May 02, 2017

The Approach to Itwari Station...

Here are two pictures showing the charm of railway heritage.

The approach to Itwari station...

And the station itself...

April 01, 2017

The Punjab Mail at Ludhiana

The following memoir is a work of fiction. 
Persons, places, trading agencies, educational institutions, 
and organizations named here are imaginary 
and have no connection whatsoever 
with actual persons, institutions, 
or government departments in existence 
bearing those names.


Selections from the Memoirs of
Sukhdev Singh,  B.E.,
Late Superintending Engineer,
Public Works Department, 

November 1956

THE DAZZLING SHOW OF exquisite goods on display in the fashionable bazaars have never held any charm for me, except perhaps to buy a few necessaries that are basic to the business of living.

How does it come about that people throng the bazaar dressed in their evening best, and flit from shop to shop, carrying back basketfuls of fancily wrought goods, half of which they might never use throughout the year, is beyond my power of comprehension. I suppose these folks like to stock up on merchandise in competition with their neighbours. It is a universal trait that may be found all over the civilized world.

These then are my views with regard to the acquisition of goods.  But of late, I find a change taking place within me. There is one object here in the marketplace which has cast a spell over me. I have often halted beside the New India Radio & Gramophone Company on my way to Harminder’s home. Each time I am here, a sweet melody may be heard floating out of the shop, a melody that is both soothing and pleasurable, mostly film numbers, but at other times English tunes.

The gramophone shop has an interesting assortment of goods. There are record players and stacks of records ; then there are radio sets on sale (Harpreet loves to listen to Radio Ceylon) ; and there are microphones and tape recorders and all the associated circuitry. As an added attraction, the shop also stocks on prismatic binoculars, slide projectors and magnifying glasses.

I wish I could get a record player for Harpreet, but a better idea would be to get her a radio set, so that they can tune in to their favourite stations. The girl often makes her way to her friend’s home a few blocks away, her frame swaying awkwardly with every step she takes, to sit by the radio and listen to Radio Ceylon. Here at the gramophone shop the latest British made Pye radio sets are on sale, but each set costs no less than Rs 300, and you need a license besides to own a radio receiver.  

These were my musings as I seated Biji and Harpreet in a III Class Sleeper carriage of 6 Down Mail. But this is no time to think about music and radio sets and licenses. I am here at the railway station with Harpreet and her mother, and after a wait of nearly an hour in the Waiting Room, the train has steamed in. The Punjab Mail standing at the platform arouses a sense of urgency ; there is no telling when the locomotive at the head of the train will commence to exert its tractive pull at the drop of the signal. There is the unmistakable feeling that an event of the first magnitude is about to take place, and event that will irreversibly change the destiny of those seated meekly within the train.  The yellow board on the carriage side is tilted over to one side; it reads ‘Howrah—Amritsar—Howrah’.  Another carriage down the train declares its destination to be Dehradun. This, I am told, is a through carriage that will be detached when the train pulls into Laksar in the dead of the night. I think I must study the timetable; this is the place that will furnish me full partculars of through carriages on this train.

Having settled Biji and Harpreet, I bid them farewell and hurriedly moved up the platform hoping to catch a view of the locomotive as it drew out with the train. I stumbled along, dodging handcarts laden with luggage and passengers scurrying to and fro. I reached the end of the platform canopy—oh dear, there were still four more carriages to go, out under the night sky—when the engine gives out a deep sonorous whistle, like a ship's siren. I had hoped to catch a glimpse of the driver opening his regulator but missed the event. With a great roar, those mighty cylinders let out plumes of steam setting those steel rods into motion. There were three men in charge, active in the brightly lit cab. One blast, then another, WHOOOF—WHOOF—WHOOF , and the locomotive slowly began to move out with the train. I glanced at the yard ahead where a semaphore meekly pointed the way down shining a feeble green light towards us. “Gentlemen, all is clear, you are authorized to proceed…”  it seemed to say.

The rest of today's evening was uneventful. As the train pulled out, I made my way to the station restaurant for a vegetarian meal. Once out of the building I turned, as I often do, to glance at this great railway junction. Ludhiana railway station. A cold mist has descended on the night; the concourse feebly lit with incandescent lamps; tongas wait in uncertainty for passengers emerging from the main portico.

The main line that sails into this great centre comes from Amritsar and Pathankot further up north, moving down in a south-easterly direction to Ambala, Saharanpur and Delhi. A line leads to Ferozepur, while another branches off to Hisar down south. The town itself is home to a large number of private industries manufacturing blankets and woolen garments. The residents of this province are an industrious race. There is hardly a lane of the old city where you will not come upon signs of manufacturing progress. Every by-lane has its share of power looms, their shuttles busily clicking away at all odd hours of the day.
Continued below... 

March 31, 2017

The Sikh on Platform No. 4

The winter here is harsh, as indeed it is over the whole of north western India. You dip your hands in water and find it is nearly freezing cold. There is a delicious feeling as you step out into the open, when the gentle, orange rays of the sun kiss you with a warmth that is so inviting. But none of this seems to trouble Satpal. As he bends over to wash himself at the tap, there is no sign of a grimace on his face. He cups his hand, splashes water vigorously on his face, then looks up at me with piercing eyes. His hair is tied up into a knot on his head, for he has left his turban near his bundle a little way off.

I stroll over to the end of the platform where the sikh joins me shortly. The Express from Pathankot pulls in with a big noise and grinds to a halt. Passengers begin to pour out but Satpal seems unconcerned. He brushes his hair and does up his turban. Then he begins to arrange his little bundle. Beside him is a girl, aged about ten. She looks up at me and smiles engagingly. She knows I have brought along something for her. The girl is such a pet, I can't help getting along a tiny gift of some sort whenever I drop into the station. Last week I got for her a pink frock with a yellow border, but Satpal won’t let her wear it. He says if Amrita wears good clothes no one is likely to give her alms...  His argument was a perfectly valid one, so I didn’t argue. Today it is a packet of cream biscuits for the girl. I know the girl likes biscuits. All children do.

Satpal and his girl are one of the oldest residents of this station. The man has been around for over fifty years. 'Business' is slack with the morning passenger, but whenever a passing train calls at the station during the day, Satpal and his girl cross tracks to reach the platform. Their equipment is meagre, and consists of only two dull looking aluminium bowls. These bowls are their life.

"I have been here ever since I was a boy," recalls the sikh. The station staff all know him, and others of his kind, but no one seems to care. Most of their earnings come from passengers peering through carriage windows finding an old man and his girl alongside looking up expectantly.

