The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - India, 1980-7
Western Railway Part 2
Godhra 2

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:

It was 1st January 1980 and I have already related how I had arrived in Godhra to find the Lunavada service suspended and been royally entertained by the shed master George d’Souza.

Following an unpleasant encounter with officialdom, mid-morning saw me seeking the quietest place on a station to evade the usual beggars and giving me some peace, this was the bench outside the Railway Police offices. It was from this spot whilst talking to the officers I watched the Janata Express for Delhi arrive with two diesels at the point instead of the rostered WP. Again the coal shortage was the reason given; but I suspect this was another train that failed to revert to steam as the load had been built up and was more than a single steam engine could handle. I saw WL 15032 being cleaned on shed:

Early afternoon saw me join the crew of WL 15032 that was to haul no 70 passenger to Anand Junction. The train was already well filled as we attached, the vacuum brake test was completed and a whistle from the engine showed we were ready for departure. Flags were shown by the crew, guard and station staff, then after more whistles we set out, slowly weaving out of the yard area. Once on the branch line the driver set the regulator to fully open and hooked it to a chain, controlling the speed with the reverser. Whilst the speed rarely exceeded 75kmph, the engine sometimes gave the impression of hard work. Most firing was done as the engine approached a station, or when stationary; these were large rounds, not the little and often style.

Rounding one curve I saw a long girder bridge stretching before us over a largely dry riverbed; it gave some idea of the floods, which must generate after the monsoon rains. There was a speed restriction on the bridge and no photography signs. I was able to look down at distant figures of women hard at work washing clothes on the riverbank.

A ZB was seen on a spur as the train approached Timba Road Junction. This was the northern terminus of the line from Dabhoi and a reminder that narrow gauge lines were scattered round this region.

At Sevaliya, we crossed WG 8785 in passenger livery on the opposite train, our fireman gave up the single line tablet to the crew of 8785 and we drew up to await our new token. It was here we overtook 8497 on its freight, making this small station seem a hive of activity.

All along the line I saw children herding goats, and or sheep, as we stopped at stations women would appear with earthenware jars on their heads to collect hot water supplied by the crew from the injectors. A great hoot from the whistle, and we were ready to leave, a few short barks from the chimney and the regulator is closed to give the laggards a chance to jump on and then the regulator is reset and we are underway once more. As the speed rose the ride became more bouncy, the blasts from the chimney amplified through tree lined cuttings. The speedo was really something with a large clear face and built in clock and mileage meter. 

We took water at another stop and in the hot afternoon I broke another rule and accepted a cup of water from the fireman, taken directly from the scoop. Consternation was the brief order of the day when a water gauge shattered, the crew dealt with it quickly and competently.

At one wayside halt we left the fireman to ride in a coach as the platform was on a sharp curve and he had to relay the guard’s flag, the second fireman (a grade that restricted them to labouring work and only allowed them to progress as far as firemen on local trains) took over until the next station. Another incident that made use of the 3-man crew was either a cord pulled or broken hose, again instead of waiting for the fireman to re-join the engine he rode in the train and re-joined us at the next stop.

Near Anand we had a double cross with diesel and WG hauled freights and then in the next section we were looped into the platform line to cross a WG on a ballast train (picture below) which was waiting for us to cross, so the line was quite busy.

The crew were terrific and were pleased with our on time arrival, the driver insisted that I accept his fireman acting as my guide, hustling me over a footbridge to the mainline platforms. More steam was seen as a red liveried CWD arrived under the wires, presumably from the other branch. CWDs did not last long on this turn, like the H class 4-6-0s which they had replaced they too would soon be withdrawn.

It was dark when I caught the local pass no 48 to Vadodara and settled back for a short journey behind a French styled electric, it had been a day to savour and I was hooked on India.

4th January 1982 saw me back at Anand Juction.

My intention had been to hire a taxi for linesiding the Godhra branch, easy on paper to plan, but not a taxi was to be seen amidst a sea of auto rickshaws; I returned to the station. An interesting hour and a half was spent here watching passengers desperately hurl themselves at carriage doorways, into already crowded trains. I saw people riding the buffers between carriages, only slightly less dangerous than riding the tops of carriages under electric wires. The milk tanker on 133 Express had people all over it and the luckier (?) ones had chosen to wriggle under the tank and ride between the frames, in the shade. The 1st class carriages on the expresses seemed as crowded as the second class coaches, it was chaos.

The station pilot was a leaky WGx; at the time I was unsure of what the “x” indicated. The code was to show the engine had a reduced grate area making it more economical on coal and was restricted to pilot duties.

Two dirty WL class collected stock from the carriage sidings and this was my signal to move to the Godhra branch platform. Here it was much more pleasant and I had no trouble securing a seat in the first class section of a mixed class coach. The seats were laid out bench fashion in this non-standard carriage. The easiest way to accommodate your body to the narrow bench was to lie down as the locals had already done.

The line to Godhra curves away from Anand, passing a series of semaphore signals and then out on the single line. The fireman displayed the green flag to the guard before crossing to the other side of the cab to acknowledge green flags from the signal box, evidencing a continuing love of British bureaucracy? Open doors were a prized location for locals and railfans!

