he International Steam Pages

Once upon a time, long ago,
New Year's Eve on the Indian Narrow Gauge, 1984

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.

Pratapnagar to Chhuchhapura and return wasn't very far.......distance wise a mere fifty kilometres each way but on New Year's Eve 1984 it took me from sunrise to well after sunset to complete. I also learnt that day I needed to take a little more sustenance with me than a loaf of bread, a water bottle and a packet of cigarettes when exploring narrow gauge railways. It was only my third day in India this trip and I was still very wary about what and where I ate but felt, after previous experiences, I would be able to find suitable food as the day progressed. I was about to learn otherwise........

I'd left my hotel just as it was getting light and taken a cab to Pratapnagar, the narrow gauge station on the outskirts of Vadodara, where I felt sure there would be some sort of breakfast available. Turned out my choice was either a loaf of bread or a packet of biscuits! I chose the bread option and as the train headed towards Dabhoi dined in solitary splendour in the first class compartment. At Dabhoi I reasoned I'd be able to get something more substantial.....after all it was the major station on this narrow gauge network with lines branching out in five directions.

On arrival I found something more interesting than food though. It was the last day on the job for two local railwaymen and they, along with ZB75, were suitably decorated for the occasion. With speeches finished I was able to take a shot of the retirees before they climbed down for the last time.

As the retirees and assembled throng of well-wishers headed elsewhere ZB75 moved away to its train.

I rejoined my train for the twenty kilometres out to Chhuchhapura. Here another train would be waiting to head down the branch to Tankhala and I planned on getting a shot of the two engines together and then departure shots. What I didn't know was that the two trains would leave from opposite ends of the yard and hence my plans were almost an impossibility! It was another case of either/or and I chose the Tankhala Mixed option. I was rewarded with ZB62 and some fine smoke effects as it headed off down the branch.

Next bit of action was a Dabhoi bound train arriving on the mainline. I didn't get the number of the ZB that was in charge of a quite substantial west bound mixed: it made a quick halt at Chhuchhapura and then headed off again before I could either photograph it or catch it.

There was now a three hour wait until the next train was due through. On looking around the village I realised lunch was going to be the remainder of that loaf of bread I'd started at breakfast. After that all I could do was find some shade and wait. I knew there was an impressive bridge just outside Chhuchhapura and reckoned if it wasn't too far away I'd be able to get a shot of the afternoon mixed arriving from Tankhala then have sufficient time to walk back and catch it before it left for Dabhoi. Turned out the bridge wasn't that far away and I achieved this smoke-free, steam-less shot of ZB62.

Now bridge shots weren't exactly encouraged in India back then and I started feeling a little concerned as the train, nearing my position, drew to a halt. Visions of the train crew performing a 'citizens arrest' and film confiscation were foremost my mind! I was most relieved when the driver gave a friendly wave and beckoned me to join him on the footplate. Back at Chhuchhapura the engine headed off to the turntable......

Once 62 was turned the driver and I headed off to a tea shop......he had the local knowledge I lacked.....whilst the fireman was left to remarshal the train placing the water wagon next to the loco. Tea break and shunting over it was time for photos before rejoining my new found friends on the footplate for the run back to Dabhoi. Light coloured shirts and trousers are probably not the most suitable wear on a loco but doubtless they were reasonably cool!

It was dark by the time we reached Dabhoi where, theoretically, I had a short wait before another train would take me on to Pratapnagar. Four sets of carriages, plus passengers, were sitting at various platforms with not a loco to be seen. As there was no signage to indicate what train was going where, or even when for that matter, I looked for someone in authority. My search led me to an office where in answer to my query I was told 'I have four trains and I will be getting three engines....I will put the first one on your train.' One of this gentleman's assistants was then deputised to take me to the correct train, unlock the first class compartment and to ensure I was safely aboard. Eventually I made it back to my hotel around ten that night, my only food for the day being the loaf of bread purchased at dawn, and went to bed. I didn't bother seeing the New Year in...................

According to CRJ92 visitors to Dabhoi in March 1992 found the system almost entirely diesel worked. Today the line between Pratapnagar to Chhuchhapura and beyond is broad gauge with two trains a day each way: in 1984 there were seven daily trains between Pratapnagar and Dabhoi and six between Dabhoi and Chhuchhapura. The branch from Chhuchhapura to Tankhala is closed.....such is progress.

Engine details taken from 'Steam Locomotives in India Part 1 - Narrow Gauge' by Hugh Hughes and Frank Jux published by The Continental Railway Circle in 1980:

The first four ZB 2-6-2 were built between 1928 and 1932. After the Second World War the need to replace worn out stock made it necessary to place larger orders and during 1951 and 1952 thirty two entered service with a further six being built in 1959. By 1979 all were allocated on the Western Railway of India with most being based at Dabhoi. ZB62 was built by WG Bagnall in 1952 and ZB75 by Corpet Louvet in 1951. 

Rob Dickinson

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