"I used to know Munroe Saab," Satpal once told me. "He was Station Master, and a thoroughly good man. He was often on his rounds and whenever he came upon me, he would fish out a naya paisa or two for me."

Satpal's girl has already begun to munch at the cream biscuits I got along for her. She takes a bite at one and looks out happily into the distance. Far away in the morning haze where the tracks mesh with each other, a signal dropped in a gantry. That would be another train in a short while from now. People arrive at this junction from all over the country in hoardes--from Delhi, from Howrah, from Madras. The station is a great center of commerce, of activity and movement. The little girl and her father live among these trains as do so many others of their class. For them movement rarely means anything more than crossing tracks to make their way to a more populous platform.
Continued below...

March 25, 2017

I Make Acquaintance with Mr Lal

That steam is raised in the boiler of a locomotive by the combustion of coal, whence it passes into the cylinders to do its work I knew from my boyhood days. Being a student of science I was acquainted one degree further with the principle of the piston valve whose job it is to admit steam alternately on each side of the piston as it moves within the cylinder.  Be that as it may, a close look at a locomotive at work always gives rise to an uneasy feeling, an overwhelming sense of ignorance of the inner working of the fire breathing creature Stephenson gave to the world.

Today was a remarkable day for I have quite unexpectedly received a most interesting tutorial in steam locomotive operation from Mr Lal, the shunting engine driver. After a fruitless search for an absorbing book at the Wheeler’s bookstall, I proceeded to Platform No 4 which is my usual hangout when at the station. The object that held my attention today was a tank loco, Class WM 2-6-4, busy shunting carriages. The engine heaved and puffed and after a labour of nearly half an hour came to a stand a little beyond the platform ramp. The driver got off and strolled into the station presumably for a cup of tea. He was a young man, thirty something with a face that seemed not too severe, so I walked up to him and introduced myself. It is quite possible that he had seen me several times on this side of the station, for not once did he give me a questioning glance.

After social preliminaries were over, I put before him the matter that was on my mind all along. I have often wondered how it comes about that on starting, an engine lets out clouds of steam from the cylinders, and after a while ceases to do so, thereafter expelling the whole volume of steam through the chimney in rhythmic puffs. Why does steam first issue forth from the cylinders, and why the changeover a few moments later?

We had our cups of tea and moved out into the yard where the engine stood. There, as we bent over together, Mr Lal showed me a stem that actuated two valves at the lower edge of the cylinder. “These are known as cylinder drain cocks,” Lal explained looking up at me. “When actuated from the cab, the drain cocks open and let out steam from the cylinder.”

It seems to be all a big fuss but drain cocks on a locomotive serve a vitally important purpose, I was told. When starting from rest, the cylinders of an engine are usually cold, so boiler steam, when admitted, tends to condense into water. The accumulation of water in a locomotive cylinder presents a grave danger, for trapped water can form an obstruction as impregnable as steel to the movement of the piston. Thus to prevent a piston from smashing into a barrier of trapped water, the drain cocks are opened at the start of the run, expelling any water that may have condensed together with the steam as it blows out. After a few minutes of this preliminary, the cocks are shut, the steam being now wholly discharged through the chimney.

And as though to make sure I understood the operation, Mr Lal invited me into the cab. The faceplate of a locomotive boiler has an impressive array of gadgets most of which make no sense to the layman. Lal quickly pulled a lever and began to open the regulator. Great clouds of steam engulf the engine at the front, and we begin to roll out amid a deafening roar.  A short while later Mr Lal deactivates the cylinder drain cocks. Leaning out of the footplate, I found that the discharge of steam had ceased, which was now being expelled in pleasant little puffs from the chimney above.

The demonstration over, Mr Lal actuated a lever. “This ,” he tells me, “is the ejector.” Seeing that I am a young man interested in technical detail he is eager to explain the various parts that go to make up a steam engine.

“The ejector creates the vacuum necessary for operating the train’s brakes,” he tells me. “There are three components of prime importance here,” he emphasized. “The ejector that creates the vacuum, the injector that forces water into the boiler against the pressure of the steam, and the lubricator which supplies a mixture of steam and mineral oil to lubricate the steam chests and cylinders.”

On regular passenger and goods trains the services of a fireman are indispensable, but shunting work seems to be more a relaxed job. A shunting engine working in a passenger yard is rarely required to remain in operation throughout. “Now that we have shunted the Hissar Passenger to the Carriage & Wagon examination line, there is little more to do till noon when I am called upon to shunt a sectional carriage that will be attached to the Deluxe,” he explains.

The shunting engine works only spasmodically and Mr Lal has enough time on hand to shovel coal himself. At 5 O’ clock he signs off and hands over charge to a colleague. Towards evening the engine will back at work shunting in the Ferozepur Passenger and other slow trains bound for nearby districts.
Continued below...

March 24, 2017

The Shed Shunter

The main line from Ludhiana going down to Ambala and Saharanpur leaves the station taking a sweeping turn while it passes under the road overbridge half a kilometer down the station. But if one wishes to visit the locomotive shed, it wont do to take the main line. Each time I visit the shed I stroll down the branch line leading to Jakhal and Hisar.

On my last visit here, I explored the area at the back of the shed where I found a set of tracks stretching away into the distance. A long row of 0-6-0 engines were stabled along the line. A security guard ambled along, and I asked him if these locos were here for repair. Paint had begun to peel off leaving large area covered with rust, the locos were in a dilapidated condition, and my suspicions were confirmed. These locos had put in many years of faithful service a long time ago, and were here to be disposed of as scrap.

They were an interesting lot to study. Old locomotives are quite a bit different from the ones you get to see now. Not only is the smokebox Victorian in appearance, there is no trace of a cylinder on the outside; the tangle of steel rods working in harmony that we now see was absent. The ‘works’ are all concealed within.

I strolled towards the shed foreman’s office where I met Mr Lal and with his help I was able to make a few friends. A locomotive shed is teeming with workmen, all working together to keep the wheels of transport turning. There are loco fitters and greasers, steam men and engine cleaners, locomotive inspectors and shunters. Seeing one is interested in technical detail, many of these men are helpful. But none was as friendly as Harminder the sikh who works as a shunter. Harminder the tall, gaunt man; Harminder who is slow in speech, quick to smile, eager to nod in agreement. I asked him why a shunter is required in a shed and he answered simply : “Because everyone has his own job to do, and not everyone has the time to take an engine from stage to stage.”

Locomotives came here for repairs and this I well understood. That there were ‘stages’ involved in loco repairs was a new thing for me. Seeing the look of enquiry on my face, Harminder offered to take me around. We walked along some distance till we arrived at a place where an engine had newly arrived. It was a huge, bellowing creature, Class XE, standing over a pit and men working on it. The engine was alive and hissing steam and seemed all set to take on the heaviest load, but the fire was in fact at a low ebb, my companion said.

