Saturday, February 10, 2007

ON STEEL TO STEEL : A PROLOGUE TO ROLLING CURVES TO RAULI

The actual trip report will be up on www.irfca.org in a couple of days, and is being done by Ranganath Eunny. This will also be up on this site shortly.
For more technical information about wagons, coaches, and railway stuff, please visit www.irfca.org. You will find answers to anything about railways that appear in this trip report.


It was a terse message on my mobile from Ranga of the Duvvada South Cabin fame – Tkts booked for 1VK on 5th February. Coming as it did in the thick of the IRFCA Convention arrangements during the last week of Dec, I think, I did not give much thought to it. I could only postpone asking Ranga – as it were, we met on a Sunday at Ranga’s place over Uppuma –the same meeting described in the mas2007.wordpress.com blog. There were a few others and everyone else seemed to know what it meant for a railfan to be booked on that train. I was surprised that so many others were interested in making a trip on that line – to the extent the six tickets were booked immediately on the IRCTC website then and there. It is another matter that two of them – Poochi and Gowri could not eventually make it – lifting the initial sheen off the trip, that will more aptly be described by Ranga in his portion of the combined trip report – something that I think is the first time being attempted. Bharath Moro is the coordinator, editor, dandamaster all rolled into one for the railfan’s interface with the trippers.

I will restrict myself to the preparatory part of the actual trip on the 1VK. The trip from MAS – VSKP and back to MAS. I chose to begin in the reverse – this time for thanksgiving. A big thanks to all those who made this trip possible – VSP, Ranga, Bharath. Also to all those who made this trip with me – Swaminathan a loco expert, Seshadri fondly known as Chechu – a doorplater nonpareil at 65 years of age and Karthik Nagarajan, our accountant for the trip portion dealt with here.

On the 3rd Feb 2007, our rendezvous was at the RRI cabin at MAS – Karthik who was dying to see this firsthand for the last one year or so finally had his date – and was there already when I was ready to leave home. We quickly met up at MAS, and the Karthik’s face lit up on entering the room – his face said it all. Chechu joined us at about 22.15, and the doctor (Swaminathan) would be meeting us at the coach.

It was a day that was very hectic for the SMs in the cabin – particularly since BBQ Trip Shed had no spare locos on hand. Why we would never know, but the instructions were to use the Brindavan Loco for 2657 MAS SBC Mail, and the first available P4 of either Shatabdi or the Kovai for our train. In fact, an earlier P4 was given to the Yercaud, and Cheran probably had a P1. All this meant more shunting work and the SMs were busy and harried shouting orders over the mike and the walkie talkie to the shunters / pointsmen etc. We had a good cup of coffee ourselves at a tea stall outside, brought a few flask of coffee and some biscuits for the staff at the RRI and left after the 2657 mail left us.

Up in the coach, Swaminthan had conjured a small magic. He had a printout of all stations on the routes we were doing – MAS/VSKP VSKP/JYP KRPU/RGDA RGDA/VSKP and VSKP/MAS. Very impressive what with the chart showing the gradients and the altitudes of the stations on the KK line. We left sharp at 23.35 as we received an SMS from Simon – Signal cleared.

Winding our way out, we saw the lines at KOK that come in from VPY and WST converge into the mainline, and we picked up speed. We were chatting for some time and it was time to sleep. Sleep we did, but fitfully. The coach – 01269 was oscillating like wild – some problem with the coach or the suspension it seemed. For, it seemed to bear some threshold and started the wild lateral movements once the speed was crossed. It made for some uncomfortable sleep. The moment the train hit the brakes into GDR – we were up – Karthik and I. We were 10 mts early at GDR – 0143 against the arrival of 0153, and left on time at 0155. A cup of platform coffee and a small chat with the TTE, who casually advised to smoke in the loo – if we were smokers. This was the hint that we required –that someone who really cared was around when we broke the law. A couple of smoking WDM2s were later spotted by trainwatchers on the two loos on the coach very often.

