Exploring the North Bengal on tracks: Part 1

Railfanning trips are always special and memorable for guys like me. Additionally, traveling with a fellow railfan even adds more fuels up to the excitement. Although the planning of the trip was done in a short notice, the preparations on reservation of our trains and booking of retiring room was done by my friend ensuring a smooth and comfortable journey.

Before I proceed with the details of the trip, I would like to thank my friend and railfan Pramit Mitra for the preparation of the entire trip and accompanying me to have a great time for the exciting, yet small 2- day railfanning trip.

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It was on the 26th of June’15, the day we planned for commencing this wonderful journey to North Bengal. As Pramit, who booked the ticket chose to travel in his very favorite 12343 Sealdah-New Jalpaiguri Darjeeling Mail all the way to New Jalpaiguri (our base destination).

As per our plan, I was supposed to reach Sealdah station, which is about 10-12 kms away from my place by 9pm, and to wait there for his arrival from his office in Salt Lake at around 9.15pm. I duly had to get the dinner prepared from my house, as a matter of fact, that I prefer homemade food over train food. Soon, I left home at about 8pm in the evening, took a metro from Tollygunge to M.G.Road and from there, I took an auto all the way to reach Sealdah Market. When I reached the station, it was 8.55pm on the giant clock in the station showed. Soon, I called up Pramit to know his whereabouts, and came to know that he has boarded an EMU to Sealdah and will be at the destination in about 10 minutes. I slowly walked towards platform number 9 and waited for his arrival. In the meantime, I saw a HWH based WAP-4 resting in PF-9A with 12988/87 Ajmer-Sealdah-Ajmer Express. As per the giant digital indicator, the train came about 3 hours behind the schedule (a result of getting screwed in the NCR region route).

Just about then, Pramit called me up and said his EMU was heading towards PF-8, and no sooner he appeared pushing and struggling to walk free from a procession of crowd, which can be seen at Sealdah station in any point of time, all through the day. Finally, we headed towards PF-9B, where our train to North Bengal was scheduled to get shunted. In the meantime, we inside the empty coach of the soon-to-leave, 12987 SDAH-AII Express.

Sealdah station basically caters to trains predominantly in the suburban sectors while catering to some express trains to the National Capital and to few important North East cities. Thus, most of the time, a person in Kolkata traveling to North Bengal will find himself aboard a train from Sealdah station. It was around 9.35pm when we heard a chugging of a typical shunter. We anticipated it to be ours and we were correct in the prediction as we saw a rain drenched train entering the platform with all but having 23 new coaches of the total capacity of 24 coach. As it entered, we saw the typical Sealdah Division managed train boards having a beautiful design and the arched font Bengali name “Darjeeling Mail” embedded on it. We were both happy to see a 2015 made brand new coach to our delight. Our coach was S9, was exactly the 12th of the 24 -coach train.

Like in any trip, the first job of a railfan usually is to check out the loco link of the train, and we weren’t any exception in doing the same. We walked all the way to the end of the train, appreciating the cleanliness of the coaches and finally we came near the loco and adding merry to the delight was none other than the 2nd Passenger EMD locomotive imported from General Motors Corporation, the Indian version of GT 46PAC or WDP-4, having road number #20001!

Seeing an EMD loco grunting and cranking is an ultimate experience and a feeling that gives goose bumps to many of its enthusiasts. The typical Long hood Forward view with horizontal head lamps and 16 cylinders diesel engine grunting is a whole together experience only can be felt while standing close to it.

The loco is homed in NFR’s very own Siliguri Diesel Locomotive Shed. Darjeeling Mail is one of those few trains touching Kolkata and nearby vicinities with regular passenger EMD loco links. Other trains such as Saraighat, Shatabdi, Kolkata-Dibrugarh SF & once upon a time with Himgiri Express gets a passenger EMD locomotive.

Soon, we came and sat down in our reserved berths of S-9 coach, obtained a railfan’s favorite Side Upper and Side Lower berths. Sharp at 22.05pm, we heard the loud flattering EMD honk and could understand the notching up of the loco even when it was raining like hell. Thus, our monsoon trip to North Bengal was officially on tracks.

