The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - India, Round 2
Narrow Gauge glimpses: Western Railway 2 - Bilimora

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.

On 24th January 1989, I set out from Surat to Bilimora arriving in time for a chai before  walking up the grade outside the station for an arrival shot of W 577 (Bagnall 1914) using the video, with the road crossing semaphore signal in the foreground. I then had some nice shots of the small engine in the leafy station environs, where a Hindu priest was greeting passengers.

577 hustles its empty stock into the yard.

I followed 577 to the depot where I met the foreman, he had been here for a number of years and hoped to see steam still going to his retirement in six years as this was also his home town. The depot had an allocation of five engines, one of which had recently been condemned as scrap, no replacement had been offered. He usually had one in the works one spare and two needed each day. W 574 was on a bg transporter wagon ready for a trip to the works, so only three engines were on shed. The engines were all very neat and were splendid veterans, although the large headlights whilst essential spoil their appearance.

W 577 is serviced prior to working the afternoon train.

W 574 (Bagnall 1913) on a bg transporter waiting to be sent for overhaul.

A fresh engine started its duty on the evening train, so 577 which had arrived on the morning train was serviced for the next departure. The foreman showed me the line diagram that certainly looked challenging.

The train loaded to seven coaches, which remained locked until near departure time so I sat watching the frequent electric hauled passenger and freight trains (90% composed of 4 wheel wagons) rumble through the station leaving clouds of dust in their wake. Outdated practices saw drivers leaning out of their cabs holding a green flag as they passed signal cabins, but what style they had!

When the ng coaches were unlocked I found myself sharing the 1st class compartment with a railway policeman, and an assistant station master who left for his station early in the journey, the carriage also had a full complement of mosquitoes.

The line climbed steeply out of Bilimora and then eased into a gentle climb through open countryside. By mid-afternoon the train had entered forest (by now rare in India) and the grades had stiffened as we headed to Waghai, the old engine sounded good with plenty of stack-talk. At the wayside halts peasants tried to sell nuts or berries, I was told this was a very poor and backward area.

Arrival at Waghai. 

577 heads to the turntable at Waghai.

Prior to entering Waghai the line crossed a long bridge over a wide riverbed, the place must be fantastic in the monsoon! At Waghia I walked to the village roadside tea stall, people were curious and friendly and told me they were proud that a foreigner would visit their village.

There was no sign of elephants being used to help load log trucks which had previously been reported. I watched the W being turned on a diminutive table, a rainbow being formed from the engine’s blowdown added to the scene, a background of trees and hills make it is a top spot.

The travelling ticket inspector joined me on the return, at first he was suspicious of the video and wanted to know if I had permission. He was worried that he might be reported for allowing a foreigner to film in a “backward area”, I assured him I had a permit and was only interested in the train. We were later joined by a stationmaster and his assistant, who together with the railway policeman were busy at stops marshalling the passengers and cajoling them to pay a fare. That evening at one such stop I watched as hundreds of large bats launched themselves into the last rays of the sunset. The crew turned on the engine’s headlight as we headed through the darkness to Bilimora.

Dusk and the bats fly as the crew check the headlight.

Back at Bilimora I was not surprised to find I had missed the stopping train back to Surat as we were running late so I had a couple of hours to kill before catching the “Flying Ranee Express”. I was able to watch W 581 depart on the night passenger to Waghai. I watched the departure from a footbridge, disturbing the beggars who were using it as their place to sleep. The engine chugged away from the bright lights of the town and the sounds of the nearby movie theatre.

W 581 prepares to depart Bilimora on a night departure.

It had been a brilliant day, both the line and the engines were amazing survivors as India hurtled towards a new future of high capacity broad gauge trains running at speed.

Other Round 2 Indian Tales:

Rob Dickinson