I did not sleep till Nellore, where too we arrived and left on time. We passed a station at high speed at around 0335, and from the limited Telugu I could decipher I concluded that it was Ongole. Hit off an SMS to Bharath, who was just arriving into BZA that we had passed OGL. This was a clear faux pas as I could later realize – we stopped at OGL for two minutes – a scheduled halt –though we were 10 mts late, leaving only at 0400. Said a sorry to Bharath –and also asked him to pick up a pack of Cigarettes at BZA as he waited for us. I got a prompt reply, and then went to sleep – or whatever sleep I could catch. Luckily, I could catch some sleep and was just hazy as we stopped and started at Chirala, Bapatla and Tenali. At Tenali, I decided not to be hazy anymore, and went out to brush and complete the morning schedule. We were leaving Tenali by 0525, late by 15 mts., but we had an hour to the schedule to reach BZA. The Krishna River was wonderful with water hitting off the moonlight on our coaches. A great sight indeed! We hit BZA at 0600 to the sounds of Kaapi….Kappi…..Chaaaaaya……Kaapi. Bharath sent word thru his mobile that he was near the loco – ah the wonderful ED P4 22219 that would take us thru to VSKP. A coffee downed, we then settled in our coaches as the train left at 0635, right on schedule. We alternated between high speed and some moderate speeds and slow downs for cautions etc., and we reached Eluru on time. Hard Idlies, cold Vadas followed for what was a fairly expensive Breakfast considering the quality and the quantity that was on offer. Downed with a cup of coffee, however, that was a good energizer for the rest of the day. Intermittently we went into the loo to have a smoke and emerged out cautiously – hoping that we would not be caught out J. We were a again 10 mts late leaving Tadepalligudem at 0810, leaving Nidadavolu at 0828. A few minutes later we passed Kovvur – the station which was on a curve with the main line signal dangling from the OHE mast’s crosslink. Unique it was and we had seen pics – now it was time to see the real one. Here’s the link to that picture taken some time ago:

http://www.irfca.org/gallery/Stations/signals/signalOnCatnery.JPG.html

A good shot by PVS Praveen, who would join us later at VSKP. This was the signal that sent us shooting thru Kovvur towards RJY. We left RJY at 0916 arriving there at 0902, some time before we were scheduled to. A great run and followed for the next hour or so, and we left Samalkot about 1002, late by six minutes inspite of the run. At Annavaram we had another cup of coffee as we still maintained the delay of six minutes. The delay had increased to 16 minutes by the time we left Tuni at 1055 and had come down to 10 minutes again at Anakapalle, which we left at 1046. Passing gingerly through three stations, we came to the door – three of us – as Chechu had proprietory control over one of the doors right through – to wave at Ranga, at his favourite RF spot. As luck would have it for us – not for Ranga, we came to a dead halt at Duvvada at 1208. Not so good for Ranga –he had to run all the way for about 100 mts and reached us only when he was out of breath. Neatly turned out in a wonderful Naamam – the Iyengar’s trademark, it happened to be his birthday as we later learned. We left DVD at 1219, and made it through Gopalpatnam cabin at 1235 and arrived VSKP 1250, 10 mts ahead of schedule.

This is where VSP asked us in true style of an advertisement : Are you ready for the magic? Yes, the Retiring room was allotted to us, later we also had three dorm beds, freshened up, had a great lunch at Tailasila Hotel and were ready to leave for Duvvada – to wish Ranga personally. VSP’s magic deserted him-the 1705 Passenger left only at 1805. We got off into DVD, crossed over into the town in the WDM2 that belongs to Ranga’s father – a million thanks are due to him for ensuring that we were not stuck up anywhere – even in by our standards remote Jeypore or Koraput – Bharath and Ranga are dealing with that part elsewhere. Wonderful snacks that actually ended up as dinner and a darshan at a temple nearby and we came back to VSKP to rest ourselves for the night.

PVS Praveen landed at the earthly hour of around 0330, rested for a while, and it was time for us to get up and leave for JYP.

The return by Coromandel was a disaster, considering some facts. The coach was a rundown 908280 – the cushion had sagged so much into the berths, that the wooden frame was actually pinching our bottoms. Coro arrived 0400 – 20 mts ahead, and left 0446, six mts late. We hit RJY 0746and left 0750, passing Bharath at Annavaram in the East Coast Express.