“This,” said Harminder, “is the first stage through which an engine passes. Your XE is standing on the Incoming Examination Pit.” The men were all busy checking each component. Here is a man of some importance making entries in a book. Harminder says he is the driver and he is booking any faults or malfunctioning he may have noticed during the run. Engines come to a shed for general servicing and repair, but before the shed staff can do anything of any use they must know what precisely is the trouble with the machine. Consequently on arrival, a locomotive is first subjected to a close examination by the driver and the Incoming Pit Examining Fitter who enter the results of their observations on a form.

It is extremely important that repairs be booked correctly, and the most experienced fitters are deputed to perform the job. The examining team here is headed by Mr Clemens, an Anglo Indian with balding head and side whiskers. He finished with the bye pass valves, noted down his observations in a diary and turned to me with a look of relief. “She is pretty much the same as before when I last saw her, excepting a few things here and there.” I asked him if the fire would be put out before the loco was taken to shed. “Not necessary,” Clemens said shortly. “We drop the fire only when she is under schedule repairs or if the boiler needs a washout.”

With these words, Mr Clemens began to move away towards the Engine Examiner’s office. He seemed to be a pleasant, easy man. I had had but few words with him, yet it was all so inspiring. Clemens must have worked with engines ever since his boyhood, I thought to myself. This is what gave him that special knack for diagnosing engine trouble with effortless ease.

Harminder now climbs onto the footplate signaling me to follow him. Incoming engine examination accomplished, the loco is ready for the next ‘stage’. My companion gives a few turns to the reversing wheel, setting the machine in reverse gear, opens the regulator, and with a mighty blast the XE begins to back out. The examining pit is left behind and we steam backwards slowly past the shed where I see two streamlined WP engines poking their noses out.  They are comparatively new engines, and the design, I am told, is the result of extensive mechanical and thermodynamic tests performed with a view to develop an all round locomotive suitable for fast mail and express trains. About 300 meters away we grind to a halt beside a large coal dump. Two locos are already on the coal stage being replenished with fuel. Chug-chug-chug goes the steam crane as it busily scoops up coal and with a mighty swing of its arm dumps fuel into the tender of the waiting loco. The machine seems to be tireless in operation.

We get off the footplate, then cross over two rail tracks to sit awhile on a stack of wooden sleepers nearby. The whole area is afire with coal dust. A chai-wallah appears out of nowhere equipped with a tray and cups. Harminder picks up a cup while offering me one. Locomotive work can leave a man tired, and tea offers not only a break but provides time to catch your breath.

Harminder looked at me, and as if reading my thoughts, asked me: “Are you wondering  what is all this about ‘stages’ ?” Although my mind was far from what Harminder was speaking about, I was relieved to see the young sikh in a mood to explain procedure.

A pleasant whiff of engine smoke wafted in and I turned to the sikh with the eagerness of a boy learning a new game. I had thought of locomotive work all along as a hopelessly confusing set of activities devoid of logical connection and order. In truth, the operation of a shed in is accordance with a master plan where each stage is under constant supervision with the object of ensuring that a locomotive receives the best possible maintenance with the least possible expenditure of time and money.

I have been a witness to an engine examination at the pit and had the good fortune of making acquaintance with Clemens, the Incoming Examining Fitter. The next task on hand is to coal the engine for its forthcoming trip, followed by an excursion to the turntable. The sequence of shed operations on a locomotive can be summarized in the following manner:

1.  Incoming Engine Examination
2.  Coaling
3.  Turning
4.  Fire cleaning or de-ashing
5.  Placement in the shed for maintenance
6.  Maintenance and Repairs
7.  Outgoing Pit Examination
8.  Departure to the traffic yard

It should be noted that with regard to items 2 and 3, the order in which these two duties are performed is immaterial ; a locomotive shed may be built so that the coaling stage occurs first followed by the turntable, or vice versa. The position occupied by item 4 is critical however. Not every engine arriving at a shed will have its fire dropped, but if this is done, the engine will have only enough steam to run a short distance ahead. Had the fire-cleaning pit been placed at position 1, then locos whose fire was dropped would not have enough steam to go through the rest of the programme before being placed in the maintenance bays for repair. Fire cleaning and de-ashing pits are therefore so placed as to be the very last stage before the loco makes its way into the bays.

The eight operations listed above form the timetable for each engine arriving at its home shed. It will be seen that item 6 forms the most significant stage in the programme , for the performance of the engine during the run is largely determined by the quality of work done during repairs. It is therefore a constant endeavour of the shed administration to ensure that of the total time a loco remains in the shed, a  large fraction be devoted to running repairs, other activites (like coaling, turning and fire cleaning) which are routine in nature being performed in the least possible time.

How this is accomplished was soon enough made clear. The XE finally replenished with its supply of coal, Harminder handed over charge to his colleague who will in turn shunt the engine to the turntable.

As we stroll around the coal stage, Harminder showed me his ‘Shunter’s Diary’. His duties as a shunter require him only to drive his engine form the Incoming pit to the coal stage. Time is of prime importance here, and besides the class and serial number of the engine he has handled, he also has to note down the time when took over the locomotive, the timing coaling commenced and the time it was accomplished.

Each shunter deputed for a stage maintains a record of timings in the manner above. At the end of the shift, these timings are entered in the Shed Turn Round Register which summarises the time a locomotive is detained at each stage, beginning with incoming examination, coaling, and right through until the moment the loco is out of the shed after repairs. The stage by stage detention is closely scrutinized by the Loco Foreman each day. Should he find that locomotives are being detained at a certain stage beyond the prescribed time, he must investigate the cause behind the delay and take appropriate action.
Continued below...

March 21, 2017

Through the Lanes of Chaura Bazaar

The work of a Despatcher in the D.S.P.’s office calls for but little intelligence or analytical ability. It certainly does not require the kind of rigor in thought and analysis that I drew upon during my course of study at the Punjab Engineering College. All it requires is a willingness to spend long hours at the desk performing simple repetitive tasks.

Seated in a cosy corner of the Superintendent’s office I seldom need to interact with anyone; my only companions are a bottle of glue, pen and inkstand, a tiny weighing scale, a box which is replenished with a supply of postage stamps each week, and a sullen looking register to keep a record of correspondence. The volume of mail handled each day is variable; today I have addressed and affixed stamps to over fifty letters, which to me seems to be an incredible achievement.

