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Of Trains

September 23, 2011

It seems the Tirupati-Bhubaneshwar-Varanasi special train of the 7th September went the wrong way. The train reached Vijayawada at 8:30 in the morning on the 8th and was sent to Kazipet by the railway staff instead of Visakhapatnam.  It was then sent back to Vijayawada, to continue its journey on the correct route. It sounds funny as I was not on the train and not in need of reaching the destination in time!

Well, well. Newer technology does not seem to have helped.

Time was when they used to shout over humming telephone lines and had hefty levers to set, and oil lamps or semaphore signals to maintain and watch for.

I had always been an admirer of the railways in the way they managed the vast network without fuss about queuing theory and little more than the telegraph wire and tokens. The tokens were balls of brass secured in leather pouches attached to bamboo hoops that were tossed on to platforms where the train did not stop. The next token in its bamboo frame would be deftly caught by the driver, fireman or his assistant from someone standing on the platform, holding it high. Where the train stopped, I believe the tokens were exchanged in a more civil manner; one never saw it.

Yeah, the fireman. Time was when trains had steam engines that chugged their way, and had huge fires in their bellies that needed to be tended to.  The whistle was music to my ears, and the journey so exhilarating despite the chunks of coal that blew in through the windows and lodged in my eyes, ears and hair. As a child I loved to get down from the coach and watch the engine being  changed frequently at wayside stations on long journeys, walking up to the end of the train to see workers set up the coupling as the new engine backed on to the rake.

The last I was on a steam engine-d train was, I think, about seventeen years ago on the Meenakshi Express from Secunderabad to Jaipur. The climb up the Malwa plateau near Mhow was a challenge for the two engines, one pushing from the back and the other pulling from the front, and we sometimes rolled back, lurched forward violently, etc. I don’t know whether that is the usual way it works, or the engines or the drivers were inadequate or inexpert on that occasion.

I also was on a train once that retraced its journey back to Pune from Hotgi, as the path of the Mumbai – Chennai train was blocked by a huge de-railment of a goods train. We had waited at Hotgi for nearly three hours before the operating staff decided it was better to reroute us. We went back to Pune, then via Kolhapur, Londa and Hospet, rejoined our route at Guntakal. We were exactly 24 hours late when we reached Guntakal. Right time, wrong day. I was not in any particular hurry and was in a mood to enjoy the stretched journey through a route I had not seen till then. But those who had business to attend to were sore.


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  1. Induchoodan permalink

    I think the station Master was lost in his train of thought.

  2. Thangam S Narayanan permalink

    Well-written and evokes nostalgia for the old steam engines. Keep it up!

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