The International Steam Pages


Once upon a time, long ago,
India's Southern Railway and I, 1981

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index.


.......did not seem to have a good relationship. Then again the events, as they unfolded, were really not caused by the Southern but were more a case of a string of misfortunes that all happened when I was in their territory during November 1981. It all started on the South Central Railway though....... 

Anyone that has travelled in India will be aware that Delhi Belly is to be feared.....let me assure them that the Secunderabad S---s is a fate far worse. Secunderabad, on the South Central, was reputed to have a fairly extensive steam hauled suburban service but I was destined to see none of it as soon after arrival I was laid low with the you know what. Three days later I staggered from my hotel room to the station to try and postpone my onward booking to Bangalore, a twenty four hour journey, only to be told if I did I would be unable to get a sleeper south for another ten days. I decided to move on.

I was pleasantly surprised that night to discover the first class sleeper was second car from the front and I was able to drowse the night away to the soothing noises of a metre gauge YP or YG. All good things must end though as at first light a diesel took over for the rest of the journey.

My first sighting of Southern steam were three ES class, seemingly put out to pasture, in the Yelahanka narrow gauge yard. With headstock just showing to the left was 506, then 507 and 508 while in the left background part of one of the railcars that now ran the passenger service. Attractive little Pacific's the five ES had been supplied by Kerr Stuart. 507 and 508 were built in 1926, the others in 1922. Apparently there were also two modern ZP, from 1954, available for goods traffic but I didn't see them as my train passed through. It seemed a promising start to the Southern though........

I spend the next three days in Bangalore.....each was cold, heavily overcast and with the Secunderabad S---s still lingering my photographic efforts were merely token. It was a pity as Bangalore was a major steam centre and as well as the usual standard classes there were the older XD and WD shunting on the broad and metre gauges.

With locals wandering track side one more in the form of a white photographer didn't seem to make much of a difference as 1969, Tata Engineering built, YP2853 gets underway with its metre gauge passenger train. 2853 was one of the last of its class to be built with the highest numbered being 2870 a couple of years later.

Over on the broad gauge side of the yard XD 22479, a North British 2-8-2 from 1945/46, shunts empty carriage stock.

Back on the metre gauge Pacific YP 2191, from Krauss-Maffei in 1954, heads for stations north. On both gauges diesels were running the expresses out of Bangalore while steam seemed to be on the stopping passengers.

Southern Railway timetables were on sale in Bangalore and that was when I discovered that trains up the Nilagiri rack railway had ceased for the winter five days previously. I decided to go anyway and spent a cold couple of nights at the top of the line, Ooty. On the trip back down to the plains, through the mist, I saw steam at Coonoor station so jumped off the bus to investigate.

Rack engine X 37394, a Swiss 0-8-2T from 1952, was at the station with a one car train about to head off up the line to bring a rake of carriages back. It looked like a golden opportunity for a ride so asked could I travel? I didn't stand a chance with the officialdom that was on the platform.....the train wasn't for public use and no way was I going to be allowed aboard! I had to content myself with a departure shot and then a visit to the loco depot.

Back on the plains, and with the sun shining at last, I felt warm for the first time in over a week. That afternoon I checked out the Coimbatore Loco depot and found YP 2402, from Tata Engineering in 1957, being readied to take out the evening passenger train on the metre gauge to Tiruchirapalli. Coimbatore was a through station on the busy broad gauge mainline but only a minor player on the metre system with, if I remember correctly, a mere three trains a day coming and going.

Just beyond the loco depot was an attractive little stone culvert. It only took a short wait before WP 7697, from Chittaranjan in 1966, came rolling into town on one of the systems all points stoppers.

A few days later at Cochin sees WP 7500 moving slowly along past that other Indian symbol, the cow. 7500 was part of the first major WP order of 300 built in 1949. The order was split between Baldwin, Canadian Locomotive and Montreal Locomotive with 7500 coming from the Montreal Locomotive Works.

So far, after two weeks on the Southern Railway, I'd put up with the after effects of my Secunderabad S---s, had a week of cold cloudy weather that it was almost impossible to take photographs in and missed out seeing the Nilagiri rack railway working. Nothing else could go wrong could it?

Don't you believe it; disaster struck a day later in Trivandrum........the shutter on my camera refused to open! Trivandrum was a fair sized city so was fairly easy to find a camera shop with a repairman. I had to leave the camera on the understanding it would be fixed in two days. It wasn't! Decided the best thing would be to head for Madras and hopefully get the camera fixed there but, of course, no sleepers were available on a through train. I was able to get a sleeper late that night north to Shoranur and then by changing trains another couple of times made it to Madras in twenty four hours. With the help of the Tourist Office was sent to a 'reputable' camera dealer who sent me to his 'recommended' repairer who insisted on needing the camera for a week....which I had to agree to. Back to the camera shop to discover the most modern camera they could sell me was something akin to a glorified Box Brownie using 120 film.....beggars can't be choosers so for the next week, as I travelled round Tamil Nadu, that was what I was forced to use. When I eventually saw the results they were worse than feared! 

When I eventually got my own camera back it worked better than it had for years.....everything was tip top condition, cleaned and even the case had been given a polish. To complete my Southern luck though the weather had again turned murky but I did get a few mediocre shots of the metre gauge WDs shunting at Madras. Here 1607, a 1944 Baldwin 2-8-2, is seen here being recoaled by hand and on the left women scavenging through ash for a few coals to burn that evening.

And that's the tale of my woes on the Southern Railway. I arrived in Southern Railway territory on 4/11/81 and left on 30/11/81..........twenty six days, very close to a month, for only a few worthwhile photos. As I said, India's Southern Railway and I did not seem to have a good relationship!


Rob Dickinson

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