I was back home by 5.00 p.m. today. Faced with the prospect of spending a dreary evening by myself, I had a quick shower and a change of clothes and picking up my bicycle, I took to the streets. A twenty minute’s exertion brings me to Chaura bazaar, the main shopping center of the old town. Nothing new here. The crowds are here as always, men, women, cycle rickshaws, fashionable ladies, bicycles trundling along. And the brightly painted signboards :  The Imperial Watch Company...  The New India Radio and Gramophone Company...  Lahore Cloth Merchants ... These and a hundred other names dazzle the casual visitor. The term New India is common enough these days and seems to have taken the country by storm. Now barely ten years of age, India is truly new, and seems to be on the threshold of a new economic revolution.

But I am not here in the marketplace to amuse myself; nor do I have anything to purchase for myself. I am here to call on Harminder and his family. Leaving behind the dazzling show of merchandise I turn into a lane and ride on. Poorly lit and dingy in appearance, this is the old city where tiny double storey homes are set against each other in narrow lanes with open gutters running freely on either side. A glance upwards reveals little galleries with decorative iron railings from which peer womenfolk curious to know what is taking place on the street below. The area is dark, crowded, cheerless, with barely any space between one home and the next. This is where Biji lives with her son and daughter. Biji, the frail old lady with hair white as snow. Biji, the gentle eyed creature mending  clothes under a bare sixty watt bulb.

As the train races across the plains of Punjab, great shimmering fields of wheat meet your eye. A brief halt at a little station, and the train is on the move again. A turn, a rumble over a girder bridge, then again fields, fields, and fields as far as the eye can see. Here and there you will find a tiny home which like a flash of lightning appears momentarily, and disappears forever. It is but a tiny dwelling—the dwelling place of those who toil with their hands. The farmhands are out for work, but ever so often you may spot a little boy or girl standing in the doorway gazing wonderingly at the train as its speeds across the countryside leaving behind a trail of smoke. It is in such a home that Biji grew up. She grew up watching trains from her home out in the open. Who would ever think she would go on to have a son who would work on a locomotive footplate?

Times have changed now. Biji no longer lives in her tiny village near Abohar. Those days are long past. She now lives in a two room tenement in the big city. The wooden staircase creaks as I ascend the steps. These quarters are far more dismal than the place where I myself live. And yet I look forward to meeting the family. I look forward to the warmth and the welcome. I have known the family for over two months now. I know old Biji will be overjoyed to see me today. I know she will make me comfortable on a chair, and fuss over me. She will offer me tea and biscuits as though I were a member of royalty. And when she retires to the kitchen she will send along the young lady to keep company. To chat, to talk over things, to laugh, and play, and sing folk songs.  Harminder himself approves of this. That young Harpreet should spend hours with me. I know the damsel will come to me with bright eyes, to show me a watercolor she has worked on. Or she will bring an exotic bit of cuisine she has made, and is proud to show off. She sits beside me for hours and talks. Talks about her life, her disappointments, her friends in the gully, the game of hop-scotch she had longed to play but could not, her days in school. At other times she will laboriously descend the stairs and limp along to the marketplace to get me sweets. I hate the idea of the girl descending the stairs for my sake, but she will have her own way.  

I know that Harpreet finds me an agreeable companion. At twenty one, she is like a kitten who has taken a liking to a puppy. Both mother and daughter are pleased when I drop into the home. The love and caring and sharing are beyond words. Life itself seems to be a stream that is carrying me along, and if the waves and ripples evoke a sense of pleasure and well-being, you don’t care much about where the current leads. You drift along with the boat. Where the boat is going to lead, it is too early to say, but there is a growing feeling in my mind that Harminder’s mother has something on her mind. That she has plans concerning me. Plans concerning Harpreet and me.

Continued below...

March 03, 2017

Fitters at Work

My friendship with Harminder has led to other useful contacts in the shed. Of particular help to me were the Loco Foreman, Mr Albert Davies and his assistants, and Fitter Chargeman  Mr Shyamsunder. These men’s lives revolve around locomotive work, their skill in diagnosing trouble and putting things right is incredible. They think and breathe steam. Many of them began as loco apprentices, as cleaners, even khalasis. Of machine design and the laws of thermodynamics they have not the slightest knowledge; none of them has so much as heard of the name of Sadi Carnot. Yet when it comes to engine maintenance and repair, even the District Mechanical Engineer must bow to the superior ability and skill of these men.

Locomotive work is an unceasing activity taking place round the clock. This is particularly true of the larger sheds at engine changing stations where locos arrive all through the day and night. At a medium sized shed such as the one here, activity is much subdued in the night ; Ludhiana is not an engine changing station. Nonetheless, a shed is an important part of the railway set up here for, this being an important junction there are a number of passenger and fast passenger services originating from here to nearby districts.

Locoshed technicians engaged in engine maintenance fall into two categories. Those who work on the engine and its various moving parts and fittings, and the tender are known as Loco Fitters, and work under the direction of the Fitter Chargeman. There are other technicians whose responsibilities are centred on the boiler and its accessories ; they are called Boiler Makers and function under the Boiler Maker Chargeman. Loco maintenance involves a broad range of activities, and so besides the aforementioned categories, we have engine cleaners and steam men, blacksmiths and welders, greasers and khalasis, the latter being manual workers whose work is mostly of an unskilled nature.

As the shed is functional round the clock, work is performed in shifts. On the basis of the repairs booked by the driver a repair slip is issued to each fitter and boiler maker allotting him the day’s work. Fitter and Boiler Maker Chargemen are expected to report about an hour before the start of the shift so that they can plan and arrange the day’s work. After studying the repair books, repair distribution slips are made out in duplicate and distributed to the workers. The Loco Foreman (Maintenance) has an important role to play here, for when a Chargeman finds some workers are absent from duty, the Maintenance Foreman adjusts gang strengths making use of reserve gangs specially maintained for the purpose  so that each chargeman has adequate staff to deal with the day’s work.

The number of tracks leading into the main shed is an indication of the number of engines that can be ‘homed’ – more the number of tracks, greater the capacity of the shed. Each track leads to a ‘repair bay’ long enough to hold three engines in a row and has a pit running all along its length for the examination of undergear. Fitter’s benches are provided at intervals along each bay, as are also toolboxes for use by technicians, and cold water hydrants to fill up locomotive boilers after a washout.

Strolling along the repair bays of the shed I came upon workmen engaged in all kinds of work. It is one thing to watch an engine on the main line, quite another to see it taken apart in the shed. You see the inner working, you see the valves and pistons and wheel gear, and in the end some of the mystery of locomotive work begins to clear. You begin to realize the machine is in many respects like a motor car which needs regular attention.

