The International Steam Pages

Steam in Assam 2007

Vikas Singh was in Assam in September 2007

Reached Guwahati by flight late evening on 20th September. Checked into Hotel Dynasty near the station. Next day early morning, went to see Saraighat bridge on river Brahmaputra.

The mighty river Brahmaputra is one of the largest rivers in Asia with a total length of about 2,900 km, of which a stretch of about 920 km lies in the northeastern region of India. The only male river in India, at places the width is as high as 10-16 km. The river has been traditionally considered to be extremely difficult to build a bridge on. Besides, the area is highly seismic. Indian Railways has successfully constructed three bridges: 

  • Saraighat rail-cum-road bridge at Guwahati, commissioned in 1962, with main bridge the length of 1.296 km (1x33.2m + 10xl22.95m + lx33.2m) steel truss girder
  • Kalia Bhomora Road bridge at Tezpur, commissioned in 1987, with main bridge the length of 3.015 km (lx67.5m + 24x120m + lx67.5m) PSC cantilever box girder with RCC suspended span
  • Naranarayana Setu rail-cum-road bridge at Jogighopa, commissioned in 1998, with main bridge the length of 2.285 km (lx32.6m + 14xl25m + lx94.6m + 3xl25m + lx32.6m) steel truss girder.

There was heavy security at the entrance to the bridge and even on the bridge. I could not risk army guy pouncing on me if I took pictures. Security men could be spotted even near the bank. After returning went to famous Kamakhya temple and en route got a beautiful view of the bridge as well as the NFR HQ at Malegaon from the Narayani hills. Lady luck favored me this time and there was hardly any rush at the temple. After that went to NFR HQ to take picture of C808 of DHR fame plinthed there. It being early morning there were no security personnel there.

Later in evening at 20.30 hrs left for Ledo by 5603 Guwahati-Ledo intercity express. The train takes fourteen hours to cover the 573 km distance. The first junction is the Chapramukh station. From Chapramukh the main line goes towards Lumding station while a branch line goes to Haibargaon station, 26 kms away. Two passengers from Guwahati to Haibaragaon run everyday. In the old days the line used to go beyond Haibargaon to Mairabari. A line used to run from Senchoa (station before Haibargaon) to Silghat. Both these lines have been taken up for restoration.

From Lumding junction, a metre gauge line runs to Badarpur junction. (185 kms). The next junction was Furkating which is around 30 kms from the famous Khaziranga wild life sanctuary. A branch line from here goes to Jorhat, 68 km away before joining the main line again at Mariani junction. We reached Mariani junction at 05.30 hrs, one hour behind schedule. As per the 2005 list from IR, Mariani had 16 steam locos, all in scrap condition- (YP- 2158,2381,2615,2116,2137,2131,2075,2802,2425, and YG-2077,3037,3530,3200,4079,3471,3390). The locos were supposed to near the old shed which is at the V formed by main line to Ledo and branch line to Jorhat. Since I did not know the distance from the station to this V, I didnít take the risk of alighting and finding out about the locos. As we crossed this V, I could see only three locos. We soon stopped after 3 km from the station. The loco had developed some snag and replacement was called for. On enquiring I found that lube lubricating system was not working. After an hour a replacement loco came from Mariani and we were taken back to station. This time I decided to inspect the steam locos and went to old shed. Only three locos could be spotted- YP 3382, YP 2112 and YG 3213. All the three are in very bad condition. Balance all locos have been cut up and sold as scrap.

After an hour we finally left, three hours after scheduled time. The next junction was Simalguri, 54 kms away. Simalguri is junction for Naginimora- Moranhat line. There is one passenger train everyday on the 54 km Simalguri-Moranhat line. The Naginimora-Simalguri MG line has not been converted to BG and there is no train on this line. The Moranhat line is getting extended till Dhamalgaon and onwards to Dibrugarh. From Moranhat the line will cross Brahmaputra and will be connected with the Rangapara- Murkong Selek line at New Sisibargaon. The proposed rail cum Road Bridge on Brahmaputra will be about 17 km from Dibrugarh Called Bogibeel bridge, this will perhaps be the longest railway bridge in the country and will cost Rs.1500 crore. The rail link will be connecting at Chalkhowa station on the south bank and between Sisibargaon and Siripani on the north bank. The north bank Rangapara- Murkong Selek is presently a metre gauge line and a BG terminal will be provided at the junction with the existing MG line. With this bridge, the distance between Rangia and Tinsukia / Dibrugarh will be reduced by 144 km. The distance between Rangia-Tinsukia via south bank is 575 km, whereas via north bank and Bogibeel bridge it would be 431 km.

