The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - India, 1982-5, Round 2
Part 9 - Katwa

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.

If you enjoy this tale and would like to see more pictures of this system, then please visit the Raj Steam section.

On 22nd December 1993, at Katwa, Delta AK 15 built in 1930 stands 'on shed'. The original batch built in 1916 were for the Egyptian Delta Light Railways, however WW 1 led Bagnall to sell them to McLeods. Follow on orders were made in 1930 and 1953!

My third trip to see the Katwa system was in December 1993, for the first time I had a travel companion. Graham had visited India and Pakistan previously with an Australian tour group. He found Case tours utilised non-tourist standard travel. 

I had decided on one of my night rides as I still did not know the whereabouts of the hotel at Katwa and this would get us there for the early morning shots. We set out for Howrah in the early evening and watched some of the frantic action here as passengers rushed arriving trains to grab seats. We joined the scrum as the stock for the Malda fast passenger arrived, all carriages were 2nd class with hard wooden seats. No reservations were available for such a train, although it had a touch of class with both the front and rear coach carrying express style boards proclaiming this to be the “Malda Fast Passenger.”

The journey to Bandel was swift, running non-stop through a balmy night, the rush of air through the open windows being quite cool. On reaching Katwa we had time for some night shots at the depot, or in British parlance, we bunked the shed.

We planned to ride a night ng train to replace a hotel. I was bemused that my friend had found ER 2nd class travel to be confronting, yet was prepared to venture into the countryside on a ng train at night! There would be a risk here of dacoits; then again I didn’t think they would bother with the poor travellers who would be the expected clientele!

At first it appeared bg steam was still working into Katwa as a WG was standing over the ashpit, however it was to be the only bg steam we saw on our visit. Almost all the workings had been taken over by diesels, including a new light weight class.

AK 16 was power for the 02.25 departure for Ahmadpur, running to an unadvertised revised schedule departing at 2am, luckily we had joined the snorers early! We found it gently sizzling on shed.


We arrived at Ahmadpur around 05.20, not surprisingly it was pre-dawn. The engine did a spot of shunting and was ready for departure at 07.00, (instead of the advertised 06.22 departure). This should have helped with the light, but a watery grey sky gave no incentive to photography. As the morning warmed up passengers began to stow their shawls and blankets. The Delta was now leading cab first, the bunker was alongside the boiler giving the engine an unusual appearance.

The revised timetable meant we had missed the 08.10 departure at Katwa, instead we crossed one of the Bagnall 0-6-4Ts on this train.

AK 16 on the morning train from Ahmadpur

AK 15 at Daskalgram heading for Ahmadpur.

I finally found a rickshaw driver who fessed up to knowing where the local hotel was, on previous trips it seemed a local secret! It was located near the end of the small town, opposite open ground which we found was the local public loo. The hotel had hot water, brought in a bucket to the upstairs rooms, prison cells were more luxurious and Graham was beginning to understand what he had bought into! The café was bleak and served awful food, however the manager arranged a car at reasonable rates for the afternoon.

AK 15 worked the 11.30 departure (re scheduled from 12.10) whilst the Burdwan train was diesel hauled. AK 15 was running cab first, so this was where video got a workout. Despite a frequent bus service the small 3 coach trains were well patronised. Ox drawn carts with large wooden wheels were to be seen as farmers were harvesting a winter crop of hay. Rice was also being harvested and stored. At the small stations crazy coconut trees with spirals shaped in their trunks broke up the flat countryside.

The Ahmadpur end of the line sees a number of river crossings over lengthy, but not tall brick bridges, those lazy rivers must be something else in the monsoon!

16.30 at Ahmadpur and the sun is low, the train is not scheduled to leave till after dark and we have a couple of hours drive ahead so we head back evading fast moving trucks on the narrow road.

AK 15 at Ahmadpur, as usual I have a group of on-lookers.

Next morning (23rd December 1993) and Katwa depot is neat and productive.

BK 3 appears to sport an elephant’s trunk . I have seen video of a WG at a “black beauty contest” decorated with a trunk that sprayed water!

I had originally planned time at the multi gauge bridge, but with new WDM6 on passenger workings and a revised ng timetable I decided on a shed visit instead. The shed office had trophy cups and photos of steam engines at “the beauty contest”. One of their engines won a prize having been sent on a bg low loader wagon. The shed was well organized and staff friendly, yet a few years previously Katwa was a no-go area for photography.

AK 15 was on shed in light steam together with BK 3 which had a silvered smokebox and a star on the smokebox door. Both it and BK 2 were built in 1914 for the BKR. Number 2 was waiting to be sent to the Works. BK 4 was having a boiler washout and tucked away at the rear of the shed being overgrown by creepers and trees was the remains of BK 9, a 1927 build, according to CRJ it had been stored in 1966.
As we were walking back to the station the track gang they told us they had just killed a snake, it was a long black cobra. Working barefoot and lifting rails under which this beast had hidden made even Hindus and Buddhists killers.

We walked back to the hotel across the open ground to investigate the remains of a Sentinel loco that I saw 2 years previously as I left for Calcutta. It became apparent that the area had once been a ng yard and was now another communal loo; the Sentinel had met a sorry end, covered in crap. It was AK 11, built in 1930 and dumped as long ago as 1968, not long after the ER took over the lines. Its vertical boiler was still in place, but the cog drive had disintegrated. There was also the frame of another ng engine and 2 boilers. Despite being careful to avoid all the shit I managed to step in some and soon all the street knew about it thanks to some kids and my mate.

We rode the 11.40 Ahmadpur train behind Delta AK 15 as far as Daskalgram, the Burdwan train also was steam hauled by BK 3 as the railcar had failed. At Daskalgram the loco stops prior to the station to take water, allowing passengers to get a drink at the station tea stall. We talked to the stall holder and his daughter answering questions about Australia. People looked healthy and there had been no beggars, maybe things were improving.

BK 1 eventually ambled in, running bunker first and took water. Another clean engine in the attractive ER livery. On our return the engine was detached and young girls cleaned the ash pan and sifted for unburned coal before the engine moved to the fenced and padlocked coal yard. Here men with larger baskets heaved coal into the bunker, they were dressed only in light sarongs, not much good for a cold winter night. 
Katwa was one of my favourite locations in India with its fleet of small engines and their trains.

Young girls look for any unburned coal amidst the ash:

BK 9 hidden at the back of the depot.

The remains of the Sentinel.

Delhi Railway Museum’s Sentinel.

BK 3 heads to the station to collect its train, 24th December 1993

A Delta departs on a morning train, 24th December 1993

Other Round 2 Indian Tales:

Rob Dickinson