The worst comment is for the Pantry Car. I had thought that the Pantry was good –given the inputs I had about Gitanjali’s PC. I now regret the thought. The cutlets were half cooked, the omelettes were worse, the bread dry and crusty. The waiters were nasty to say the least – they would just plonk themselves on any available seat for 10 mts or so and then head back to the PC. At least on three trips during the day I saw a waiter sitting in our S4, and not going on inspite of having stock. Orders for lunch were taken before RJY – a terse shout “Lunch order”. Any enquiry was met with no answer or with a stare. I could not decide for the others and asked the waiter for minute. “Nahi hoga – agar order nahi diya lunch nahi milega”, so he said and walked off. I have never seen a man like this in my life. The joke was that all veg meals packets were sold as “Extra Veg Lunch”. Wonder why they behaved so badly if you could have at least a hundred meals to sell for those who haven’t booked them L

The real tragedy of the trip was the BZA stop. We were on line for at least a 30 minute entry into BZA. But late clearances on the last four stations meant that we were stopping at Gannavaram, Mustabada and Gundala for at least three to four minutes before being started. This meant that some slowcoach was ahead of us, and the controller did not clear us for passage. I later learnt from the guard that the Kakinada Manmad Exp was the culprit. The start at Gundala came to a halt at the Vijayawada North Cabin where the line to Gudivada joins us. We halted there for 20 mts to allow the Kakinada – somewhere Pass to enter into BZA ahead of us. Then at the home signal of BZA, we had a halt of another 10mts. All this meant that we hit BZA only at around 1100, instead of the scheduled 1020. I am well aware of the RRI cabin pressure, the cross movements that hold up trains, the controllers’ capers sometimes – but this one took the cake – 1 hr 17mts for the last 24 kms – no wonder even this slack seems to be tiny. Bharath also seemed to reach us 5 mts later than us on his East Coast Express.

The lunch we packed at BZA from the private caterer was very good – only they had no spoons. We were given ice cream spoons for biryanis and full mealsJ. The evening snack of Samosa with some kind of a cross between a sauce, chutney and imli water deserved its rightful place – the refuse bin. The earlier they hand this over to a contractor of the stature of at least the 2163/64 the better. We’d be better off packing our meals either from home or from reputed restaurants before we leave. Leaving BZA at 1120, we eventually arrived at MAS at 1800 hrs – having not lost further time. We saw a few people hauled up by the RPF for smoking – and we decided to tuck in our tails and remain silent. In any case, we had no stock of sticks. On the way we espied a variety of locos – a couple of G9s and many Barbie dolls.

Out at MAS, we walked out of the rear end the Wall Tax Road Parcel Office end- just to avoid the long walk to the front of the rake. This is why we did not note the loco number that hauled us from VSKP. It did a great job, and would have been lucky to get us in time – the BZA guys screwed us so hard, that the loco was destined to its fate. We were off to a tea shop for a good tea, and a well deserved cigarette. I took an auto home and headed off to wash the grime and dust off myself. Doctor dropped off Karthik and Chechu at convenient spots and headed home.

BTW, here are some facts about VSKP, thanks fully to Ranganath, the guardian angel at Duvvada South Cabin. I have done only a cut and paste job on this:

1. VSKP is the craziest station in IR. It carries the word Junction without actually being one!

2. All movements happen on one side of the station: the north end, including arrivals, departures, loco arrival from Diesel and Electric sheds and trip sheds, shunting of rakes and swithcing of tracks by locos. Even RRI could not fully automate the entry and egress and trains still have to stop at home signal for clearance. Unlike other terminii, this pseudo terminus has no additional slow lines or dedicated loco and rake yard lines. It is the only station at which all trains (barring the few new bypassing ones) have to reuse the same stretch for about 6 Km for arrival and departure.

3. Duvvada also is a crazy station where the station building is islanded between two sets of tracks. An overbridge meant for pedestrians and also two and three wheelers connects the station building to the main road.

4. VSKP had loco sheds for all three types of traction operating at the same time upto a few years ago. Electric Loco shed came up earlier than Diesel Loco Shed!

5. VSKP has the largest ELS with more than 200 locos and also one of the largest DLS with 110 locos. Its combined loco might is more than 300. It is the only home of the WAG 6 locos.

