The fastest steam locomotives of all time

A nice little film summarizing the fastest steam locos of all times, with the record going to the British LNER “Mallard” with its 126 mph (203 kmph) in 1938.

Although most of the other locos shown here have been scrapped, the Mallard can still be seen at the National Rail Museum at York.

Naturally, if you are passing that way you should try to visit her.

As I did in 2006:

york1

This old lady was active in exhibition runs until very recently, but may not run again. Other locos of the same A4 class can sometimes be seen on exhibition runs.

Another famous resident of the NRM:

york2

As you might guess, this is not the original from 1829 but a working model. This also goes for exhibition runs. The real Rocket is at the Science Museum in London.

These may be of interest:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Railway_Museum#Locomotives

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LNER_Class_A4_4468_Mallard

 

The Lac-Megantic disaster of 2013

The Indian Railways are often the butt of jokes when a number of accidents happen in succession. But it is cold comfort to know that railway operating procedures in developed countries are far from perfect. As in the case of the derailment followed by fire at Lac-Megantic in Quebec province on July 6, 2013.

Here is a  Powerpoint presentation on this accident, which was used in a conference of safety engineering at IIT Gandhinagar in January 2017.

the-fire-disaster-at-lac-megantic-quebec

Note the videos on slides 8 and 9. They are important in understanding the sequence of events. The one on slide 8 is more accurate and is largely based on the accident investigation report. The one on slide 9 has a serious error as it shows the train slipping backwards, with the tank cars leading the locomotives. In fact the train went down the incline in its existing configuration of locomotives followed by other cars and tank cars.

You may wonder if something like this could happen on the Indian Railways. Certainly a heavy goods train would not be left totally unattended on an incline in mid-section. That is exactly what happened here.

There are a number of safety-related issues which have not been covered above, such as the hazards caused by additives used to increase the viscosity of crude oil for transportation.

For further reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lac-M%C3%A9gantic_rail_disaster

http://www.tsb.gc.ca/eng/rapports-reports/rail/2013/r13d0054/r13d0054-r-es.asp

 

 

Spotlight on train disaster near Pokhrayan

The rail disaster involving the 19231 Indore-Rajendra Nagar (Patna) Express may well be the worst railway accident in India in several years. As I write this, the death toll has crossed 130. Here is the very basic information put out by the concerned zone (North Central Railway):

http://www.safety.indianrail.gov.in/sims/viewPublicInformation.action;jsessionid=zWOAqhsYgbGjIRyP0QZvmcOLGPzwD98YlnRGQYOyrPatB-bjyfg1!9620467?id=20161113001

The accident site comes under Jhansi division of NCR whose HQ is at Allahabad. It was earlier on Central Railway.

The location is between Pokhrayan and Malasa stations on the Jhansi-Kanpur section. It would be about 45 km south-west of Kanpur Central station and 175 km north-east of Jhansi. Though not a trunk line, it has heavy passenger traffic with numerous trains from southern and western India to Kanpur, Lucknow and beyond. The site falls in Kanpur Dehat district.

Pokhrayan and Malasa can be seen on the map here:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/place/Kanpur,+Uttar+Pradesh/@26.3286985,80.0379633,11z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x399c4770b127c46f:0x1778302a9fbe7b41!8m2!3d26.449923!4d80.3318736

However, it appears that Pukhrayan is the more common spelling of the town.

A list of accidents with a death roll of over 100 since 2000

(This is from memory, so there may be minor inaccuracies):

2002: Near Gaya, 116 killed in wrecking of Howrah-New Delhi Rajdhani.

2005: Near Hyderabad, 116 killed as passenger train plunges into flood waters in Nalgonda district.

2006: 7 bomb blasts on WR locals in Mumbai result is the deaths of at least 186.

2010: Near Kharagpur: 150 killed as a goods train collided with coaches of the Howrah-Mumbai Jnaneshwari Express, which had been derailed due to sabotage.

(It is also noted that some false reports of major disasters in the 2000s have been entered in Wikipedia, with no reference. I will have to clean them up).