On the other side of the platform, I saw a certain Burdwan homed WDM-3A loco with Malda Town bound Gour Express, waiting for its starter at 22.15pm. Slowly, yet steadily after changing track points at SDAH outer, the LP seemed to have notched up further and steadily our train crossed Narkeldanga T.S and skipped Bidhan Nagar Road station. Once again, it was the time for one more slowdown at the ever busy Dum Dum Junction. This is the station, which is regarded as one of the most important junctions of Sealdah Division, and trains plying towards Burdwan via Chord route will need to see a point change or a bifurcation. So after bifurcating from the main line, the 15km run between Dum Dum jn to Dankuni Jn was pretty much filled with numerous slowdowns. Finally, we reached Dankuni Jn.  At about 22.45pm, and from this point, the through lines from Howrah side meets the Sealdah lines and once again trains from Sealdah will require the changing of tracks to join the through lines from Howrah. Thus, we entered the high speed corridor of the route with triple lines till Saktigarh or the Howrah-Burdwan Chord section is officially where we were.

As a triple line high speed section fit for 130kmph as its maximum speed, though ours won’t go beyond 110kmph as for ours was conventional ICF coach possessing train. Still 110kmph in ICF is an awesome feeling if a train maintains that consistently. Usually, the chord section is known for having good speedy and uninterrupted run, which wasn’t exactly how we presumed. Thanks to some track maintenance issues, the 80km between Dankuni-Burdwan was an utter disappointment, where we had to face regular slowdowns which at the end created a delay of about 10 minutes on Burdwan arrival.

Around 23.50pm, this was about 10 minutes late, our train departed from platform no. 1 of Burdwan, and we were put on the 110kmph line of this Quadruple section. For those who don’t know about the quadruple section, this begins from Saktigarh (10 km before Burdwan) and runs upto Sitarampur (9 km further ahead from Asansol). This is one of the most important stretches of Eastern Railways as this section traverses through Bengal’s industrial belts and handles a great traffic. Of the 4 lines two of them are fit for 130kmph and two of them for 110kmph.

Coming back to the story, we were on the 110kmph line as this will help in the bifurcation from Khana Jn, or the point where our train will diverge towards Sahibganj Loop. Meanwhile, we did see the crossing of 12510 Guwahati-Bangalore Express with WDM-3A of Howrah shed. Just as we were crossing the famous Burdwan EMU yard, we saw the fast or the 130kmph line getting a signal as well, which meant a possible overtake was imminent. As per our predication and tracking, it was the Patna bound 22213 Duronto from Shalimar with Santragachi homed WAP-4 loco, did hold the cards and overtook us as we both were traveling almost at same speed till a point when it finally did speed up and we slowed down and saw the complete thrashing from the fast line. The pics are given below:

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Soon, we crossed Khana Jn at about 00.08am, and switched towards Sahibganj loop line. The next halt was Bolpur Shantiniketan, which came around 00.35 am. Meanwhile, after departing Bolpur, our train was performing decently till it crossed Rampurhat at about 1.35 am and saw the crossing of Saraighat Express towards Howrah. After Rampurhat, owing to poor track condition at Sahibganj loop, our train literally crawled all the way to New Farakka.

Meanwhile, Pramit and I thought of resting for a while and just wake up before the train would cross the longest bridge of the entire journey, The Farakka Barrage. We lay down near Rampurhat and when we woke momentarily, I saw the train crawling near a place called Tildanga (penultimate station before New Farraka Jn). The time was about 3.20 am and from quite a distance, we saw the magnificent NTPC power plant of Farakka illuminated to the core and it looked amazingly splendid from the train.

Finally, we reached New Farakka and faced yet another unscheduled halt at platform number 2. The time was 3.35am and as per the calculations, it took around 3 hours to reach a distance of about 87 kms of double line track. Meanwhile, from the other side of this junction, I heard a chugging and saw a train, which has departed Sealdah almost 2 hours before ours and arrived at New Farakka platform number 3 for its scheduled halt, it was 13163 Sealdah-Saharsa Hatey Bazarey Express.

Hatey Bazarey Express is one of the most recognized daily crawlers from Sealdah connecting North East Bihar with Kolkata, and this takes the main line route and goes via Naihati-Bandel-Katwa-Azimganj-New Farakka route. This is predominantly a single line route and again has a lower track speed although the distance via this route is marginally more than Sahibganj Loop. This route is popularly called as the BAK Loop.

Concurrently, after waiting for 5 minutes, we got our starter and slowly in the middle of the dead night, the peace breaking cranking and grunting of the EMD loco charged towards the 2,240 meter long Farakka barrage. The road bridge is parallel to the rail bridge and this happens to be one of the most important North-South Bengal juncture points. We could see the street lights reflecting in the water body which resembled a sea from the point we were observing. Slowly, we crossed the bridge and entered Malda district.

One will sense traveling to North Bengal, if he hears frequent EMD honks and Alcos all through the night. We closed at Malda Town at about 4.30 am on Pf 1, which is around 15 minutes behind the schedule. We saw the old semaphore signals in a heap at Malda Town outer and saw the departure of Howrah bound Intercity Express from the next platform with Howrah WDM-3A. Our train departed at about 4.40am, and slowly after crossing the coaching depot of Malda Town, our train officially did enter the zone of North East Frontier Railways.