6. VSKP had the unique distinction of having an electric loco shed without one km of trunk line electrification. KK Line was the only dedicated electric freight corridor in India for many years. Before electrification of the trunk section, Kirandul passenger always departed with a dead WAG 5 behind a WDM2a. The WAG 5 was energised at Kothavalasa where ther diesel loco disengaged.

7. VSKP has 4 major goods yards and apart from a marshall yard: Port, HPCL, KK Line and Vizag Steel have their own big yards.

8. VSKP is a blue chip freight haven with a major Steel Plant, a major Power Plant, a huge oil Refinery, and a vibrant seaport and other industries. It is a haven of all types of Wagons from BOBYN to the elusive BTAP Alumina tankers.

9. Thanks to its industries, VSKP area has the largest concentration of WDS6 shunters. VSKP station, Vizag Port, Vizag Steel and HPCL together hold upto 60 WDS6 shunters. Vizag Steel and Vizag Port have their own loco shed and complete overhaul facilities for all their shunters. They do not depend on the DLS.

10. VSKP area's freight line criss-crossings showcase the freight-centric nature of IR. While the passenger trains have to share the same set of tracks for arrival and departure, Vizag port, Vizag Steel, NTPC and HPCL have their own dedicated freight lines.

11. KK line is a misnomer. It stands for Kothavalasa-Kirandul Line. In real, Kothavalasa is not the end or beginning. KK line is one of the most self indulging and"selfish" rail corridors in the country. The real KK line starts from Kirandul and runs all the way with dedicated tracks and wiring all the way till the Vizag port where it ends in what is called an Exchange Yard. This is a multiple line yard where all electric locos disengage and the rakes are taken into the ore handling complex by the WDS 6 shunters of Vizag port. The lines continue after the Ore Handling Complex into a wide yard ending by the waterline. this yard is called the Empties Yard where the wagons emptied of iron ore roll down to be reconstituted and returned to the mines of Bastar.

12. Gopalpatnam has an automated control cabin but no station exists here.

13. Simhachalam North is the name of a station just outside VSKP. It has two cabins named Simhachalam North North cabin and Simhachalam North South Cabin. Simhachalam North, Gopalapatnam and Duvvada form a triangle of one of the most confusing array of crisscrossing frieght lines. KK line despite being 'self indulgent' manages to connect to each of these, including towards VSKP, towards VSKP marshall Yard, to the port, its own yard, to Chennai line, to Howrah line and finally to vizag Steel Plant.

14. Vizag port had its own NG steam railway until 1987.

15. Waltair Division has another distinction : Some years ago, it hosted a steam hauled NG train running on the plains (Parlakhimidi Light Railway from Naupada to Gunupur) and at ther same time electric headed broad gauge trains running into the ghats upto 1000 metres above sea level.

16. Waltair also has the distinction of having two ghat railways: the KK Line and the KR line. that together have 90 tunnels (KK Line: 52 and KR Line: 38)

17. The southernmost point of ECoR is not Duvvada as the board outside Duvvada proclaims. Geogrqaphically, it is the NTPC Simhadri further south that is the southernmost tip of ECor. The dedicated line to NTPC and the SCR line from Duvvada run parallel for a few kilometers.


It was a great trip, and my first in a group exclusively for railfanning. Looking forward to the next trip whenever it happens.

Thanks for the reading.

5 Comments:

Blogger Apurva said...

Excellent report. What is this KR in the point number 16 ? Is there another line called as KR apart from the Konkan Railways ?

Apurva

12:40  
Blogger Sridhar Joshi said...

Apu - The Koraput-Rayagada Line is often referred to as the KR in these parts of the world. So we have two KRs in India - one straddling the Western Ghats and the other the Eastern. Such great coincidence :-)

11:23  
Blogger what_ever said...

Nice one here. Looking forward for more..

- Aloke -

15:43  
Blogger Krishnakumar said...

Great report. Looking forward to the full trip report

12:06  
Blogger kannanmdu said...

Hi Joshi

Excellent trip report. I wish I could have accompanied you guys. But my new job doesn't allow me to stay in chennai. I am planning to have a change soon. Because long stay away from family detoriates my mind and body as well. Thats why i could not participate actively in MAS2007 also. Any way very nice trip report and hope to join you guys in the next trip.

23:54  

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