach (S11) and got comfortably accommodated to my seat 71 just by the door!!! It was in fact a dilemma whether to rejoice at getting an SL berth or to regret for it being by the door catering space to all day-time travelers. Thankfully this train doesn't have that problem that much because of its limited official stops. Occupant of the seat no. 72 doesn’t seem anxious enough to enjoy the outside view. On the other side of the compartment two families were travelling: husband, wife and a kid in each. They were interacting among themselves without making much noise. Occupants of 68, 69 and 70 were to New Jalpaiguri (NJP) and the rest three were till GHY. The train started moving and quickly picked up speed in WAP5 way. Once it reached 110 and I was convinced that it would make up the delay till Patna (PNBE). On the way varieties of locomotives passed by one by one with their assigned duties: first encounter just at the outer of CNB was an unknown Garib Rath headed by GZB WAP5 #30003 towards NDLS on the ALD-NDLS mainline which I could not discover from the timetable, Lalaguda's (LGD) WAG9 #31189 with coal freight, Ludhiana's (LDH) WDM3A #16641R crossed us with a passenger train at its tow, MGS WAM4 #21392 passed by with another passenger train which was followed by Asansol's (ASN) WAM4 #21381 probably with 11105 Pratham Swatantrata Sangram Express.

This is the season when one can find the real greens of Northern India: crops are yet to get matured enough, fiery summer had given up recently and winter is far enough to strike the trees with its raven claws and rob them of their leaves; recent rain has just cast its spell over the Gangetic plains. One can find Ganga with sufficient water during this season even at Kanpur whose breast was motorable just two months back! Unbelievable but true; I saw people cultivating crops and vegetables on the dry riverbed of Ganga even in the month of July! Perhaps thus forms the desert… slowly… day by day… month by month… year by year… Turning the river to rivulet, brooks to stony heaps…

                                           A comparatively greener North India

Anyways, soon I felt sleepy and slept for quite some time – a cumulative effect of earlier three days sleeplessness and a single dose for migraine. The cloudy weather hid the sun somewhere behind – creating an ideal weather for travelers. Only for a while I woke up in between when TTE came to check tickets and the pantry car guy came to take orders for lunch. When the train was about to reach Sirathu, a small station before Allahabad, I woke up and went to the wash basin and splashed some water to my eyes.  Now I sat comfortably on my seat and looked around. Inside the coach most people were busy taking their lunch. Small boys and teenagers were coming with the paper-soap strips, occasional vendors were frequenting with their moving paan-cigarette bhandar catering not only those two items but varieties of other things such as cheap toothbrushes and toothpastes, toilet-soaps, card packs, sachets of moisturizers, toys for your kid and everything what you might have left behind home while in your hurry to catch the train! And there were some other arrangements for your luxury also, although not officially from railway’s side: There’s the service of a kaam-chalao spa! You can get a nice massage from massagers who will smear kinds of oils all over you and start massaging you for some 10-20 rupees. And if you feel you had not cleaned your ears for a long time then there are people there at your service to do that service to you! Sorry guys, no Swimming pool and bars inside the moving train. But moving booksellers are there catering news-papers junk fictions in local languages and primers for your kids.

I was a bad buyer and very bad in making those kinds of economic deals and so preferred to make a virtual escape from them by looking out through the window. Outside green was embroidered out of a symbiosis of mango trees, guava and banana plantains. Reeds were blooming in white and marked the presence of the autumn carpeting over the vast plains. Yeah, pleasant autumn is not far, North-Indian monsoon and North-Eastern flood days are about to be over. It was Northern summer when I travelled last time to home when everything was dull and dry full of dusty winds; and the summer sun literally burnt down everything and exposed the dry breasts of the earth. The white used to be replaced by black ashes. Whatever may the season be, I noticed the guys in the plantain orchard were adamant enough to defy the seasonal inconveniences working hard all through the year sun burnt and rain drenched. Somewhere at a distance an old mango tree was there forming a symmetric umbrella like structure. A station passed by, Bamhrauli. Tractors were still tilling in this season.  I really feel amazed at the busy relentless life these hardworking people lead. They are quite content with their own works and just feel pride in how much they harvested in a year and in fact, that adds to their dignity in the society and overall prosperity. Their looks may deceive people like us leading to consider them as some poor fellows knowing nothing and having nothing. But they are not concerned to what we think, do their works as religiously like going to temple, earn even better than many of the civil servants, and can threaten the union when they stop sending essential commodities to other parasite parts of the Union dwelling mainly on the Central grants and subsidies. But they live far away from us to see them!

