The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - India, 1982-5, Round 2
Part 5 - Dhaulpur and Agra

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, which includes many earlier Indian tales.

A WG departs Gwalior on a local train from Agra to Jhansi, January 1983.

Ian Manning wrote:-“It was not a good idea to try and travel on a Central Railway main line by local passenger train. Perhaps it was not the railway’s fault, for it was trying to carry heavy traffic on main lines that were all too often single track, but still its locals gave the worst service of any in India: infrequent, crowded and so normally late that even the timetables gave up any idea of trying to provide branch connections. Travelling on such a train corroded one’s soul till the tombstone shapes of the surveyor’s stones along the railway boundary became the imagined memorials of travellers died of impatience.” You can read rthe whole article here.

I found winter journeys could become tedious with lengthy stops, the carriage floor becoming strewn with empty peanut shells. During winter peanuts were a favourite snack in Northern India, vendors would sell them wrapped in old newspaper made up into a cone. The vendors’ carts carried small charcoal burners over which the peanuts had been roasted and smoked. 

Elsewhere on the IRFCA site you can find Ian Manning’s description of Dhaulphur, in it he writes “Under the pretence of providing connections to and from Gwalior and Agra, the Central Railway compelled them to use a shelterless bay platform at the main line station.”

I wish I had this advice before my four ill-fated attempts to reach Dhaulpur by train to see the ng service there. Pretence of providing connections sums up my experience of Dhaulpur perfectly. With no hotel or decent waiting room the only other option was taxi, but this was outside my budget. One morning I was lucky to see a narrow gauge departure as my late running train slowly passed by. A ZA/5 class was departing whilst another ng tank in green and cream livery was also visible. The ZAs included some built as late as 1959 by Hunslet. The engines used the 2-8-4T arrangement, popular on Indian ng systems. I was not alone assuming these engines being relatively modern would be safe for some time; but they were replaced by surplus ZE class.

11th January 1982 sees a ZA/5 at Dhaulpur.

In January 1983 I attempted to reach Dhaulpur travelling on the stopping train from Gwalior and then having several hours free till the Janata express arrived. Instead the train I was travelling on lost hours on this short section and I only had time to step down from it and wait lineside as the Janata express pulled in at sunset behind WP 7024 then it was a mad scramble with many other discontented passengers from the local to find a spot in the unreserved front carriage, I ended sitting on my rucksack, precariously perched in the open doorway amidst a wedge of other travellers.

The journey was not without its rewards as the Janata Express left Dhaulpur at 17.00 and we were away to a rapid start, this crew were not going to dawdle and I had one of the best rides in my time In India! The train bowled along at a continuous 80kmph, constantly blowing its whistle, (hooter) and with sparks cascading through the open door and windows attesting to the thrashing the engine was receiving. It took just under one hour to reach Agra and was a total contrast to the earlier part of the journey. Many years later corresponding with Indian fans I learnt that the Jhansi and Agra crews had taken great pride in seeing steam express work go out in style.

On 4th January 1983, WP 7024 comes to a stop at Dhaulpur, the vendors with little to offer made a half-hearted appeal to the disdainful passengers.

At Agra I saw a line of condemned CWDs (obviously mass withdrawals of the class on the CR were being made); however a couple were in steam on the depot and one was active on station pilot duties. Two WPs were in a bay platform, presumably one for the Madras Janata and the other for an evening stopping train. WP 7024 was taking water so it was going to run through to Delhi on the Janata express. However the coaching stock for the Taj Express was a rake of maroon air conditioned stock; the train was now a diesel roster.


Whilst Agra Cant still saw some steam activity in 1989, the lines through Agra Fort were busier with steam still dominant on passenger workings. I was returning to use a video recorder (as well as a SLR) to record the last years of Indian steam. Early morning at Idgah would see a Western Railway WP would be prepared ready to back down to Fort to collect its train. WGs had replaced the CWDs and they would be sent to spend the day shunting the marshalling yards across the river. The equally small mg shed would have YGs being prepared for carriage pilot duties at Fort station. The WDs which had previously handled these duties had been withdrawn by 1989.

The main attraction was train number 7 the Jaipur Fast Passenger which struggled up grade to Idgah, often appearing through the early morning mist. At Idgah it usually crossed train 6, the overnight express from Jodhpur, usually hauled by a decorated YP. 

This was the early morning at Idgah bg depot on 15th January 1989:

Train 7 departs Idgah behind YP 2361 on 18th January 1989

WP 7544 departs Agra Fort at the head of 84 Bayana Passenger on 5th January 1983

At Agra Fort station the mosque provided a spectacular backdrop: - if there was no morning mist. By 1983 a “super-fast” day train to and from Jaipur had been introduced, motive power was a YP. I doubt super-fast was an accurate description, but it did allow I.R. to surcharge the ticket price! This was a service designed to cater for the growing number of domestic tourists. A different clientele were the pilgrims and in 1989 extra trains were provided from all over India to Allahabad for the” Festival of the Two Rivers”. At Agra a NER YP provided me with one such working, I noted most of the carriages were in appalling condition with “condemned” notices on them. Pilgrims supposedly rarely paid fares and they were not going to get 1st class treatment.

A YG pilot drags out empty stock on 15th January 1989, the mosque is draped in bamboo scaffolding.

If you could tear yourself away from the steam action Agra Fort was worth a look!

YG 3702 (without deflectors) passes the Hindu shrine in the foreground on 16th January 1989.

On 15th January 1989 the afternoon train to Bayana was originating at Idgah, rather than Fort as timetabled. I planned to ride the 13.30 departure to Fatepur Sikri, but the ticket office would only say “not running” and told me to catch a bus. I could see two WP being hand coaled on the depot by coolie labourers so I decided to stick around. WP 7669 came off shed at 15.00 and collected a rake of carriages, as passengers began to gather I decided this was a local timetable change. An hour later I was no longer sure and with tempers raised with some passengers shouting at the train staff, I made myself scarce.

Over at the mg shed a YG was sent to Fort to work the 15.15 departure. Another YG was busy shunting whilst the YP from the morning express was on shed. A couple of diesel hauled freights on both gauges completed the action, but there was no sign of the Toofan Express, a notorious late runner.

When I did get action it was all in a short period. A doddery old signalman walked from his box with the single line token that was passed to the crew of the WP at 15.30, but still the train wasn’t given the road. Instead I saw smoke that indicated a steam train was making its way upgrade from Fort, which I took to be the YG on the local passenger. I then saw two columns of clag and could hear two engines at work, obviously a mg and bg train ascending the grade together!

WG 9345 appeared under a cloud of clag hauling the heavy Toofan Express and drew to a stop, the crew’s angry gestures to the signalman went unanswered. Obviously they had lost their path and Agra Cant had not got a spare platform. No amount of whistling was going to help!

The YG was the first to get away, whilst the pilot YG dragged a rake of freight wagons by in the background. Then the WP finally got the signal, why it had been held was not clear and it was now hours late. Unusually it made a vigorous departure, a pleasant change from the usual lethargic departures.

The Toofan Express eventually got the road, but did not move as a couple of crew members were slowly returning with bottles from a grog shop. The signalman made his arthritic way to the engine to check the delay and copped an earful of abuse! The WG had to work hard to re-start the heavy train, the crew waving obscene gestures to the signal box as they passed. I had enjoyed the spectacle, although it wasn’t quite what I had planned.

Other Round 2 Indian Tales:

Rob Dickinson