I stumbled home tired after having survived an extremely hot afternoon out in the mercy of harsh urban environs.

"Ma, I'm taking a rather long winded route to college tomorrow. Plan to get back in class a little late, around fifteen mins or so. But shall have to cover around 130 kilometers instead of the usual 13 odd, so heading out early in the morning.. will that be fine?"

Fortunately or not, the upper generation isn't very freehanded with the phrase WTF. I had to explain: The plan was this - take the morning Janshatabdi up sixty five kilometers to Kollam and return by the Malabar express just in time for the morning hour on Virtual Instrumentation. (Attendance shortages were a pain, and people had to be pleased). The reason? Now this was tough, and we have to rewind a bit.

The previous day afternoon was mostly free, and the old lemon was being bothered by something.. Wanting to head off somewhere alone, I just took off from class silently, walked around for a while and decided to take a detour on the way home. Not having fully decided what to occupy myself in the evening, I boarded a different bus and turned things over. Apparently a diesel locomotive new to these parts had arrived for giving the crew around Trivandrum some training with the thing, and I had not seen it up close in its new habitat yet. I got off near the station with the intention in mind, and lo and behold - there, standing in the sidings in the loco yard, flaunting its sturdy metal body in the afternoon sun, was Mr WDP4B. The most powerful diesel locomotive in the country as of yet, setting foot for the first time within the state. The original object of my pursuit, the WDG4, was two diesels further behind this beast - both of them being close cousins of each other.

So it was a double treat. I texted a few folks and confirmed that the damn thing had not been spotted here anytime earlier this week. I moved along the wall that overlooks the station and tried to get a closer look at the beast. Dodging the curious looks a male from Male was giving me (I later found out that he was, as are most people, interested in getting to the station rather than in what was being parked there), I managed to put my mobile camera to good use.

I scrambled into the station, and after a bit of talking to some nice loco pilots and pointsmen in the yard there, found out to my be-still-my-heart-ness, that the loco was in charge of the morning Janshatabdi express to Calicut the very next day. It was then that I hitched up the plan. Called up a fellow railfan Akshay, and after getting over the bewilderment of the news, he said he was game, and decided to buy tickets for both of us. As luck would have it, my very old Powershot A410 died on me refusing to open its shutter that evening, and hence it was a borrowed cam that was going to be used the following day.

The morning of the Ides of March saw a rather nervous me walking down the foot overbridge towards platform-1 of TVC, fervently praying that it was indeed the WDP4B #40063 that was assigned to the Janshatabdi that morning. I would've ended up being the laughing stock of a lot of people I knew if otherwise. Halfway down the walkway I heard the familiar whistle coupled with the jet-turbinish whine and I knew everything was in place. The WDP4B (affectionately called the Dippy in railfan circles) was at the business end of the train and we were good.

And there it was. The 4500-horsepower beast, with the massive engine inside so nicely packaged that all it produced at idle was a loud whine and a slightly shrill whistle from its turbo-supercharger. I loitered around the loco while I waited for Akshay to turn up. In the few minutes that followed, I chatted up the loco pilot and was invited inside. Boy. The dim lighting inside the cab showed a not-very nicely done workmanship on the control stand, and the entire ground was shaking a bit. Quite a a desi experience compared to the interiors of this loco's earlier cousins, imported from General Motors way back in 2004 or so. After mumbling thanks and suggesting there would be two crazy guys leaning out the first coach for a while, I stepped off the powerhouse. A lot of officialdom turned up later and took up almost all the little room there was in the cab. It was the first run of the train with this locomotive, and the entire crew was a tad anxious about things. We later found out that there were six loco pilots inside, each trying his hand starting the loco from different stations enroute. Needless to say, a lot of people were excited around the head of the train, while the regular travelling junta inhabited their respective seats inside their coaches oblivious to everything.

At 6 o'clock the collective prayers of a few individuals was followed by the loud blare that is the dippy's horn. The sound of this loco as it accelerates is different from the chug-chug that people usually associate with diesel locomotives around the place. This one sports a very aircraft like whine, coupled with a not-easily-missed throbbing bass sound that is just music to one's ears. Akshay and I observed the train start off with that noise we all love, walked along for a few seconds and took our places right at the door as the train slowly covered the points of TVC yard. It slowly ambled on, with the throttle in notch-1 (position), and to our dismay, the engine went back to idle rpm after a few minutes of our coach leaving the station. (For those who are wondering, the sound told us).

