The International Steam Pages
Notes - India, 1980-7
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.
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For other Indian tales in this series, please see:
Heading back to Goa on the January 1982 the train I was travelling on was terminated at Belgaum. After a lengthy wait we were told to leave the train as the line was closed below Castle Rock due to a de-railment. Hours later a fleet of beaten up local buses arrived to take first class passengers on a six hour bruising trip to Vasco. We were victims of the Indian suicidal style of driving as hairpin bends were taken on the wrong side and the driver played “chicken” against a series of oncoming heavy trucks and buses on narrow country roads.
When I finally reached my hotel it was to find there was no hot water to wash away the grime of the day; electricity disruptions were the norm at this time. The good news? I’d arrived in time for a 2 national day strike, there would be no trains!
Two days spent on the beach eased my mind and body, food was cheap and the beer cold. I pigged out on freshly caught prawns, after railway platform food it was a welcome change. Here the catch is sorted, part of the beach scene in Goa.
Whilst steam hauled local services were resumed to Kolamb after the strike the only steam I saw on the ghat section was the steam banker to the night express. From Kolamb to Castle Rock the YD’s cab was illuminated by almost continuous firing, with sparks shooting out of the chimney, magic stuff as the engine worked hard under a starlit night sky. I doubted steam would last another year on the line, but sometimes you get (yet) another chance.
In January 1983 I was back for a few days in Goa, the YDs had not been replaced by YGs as speculated, and most looked in good condition and the best news was the steam passenger to Londa was running. By this time the YDs were probably the oldest metre gauge engines with regular line work, although most of the older engines had been withdrawn and replaced by 1949 built engines from Vulcan Foundry.
On the 26th January 1983 I finally got my chance to ride the steam hauled local service up the ghat section to Castle Rock and Londa. Leaving Madgaon on the 08.05 dep hauled by YD 30159 the usual pleasant ride to Kolamb was enjoyed. 30162 was waiting with a train for Vasco with a blue and cream livery set and whilst 30159 had its fire cleaned 30160 hooked on at the rear to bank the train as far as Castle Rock. Departing Kolamb the climb is at first gentle and the two engines wheeled the train along at a quick trot, both engines having terrific whistles, gradually the speed dropped and the banker started doing some real work.
With only 6 coaches the two engines were not taxed, but gave full voice to the climb. Re starting the train on the steep grades was signalled by a series of whistles from each engine, even with good co-ordination there was some backward roll before the banker’s wheels stopped spinning and it joined in the fray.
The railway generally clung to the hillside, any spare bit of land seemed to be used for the storage of spare track and sleepers. The re-engineering of this line for the broad gauge was a spectacular example of modern Indian rail building. At Dahr Sagar.the train engine takes water and the fire is cleaned, scattered around are the remains from a recent freight train wreck.
My final trip to Goa whilst the line still had some steam traction was in December 1984. I decided to spend a day on the top section photographing the only scheduled steam train on the ghat section. My plan was to ride the train to Dudh Sagar loop, and photograph its departure. At Madgaon I found YD 30157 was waiting with a train for Vasco.
My train came in with 30154 in charge. At Sanvorenden the engine had its fire cleaned, but no further steam was seen until Kolamb, where YD 30163 was waiting to depart to Vasco. I travelled in a front coach and was squeezed in with the peasants who were taking baskets of fish and bananas to sell. The banker and train engines exchanged whistles and rushed the grade out of Kolamb. As the train started to climb through the forested area the temperature dropped, and the humidity decreased.
Following the brief stop at Sonaulim, the banker had to work hard, the tunnel is just after this halt which appeared to be where the climb begins in earnest. At Dadh Safar, I was able to walk ahead as both locomotives took water and had their fires cleaned.
They faced a stiff climb out of the loop and through a rock cutting, where the remains of some freight wagons were still strewn after a runaway.
Back at the halt I was able to inspect the small temple and YD 30156 which was still being held on a light freight to Kolamb. I walked down the line to the waterfall and through the tunnel, wishing I had a torch. Shortly after a diesel freight with two diesel bankers passed me. After the short steam hauled freight drifted past the only other movement was l.e. 30155 heading to Kolamb to bank the express later that morning. I was left in peace for a couple of hours. I admired the spectacular views and dangled my feet in the ice cold pool of the waterfall, small fish came to nibble them; freshwater crabs were also in evidence. The waterfall begins a lazy descent high above the pool, but the water thundered in. To see and hear the torrents pouring down in the monsoon would have been spectacular. This was Dadh Sagar Falls as seen from the railway track.
The walk down to Sonaulim took me past two large p.w. gangs, who all stopped to stare in disbelief. Walking through the lengthy tunnel prior to Sonaulim was disturbing, but nothing like the fright I had as a large snake flung itself forward about head height as I reached the tunnel mouth. The staff at the halt told me the snake would have been a harmless python hunting birds or bats.
Despite having wet my shirt in the cold pool prior to the walk, I was once more damp from sweat. The signalman and track gang came to join me, I was shown a newspaper with a small article about how Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke had broken the pilots’ strike using the RAAF. More importantly I was interrogated as to why Australian cricketer Kim Hughes had resigned as Test captain; clearly Australians were baffling creatures!
The two express trains crossed here and most of the hawkers changed trains too, their latest sale item was brandy in small bottles, which the hawkers wanted back. It seemed quite a few bottles had already been consumed by some of the passengers.
On 8th December 1984 it was time to leave, the trouble was I was sick and it wasn’t down to the brandy. I hid from the sun in the dark waiting room at Madgaon and only crawled out when the express arrived and luckily I had a 1st class coupe to myself.
I recuperated enough to take some photos of the banker in action. After fire cleaning at Dudh it really got down to work and as we went through tunnels you could feel the pressure change when it entered and the noise was fantastic.
Near the summit at Castle Rock it started to get hot as we were now reaching the Plains, back to the land of swelter! The final section to Londa saw us hustled along to some good stack talk. The Londa station restaurant was quite passable, and a cool place to wait, great for someone with a pounding headache!