Gradually concrete blocks and gardens started appearing – just like plastic models. These structures reminded me of the houses we used to draw in our drawing classes. We used to draw the houses with the ruler which was prohibited. As a result, perfect symmetrical structure underscored than imperfect hand drawn houses. But my art teacher didn't know how much it values in architecture! Well, sign of approaching Allahabad. We were now at Subedarganj.  The train slowed down a little. There we slowly passed a level-crossing and I could see people’s contempt for the slow moving train. Seeing their busy gestures, sitting on a bike just one or two feet away from the train, no one can support the notion of lazy Indians. Perhaps lazy people are to be found inside the offices and busy people on the road. Then came the old railway residential quarters with arc type roofs, reminding only two things – geometry and symmetry! Peoples in India may not show any integrity, but cattle are all the same irrespective of their size, breed, colour: carelessly and lazily ruminating at the busiest point in the market or road, no matter how much you honk. Just then lunch was served; not enough to make water in your mouth but sufficient enough to pacify your hunger. The train slowed down a little while entering Allahabad (ALD) and I got a nice opportunity to note down the road numbers of some of the locos at the ALD tripshed: LKO WDM3D #11266 Cheetah, PUNE WDM3D #11348, red coloured LKO WDM3A #16418R, MGS WDM3A #16443R in its typical shed livery and a WDS6 shunter with road number #36267 whose shed I could not make out. At ALD it came to a halt for a longer period than required. On a parallel line there was a freight rake with BOXN wagons loaded with coke. Bills stuck on the wagons read Tata Steel Coke and Tata Metalics Ltd. The freight rake was leading to Chakradharpur. A wagon from the NFR came to my notice with a plea for voting some candidate in the state legislative assembly election! Unity in diversity: wagons from different railway zones together carrying out a mission irrespective of their age. When it moved again I found KTE jumbo WDM2 #17794 ready with Rewa Superfast. The train’s name reminded me of Maharajah of Rewa; his name will remain relevant in the conservation of White Tigers. Electric loco link of this train I missed at CNB. The Yamuna Bridge has been recently painted in silver giving it a more aesthetic look than old rusty one. 
After leaving ALD once again I fell asleep and woke up only when the train came to an operational halt at MGS. Loco traction was to be changed to diesel at MGS. Since my coach was quite far from the loco, I preferred not to go that far just to note down the loco number that being attached to. Instead I stretched my legs and comfortably sat on my own seat and looked out through the window if I could see any loco nearby; but there was none at that time. When it started slowly I curiously peeped out to hunt locomotives in the outer world. So killing beauties around the MGS tripshed were: LGD WAG9 #31166, KTE WDM2 #17727, New Katni Junction's (NKJ) WAG7 #27267, Tughlakabad's (TKD) WAG7 #27709, LKO WDM3D #11334 Cheetah, MGS WAG7 #27063, HWH WAP4 #22771 and #22407, ASN WAM4 #21391 (next #21392 of MGS encountered earlier in the morning itself!), Angul's (ANGL) WAG7 #28137 in blue WAP4 shell, JHS WAG5 #24024, MGS WDS6R #36114, CNB WAG7 #27179,  two MGS old fellows WDM2 #18203 and #18267 in old rusty livery and MGS WDM3A #18839R in  recent MGS livery, LDH WAG7 #27687, MGS WAP4 #22208 and rusty Bardhaman's (BWN) WDM3A #16638. On the way we encountered 12387 Jansadharan Express led by MGS WAP4 #22711.

Our train was 4hrs delayed by the time it left MGS. It was dark already and things outside gradually started becoming invisible. Occasional vendors had already disappeared from the scene. They are more frequent in the North-eastern part than the Northern part of the country. Passengers had taken oath to be quiet or it was due to my isolated seat at the end of the coach, whatever may it be, it was total silence inside the coach. This is something rare these days amidst the mobile-phone terror equipped both with cheap Chinese handsets and cheap songs adding much to one's headache. Now only sound that could be heard of was that of the occasional rhythmical unison on the LWRs repeating over a kilometre’s gap and EMD loco’s notching up sound along with honking. I felt a bit irritated for not being able to get the loco number of our train and that intensified the moment the LP blows the horn reminding me that an EMD loco is in charge of my train and I don’t know who that fellow was! Did the LP swear to irritate railfans like me? At Baxar (BXR) the train came to a dead halt. I found 12401 Magadh Express led by CNB WAP4 #22225 which brought 12402 earlier that day itself. So Magadh Express loco link was clear to me this time. From BXR to PNBE the train moved in a sloth’s pace and giving way to EMU – and another one hour’s delay was added in that portion itself. In between dinner was served and finished. It is always a mystery for me what causes this train to get delayed between BXR and PNBE. Once it entered PNBE farther customary delay takes place for no reason making the train stand still for almost one hour. I was not in a mood to do farther railfanning during the night and arranged my bed. Last loco for that date I encountered was CNB WAP4 #22314 and I closed my locospotting diary for the day with that entry.

