The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - India, 1980-7
South Central Railway, Part 3
Miraj - Steam on 3 Gauges

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:

Miraj -1

My first trip to Miraj saw me arrive from Goa on the diesel hauled Mahalaxmi Express arriving at 22.10 on 31st December 1979. Miraj presented a sight of what Australian break of gauge stations looked like prior to the standard gauge being extended. On the opposite side of the platform was the stock of a b.g. express, also in olive green livery; all the passengers had to do was transfer their belongings to the opposite coach and what looked like an incredibly tight connection when planning the trip in Australia was explained. I felt rather disgruntled; but my luck was about to change.

After witnessing the express depart towards Bombay I settled down to await the arrival of the Sahyadri Express, as no reservation chart had been posted I was nervous as to my chances of getting a berth on this train, especially as a large agitated crowd started gathering.

In the darkness on the m.g. side a YD was noisily going about its pilot work whilst a YP passenger departed with continuous whistle blowing as it oozed steam and its headlamp lit up the darkness, the station lights having failed due to a power cut. Somewhere out there was reputed to be a n.g. line, but in the dark conditions and with no rostered trains I felt disinclined to explore. Miraj was one of the few junctions for narrow, metre and broad gauge trains in India. (New Jalpaiguri & Yelahanka spring to mind as other 3 gauge junctions).

The b.g. provided an unexpected surprise, the section to Pune had been reported to be all diesel but a WP in blue and cream Central Railway livery rumbled into the station. Its headlight turned telegraph and signal wires into spider web patterns and shining the moist rails ahead. I presumed it had detached from a Kolhapur train and was now heading for the shed.

11.30pm and another headlight announced the arrival of 312 Sahyadri express behind a SCR WP which came thumping past me and drew to a halt, the engine was quickly detached. Finally the guard arrived clutching a reservation sheet and the carriage attendant who had been preventing frantic passengers from boarding allowed the lucky few, myself included on board. Leaving my luggage with the three other passengers sharing the compartment I made my way past tea vendors and through the press of people still trying to board as I headed to the front of the train.

Imagine my surprise to find a large party of primary school students boarding a reserved coach which together with a parcels van had just been added by a WG pilot. A set of marker lights in the yard indicated the presence of another steam loco, hopefully for the train. Sure enough WP 7528 backed down and on its front buffer beam was a board for the Sahyadri express, I was in luck!

The engine had been built by Canadian Loco Works as part of a 1955/6 delivery of over 600 engines built as part of the Colombo Aid Plan. A crew member was adding huge chunks of coal to form the starting fire, the others having adjourned for a chai. The cab interior was clean and the controls burnished, glowing each time the fire-hole door was opened and another round slung in. It was with great reluctance I made my way back to the carriage, but the new day was off to a good start.

There was a puzzling aspect to this, the metre gauge locos were all SCR engines as was the WG pilot that was to be expected, both the m.g. and b.g. to Pune showed in the timetable as SCR territory. So was the loco a recent transfer? Years later an IRFCA member solved the riddle when he found it was a Central Railway WP and crew which worked a 4 day diagram out and home to Daund working via Pune to Miraj.

I lay flat on a lower bunk with the window open savouring the start of the journey. I listened to the steam being forced out of the cylinders and the beat from the chimney amplified in the confines of the yard and the wheels going into a spin till the engine regained its feet and got into a steady rhythm under a clear night sky. The noise from the front changed from the heavy effort of starting to that of a steady acceleration and finally broke into a speed tune. To appease the other occupants of the compartment I closed the window, a little and make some pretence of getting ready for sleep. The train was moving swiftly and hot cinders were raining down on the carriage roof and falling past the window, this was my first run behind a WP. I was to find fast running was most unusual and that timetables had plenty of slack in them to allow for bad weather and monsoon conditions.

A clear moon lit the countryside and it was a pleasure to listen to the engine at work, prior to station stops the steam was cut off and the train glided along before a brake application was made. The station gong was sounded and greeted by a shriek from the engine’s whistle, the guard and station master swung green lights and the train was underway. Once the engine was warmed up the restarts became more vigorous, it was a wonderful night ride! The loud whistle whoops were frequently heard as the train rushed toward the many crossings. I finally closed the protective screen, but left the window partly open and fell asleep to the sounds of a WP at work

Miraj -2

In January 1982 I was back in India and heading for Goa via Miraj, I planned whenever possible to travel on steam hauled trains, but the Pune to Miraj line was now all diesel however steam still worked Pune - Kurduvadi Jn. There was an overnight narrow gauge passenger scheduled to depart Kurduvadi at 22.05 and travel the 179km to arrive Miraj at 06.00. Too easy!