Here at one end of the bay was an engine with the valve gear taken down and the men unscrewing the slide bars. Upon being questioned, I was told that after being in service for some years, the slide bars had worn out. There being an undue amount of clearance between the slide bars and the crosshead, it was necessary to re-position the bars closer together, an operation which is technically known as ‘closing in the bars.’

While in operation, moving parts of an engine are subjected to tremendous stresses. Although the deformations so produced are well within the elastic limits of the components, they are repetitive in nature, and in time could lead to fatigue cracks. Thus although on its arrival at the shed, the driver may not have reported any trouble, certain key components are to be periodically checked for flaws.

Here is an HPS class engine with the boys applying a coat of whitewash on the crankpin. This may appear as a strange thing to do in a locoshed, but it is in fact, a very important procedure, and if carried out correctly, can reveal the presence of a dangerous condition which may arise when a component is subject to high repetitive stresses.

A part such as a connecting rod of an steam engine, or a crankpin, may, to all appearances look as though no trouble existed, but it may in fact be harbouring a microscopic flaw which if not corrected in time could lead to serious failure. From time to time, therefore, these components are taken down and subjected to what is known as a ‘Chalk Test.’ The part in question is first cleaned with kerosene to rid it of grease and muck, and washed in hot water. Once dry, kerosene is smeared all over, then wiped off. Finally the part is given a thin coat of whitewash. When dry, a light blow with a copper hammer will cause kerosene lodged in cracks to ooze out which can be detected under a magnifying glass.

Among the numerous parts that are periodically chalk tested, none is perhaps as important as the wheel axle. A crack in a journal could lead to a serious accident, so one of the most important tasks of the Loco Foreman is to see that axles are tested according to schedule. On passenger engines, no flawed axles are ever passed. On goods and shunting locos, flaws within permissible limits are allowed, but such locos are to be sent to the shops for repairs at the earliest possible opportunity. It is customary to paint engines with flawed axles with the sign ‘NP’, meaning non-passenger in two inch white letters on the side panel plates.

I climbed onto the footplate of the HPS, where a fitter was busy unscrewing the gauge column cocks. The engine is not in steam so I can freely operate the controls and get the feel of the machine. The admission of steam to the cylinders is controlled by a long, shiny lever called the regulator handle. To the right of the cab is a handwheel known as the ‘reversing wheel’. Turning the wheel not only enables the machine to be put into reverse, it also allows the driver to regulate the ‘cut-off’ , which is the percentage of piston stroke during which steam is admitted to the cylinders while the locomotive is in operation.

When coasting downhill, or approaching a station, steam is not required, so the regulator is generally closed. When this is done the pistons begin to act like pumps and draw in a certain amount of smoke and soot from the smokebox. The soot adheres to the oil in the cylinders and steam chest forming objectionable crusty deposits. From time to time, therefore, the cylinders have to be opened up and ‘decarbonized’, or cleaned out. The fitters at work on the HPS were doing precisely this, and the question that naturally occurred to me was that did the incoming driver notice anything unusual on the run leading him to book this item of repair at the inspection pit.

This and a host of other questions were resolved only after I had an extended talk with the men in the Foreman’s office. Albert Davies was a slightly built man, smartly turned out in a black suit today. He had a sharp eye for detail, and often looked at you with raised brows ; his voice, though moderate, often sounded like a bark. When I first met him some days back, I could not help feeling there was an element of hostility in his manner toward me. However to my great astonishment and relief, I soon began to find a noticeable change in the attitude of the shed staff : indifference vanished giving way to friendliness, almost an eagerness to help. It was clear that Davies, though formal in his manner toward me, had instructed his men to be genial with me, and for this reason I came to regard him as a man with a great deal of understanding hidden beneath his formidable exterior.

The Foreman was signing a register when I stepped into his office. Seated opposite was Shyamsunder, the Fitter Chargeman. I greeted the men, but while Shyamsunder nodded with a smile, Davies made no effort to look up. After he had finished signing his forms he looked away looking tired, then turned to me inquiringly.

I stammered out my question as best as I could. I told Davies I had witnessed an incoming engine examination some time back where the driver and Clemens, the examining fitter had closely examined the locomotive and recorded various engine faults they discovered on a form. I then spoke to him about the chalk test I had seen being done on the HPS, as well as the operation of cylinder decarbonization I had seen. What kind of trouble did the incoming driver possibly notice on the run, I asked, which led him to book these two items of repair.

Did you not ask the driver?” shot back the Foreman, his brows raised.

It was clear that Davies found my question irrelevant. I was a bit taken aback at this reply, but looked at the man across the table steadily. Finally with a look of irritation, Davies opened out a drawer and drew out a sheaf of forms.

“These are Schedule Forms,” he said shortly, but it was clear he was in no mood to talk. Just then a fitter stepped into the office saying that the chalk test on the connecting rod of the HPS had revealed a tiny flaw. Davies immediately rose and saying that he would be back soon, the two men left the office.

I was left in the room with Shyamsunder and a set of incomprehensible forms lying on the table before me.

Putting down his cup of tea, Shyamsunder picked up the forms, studying them for a while. Then he turned to me.

“The question you made just now is perfectly understandable,” he began considerately.  Then glancing at the forms again, he said slowly : “Engines come here for general repairs and servicing, but the faults booked by the driver at the incoming pit aren’t  the only ones we look into. A steam engine is given schedule repairs from time to time...”

The Chargeman lit up a cigarette and stuffed his packet back into his pocket. He drew on his cigarette deeply, blew out smoke and continued: “By a Schedule we mean a list of items to be checked, tested and repaired if necessary. Ideally, we should be able to check each and every engine component on arrival, but this is obviously impossible as it would keep the loco out of commission for long periods at the end of each trip. Fortunately, there is no need for this time consuming and futile exercise. From long years of experience it is known that a certain component, for instance, is going to need attention after an engine has run so many kilometers. Thus an I.R.S. loco is given a Schedule I examination when it has run a total distance of 1600 kilometers after it was first commissioned.”

Shyamsunder paused here and looked out of the window meditatively, where he could see a line of locos waiting to be coaled in the afternoon sun. Then placing a finger on the Schedule I form he looked back at me. I glanced at the sheet of paper under his hand : “... Examine packing of engine and tender axle boxes ; lubricate spring and compensating gear pins ; clean steam and waterway passages and ball valves of gauge column cocks ; clean injector cones ; examine boiler expansion and steadying brackets ; clean smoke and flue tubes; examine and reset grate...

