The International Steam Pages

Case Notes - India, Round 2
Farewell to Capital City Steam

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.

At Delhi Junction, WG 8002 was assigned a lengthy train, possibly to Moradabad, 6th January 1992.

Heading to Delhi Junction my taxi passed the Red Fort before a traffic jam blocked the station, which was designed to look like a Fort. I joined the scrum to purchase a 2nd class ticket to Saharanpur (these trains did not include 1st class). When I gained the counter I was told there was a surcharge as 4545 Express was a “Super fast” what a joke! The total price was only 39 Rp for the 170 km ride.

Steam was nearing the end and I found a driver showing a group of school kids how steam engines worked. The platforms at Delhi Junction are long enough to handle two trains and have crossovers near the middle of the platforms to enable trains to weave in or out or release engines from their trains to the centre track.

The metre gauge had its own system of platforms. I watched a YG depart on a 7 coach local to Pallam, the train was heavily loaded, another YG arrived on a similar train; both engines and carriages were in poor condition.

The station was crowded with troops waiting for trains to take them to the Punjab and to Kashmir where India was fighting a civil war on two fronts. Mountains of kitbags were strewn around, rifles stacked with soldiers guarding them. An office for Army Movement had posters plastered on it warning troops to be alert and not accept drinks as they could be poisoned and beware of bombs.

WP 7626 was assigned to work 4545 to Saharanpur. The engine was in poor external condition which was not helped when the crew resorted to tearing a loose piece off the Skyline casing to repair the firebox door.

I rode in the front of the 12 coach train. On departure it was evident the engine had a major mechanical problem as every few beats there was a regular bang (not a clank) from one side of the motion. I was surprised the crew got this beast up to speed and kept it there despite the noise, I was rather glad not to have had a ride in the cab!

Once out of Delhi the engine was forced to work hard and the stack talk remained loud throughout most of the journey overcoming some of the constant banging from the motion, the chime whistle was in heavy use. I had not bargained for it being so cold once the sun went down, the 2nd class carriages had no windows and there was a wind chill effect.

The line follows the ex ng route passing through some appealing countryside with fields full of flowering canola plants, eucalypt plantations and green rice fields. Many birds could be seen in the fields, including long tailed parrots, a contrast to the scruffy egrets that wade through dirty water near the slums of Delhi.

The arrival at Saharanpur was a stunning experience, I was in the right place but at the wrong time. As we pulled in I could see a well-lit depot adjoining the station full of steam locos, it looked inviting, but the station platforms were full of troops patrolling and the station offices were sandbagged. Passengers were made to queue by an army patrol before being escorted to the footbridge and frisked. The station had become a battlefront and I had no warning that the army was in occupation. Obviously a photo permit was of little consequence and I wondered why the troops were so primed.

I was questioned by an officer who thought I was a journalist. I was told there was no way I was going to spend the night at the station and the town was under curfew. I was to be tolerated only until the next available train back to Delhi: the idea of riding north to Ambala was also out of the question, but as to why I never found out.

The Punjab had been off-limits for a number of years due to an insurrection and recently there had been a bombing of a train to Ludhiana, but Saharanpur was well to the south. 

I had time to admire the superb station, a footbridge allowed you to overlook the shed with its lines of WPs and WGs, kindly spot lit by the army, who marched me back to the station platform. A WG stormed away to the north with its train rapidly receding in the night, I wondered if this was to deter people from jumping on board outside the secure limits set up by the army; it was certainly not normal practice for Indian trains to depart so quickly. A surprisingly well turned out WP, complete with a headlight director arrived from Lucknow on the long distance 352 pass, there was an engine change here before a Saharanpur loco took the train forward.

The night was freezing and the waiting rooms were occupied by the army, I drank a couple of small chais, just to get something to warm me whilst waiting for the 22.50 departure to Delhi. This was train 314, a fast passenger with only a couple of stops to Baghpet Rd where it was due at 03.11. Then the train turned into a stopping passenger to Delhi. 

The engine was forced into some quick running accompanied by stack talk, as the engine chattered to the night sky in the open country out of Saharanpur. At Shamli (00.40-01.50) the carriages became crowded with milk carriers and their churns which were also suspended to the outside of the carriages.

Arrival in Delhi was at 05.30 where the milk vendors joined others who had arrived from other destinations. Trains were standing in the platforms with their steam engines being released to head for the servicing point. I stepped over sleeping bodies wrapped in blankets or cardboard and paper to keep out the cold.

A WP pulled in from the centre line to the second part of the platform on a train arriving from the opposite direction that we had come. I lingered to take in the action, two WGs and WPs were visible, at times like this the station could still generate the appearance that steam dominated the scene. I walked towards the exit stepping over sleeping bodies wrapped in a blanket or cardboard and paper to keep out the cold; their lives were remorselessly hard.

I returned to Saharanpur for the New Year in January 1994, the station was more welcoming but the ride on 4545 had been another interesting experience when armed railway police herded the few remaining passengers into the front 2 carriages at Shamli. They positioned themselves by doors and open windows with rifles at the ready, we were told dacoits were active and once more the train saw some rapid acceleration away from station stops.

At Saharanpur, WG 9214 takes over a train from Ambala for the Meerut to Delhi sector, 31st December 1993.

A WP arrives at Saharanpur on a train from Ambala, 31st December 1993.

Saharanpur locomotives had passenger turns to Delhi (on two routes), also to Ambala and to Ludhiana which also had steam hauled parcels train from Delhi. Steam workings to Moradabad were covered by Laksar engines which also worked in on trains from Dehra Dun and Hardiwar.

Steam into Delhi was due to cease on Independence Day, 26th January 1994, but Saharanpur still had workings there until July/August 1994. 

WP 7605 is ready to come off shed to take over a train to Delhi, 31st December 1993.

Retirement on 31st December 1993.

Many railway drivers resigned on New Year’s Eve, it was a common sight on my trips to India and at Saharanpur a local band was on the station to accompany retiring staff as they left on their final turn and as they returned. This driver is having a typical send off by friends and family. Their locomotives were also decorated for the occasion.

Saharanpur was a great location to watch the last Indian steam trains running to and from the capital city.

WG 10334 in Zebra stripe livery, a visitor from Moradabad depot poses with 3 of Saharanpur’s WPs, 31st December 1993.

Late afternoon sees the coal grab at work unloading a coal train composed of sealed wagons, to deter theft. 

WG 9954 rides the turntable.

WP 7687 passes the impressive water tower, 1st January 1994

Carnage. Locomotives being broken up, 31st December 1993.

Other Round 2 Indian Tales:

Rob Dickinson