The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - India 1980
The Southern Railway - Part 3

Terry Case writes about his travels for steam. Further tales will follow from time to time covering more of Australia, India, South Africa, Indonesia and Pakistan.

Click here for the Case Notes Index.

For other Indian tales in this series, please see:

Travelling overnight from Trichy I reached the West Coast town of Quilon on 20th January 1980. It looked like I was too late for steam as almost all services were now diesel, a couple of WG were in light steam on the shed, the rest of the fleet was dumped.

The station notice board was full of posters for “WANTED –CRIMINALS”. The posters gave lurid details, but the crimes seemed quite petty. I saw the railway police with old rifles slung over their shoulders push a couple of heavily manacled criminals along the platform to their office, was this the crime centre of Southern India? The morning started to get hot and life on the platform slowed to slumber mode. Leaving for Cochin I settled back to enjoy the lush coastal tropical, the women wore flowers in their hair adding to the colourful scene. It was not till we reached the outskirts of Ernakulum in the late afternoon that steam was seen in the form of XD 2-8-2s in passenger livery in a freight yard.

I allowed myself some time for tourist pursuits on Cochin Island. The canals were still in use, some were later filled in and converted to roads. 

Ernakulum WP 7697 runs light engine to Cochin Harbour. Note the boxes of fish neatly stacked.

I last passed through Ernakulum in 2008, it was the scene of frantic activity as modern traction hustled long distance passenger and freight drags though the expanded station. Back in January 1980 the scene was almost bucolic. A morning spent at the station was very quiet, most passenger trains had been cancelled, the excuse being a coal shortage. Only the porters were kept busy loading wicker baskets containing fish on ice, into parcel vans. I had a successful morning photographing XD class on pilot and trip freight work. A year later the S.R. broad gauge fleet was withdrawn, Indian Railways calculated the boilers to have a life of 40 years, but this no longer saved pre-war designs. In 1980 Continental Railway Journal reported the Railway Board had ordered the early withdrawal of all BESA, IRS and non-standard classes.

On 21st January 1980 station pilot at Ernakulum was XD 22474 one of the post-war batches from North British. 

XD 22402 works a trip freight through Ernakulum.

Evening at the station was more interesting with two small trains headed by powerful WG class engines. The 17.45 to Quilon saw WG 10152 on 3 coaches and was the only steam I saw on a Quilon train. As the light failed and bats were seen leaving their sanctuaries a WP rolled in, presumably no 50 Cannanore-Cochin express running about three hours late.

WG 10152 departs on a light train towards Quilon.

A WP departs for Cochin Island Terminus.

That night my hotel room was invaded by a large rat I was on the point of falling asleep when the monster scampered under my bed. It was not the least afraid of humans and I twice chased it out of the room, it had entered through a broken window. I threw a chair at it as it came back the third time, but it still persisted and not being able to sleep through fear the bastard could bite me I gave in and spent the rest of the night sleeping peacefully on the station platform!

Rob Dickinson