The list of items to be checked and repaired was extensive. The Chargeman went on: “These items you see listed here are quite independent of what the driver may book on arrival. At 1600 kms these items must be attended to, if things are to work well. Then, at 8000 kms, we give an engine a Schedule II examination. This is more extensive than the first, and includes all items in Schedule I besides certain additional items considered necessary for attention at Schedule II. The schedules are telescopic, you will understand. There are a total of four Schedules, besides a Maintenance Overhaul, and lastly a Periodical Overhaul done in the shops.”

I listened to Shyamsunder’s words with rapt attention. During my travels, there has not been a single instance where a train was held up due to engine failure. With such an intensive programme of examination, it is hardly surprising that locomotives on the whole function well.

It is worth noting here that a careful record is kept in a shed, noting the kilometerage earned by a locomotive since the last Periodical Overhaul, the figures being picked up from engine tickets. When an engine is booked to work a train, the driver is given an ‘Engine Ticket’ containing particulars such as the names of the crew booked, the vehicle/load summary, shunting to be done enroute, and the kilometerage earned by the engine thus far, this last figure being updated when the driver submits his engine ticket to the Foreman at the end of the trip. Data from engine tickets is used by the shed to maintain a continuous engine-wise record of the cumulative mileage of the engine. A similar record is maintained in the office of the Divisional Power Controller, so that this official knows when to order a Loco Foreman to stop an engine for schedule repairs.

Despite the rigorous schedule of maintenance, failures do occur from time to time. A locomotive, Shyamsunder says, is said to have ‘failed’ if it is unable to work its booked train from start to destination, or if it causes a delay of one hour or more in arrival at the destination due to a mechanical defect, poor quality of coal or water, or faulty operation arising out of slipshod maintenance practices. The various kinds of failures that generally occur are too numerous to mention in full here : defects could arise in the vacuum system or in the piston, in the smoke tubes or super-heater elements. Other eventualities are a burst gauge glass, regulator valve getting disconnected, fracture of the eccentric crank or other moving parts. Drivers are given training in breakdown repairs and are expected to know how to handle an emergency while on the run.

No locomotive failure, however insignificant, is passed over ; a thorough investigation is ordered in each case.

When an engine failure takes place, the Loco Foreman is required to submit to the Divisional Mechanical Engineer a report of the incident on the prescribed form within four days of the occurrence of the incident. The DME in turn, submits his own report to the Additional Chief Mechanical Engineer (Running & Loco), accompanied by various documents including the Foreman’s report, the Joint Train Register, statements made by the Driver and the Maintenance Foreman (Fitting), and an abstract of documents stating the repairs booked to the locomotive for the previous three trips prior to the failure.

Back in the Foreman’s office, I remembered that the HPS I had seen earlier was found to have a flawed connecting rod, and asked Shyamsunder what would be done to set things right. What he said in reply left me astounded.

“There is nothing we can do with that rod,” he said with a smile. “It will go to the shops for repairs.”

“But since the location of the crack has been identified by the chalk test, isn’t it a simple matter to put it right by welding up the thing?” I asked.

“No. Welding is not permitted here in the shed on connecting rods and crank pins. That rod needs specialized workshop attention...”

“I see. So now that the rod will be sent to the workshop for repairs, the engine itself will lie here around for many days, perhaps?”

“We do our best to hurry up things,” said Shyamsunder, and so saying he picked up two blank forms from a desk, one pink, the other blue. “This is a Repair Order Form,” he said, handing me over the pink form. “The connecting rod will be dispatched today together with the pink form you are holding in your hand,” he said.

Pink forms were used for urgent repairs for which engines were held up at the shed. Blue forms, on the other hand, were employed for spare assemblies and parts which did not require urgent attention.

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February 27, 2017

Virtues of Boiling Water

A remarkable feature of the railways of India is the very large number of steam locomotive types that were put into use for various duties over the past hundred years.

The very first engine to arrive in India was christened ‘Lord Falkland’ and on its arrival, began with shunting work at Byculla when the Bombay – Thana line was being built. Manufactured by the Vulcan Foundry of England, this was a 2 – 4 – 0 tender locomotive using saturated steam and employing Stephenson’s Link Motion to actuate the slide valves.

As the railways spread across the country, a wide variety of engines were ordered from various British manufacturers. If there was one thing that marred this scheme, it was the lack of standardization and uniformity of design. Each railway company worked to its own standards and preferences and each ordered locomotives based on design specifications of its own consulting engineering firm. With this bewildering variety of locomotive classes, workshops and sheds were required to maintain huge inventories of spares. The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that in 1923, there were over 500 different classes of steam engines in use on the Indian subcontinent.

The first attempt at standardization was made in 1910 when the British Engineering Standards Association working in conjunction with the consulting firm of Messrs. Rendel, Palmer and Tritton recommended a set of heavy and standard locomotives for goods, passenger and shunting duties. Together with various modifications effected, the most prominent feature of these BESA locomotives, as they came to be known, was the use of Walschaerts Valve Gear in place of Stephenson’s Link Motion used on earlier locos, in order to secure more economical steam distribution to the cylinders.

From amongst the various BESA classes designed at the time, only one, I think, has survived so far, Class HP, which with the addition of a superheater in later years came to be known as HPS. A visit to any large locomotive shed will reveal that although now on the way to extinction, the once famed BESA engines leave behind a remnant that will remain in the memory of locomotive men for a long time to come. I found this to be true when I was moving around the ash cleaning pit during one of my rambles to the shed. There were two pits, one longer than the other. When I asked a fitter about the difference, he said that the larger pit was meant for engines having BESA type ashpans which needed more room for ash-pan men to go underneath.

Back in the maintenance bays of the shed, I had the good fortune of being able to see for myself a loco boiler being washed. The process is a laborious one I am told, requiring a halt at the washout bay of over 16 hours.

I had hoped I would be able to speak to the Boiler Maker Chargeman, but he was not to be seen in the office and on making enquiries I was told he was engaged with Shyamsunder in testing a boiler which had newly been steamed. There is no point in talking to him at this stage, I thought, and slowly ambled aimlessly around. I was intercepted by Harminder accompanied by an elderly man with a dark flourishing moustache. The men were smiling broadly as they walked up to me.

“So how are you getting on with your research project?!” asked the man with the moustache looking me in the eye with amusement.

I smiled back. An introduction was hardly needed, for nearly everyone knew me here. Mr Bhalla, the coal checker, was speaking only in jest; he knew well enough I was not working on any kind of project. But on more than once occasion he had showed an eagerness to help, as had many others. Could it be that these men knew something about me? Maybe they knew they were speaking to an engineering graduate who for want of suitable employment was in temporary service of the District Superintendent of Police. No one had asked me anything so far, my only credentials were my friendship with Harminder.