Here is the story of the ill-fated train’s trip:

pokhrayan-accident-tt

It can be seen that the last scheduled stop was at Orai, about 50 km short of the accident site. The route continues beyond Kanpur via Lucknow, Faizabad, Varanasi and Mughalsarai.

As to causes of the accident-all which can be said at the moment is that there could have been a defect in the tracks, or the loco, or rolling stock, or possibly a combination of these. Apart from tampering with the tracks, rail fractures and fractures of welded joints have been observed as causes of major derailments in recent years.

While there have been a number of incidents of sabotage of tracks in recent years, they have usually been in areas where extremist groups are active. That is not the case here. Apart from extremist sabotage, over the past 50 years there have been at least a couple of cases where disgruntled railway employees have caused major accidents by tampering with tracks.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway in 1943

We have all heard of the train to Darjeeling, but there was more to it than the single line from Siliguri to Darjeeling. This should be apparent from these timetable extracts from 1943. These are not from the Bradshaw which had rather poor print quality, but from another source (more about that later).

DHR TT 001

First, this is an extract from the Bengal & Assam Railway. See its logo showing that it was founded in 1942. This was an emergency measure following the outbreak of World War 2 in Asia. The old stalwarts Eastern Bengal Railway (HQ in Calcutta, main station Sealdah) and the Assam Bengal Railway (HQ in Chittagong) were merged to form the B & A Railway to make it easier to manage rail transport east of Calcutta. Essentially the running of the railways was taken over by the US armed forces.

Of course, the B & AR was broken up after partition and its tracks are now spread over the present Sealdah  division of ER, the NFR, and Bangladesh Railways.

Now we look at the timetables of the DHR. These lines were not part of the B&AR, but it was the practice to include adjoining smaller railway systems in the timetables of larger systems.

DHR TT 002

There are several points here that many railfans may be unfamiliar with. To begin with, this system was the 2-foot narrow gauge unlike most other narrow gauge lines in India which were 2 ft 6 in. Only a handful of 2-foot gauge lines in India survive now, including the mountain railways to Darjeeling and Matheran.

The Siliguri station here was the BG terminus where long-distance trains such as the Darjeeling Mail used. It was located at the station now known as Siliguri Town. Note the connection between the Mail arriving at 06.44 and the NG train (also called the Mail) at 06.59, and in the reverse direction when the passengers presumably had their dinner at Siliguri.

The present Siliguri Jn was opened as part of the Assam Rail Link in the late 1940s. It is located at the former wayside station of Siliguri Road seen above.

When New Jalpaiguri station was opened in the early 1960s, the NG line was extended south from Siliguri Jn to there passing through Siliguri Town, which had gone from being a major terminus to an unimportant wayside station.

Panchanai Jn was the point where the DHR branch to Kishanganj turned towards the left. There is no sign of it now. There have been various other changes pertaining to loops and reverses. One result of this is that Chunabhati station is no longer on the route. This timetable does not show the numerous halt stations which have mostly vanished without a trace, though Batasia is now a stop for the joyride trains between Darjeeling and Ghum.

Now for the rest of the DHR:

DHR TT 003

The Siliguri-Kishanganj Extension and the Teesta Valley Extension were built later (dates given below). The Kishanganj line provided a connection to MG trains from Barsoi and Katihar side. Being in the plains, it did not need the special B class engines but used more conventional ones. Apart from the usual 4-6-2s, there was also a Garratt.

This line became the starting point of the Assam Rail Link, enabling MG trains from the Katihar side to enter northern Bengal. Note that many of the stations (including Naksalbari and Baghdogra) became part of the MG line though there were some changes in alignment. For instance, the new MG line went directly from Matigara to the new Siliguri Jn without crossing Panchanai (where the station was demolished).

The Teesta Valley Extension had an unfortunate end. Initially the Assam Rail Link followed it up to Sevoke. There was a mixed gauge line from the new Siliguri Jn to Sevoke. Here the TV line turned north while the new MG line crossed the Teesta just east of the station and continued eastward to join the existing MG system at a place which became known as New Mal Jn, and finally to Fakiragram and beyond.