At this point of time, I once again went to sleep and did tell Pramit to keep a track till we close Barsoi Jn. Pramit kept his word and woke me up in time, and both of us went to the door and saw the magnificent Barsoi Curve, which is regarded as one of the most popular and largest of curves enroute. By this time, thanks to the up-gradation of the tracks, Malda Town-New Jalpaiguri route today is fit for 110kmph and has minimum speed restriction in the total 236km route. Unlike the Howrah Burdwan Chord route, this didn’t disappoint us and we were cruising close to the MPS most of the time.

We expected a crossing with Shatabdi, and the clock ticked 7.15 am and like a bolt, we spotted 12042 NJP-HWH Shatabdi with WDP-4 fired all the cylinder past us. Post Dalkhola, our train again halted just before Kanki. At that time, I hopped out of the train and engaged in some photography session with Pramit and in the meantime, we also took the snap of our train. The pictures are given below:

Once again, our train proceeded towards its next halt at Kishanganj, the only Bihar station in the whole route. Thanks to further more slowdowns, we reached Kishanganj at about 7.25am. Just a 2 minutes halt ensured we departed Kishanganj and expected the last 87km leg of the journey to be somehow convincing. Just after a train leaves Kishanganj, one can see the NH-32 follow parallel along with the railway lines and about 2 kms from the station, we entered West Bengal once again.

Soon we crossed Lalgarh bound Awadh Assam Express with WDP-4 and one more slow down followed near Dhumdangi. Now this location is popular geographically as it is located exactly on the Chicken’s Neck Corridor (a corridor that connects the North East part of the country to the mainland. On the East, around 5kms from the station, a person will find himself in Bangladesh, and on the Northwest about 20kms, he will find himself in Nepal. The narrow strip of Indian Mainland is called as Siliguri Corridor or Chicken’s neck Corridor.

Soon, the train crawled all the way and halted at Rangapani station, which has the Numaligarh Refineries on its sidelines. We saw the typical North Bengal climate looming the skies, beautiful cloudy monsoon clouds over the industry gave us a hope on how beautiful it would be on deep countryside.

Just then, we saw a Katni WDG-3A light and a Siliguri WDG-4 lying on the sidelines and numerous BTPN (tanker) rakes in the sidelines as well. On the other side, we saw train halted in the loop line and most likely it was a Special train running till Guwahati from Pune was halted before we came to the scene.

At that moment, on the opposite direction, I saw a train chugging with an alco and running with a good pace, I switched on my camera and began recording. When it closed on, it was a WDG-3A from Andal shed hauling a passenger train and a dead EMD sandwiched in the middle. When it came close, it came to my sheer surprise as the dead EMD WDP-4D was from Gooty Shed of SCR!

This is an offlink considering many North East railfans, as they say that locomotives from South India are a rarity to spot. Soon after the crossing, the special from Pune was the first to depart, and already it was around 8.20am and already we were late 30 minutes. Soon at about 8.35am, we obtained the starter and it was barely 7 kms away from the final destination. We crossed the Mahananda Bridge and saw the crossing with Kanchanjungha Express towards Sealdah with a WDM-3A. Soon when we were in a touching distance from NJP, we negotiated this beautiful curve (pic shared below)

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Thus, we finally entered NJP at around 8.55 am with a delay of 55 minutes.

Stay Tuned on The Track Walk, for the next part where I will share the offboard train spotting session of the day!

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9 thoughts on “Exploring the North Bengal on tracks: Part 1

  1. Excellently put forward, bringing back all those memories. Post Sealdah, we had to keep the window open mostly because of the rain. Remember that uncle who asked us about 12321?
    Next day, we managed to capture quite a few Trains.
    Thanks for the write-up!

    Like

    1. Very Nice to hear this 🙂
      Yes, nostalgia prevails if you miss something 🙂
      Stay tuned for the remainder of this illustrious tour story, which will be published shortly 🙂

      Thank You Very Much Once Again 🙂 🙂

      Like

  2. Excellent trip report, full of information about the Farakka Barrage, old semaphores at MDT, magnificent Borsoi curve, about Kishanganj, Dhumdangi and Rangapani, all these make a rail fan to take this journey, I have noted all in my dairy, just in case I take on this journey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank You Very Much 🙂
      Sure you can try out, its lovely and rest assured, you will have a very good time traveling to North Bengal for both trainspotting and touring purposes as well 🙂

      Stay tuned for the third part 🙂

      Like

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