"Daivame, chathicho?" we exclaimed as the turbo whistle died down and the train slowed down. Moments later came the reply. Almost as if wanting to make up for that little misleading behaviour, the gentleman at the controls pulled back on the throttle lever and the engine responded with that literally uplifting sound. A lone morning jogger couldn't help stopping to look on at the train as the pilot took the loco past notch 1, 2, 3 to 4 and 5 all within seconds. The sound of the revving whining diesel filled the air like an aircraft taking off and as if that wasn't enough, the honking mayhem started. Short staccato blasts shattered the morning tranquility and the cold air was mixed with the very warm smoke blowing onto our faces from the exhaust. In short - a treat for all senses.

Those who must've taken more than a cursory look at the photo must have noticed that the driving cab (where the loco pilots sit) was way back at the back end of the loco. This long-hood-leading position worked out to a railfan's advantage (and added to the strain of the ones driving it), thanks to the myriad of curves along the route we were to take. The long hood up front and the oblong projection housing the radiator up at that end made signal spotting on curves rather difficult in that position, from inside the cab. As a result, we were greeted with the sounds of the diesel beast notching down to the engine almost at idle till we ran up to the signal (with occasional long horns in blind curves), and then revving all the way up to full throttle (Notch 8) as we resumed the banter. Clearly, the loco pilots inside the cramped cab were having fun, if not with anything else, with the horn switch. Heads turned everywhere. Inside the first coach, the all permeating sound of the turbo was making it seem as if there was a very hissy and whistling milk-cooker on the boil somewhere nearby.

We halted at Varkala and we scrambled out to get a few shots. The cab was abuzz with all the people inside, and by the time we returned after clicking a few photos of the train they were quite getting used to the attention from the rather strange breed of college-going chaps. The starter signal had already been given and the crew members exchanged places for the next one to start the train from standstill. And boy the ones near the loco had to cover their ears a bit when the horn sounded.

The ride onwards to Kollam was just as bit of fun as the ride so far, what with the curves and good speeds. Speeds hardly left 90, the maximum permitted in the section, and it was with a bit of hesitation that we got down as we sidled into the mainline platform at Kollam Junction. We posed with the blue and white beast and watched it notch up for its long journey onwards to Calicut.

One of the gentlemen who had come to see the train and its crew off at Kollam happened to be a friendly loco inspector whom we had a long chat with on sensors, loco maintenance, and general IR stuff. A thoroughly fantastic morning having been made, we trundled off in search of a ticket back to Trivandrum and some breakfast. The Malabar Express crowd was thronging the platform as the train pulled in on time behind a sullen looking electric loco. Seats were the priority, and we managed to squeeze our bottoms in a sleeper coach whose rightful inhabitants were already being roused rudely out of their seats by general-ticket-wielding regular travellers. Filling in the masala dosa, which was surprisingly pretty good, I spent the time seated, texting and trying to doze off.

Kazhakuttom arrived, a quiet but rather large station. We got off here, along with many others who were headed for college. The sound of the 40063 was still playing around in my head, stubbornly refusing to quieten down. Boarding a mini bus to college, I found my classmate Sruthi inside and we made it off to class, just in time for the teacher to only register a mild annoyance on seeing us at the door so late.

She did wonder who kept whistling strangely throughout the class though.


കിനാവള്ളി said...

I think the engine is supposed to be attached cab first. See the streamlined facade at that end. Maybe our loco pilots are used to peeking out through the sides that the regular windshield.

Sriram said...

@kinavalli: The same train returned with its loco driven cab forward. Well, in the old days there were turn-tables which could turn the loco around so that it could always be driven in one direction. The diesel locos of today have two control stands in the same cab, facing either end.. and the loco pilots are acquainted with the long hood forward driving anyway.

Life_In_A_MetrO said...


Are there really controls on both sides( LHF/SHF)? Looking at the third picture, it doesn't seem so. Wish you could've shot some inside the cab!

Enjoyed reading this piece.. I'm yet to catch up with any DP's in the malabar region( CAN/TLY)

Sriram said...

@Lifeinametro: What I meant was that there are control stands (with its own set of throttle, reverser, brakes) facing either side of the loco. So at any point of time, the asst LP sits with his back to one and the LP sits facing one. Clear now? :)