17th January 1982, Kurduvadi. In addition to the Miraj train there was also a night departure to Latur, its consist included some non-standard carriages with balcony style ends there were also 1st and 2nd class sleeping carriages. My own carriage on the Miraj train was a joint 1st/2nd sleeper. The 1st class compartment was furnished with old divan couches that at night were listed as bunks. No reservation system operated so it was a case of first in and then the inevitable disputes erupted.

A cricket team was travelling to Miraj in the 2nd class part of the carriage, earlier I talked to some of the players who suggested I would be safer with them in the ordinary 2nd carriage as the countryside was “infested by dacoits” (armed robbers) who would target those in first class! In my own carriage I found one of the occupants to be a station master at a rural station further along the line; the other two occupants were village landlords and they had a peasant prostrating himself before them and kissing their feet. Their feudal attitude upset me, but it was their incredibly loud snores that kept me awake that night. At least the snorers meant I could listen to the steam loco power us along, as a magnificent G class 4-6-4 was really thrashed along some decent grades from Kurduvadi before the line levelled out. I began to appreciate why the initial diesel design for the line had been rejected as it was only capable of 60kmph.

Miraj -3

A year later I used the narrow gauge again as I headed for Goa. This time departure was three hours late, one hour of which was spent being shunted round the yard by the pilot to free up a platform for the late running day train from Miraj.

Next morning I was pleased to find the train was running quickly behind a G class Hudson, however the engine and its auxiliary water tender ran out of water in mid-section and the train was left stranded for 50 minutes. We eventually reached Miraj at 11am, five hours late. The opposite day train had an F class at its head, and was awaiting our arrival (suggesting the single line loops were not in use).

The line to Londa and Hubli retained steam on local trains for some years, but by 1982 all the SCR b.g. steam had been withdrawn. There was the odd report that double headed YG occasionally operated freights on this sector, entering Ghatprabha I saw one such double headed freight in the loop. Steam freights were becoming a rare sight on mainlines so I was quickly out of the train and racing beyond the end of the platform for a couple of shots. As the YGs restarted their lengthy freight they were up against a grade and the black smoke lingered in the cool air. I noted all this as I now rushed back to my train hoping it would not leave before I scrambled back on and that my abandoned luggage would be ok!

My return to Miraj was on January 26th traveling on the Miraj Mail, it was dark as we neared Ghatprabha but I could see a huge crowd was awaiting us at the station. I was more worried than I had been in a long time, it was obvious that many were pilgrims and were not in a meek and holy frame of mind. They swarmed on the slowing train, chanting as fights broke out between them and passengers in the already crowded carriages. The Ticket Officers had wisely disappeared as had the Railway Police. A school group (led by Mr Thwak’em?) literally fought its way into the crowded carriage I was riding. Well you have to expect the unexpected in India!

Back to Miraj on 23rd January 1983, I had the afternoon and evening there waiting for an overnight express. Whilst trains were scarce, they were photogenic, the SCR YPs on the local passenger services were in commendable condition. The other highlight on an otherwise quiet day was the arrival of the narrow gauge mixed from Kurduvadi behind F class 2-8-2, 721.

There had been no sign of YGs on freight workings so I thought these had probably finished. There was little to entertain me until the arrival of the overnight express and docking of its m.g. counterpart. The old rat infested luggage room, with signs warning passengers that their luggage might be best left elsewhere had been demolished. Its replacement was a bearable waiting room. That night I was snoozing there when a double headed YG freight rolled in, so they had clung on.

YP 2848 worked the 17.10 to Londa. This departure was in late afternoon light, the clag was not requested, but was appreciated! F 721 is docked in the n.g. arrival platform.

Finally on 26th January 1983, YP 2834 heads a local from Miraj to Hubli. Note the sacks of herbs and other parcels ready to be thrown through the carriage doors!

Rob Dickinson