There were a few crosses en route first with another WL on a passenger. The line was pleasant as far as Timba Road, but after the scenery became somewhat drab. A new spur had been installed at Sevaliya towards a recently completed power station. At Timba Road Junction a WG was seen shunting a ballast train. Stock piles of ballast, tie rods and sleepers attested to the upgrading of the line prior to electrification work.
During one of the protracted stops a young singer and a drummer joined the carriage and started a communal sing along session. The boy had a high pitched clear voice; he would deliver two lines of his song and get the passengers to repeat them, then another couple of lines at a time till the verse was complete. Then all would be ready to throw themselves into the catchy chorus to match his song; a good way to pass the time on what had become an extremely hot day. Looking back it seems a different world from that of digital phones and full internet access. I wonder what became of the singers and musicians who once entertained the passengers on country trains.

A WG on the pick-up freight from Godhra, was encountered after Timba Road Junction, like the previous trip it was towing an old 4 wheel auxiliary tender. But major changes were seen, a number of diesel hauled block loads were crossed; this was a line in transition.

Godhra was a disappointment, I was told at the depot that George d’Souza was now in charge of Vadodara depot and the deputy shed master would not permit me entry and gave a blanket “NO Photo” without even checking if I had a permit; but he did agree to pass on my photos taken in 1980. The signs of impending demise of steam in the area could be seen with two WG as part of a freight consist for Vadodara and others stored outside the depot along with two AWD class.

The crew of the WG on the 14.17 Anand passenger had seen me handing over the photos and were happy to have me on their engine. Externally the WG was in poor condition with loose boiler lagging and the fading remains of WR passenger livery. The crew were enthusiastic and they had no trouble maintaining the relaxed schedule. They told me they were working through to Khambhat, a line which connected with the Nadiad n.g system at Petlad Junction); although the timetable did not show a working that would follow on from their 16.02 arrival at Anand. Fireman and 2nd fireman of the WG on the Anand passenger:

The nearby road carried the usual consist of trucks and buses belching diesel smoke; whilst bullocks and camels pulled carts. By the lineside boys and girls could be seen working as goat herders, chasing after their charges as they scattered away from the train; whilst other children looked after water buffaloes as they wallowed in mud pools. Compulsory schooling for young children was more a wish than a promise.

The WG had a bad knock on the driver’s side. Running over a section of track being re ballasted was quite an interesting experience with every vibration reaching its maximum, as there was no ballast to cushion the shock. On the open line I was surprised that the crew ran their engine up to 80kmph, at this speed anything loose vibrated wildly and this meant almost all the cab fittings. The fireman told me he was finding it harder to maintain his balance as he fired, but he still made the job look easy.

The fireman was young and at one point the driver noting the gauge falling took the shovel and using it as a shield spotted a hole on the far right of the box that needed attention. I am not sure why on a relatively light load the driver insisted on having full pressure and pointing to the red line on the pressure gauge (presumably to show where the valves would lift). For most of the trip the gauge hovered below red line despite a daunting fire, it seemed sufficient but the driver wanted higher pressure. The fire was heaped high and each new round would combust as it was thrown in with flames licking out at waist height and greeting the fireman’s arms; no wonder he was missing a spot.

I was happy to be once more in the cab as we crossed the high 12 span bridge over a dried river bed, what a fantastic experience to ride through this tunnel like structure; even if speed was limited to 25kmph.

The second fireman was a middle aged man who attended to the injectors and lubricators and enjoyed the fireman’s open window spotting signals. The driver looking dapper in a blue shirt and beret used his regulator more than most seen to this stage. It had a chain, but he seemed to favour a variety of settings and he only used the chain to keep it in the near full open position. I rode the passenger as far as Sevaliya, where we again crossed the opposite working. As we drew close to the engine the fireman held down the whistle and pointed to me, as the 2nd fireman exchanged tablets, thus enabling me to gain a footplate ride on WL 15040, hoping nobody in authority would be at Godhra to meet the train. This was WL 15040 ready for departure.

The driver of WL Pacific 15040 working back to Godhra.

The WL was in much better shape both externally and on the footplate than the WG and was a good rider. Not a bad afternoon with rides on two very different engines.

Surprisingly the engine was fired all the way into Godhra, so they must have been expecting that it would be used again that night; although it had already completed a round trip and had little coal in the tender. Towards the end of the trip the fireman swung in a massive round and started to clean his shovel using hot water from a pipe. The second fireman strode over and obviously told him that it was premature two stations out to cease firing.

I gave details and photos of these trips to two ex Indian Railways top link drivers, they thought I was confused as to who was the “real” fireman and how the duties were being performed but concluded that on this branch line something strange was going on. In their experience the first fireman (whatever his age) fired and looked after the injectors and spotted signals. The “first” fireman was meant to be on a promotion path to driver. One of these drivers had been the Southern Railway driver of the year and selected as driver for the President’s train. The other regularly fired the Madras to Calcutta express, before emigrating to Australia; they knew their stuff! In their experience the first fireman could be many years younger than the second, who was the labourer. The job of the 2nd was to help service the loco, pull down coal and water the locomotive. They found it strange that the firing was done by young men who seemed better dressed but who did not spot the signals and attend the injectors. My theory is that at small country depots promotion might have been slow and the older firemen were happy for younger members of staff to do the harder work, has anybody got another theory?

On arrival at Godhra I was intercepted by the shed master and asked how had I spent my afternoon? I replied ambiguously “by riding trains”. I need not have worried, he knew I had been with his crews and that was ok by him, he had met railfans before and was quite positive about them. I was assured if he had been there he would have shown me round the depot and offered to do so if I visited Godhra again. He told me the n.g. was in fact in use and that the two AWD had been sent as surplus from another depot, but he had no use for them, the CWD & AWDs were rapidly withdrawn throughout India in the following years.

Rob Dickinson