Soon however, Bhalla and his companion parted company and I was left alone with Harminder. His morning shunting duties over, he had time on hand. We strolled along the bay till we came upon a Class WG locomotive in steam. I was told that the engine had been given a washout, the buffer heights adjusted, the wheel dimensions checked, and upon being steamed the Chargeman and his men were testing the safety valves.

The locomotive boiler is a complex piece of apparatus and like every other engine component, requires frequent attention. During service, salts dissolved in boiler water are deposited as scale on the boiler and firebox plates, as well as the flue tubes which conduct the hot gases from the firebox to the smokebox and thence to the chimney. The main object of the multi-tube form of boiler is to increase the heating surface and thereby effect a greater utilization of the heat generated in the firebox to raise steam. The deposition of scale on the smoke and flue tubes offsets the advantage of this kind of boiler design by lowering the conductivity of the tubes, resulting in less heat being transferred to the boiler water, and therefore more coal being consumed. Regular boiler washouts ensure good steaming quality on the run by removing the accumulation of scale and other undissolved impurities which over time settle at the bottom as mud or sediment.

The firebox itself is of interesting construction. With the exception of the firegrate below, every part of the firebox proper is in contact with boiler water. The inner firebox is surrounded by the outer firebox, and is held in place with stay bolts. The space between the inner and outer fireboxes carries water both at the sides and the top, and this rapidly conducts away heat so that under the action of the fire burning within it, the inner firebox plates can never get so hot as to burn or waste away.

The most comprehensive examination a steam engine boiler undergoes is when it is sent to the parent workshop for periodical overhaul. This is called a Class A examination.

At the sheds, boilers are inspected, adjusted and repaired under the direction of the Divisional Boiler Inspector once every six months in an operation known as a Class B examination. The very last item performed after repairs have been carried out is usually a ‘steam test’ in which the Boiler Inspector satisfies himself that the boiler is in order and is fit for service.

Finally we have a Class C examination in which a boiler is washed, inspected and repaired in the shed at intervals of one month, the operation being performed by the Boiler Maker Chargeman.

The details of the various boiler examinations together with their periodicity is set out in the following table :

During its term of service each boiler is accompanied by a Boiler Life Register containing full details of the condition of the boiler at each of the examinations listed above and the repairs carried out on it.

Mechanical Boiler Inspectors are technical staff of the Mechanical Department and are under direct orders of the Deputy Chief Mechanical Engineer. Unlike Loco Foremen and Chargemen whose duties are confined to the shed, Boiler Inspectors are allotted a certain area and are required to be on the move. The Boiler Inspector arranges his programme of work in consultation with Loco Foremen within his jurisdiction. He must visit various sheds and keep himself informed as to the condition of locomotive and stationary boilers within the shed, and must ensure that every boiler under his charge receives timely attention and repair. 

A six-monthly B Class examination requires the Boiler Inspector to make a full examination of the boiler and record details in the Boiler Life Register. In addition he will also fill up a form in duplicate stating the condition of the boiler and the repairs needed on it. One copy of the form is sent to the Divisional Mechanical Engineer, while the other is for the Locomotive Foreman under which the boiler is working.

The Boiler Maker Chargeman, having carried out repairs to the boiler in accordance with the Boiler Inspector’s report, has to jointly certify with the Loco Foreman on the form to the effect that the defects have been attended, and dispatch the duly attested form to the Divisional Mechanical Engineer where it retained as a permanent copy.

I have been wondering what would be the outcome should a safety valve on a locomotive fail to blow during the run, but Shyamsunder says the possibility of such an occurrence is remote for there are three safety valves provided on an engine each set to blow at a slightly different steam pressure.

There are two items vitally important to boiler safety which are tested at each examination. The first is the engine pressure gauge which is periodically cross-checked with a Master Pressure Gauge to make sure it does not give a false reading. The other item of prime importance is the safety valve. At each boiler examination, safety valves are tested, and repaired if necessary, by the Fitter Chargeman and the Boiler Maker Chargeman together, who record the results of their test on a form, jointly certifying the pressure at which the valve commences to blow.

As for my question as to what would be the result should a safety valve fail to blow on the run, there is ample latitude in this regard I am told, for modern locomotive boilers are made with a Safety Factor of about 5, which means that the thickness of the boiler plates as well as the size and pitch of the firebox stays are calculated to withstand five times the authorized working pressure of the locomotive.
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February 24, 2017

The Power of Coal

The earliest engines that came to India were simple affairs with small boilers, low steam pressures and axle loads well within the ability of the light track then in use. Both tender and tank engines were put into use. A ‘tender’ engine has a separate compartment known as the tender to carry a supply of coal and water for the journey and is suitable for extended runs without replenishing either of these two essential requisites. A tank engine has the coal compartment built into the main engine unit, and as it needs to be replenished with fuel and water at shorter intervals, it is more suited to shunting duties.

A notable feature of these early engines was the overriding British influence in all matters pertaining to design and operation. Not only were the machines and those in charge of maintenance and operation brought in from Britain, the coal used to provide the source of power was shipped in from Britain too. For nearly fifty years after the railways first came to India, the coal used in locomotives came from Britain. It was only after the turn of the nineteenth century that the coalfields in eastern India began to produce coal in large amounts, and consequently the import of coal for railway use was discontinued.

With the exception of a few routes which have been electrified, the railways are almost entirely dependent on steam power, and this requires coal in phenomenally large amounts. Coal is synonymous with power and should its supply fall short, trains come to a standstill. If coal were to be supplied to only two, maybe three consumers once every now and then, the situation would not have been urgent; but with just a handful of coalfields supplying coal to hundreds of loco sheds spaced miles apart, it can well be imagined that the task of arranging that no shed is without an adequate stock of coal throughout the year, is a job which calls for close coordination and management.

To understand the problem of balancing of coal at various locations, we may imagine two loco sheds, one 2 hours, the other 4 days away from the coalfields. Should a derailment or other mishap occur bringing traffic to a halt, it is clear that the second shed will be more severely affected by a shortage of stock. Each loco shed is therefore provided with a coal yard large enough to hold an adequate stock, and if the rule book were to be followed, the amount held at any time should be enough to last for 10 days plus the travelling time from the coalfields to the shed.

The quantity of coal in a shed is under constant daily watch. To achieve timely replenishment of stock, the Loco Foreman must advise the Deputy Chief Mechanical Engineer (Fuel) of his needs, and this he does each day at midnight through a telegraphic message using a code, informing him of the amount of coal at hand.