We finally reached New Tinsukia junction at 11.15 hrs, almost three hours behind schedule. From Tinsukia a line goes to Dibrugarh while the main line goes towards Ledo. Thanks to Mr. Deori, welfare officer at Tinsukia, a taxi was ready at station. After photographing the YP 2618 plinthed outside the station we left for Tinsukia junction. Again as per 2005 IR records there were 13 steam locos at old steam shed (5 YP s ( 2101, 2107, 2152, 2159, 2339) and 8 YG s ( 3040, 3174, 3532,3534, 3721, 4079, 4124, 4422). But save for YP 2152, which was in very bad condition at a distance from the shed, all steam locos have been cut and sold off as scrap.

We reached Makum from where we turned off towards Digboi. From Makum junction one branch line extends towards Dangri. There is one passenger train daily on the 41 km Tinsukia and Dangri line. A number of tea gardens could be seen on both side of the road. The big and well maintained garden belonged to Tata Tea and Mc Leod Russel (now part of Williamson Magor group). At Powai we stopped for some time at the Tata tea garden before proceeding towards Margherita. Here at the coal India office we photographed the 0-4-0ST Hasang plinthed there. After this we proceeded towards Ledo station. En route had Assamese lunch of Topla Bhat and egg curry at a local dhaba. Ledo is now the eastern most station on IR network for passenger traffic. The line extends 2 km more till Tirap which is basically a coal siding. In the MG times the line used to run till Lekhapani another 3 km away, but when the line was regauged, the BG line stopped at Tirap. Two passengers and one express train connect Ledo with Tinsukia.

At Tirap coal siding, a forty rake of BCN and BCNA wagons was being loaded with coal. En route we had crossed the Ledo brick works which was closed down in 2003. At the place where NG line entered the works there used to be a diamond crossing with BG line. Remains of the line crossing the street could be seen as late as 2005 when Mohan, Bharat and Samit had covered this area. However nothing remains of the NG line now. The diamond crossing is gone and so has any trace of the line on the road.

Our next stop was at Lekhapani station. A board there said that the station closed down on 26.8.1993 and the last train passed over the station (Tipong coal shuttle) on 17.2.1997.The water pipe near the station, photographed by Samit and Mohan exists no more. After this we crossed the memorial built at the site from where the famous Stilwell road starts. The historic 1,726 km road, built by the Allied and Chinese forces under the command of US Army General Joseph Stilwell, was used to transport the first supplies to the beleaguered Chinese Army during World War II in 1945 when Japanese troops invaded China. The Stilwell Road starts from here, and cuts through the Pangsau pass in Myanmar to Kunming in South China - touching almost all the important Southeast Asian capitals. The Stilwell Road on the Indian side is about 61 km. The major stretch of 1,033 km lies within the jungle-covered mountains and swampy valleys of northern Myanmar's Kachin State, while in China it is 632 km.

We then went to the Tipong Colliery. B 796 (blue livery) was on duty at Dhalai having just bought a six rake coal load. At the steam shed we spotted David (dead) and B789 (dead). Both had green livery. B 784 in scrap condition was at the other end. Diesel 023 manufactured by SAN was getting watered nearby. Diesel 393 manufactured by SAN was in the shed. Its engine has now replaced the engine for diesel 028. There are now only two working diesels. The mining has now gone deep at 1700 feet and so against normal rake of 30, only six rake of coal can be hauled up from the mine. After spending some time at the colliery, chatting with the employees we had foot plating experience all the way back to dhalai.

We left for Tinsukia at 1700 hours and reached back at 1930 hrs. A retiring room had been booked and after a quick shower, I had a much needed nap. Later left for Guwahati by 0030 hrs Brahmaputra mail reaching Guwahati next day at 1130 hours. Since I had done the Lumding-Guwahati stretch at night the day before, I had not seen the extensive damage floods have caused. In broad daylight, I could now see the damage. Almost the entire area, as far as I could is covered with water. People have shifted to make shift tents near the station or near the tracks. The damage to property and crop must be immense. Nearing the Guwahati station, I could see the Garatt loco near the New Guwahati shed. The color is gone and the loco seemed to be in poor condition. I wanted to photograph the loco but looking at the heavy security all around, gave up.

Later in the evening took a much delayed flight back to Delhi.

Rob Dickinson