he International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
The Locomotive Supervisor's Company Car, 1981

Wilson Lythgoe has been circulating friends with some steam pictures taken some time back and with his permission and encouragement they are reproduced on these pages and will be added to from time to time. Click here for the index.

Burdwan, India

It was the middle of December in 1981 and I'd been in India for two months. Anyone who has spent any length of time in the subcontinent will understand when I say it was definitely time to leave: two months of poor food, unhygienic conditions and just the hassle of day to day living in India had taken its toll. 

I'd been up in Darjeeling, taken crook again, so had come back down to Siliguri in the hope that warmer temperatures might help. That perked me up slightly so headed off to Calcutta with the intention of using it as a base to visit nearby ng railways. Calcutta turned on a cold, wet snap so an abridged version of the diary, which I didn't write, could have read something like this:

Tuesday 8 Dec: Rest and relax getting over night train journey. Feeling pretty seedy.

Wednesday 9 Dec: Went to Doctor....rundown as expected.

Thursday 10 Dec: Heavy rain all day so stayed in hotel.

Friday 11 Dec: Another day of heavy rain.

Saturday 12 Dec: Made it out to the Shantipur ng system.

.......and finally, after that lengthy preamble, I get to the crux of this tale from Sunday 13 December 1981. In a letter home to my parents I wrote:
'I think if I wanted one specific day to remember this years tour of India by then today would stand every chance of being that day. I took the train out to Burdwan for a quick look at the narrow gauge operation out there.....originally intended to travel on it but time has run out so was going to be satisfied with just a glance. The two trains I intended to see turned out to be railcars rather than the expected steamers........'

On arriving at Burdwan I'd discovered there was no ng loco depot and it was basically just a run round loop. The next disappointment was my two trains turned out to be railcars with one leaving just after the other arrived.

To continue with my letter home: '.......so disconsolately wandered off to the broad gauge shed about half a mile away. Found the Loco Supervisor's office and was greeted with "You're just in time, I finish work in ten minutes so can show you round then you can come home with me for lunch." As I had nothing better to do agreed - he got engines moved into a better position for me, men posing or completely out of the picture.....'

I can't recall whether XC22224 was part of the working fleet or had already been withdrawn from service. Either way the large 4-6-2 made an attractive sight. Built by the Vulcan Foundry in 1929 it was designed to haul heavy passenger trains and was from a class of seventy two engines.....not many by Indian standards, I suppose.

To a New Zealander Eastern Railway engines looked like real steam engines should..... a grimy black with just a little decoration. From the left WP7263, WG9100 (Baldwin built in 1955) and WP7226. The two WP were from a batch of 299 built in 1949 by either the Baldwin, Canadian or Montreal Locomotive Works. According to Indian Locomotives Part 4 by Hugh Hughes the actual builder of each loco is unknown.

My host keeps an eye on what the fitters are doing to WP7272.....another of that 1949 batch of locos of unknown origin.

Sadly derelict and probably that way for a number of years now HGS26756 poses for its photo. Built by William Beardmore & Co of Glasgow in 1920, a builder I hadn't heard of until researching this episode, 26756 was a 2-8-0 designed for heavy goods traffic on main lines. According to Wikipedia William Beardmore & Co were an engineering and shipbuilding conglomerate based in Glasgow and the surrounding area. The company was active between 1890 and 1930 and at its peak employed about 40,000 people. Beardmores hit hard times after WWI and attempts were made to diversify the business with one diversification being steam locomotive building.

If it takes four men to fill a bucket with coal then how many buckets does it take to fill a WG tender?

My host was obviously a man of some importance in the local railway hierarchy warranting his own 'company car': an inspection trolley complete with sun umbrella and a five manpower pushing team to take the two of us through the yards to a point close to his home. It was too good an opportunity not to have one of the pushers act as photographer!

I was treated to an absolutely delicious vegetarian lunch.....and after that it was time for the family snaps to remember the occasion by. Later that afternoon I just made it back to the ng station in time to see BK4 arriving with a passenger train. BK4 was a 0-6-4T built by Bagnall in 1914 and the sole steam engine I'd managed to see on the Burdwan - Katwa - Ahmadpur ng line......but then again I hadn't tried particularly hard, had I?

The next day I flew out of Calcutta and onto Rangoon.....a much warmer place, better food and within a couple of days I was back to feeling AOK!

PS I (RD) visited the line in December 1994, it was still almost exactly as Wilson found it, there were four of us so we could afford an Ambassador taxi to chase the trains. In fact with rather plain countryside, the stations were often the best place to photograph them. These two pictures will give a flavour of what we found. 

4 months later I made a brief revisit and all the steam locos were out of use. I was again in Burdwan in 2006 and the line was much as before with the little diesels in charge. However, time marches on and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burdwan_Katwa_Railway reports that it is slated for conversion to broad gauge. Of course, it will have been a 'political' railway and will never carry the traffic to justify the money invested, this is rural West Bengal with no industry save a few small rice mills (which was the reason I was there in 2006).

A report in 'The Statesman' stated:

Burdwan bids adieu to vintage narrow gauge trains
Kanchan Siddiqui 
BURDWAN, 14 APRIL: The Burdwan railway station today bade farewell to the vintage narrow gauge trains, as the Eastern Railways declared its decision to suspend narrow gauge services and initiate the first phase of broad gauge conversion between Burdwan and Bolgona from tomorrow. Mr Dilip Kumar Sur, station manager, Burdwan, said: “Four pairs of ZDM rail cars marked their last journey from Burdwan station today, as a result of which a large number of people chose to take the trains today pushing up sales figures greatly.
Union railway minister Miss Mamata Banerjee flagged off the first phase of broad gauge conversion of 25 km between Burdwan and Bolgona on 3 April, which is slated to be completed by the end of December. The ministry has allocated Rs 245.15 crore for the purpose of gauge conversion and electrifying the vintage railway link. 
Mr Sukumar Nunia, whose family has long since been engaged in driving the narrow gauge trains said: “I have been driving narrow gauge trains since 1986. My grand father and my father were also drivers of the same train. It's good that the Burdwan-Katwa tracks will be converted to broad gauge. However, it's painful to see an era end". Sheikh Sentu, a daily commuter, said: “This train has become a part of my life in the past 10 years. Although it took me about two hours to cover 25 km, I will miss the ride." The services between Burdwan and Katwa and three other routes were introduced by British-owned McLeod & Company in 1928 to extend the railway network in Bengal. The operation was then resumed by the Indian Railways in April 1966. 
Four ZDM diesel locomotives have been meeting the requirements of commuters traveling between Burdwan and Katwa, covering a distance of 51.52 km. The gauge conversion between Burdwan and Katwa was flagged off by Mr Lalu Prasad on 30 June 2007, former Union railway minister."

Rob Dickinson

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