Code letters used in the telegraphic transmission of coal stock details to the CME’s office are reproduced below:

A     Opening coal balance
B     Fresh Receipts of coal
C     Total Receipts
D     Issues for the day     
E     Closing Balance
F     Number of days stock
G     No. of wagons in shed awaiting unloading
H     No. of wagons in yard awaiting placement

Information on coal stocks coming in from sheds all over the railway each night forms the basis on which the CME’s  office works out the most suitable balance, ensuring that the farthest sheds are kept better stocked than those nearest to the collieries.

To anyone who visits a locomotive shed often enough, it is a common thing to see a coal train pulling into the shed. Slowly but surely, the line of 4-wheeled open wagons pulls in behind a sooty engine and creaking and whining  comes to a halt in the coal yard. Unloading the contents of the wagons is the contractor’s job and so is the task of clearing out of ash and dumping it into the wagons—there is a special ash wagon siding for this purpose. Loading and unloading are no part of the Foreman’s job for he has a good many other things to attend to.

Much before the coal train arrived, the Loco Foreman has received written particulars from the dispatching station—Declaration Advice Notes... Railway Receipts... Invoice... These are important documents, and together, they tell the Foreman about the number of wagons that are being dispatched, the quantity and grade of coal carried by each, wagon numbers, starting point and destination, and so forth.

The first thing the Loco Foreman must see is if the quantity of coal unloaded tallies with the amount as quoted in the D.A. Notes.  This could be done by reweighing each wagon that has arrived, but as this would take an undue amount of time to perform, an indirect approach is used. Every time coal is issued for use in a locomotive or for any other purpose, a carefully measured quantity is given out, so that when the dump is fully issued, the Foreman, by totaling the quantities issued, knows the net amount of coal that was held in the dump. This method of accounting has the additional advantage that it helps in compiling data regarding the quantity of coal utilized by the shed for each different purpose.

It is interesting to note that coal arriving at a shed is utilized for a variety of purposes other than for locomotive use. Coal is needed for the boilers working at the pumping station, and in coaling and traffic cranes. Then too, coal is supplied to tourist and restaurant cars, to inspection carriages, and to running rooms and workshops. In the early days when many of the great rivers were yet to be spanned by bridges, coal was used by the railways to operate ferries across the river. Finally, coal is also available for sale to the employees of the railway.

Detailed accounts of transactions are maintained by the shed, and at the end of the month a comprehensive statement known as the Monthly Accounts Current Form  is prepared showing a detailed breakup of the following details:

1)  The opening balance of coal
2)  Coal received during the month from collieries/dumps/other sheds
3)  Coal issued to engines
4)  Coal issued for non-locomotive purposes
5)  Closing balance on ground

The Monthly Accounts Current Form is prepared in triplicate. One copy is for the shed, while the other two must reach the Divisional Superintendent and the FA & CAO (Fuel Accounts) by the 2nd of the following month.

But perhaps the most interesting part is the way a watch is kept over the use of coal in a locomotive, both during the trip and while it is in shed. A special official is posted for the purpose—the Coal Checker—who keeps a careful record in his register each time coal is consumed by a locomotive for any purpose while it is in shed. There are two officials here in fact, with coal under their charge : the Fuel Issuer, who authorizes the issue of coal, and the Coal Checker who keeps records.

I had hoped Mr Bhalla would spare some time to tell me about his work but he was busy in the coal yard noting details on a form. Three engines stood in a row out in the sun waiting to be coaled. Bhalla climbed down from the cab of the WG at the head and walked up with purposeful strides to the next one behind, again WG. The place is thick with the smell of fire, of steel, of heat and engine smoke. The industrial revolution gave us the power of locomotion, and you can feel its full effect here in the coal yard.

Did Bhalla know driving a loco? Harminder tells me nearly everyone at the shed is familiar with the operating controls, although not everyone would be able to use this knowledge with skill.

But Bhalla is not here to shunt an engine. Harminder tells me he is assessing the quantity of coal left in the tender after the last trip. He uses the calibration marks on the side of the tender for his job; and he should have finished with this bit while the locomotive was still at the incoming pit, but better late than never.

For each engine arriving in the shed, Bhalla has to keep a progressive record of the following particulars in the Coal Checkers Book :—

1)  Date
2)  Engine Number
3)  Incoming Train Number
4)  Arrival date and time
5)  Outgoing date, time, train number
6)  Coal left in tender after arrival
7)  Fresh issue of coal
8)  Total coal in tender
9)     Coal consumed in shed movement
10)   Coal consumed in lighting up engine
11)   Coal consumed for banking fire
12)   Coal consumed for engine kept in steam
13)   Coal consumed for vacuum and injector testing
14)   Total shed consumption
15)   Total coal left in tender at the time of leaving shed

Item No. 15 is the quantity of coal left in the tender at the time when the engine is booked on a train and is ready to leave the shed. On its arrival at the destination shed, the fuel left in the tender is again assessed, and the difference between the two quantities gives the amount of coal that was used during the trip.

The data collected by the coal checker is no idle set of figures to be checked by the Foreman once in a while. Particulars concerning the issue of coal for various purposes are compiled into important monthly fuel statistics which are sent to the FA & CAO (Fuel Accounts) together with various coal accounting forms for internal check.

How much coal can a driver use on a trip? As we have seen, careful accounts are kept of the quantity of coal in an engine tender both at the start and end of the trip. When a driver reports for duty, he is given a Trip Fuel Consumption Card carrying various particulars. The driver must observe economy in the use of coal during the run, and must make every effort to see that he works within the trip ration assigned to him.

Trip rations are worked out by officials of the Mechanical Department after conducting actual trials under varying load conditions both during the day as well as the night for various services. A slightly higher ration is prescribed for winter months to take care of the increased fuel consumption at this time.

At the end of the trip, the driver must submit his fuel consumption card along with the engine ticket to the Loco Foreman. Should it be found that he has consumed more coal than the target fixed, he has to render proper explanation on his card before signing off.

Data recorded on Fuel Cards is further processed into useful monthly statistics—Locomotive Fuel Consumption Averages, Coal Consumption Summary Sheets... When on their rounds, Locomotive Inspectors must study these tabulated sheets with a view to ascertain if drivers are observing fuel economy on the run. Should a driver be found who is consistently heavy on coal, the Loco Inspector will make a trip on the footplate with the driver to ascertain the cause of the increased coal consumption. If a fault inherent in the locomotive is found to be the cause, he will inform the Divisional Mechanical Engineer of the case. In many cases, however, increased fuel consumption is the result of drivers following an incorrect procedure on the run. Should this be found to be the case, Locomotive Inspectors must bring the driver’s fault to his notice and instruct him in the art of handling his locomotive correctly.
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