The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - India, Round 2
Narrow Gauge glimpses: Western Railway 1 - South East Gujarat

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.

21st January 1989 saw me on the northbound 5.40am Gujarat Express which would reach Ankleswar Junction in time for the 06.35 ng departure which sounded good when I planned my trip, but as the ng station was unlit and the ZB did not have a headlight on there was nothing to see!

As daylight slowly challenged the dark the station features began to emerge, an attractive footbridge connected the two platforms of the busy bg lines. Another footbridge connected to the ng station and conveniently overlooked the depot.

ZB 1 (Han. 1932) arrived on a passenger, it had once been the only ZB allocated to the SER.

3 ZBs were visible on shed and ZB 54 was being prepared, the blow down located beneath the cab was opened and a frenzied burst of steam erupted. The driver had been oiling up, but something had upset him and when the foreman he arrived he was met by a verbal assault from an angry driver. I had come here hoping to see the W1 class which were built by Bagnall in 1948, however it turned out they had been withdrawn, yet some of their predecessors the W class remained in service.

ZB 1 prepares empty stock.

ZB 1 passes bg wagons being unloaded, there was provision for ng traffic, but I am not sure if there was any freight traffic left.

ZB 1 on the morning shunt.

I followed ZB 1 to the head shunt, ignoring the stares of the locals; but was accosted near some railway houses where one of the residents demanded to see my documents, the pass covered me for this area and I was then left to my own devices. The crew were friendly and they and the shunters hammed it up for the video. The shunt had been recommended in World Steam magazine, in the early morning light I could see why.

ZB 54 made a noisy departure on the passenger and some local tribal women walked past adding to the video, the still picture had top be sacrificed.

The final action here was ZB 1 shunting an inspection saloon whilst in the background a French style electric locomotive was seen on one of the frequent freight trains. I also saw a double-headed WDM1 combination from the CR working a block freight towards Surat and their home division.

Afterwards I paid a visit to Udhana depot (Surat) which allowed me to see a little of the surviving bg steam still at work in this area. In addition to supplying pilots, Udanha engines worked passenger trains between Surat and Bhusaval, a long distance cross country route connecting Western India to Central and Eastern parts of the country.

Having a permit for this location I went to see the foreman. His office was in an upstairs building and whilst he was amiable, he was put out that head-quarters were supposed to have let him know of an intended visit. I suspect he was bored as he had his Muslim Clerk write a letter acknowledging my “unannounced” visit. The clerk was in traditional dress, the foreman was an Anglo Indian who brought his dog to the office. It had a rather English name, “Spot” and had a well-worn piece of rug to sleep on; although it had first checked me out as thoroughly as his master had checked my permit.

Starting to wander round the depot I passed the Water Treatment Office and was asked if I had seen the foreman? Once re-assured I was given an enthusiastic report about their testing. This was WP 7546 under repair in the shed.

I watched an already clean WG got an extra wipe down for the video, the engine was one of the yard pilots and another member of the class could be heard in action. A WP in light steam was being hand coaled by a coolie gang, it was cheaper to used hired labour than fire up a steam coal grab. The coal grabs were only used to unload coal trains for the depot supply. I also saw the big steam powered accident crane kept here, built by Cowans of Leeds, I think it was a 1955 product. 

The shed interior was like the rest of the depot, clean and orderly, not usual in my experience. The small allocation included a number undergoing repair, the WPs all carried Hindi names, 7551 being “Prashant” and 7108 “Sarath”.

Back at the station the Bhusaval train arrived behind WP 7554 named “Vikram”, the platform seemed awash with passengers. I then had a long wait in the winter heat on another crowded platform. The opposite track was occupied by a p.w. train which caused a couple of expresses to be halted. Many passengers had resorted to perching on carriage buffers, no wonder there was such a high fatality rate from people falling to the tracks. 

I talked to a station supervisor who was preaching the virtues of the English language as a unifying force, he was from the north and spoke no Gujarati. Onlookers added their suggestions, most were in favour of English as their second language, but they were also anti-Hindi and thought all railway communication should first be in their regional language, Gujarati. 

WP 7554 at Udhana on a train to Bhusaval

I then made my way north for a brief visit to the Dabhoi system on 23rd January 1989.

Another steam outpost I visited was Vishvamitri which I had first seen from a passing bg train to Baroda in 1982. My 1984 Bradshaw had two different spellings for this location, I am going with the version on the station board.

I had first called in at Pratapnagar which was the location of the W.R. narrow gauge works. The yards turned out to be un-photogenic, dusty and strewn with rubbish. There was no sign of the unique K class tank which was the regular pilot here and the reason for my visit. 

Leaving the yard I found a park through which the rail line passed, and videoed the departure of a mixed which had arrived from Jambusar. I then chased this train the short distance to Vishvamitri where ZB 73 on a mixed to Dabhoi was crossed. I watched ZB 73 do some lack lustre shunting before it departed and I followed it back to Pratapnagar. 

ZB 73 working a mixed to Dabhoi does some shunting at Vishamitri.

Other Round 2 Indian Tales:

Rob Dickinson