Railcar's last stop
The state’s only operational railbus plies on the branch line between Bangarpet and Kolar. Shalini Satish writes about similar railbuses and railcars that are no longer functional. The Shimoga-Thalaguppa railcar, the Guntakal-Mysore railcar or the Yelahanka-Bangarpet railcar, for instance.
A one-bogie train stationed at the periphery of the bustling Bangarpet Railway Station caught my attention. A closer look revealed that it was a railbus, a hybrid that combines the engineering of a bus with the comfort of a rail coach. Railbuses reduce the overhead of running trains on lines with low passenger traffic. This is the only operational railbus in Karnataka and plies on the branch line between Bangarpet and Kolar.
Intrigued by this rather small ‘train’, I embarked on a short but sweet 18-km journey from the Bangarpet junction. The railbus chugged along slowly, even stopping for a person who missed it at the station. For most passengers, this 35-minute rail journey is a daily routine, but for me it was an enjoyable joyride. The charming colonial railway station of Kolar warmed up to welcome the railbus. A few decades ago, Kolar was an important station but the number of passengers and trains reduced drastically over the years. There was a time when the station was operating only for the railbus.
Compact in design, the Bangarpet-Kolar broad gauge railbus was manufactured by
Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) in 1997. It is a self-powered four-wheeled locomotive with driving cabs at both ends and controls for bi-directional operation. The 72-seater railbus is a boon for about 65 office workers who commute from Bangalore to Kolar by train every day. A loco pilot who is accompanied by an assistant loco pilot operates the railbus, which is like a chartered service for the regulars. A single track connects the Bangarpet and Kolar stations and the “one train only token system” is used to control rail traffic on this line. A baton with the two station names etched on it authorises a single train to pass through. The arrival and departure of the railbus from Bangarpet are linked to the timings of the connecting trains to and from Bangalore.
Railcars and railbuses feature among the unique locomotives in the ranks of the Indian Railways that has a wide variety of trains for transporting freight and passengers across the country. Even though they were not profitable, railcars were operated on some routes for the benefit of the people. Loyal passengers developed a personal connection with these locomotives and their withdrawal was strongly resisted. While the Bangarpet-Kolar railbus is still in operation, the others have made their way into museums and linger on as a fading memory.
In the 1970s, a meter-gauge diesel railcar built at the Integral Coach Factory (Madras) operated between Guntakal and Mysore. The railcar consisted of two self-powered cabs that were connected electrically. The loco pilots could control the power and brake from any one of the cabs. While one cab had both first-class and second-class accommodation, the other had only second-class accommodation. The engine and other transmission units were under slung making it compact. The distance covered by the railcar reduced over time and it operated between Mysore and Nanjangud railway stations before it was eventually decommissioned.
“There was a narrow gauge railway line between Bangarpet and Bangalore. The track reached the front of the present day Bangalore City Railway Station, the area that now serves as the parking lot,” points out one of the old timers of the Indian Railways. “This track was laid during the time of the Wodeyars,” he added.
Trains propelled by steam engines plied on this track, which traversed a route through Yelahanka, Kodigenahalli, Yeshwanthpur and Malleshwaram before reaching Bangalore City. The narrow gauge track between Bangalore City and Yeshwanthpur railway stations was first removed and later the track connecting Yeshwanthpur and Yelahanka was done away with. The narrow gauge track between Yelahanka and Bangarpet continued to exist although no trains plied on this stretch. T A Pai, the then Union Minister for Railways introduced a railcar in the Yelahanka-Bangarpet section that was lying idle for a while.
The four-coach narrow gauge railcar built at the Central Workshop had one power cab and three trailing cabs. There were two sets of railcar rakes that operated on the single track and crossed over at the Chintamani Railway Station.
The railcar passed through Devanahalli, Nandi, Chikballapur, Sidlaghatta, Chintamani and Kolar en route to Bangarpet. Vegetable vendors from various taluks of Kolar district benefited from the operation of this railcar. As a part of the Uniguage Policy introduced during the term of Railway Minister C K Jaffer Sheriff, most of the different gauges of tracks were converted into broad gauge. Under this policy, the Yelahanka-Chikballapur track was converted to broad gauge following which the railcar was withdrawn.
The meter gauge railway track between the town of Shimoga and Thalaguppa was laid by the British way back in 1938. In 1939, Mirza Ismail took the maiden journey on this line to visit the town of Sagar. This rail link provided access to Jog Falls, which is just 12 kms from the village of Thalaguppa. Famous personalities like Nalvadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar, Sir M Visvesvaraya, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Morarji Desai used this line to reach the spectacular Jog Falls.
Goods trains that operated on this stretch transported logs that were used as fuel in the furnaces of the Vishveshwariah Iron and Steel Plant at Bhadravathi and for making wooden sleepers. With the passage of time, the number of commuters diminished and the passenger trains between Shimoga and Thalaguppa reduced from three to one. In the 1990s, the Bangalore-Shimoga track was converted to broad gauge. After the gauge conversion, the narrow gauge railcar that was formerly used on the Yelahanka-Bangarpet stretch was converted to meter gauge and operated between Shimoga and Thalaguppa.
The rustic two-bogie railcar could seat 52 passengers and took three hours and 45 minutes to cover a distance of 82 kms. In order to cut costs, gatemen manning level crossings along the route were removed. A mobile gateman on board the railcar would get off at every crossing to close the gates. A wooden turntable was used to reverse the railcar at the terminals. The Shimoga-Thalaguppa railcar was in operation until 2007.