The International Steam Pages
Steam in India, January 1998
John Tickner reports on his trip to Wankaner from 9th to 18th January 1998:
"The report was compiled from discussions with the loco foreman and mechanical engineer, Wankaner and personal observations.
The locos were as previously reported. The turntable has a damaged bearing so there is just the one loco facing out from Wankaner (YG 3360 not 3430 as previously reported). Of the 2 YPs, one is likely to be condemned, the other is expected to go to Ajmer for overhaul!
The foreman said Sabarmati had closed on December 8th 1997, and he may receive one or two locos from there.
As an isolated system, no diesel servicing facilities and apparently no money immediately available for the proposed gauge conversion (at present all the salt has to be transferred manually from m.g. to b.g. wagons at Wankaner), the mechanical engineer was 'confidently' predicting another 12 months of steam here at least.
Passenger trains continue to run as per timetable although beware some trains arrive early, e.g. the 12.45 arrive at Morbi rolls in at 12.15 most days. All observed were just 2 coaches, except for the Maliya Miyana train which was 2 coaches + 3 tankers (water) every day and the Navlakhi train sometimes included 5 salt wagons. Without the freights the line would close, but the salt trains are a good money spinner. They are heavy trains, 800 -1000 tons. 3 or 4 years ago they were 1200 tons but the locos can't cope any more.
The foreman described the 04.00 freight departure s 'compulsory' and it did run more often than not. A couple of times crew shortage at 04.00 meant it did not get away until about 10.00. There is sometimes a second salt train, usually time off Wankaner 14.00 but it will always be dark before this one returns. These trains were all running to Lawanpur and/or Vavaniya 'as required', so return times were variable. Asking enough people at Morbi station usually turned up the necessary information.
Contrary to the impression I had received from previous reports, Morbi is as much a dump as every other Indian town. One distinguishing feature is that there are even more pigs here than usual. There are 'attractive mud villages' in Gujarat, but they are nowhere near the railway, as I saw, and the 'hills' round Rafeleshwar are most certainly not worthy of the name. Having read these previous reports my first impression of the line was a big disappointment, but there are a few decent shots to be had if you work hard enough.
Accommodation - in Wankaner it's the Palace or the extremely basic Laxmi Guest House, nothing in between. Morbi makes a much more central base for the line, where the Thakar Lodge is recommended. In the restaurant, they do a splendid thali, but unfortunately nothing else, so they lose their shine after a few days."
Tim Murray visited Jetalsar and Wankaner:
" We visited Jetalsar which is really a bit of a one-horse town. There appears to be a large junction with few trains and a shed. The working from Jetalsar still works out and back as reported and the shed master reckoned steam here would finish at about the end of March/early April. The light engine to Junargarh and the outward at 18.20 with a return at 9.35 the next morning also still works and this is a far better bet. Junargarh is a nice town and the chase back from Visavadar in the morning is pretty good. It is possible to get a departure from Visavardar at 07.50 and then a couple more shots. The light is good and the shots that we got were fine.
The Wankaner to Morbi line has far more traffic. The only problem there is that the locos are not turned. All but one of the locos face Wankaner and it is possible to obtain two or three shots of the passengers between Morbi and Wankaner. With three passenger trains it is a reasonably busy day. The freight adds to the variety and is pretty reliable to run on most days. The best itinerary is to chase the 07.50 from Morbi to Wankaner which arrives at 09.15. Then retrace back past Morbi to the junction and ask which of the two loading points the salt train is to depart from (one on the next station on each of the lines). The departure is normally about 10.00 to 10.30 and the train runs through to Wankaner, normally arriving at about 12.00 to 12.30. The section from the junction to Morbi is roadside with plenty of shot opportunities, albeit it not very scenic but the YG has to work hard with 15 or so loaded wagons. That then leaves the afternoon for the two further passenger trains from Morbi departing at 12.45 and 16.30. The line is isolated and, with no oil facilities at Wankaner, the shed foreman could not see any reason for dieselising. He though that steam would continue until the line was broad gauged which is likely to be a couple of years yet. When Mhow finishes to steam (we did not visit this area so I do not know the current position) the locos from there will be transferred to Wankaner. The salt trains are, apparently, very profitable for the railway.
We stayed one night in the palace at Wankaner and had our meals with the Maharajar (he is 91) which was expensive at £20 each including full board but was something that I am glad that I did not miss."
Finally Indian regular Heinrich Hubbert reports:
Future of Steam
Ashok Sharma had several meetings with the railway-board. He was told, that the current policy is, to keep the remaining steam untill these locations become broadgauged. Once the important Rajkot-Veraval-Corridor is completed, steam in Jetalsar would be finished. However, the local staff in JLR believed March to finish with steam but they said the same one year ago. And their locos are the smartest on Western Railways. The branches like Wankaner will follow after, so not before this year. Interested visitors should not wait with Wankaner too long either and keep in mind, that prior to gauge-conversions huge ballast-fields are stocked all along the lines and bridges become refurbished - with all impact on photographic opportunities. Again, it was understood, that the tracks in Wankaner are too light for Diesels. I have not visited Mhow this time, but received an e-mail from an Indian visitor in mid Jan 1998, that only six YG-locos are in running condition (no YP?) and the 89/90, 73/74 diagram is reduced. All can be gone quite soon here - except the Banker which will be required for some longer. I bet, it will see year 2000 banking the 9672. No steam-shunter was seen in Sabarmati and railway-men said, it finished in December. With this scenario, I decided to concentrate again on the fine trains of Jetalsar and Junagadh. Both request attention in the early morning, whilst in the afternoon the Dhola-train is for over an hour in excellent light as well. The scenery is not dramatic but charming. Especially the Dhari train has arch-bridges and hills or temples can be found. With some look around, satisfying results can be obtained.
Unigauge Rajkot - Veraval
Work on this project gets in full swing all along the section. Huge ballast-stores are found at many places. Some bridges receive already a coat of concrete around their pillars. I was told, that the conversion should be completed maybe at the end of 1998. Not unlikely, once the bridges are prepared, the line could be closed for some weeks, as the roads along are good. The goods-traffic is nearly nil and mostly ballast at present.
All YPs here are smart and now in a slightly better external condition then September. YP2257 is still in its fine Decoration. 4 locos are in service (2684, 2590, 2679 is 2125), but - you do not believe it - there are two more in working order and THESE LOCOS DO NOT CARRY A NUMBER! One is shunting the yard, (but was also once observed on the line with the train to Dahri!) - and was not identified, the other one was under repair and should have been 2679. YP 2125 had a new livery was running with the Number of 2679 on the line. Still one of the best performers and prefered for the Dhola-run together with 2257. But the latter was also running to Dahri. The bridge between Dungarpur and Torniya with the enormous mountain-backdrop had the in sunlight on the other side in mid-winter. There are also some hills before Visavadar. The Section to Dahri has also some hills and light is good in October or March, but the engine is tender forward here. Any prospective visitor, who likes to see things going should take Harish Kumar from Udaipur with him. Not at least because Hindi is not widely spoken in this part of Saurashtra and Harish also speaks Gujarati.