On 6th September morning I woke up at around 5 and discovered the train leaving Kishanganj (KNE)! Huh, means more than 8 hours delayed! I wore my spects but decided to lie on my position only with eyes shut. I was pretty sure that it won’t get farther delayed and proving me right it arrived at Katihar (KIR) and then New Jalpaiguri (NJP) at uncompromising MPS. At NJP we were welcomed by SGUJ WDS6R #36083. At the platform when the train came to halt, coach cleaning staff came hurriedly and performed their duty. Two Malda Town's (MLDT) deemers showed up in the scene: WDM3A #16281R and WDM2A #17307. Without spending a single moment more at NJP wheels started rolling. From here it would take the northern route through SGUJ-APDJ to New Bongaigaon (NBQ). I felt thrill thinking about the oncoming sceneries. As the train took a U-turn towards SGUJ, suddenly I noticed the loco cab of our train’s in charge – it was not WDP4! It was a WDM3D instead! It was a shock to me, when did it got changed from WDP4 to WDM3D? Again that regret followed, I didn’t note down the WDP4 link. Now I was wondering whether the farther delay during the night had anything to do with the loco change from WDP4 to WDM3D.

                                           12502 was led by a WDM3D instead of regular SGUJ WDP4!

Anyways, the unknown deemer was doing justice to its load and was dragging the train to its MPS (maximum permissible speed). While passing by SGUJ found orange coloured New Guwahati's (NGC) WDG3A #14860 smoking with a stationary freight rake facing towards NJP, but real surprise came when I discovered Sabarmati's (SBI) WDG4 #12273 at the other end of the same rake with its SHF facing towards APDJ!!! In NFR we don’t require bankers, so this composition was really mysterious enough.

                                           DHR Narrow Gauge line goes left towards the uphill

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) NG line crossed our track after SGUJ and bent itself towards left heading the high hill. The small township gradually gave the way to the lush greens of the Dooars. I couldn’t resist the temptation of capturing the video of the dense forests and the WDM3D action through it. It was a sharp contrast – the virgin nature and the mechanical progress of the mankind.

"No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance..."

The large rivers of the plains were quite smaller here. Youthful Teesta, Jaldhaka of the Brahmaputra plains were just in their teen ages here.

                                             A beautiful river at the Himalayan foothills

The most sophisticated video camera also can never capture the one fourth of the view that one can capture through his own eyes. Nature’s spell was wholly cast in that route – big rivers down the Himalaya, dense forests, tea gardens, tunnels, occasional speed restrictions in the elephant corridors, beautiful small railway stations full of flowers and serenity; perhaps we need both Wordsworth and Rossetti to describe that! Anyways a mechanical snake moved through the jungles at a tremendous thrilling speed.

When the train reached Alipurduar Junction (APDJ) it came to a halt at PF2. After ten-fifteen minutes when it refused to move, we inquired to the RPF personnel at the platform about the cause and were informed that due to some agitation at Kokrajhar, all the GHY bound trains have been stopped outside Assam border. Rajdhani, North-East, Brahmaputra Mail, Kamrup etc were waiting in different stations outside Assam border. Agitation was till 17 hrs in the afternoon and apparently we had to keep on waiting there until then. Pantry car had run out of their stocks and there was no order for lunch. Ultimate dependence laid on the platform vendors. But there was nothing other than tea and puri. No fruits or water or cold drink. I locked my luggage with a chain and then came out of the coach. Now I had sufficient time to roam around. First I went on to discover the unknown WDM3D of our train. There were no drivers in the loco but loco was still alive. It was Samastipur's (SPJ) WDM3D #11323.