The terminus at Gielle Khola seems to have been known as Kalimpong Road in the earlier days. A ropeway connected this station to Kalimpong.

But this line did not last long after Independence. Severe flooding damage occurred in early 1950 which resulted in the line being closed permanently. Though the tracks ran close to the highway towards Kalimpong and Gangtok, you are not likely to see any trace of the line now unless you take the help of local experts. And the NG line from Siliguri to Sivok was pulled up as it no longer had any purpose, leaving a pure MG line behind. In the  2000s the entire MG route in this area was converted to BG.

Some historical notes here:

DHR History 001

Note the stamp issued in 1982.

The above information is from a nice little booklet called “A guide to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway” by Richard Wallace, first edition in 2000. There is a more detailed second edition published in 2009.

There is another useful book by R.R. Bhandari which may be available at the bookstall at the National Rail Museum at Delhi.

Numerous other books (mainly of British origin) are also there. Some may be available from bookshops in Kolkata and the Darjeeling area.

Other useful links include:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darjeeling_Himalayan_Railway

and

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/railway-history-construction-of-the-assam-rail-link/

 

 

 

 

 

Update to the Lumding-Silchar line

This is an update to my earlier post of June 25-you may like to have a look at it first:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/06/25/bg-link-to-silchar-is-finally-ready/

As things turned out, our optimism was misplaced and the Commissioner of Railway Safety felt that the line was not fit for passenger traffic, although goods trains continued to run.

After all approvals, regular passenger services were formally inaugurated on Nov 21. The only passenger train on this section is a passenger train from Guwahati, which has  SL and unreserved class at the moment. It can be called a fast passenger as it has only one stop between Guwahati and Lumding.

Here are the timetables for these trains:

Guwahati-Silchar:

GHY SCL 001

Silchar-Guwahati:

SCL GHY 001

This also marked the resumption of direct trains between these cities, which had stopped since the early 1990s when the broad gauge reached Lumding. Prior to that there were two express trains, the 11/12 Barak Valley Express and the 201/202 Cachar Express running on this route. In Nov 1983 there were two other passenger trains on this route, one between Lumding and Badarpur and another called the Tripura Passenger, between Lumding and the then railhead at Dharmanagar.

It will be instructive to compare the timings of these trains from the Nov 1983 Bradshaw with the present timings.

Barak Valley TT

The broad gauge conversion and associated realignment (which shortened the route by about 16 km) has resulted in considerable speeding up-13 hours as compared to 17-19 hours in the past. Presumably these trains were hauled by YDM-4s at that time.

More trains can be expected on this route in the near future. Once the connecting lines to Agartala and elsewhere are completed, we can look forward to Rajdhani and Sampark Kranti Expresses as well.

 

 

THE RAILWAY BUDGET 2015-AN ALTERNATE VIEW

Every year when the end of February rolls around, attention focuses on the Budget (usually on the last day of the month) and the Railway budget (usually two days earlier). Often more attention is given when a new party comes to power at the centre, since new epoch-making changes are expected. This year is no exception, though mid-term budgets were presented in the middle of 2014 before the new government had really got to work.
Anyone with a reasonable knowledge and interest in the Indian Railways would remember the charms of budgets in the earlier years. The main interest would lie in whether the fares were increased (they usually weren’t), followed by the introduction of new long-distance trains. And the reaction of the general public and the mass media would be predictable-any increase in fares would lead to a predictable outcry and generally the increase would be rolled back. Then there would be cries of “My city X has been neglected-only 3 new trains while city Y has got 5”.
The railfans look at things somewhat differently. These are what the British would call “anoraks”, though they actually come in various shapes, sizes and ages. Some study timetables and railway maps for pleasure, some study the workings of locomotives and signalling systems in great detail, and others may confine themselves to studies of the history of lines and trains or perhaps be satisfied by filming trains and stations. However, most of them usually end up meticulously studying the new trains and their routes as well as the new lines being opened. They have their own websites and forums* where the pros and cons of all new developments are discussed threadbare.That is how things have been in the past few decades.