                                                     SPJ WDM3D #11323 in charge of 12502

Once the loco number being noted down, my next task was to find details as much possible with my limited knowledge – loco was built in March-2010. But SPJ Diesel loco Shed (DLS) staffs were efficient enough to degrade the loco within that short period of time. The deemer had not a single sandbox undamaged. There were no sand pipes and I was just wondering if on emergency it was to be sent to any high gradient locations?
         "Toota toota ek parinde ki hai SAND BOX toota ; o bhai SAND BOX toota !! Loota loota kisne usko aise loota ; O BHAI uski SAND BOX toota !!" (lyrics by railfan Sarbamit Chowdhury ;-))

Such kinds of negligence are received by HWH WDM3D locos also. At PF1 arrived 13149 Kanchankanya Express led by BWN WDM3A #16413R. MLDT WDM2A #17421 brought New Jalpaiguri-Bamanhat-Alipurdooar passenger to PF3 and then pushed the whole rake back to the coaching yard which used to be the place for earlier MG steam locoshed.  Nothing of the steam era exists now. Gonda (GD) WDM2A #17552 brought a freight rake and stood still near the coaching depot. MLDT WDM2B #16765 was shunting with some passenger coaches at the coaching depot. Nothing much left for my railfanning there and so I decided to retire to my seat only.

Sitting on my seat I started speculating whether I’ll be able to catch the Jorhat Town Intercity from GHY in the night or not. As an alternative I thought to book a ticket in the 12067 GHY-JTTN Janashatabdi for the next morning. So I filled up the form and went to the booking counter outside the station premise. There were 5 seats available in CC and I got one. My cellphones were running out of power and needed immediate charging. So I went to PF1 and plugged in them and waited there. It was just like Waiting for Godot – total uncertainty regarding the immediate next step. Once the phones were fully charged I made a call to my home and informed them of the whole situation, but they were not aware of the agitation on that part of the state. Such things have become so common that they have become trivial for the inhabitants of the state and don’t cause any headache unless being affected directly just like me! And anything happens Railways become the foremost target.

At about 15hrs announcement was made that 12502 would leave shortly. So at 15:15 it was the time to say APDJ goodbye. SPJ deemer notched up to its MPS with its load. Near Chesapani blast-damaged coaches of the Garibrath were still lying. At Dangtal, the train came to a halt on the mainline. GHY-SBC Express passed by behind HWH WDM3D #11204 followed by a freight rake behind SBI WDG4 #12243. Then from our behind an approaching EMD honk was heard – GHY bound Brahmaputra Mail led by SGUJ WDP4 #20082 overtook us! After five minutes gone by, our wheels started moving and we entered NBQ PF1. A small river flows below the PF1. UDL WDG3A #13607 and SGUJ WDG4 #12185 were waiting for some duty. NGC WDG3A #14841 was leading a freight rake towards NJP. KTE WDG3A #14964 was in charge of a military special. It became totally dark at NBQ. The train now took the GLPT route and was in its MPS. Even on the bridge across the Brahmaputra it didn’t slow down. As it was moving at the MPS, my speculations started changing quickly. Now there was a hope that I could catch the JTTN Intercity provided the train is not stopped at the outer for a longer period. I could feel the pull forward and could see the quick passing over the small bridges. It banged at Kamakhya at 20:40hrs and then moved forward honking. Just at the outer of GHY it stopped for 5 minutes and then at 21:05 it entered GHY PF4 and at PF5 was my train! Well, I had ample time now to get into. First I went to the Jan Ahar stall for dinner. Then enjoying a hot meal with egg curry, I came to my train. Now, there was confusion among some people. Since 15603 and 15605 are amalgamated till Furkating (FKG), people got confused which part is going where. Some of them were even unaware of the whole system of amalgamation. So before occupying my seat literally I had to empty half the coach. Some were not ready to accept, but then there were the coolies to convince them! Anyway I got to my seat and surrendered to it. Before falling asleep my locospotting diary got the last entries of the day with HWH WDM3D #11205 and LKO WDM3D #11248 Cheetah.  What had happened during the night’s journey went beyond my knowledge except producing my ticket to the TTE. In the morning I woke up at Dimapur (DMV. At Sarupathar we had crossing with 14055 Brahmaputra Mail headed by SGUJ WDP4B #40045. At FKG I decided to board the mainline Intercity (12503) till Mariani Junction (MXN) and from there to catch a cab to home which would make me reach earlier than 15605 and did accordingly.

When reached home after the suffering (?) safar I was faced with the eternal question by my mom, “why always these misfortunes accompany you only?” Well, I had no answer!