Much of the charm of the budget used to lie in the little quirks of the Railway Ministers of the past who often used to toss in quotations from the holy books to make a point. They have included colourful characters like Laloo Prasad and Mamata Banerjee, less flamboyant politicians like Nitish Kumar as well as those with a professional background such as Dinesh Trivedi and the incumbent Suresh Prabhu, who is a chartered accountant who is said to be working on two doctorates at the moment.
In most years populist pressures have prevented fares from being raised although some other ways were found to extract more money from the travelling public. These included raising the quota of tatkal (last-moment) berths, introducing premium special trains and even premium tatkal fares and less obvious changes in reservation charges. The public (and even railfans) do not take much interest in increases in freight charges (not surprisingly, since most freight other than bulk commodities like minerals and petroleum products have switched to road transport).
So what was there for railfans to talk about after Mr Prabhu’s Budget on February 26? Not much. This needs some explanation. Previous budget speeches have generally given details on all the new train services, new lines and railway manufacturing units being started, while this time the focus was on the general improvements which were to be made in making railway operations more efficient, safer and capable of carrying more traffic at higher speeds. There was scarcely any mention of specific new trains or facilities (save for a brief mention of studies continuing on the feasibility of the proposed Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed service commonly known as the “bullet train”) and the DFCs (Dedicated Freight Corridors) which are known to be between Northern India and the Mumbai area, and between Northern India and the Kolkata area. There was a brief mention that a 55-km section of the eastern DFC in western Bihar would be opened soon, and that tenders for the final stages of both DFCs would be issued soon. A coy mention is made of plans for four new DFCs, though there is no clue as to where they will be laid.
This is, of course, not as exciting as the announcement of a new express train between Bangalore and Dibrugarh or even a new suburban service between Lucknow and Bara Banki. Some more specific details were given about rail connections to various ports which few of us have heard about. One of them is in Gujarat’s Kutch region called Tuna, although I doubt if you will find tuna in the seas around this port.
This budget does however go into considerable detail about how life is to be made easier for the ordinary traveller-such as how an unreserved ticket could be purchased within 5 minutes of entering the station premises, increasing the number of mobile charging points in coaches, introduction of concierge services at larger stations and even the facility of ordering wheelchairs at your destination.
There is also considerable stress on improving the cleanliness of trains and stations (being part of the Prime Minister’s “Clean India” initiative) and food service (which, with some exceptions, is generally considered to be unsatisfactory). All of these are laudable objectives which show that the Minister and his team have done some serious thinking about the future of the Railways and their important role in the country’s economy.
The saturation of the major routes (often known as the Golden Quadrilateral linking the four major cities) is recognized as a serious bottleneck in improving traffic capacity, and improving this by adding extra tracks, crossings and electrification if necessary. All of this requires large amounts of funding, but this should not be difficult to obtain from a supportive Centre.
To sum up, this Railway Budget does make a welcome change from the populism of the past 20-odd years and shows clear thinking about the problems and prospects of the railway system. But many of those who follow the Railways may be disappointed by the lack of specific details about new passenger services, though they should appreciate the move to improve the rail traveller’s general experience and comfort.

*The most popular Indian railfan group runs the website www.irfca.org which has an active discussion forum, although it needs registration if you want to participate.

Railway History: Construction of the Assam Rail Link

One of the important chapters of post-Independence Indian Railways was the somewhat complicated task of building a new rail connection with Assam (and the rest of North-Eastern India) which had been broken when East Pakistan was formed. Here is the story pieced together and originally created as a ppt presentation in early 2011 at a convention of the IRFCA (Indian Railways Fan Club Association).

See what suits you best:

The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction (Ppt)

Or you may prefer to see the presentation as a series of images: (Read left to right, row by row)

The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-001 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-002 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-003 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-004 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-005 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-006 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-007 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-008 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-009 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-010 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-011 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-012 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-013 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-014 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-015 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-016 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-017 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-018 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-019 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-020 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-021 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-022 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-023 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-024 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-025 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-026 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-027 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-028 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-029 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-030 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-031

The stress is on what happened in 1947-50. Some mention has been made of subsequent developments but this is not to be regarded as a full account of railway construction in the Northeast after independence.