The Fast and The Furious

Take a look at the Map below, showing the Railway Lines connecting the Principal Cities and Towns of the State of Uttar Pradesh.

And if you are confused between Main Line and Grand Chord, here’s a map which will confound the confusion:

Work on the the Main Line (between Howrah and Delhi, shown in green above) was begun at the behest of Lord Dalhousie, the same guy who ordered that the spacing between the wheels of Indian Railways be changed to 5'-6" from the British gauge of 4 ft 8 1⁄2 in so that he could enjoy his drink without spilling it. You don’t say no to the Governor-General and thus India is the only Country in the World to have Broad Gauge. The first train which ran on the Main Line, in the summer of 1866, was the 1 UP from Howrah , then named East Indian Railway Mail which was later re-named as the KALKA MAIL in 1891 when it’s run was extended beyond Delhi to Kalka. It is the oldest running train in India!

The Grand Chord (shown in orange above) was begun many years later at the behest of then Governor-General, Lord Minto, who desired to reduce the travelling time between Delhi and Calcutta as also to have an alternate route to avoid congestion. It was inaugurated in 1906.

Thankfully, the Grand Chord ends at Mughalsarai, as our focus of interest is beyond Mughalsarai, on the way to Delhi.

By the way, for those not in the know, the Station with the iconic name of Mughalsarai, (so named, because Mughal Emperor Humayun and his Army had rested here, on its way to defeat Sher Shah, marching along the very Grand Trunk Road that Sher Shah had himself built some years earlier), has undergone a change, as under:

That’s DDUJ in short and don’t nobody replace U by L mistake, else it will be a Bollywood Movie 😉

Thankfully, only the Railway Station has been renamed , the name of the Town remains unchanged. The reason for the change is because way back in 1968, that’s 50 years ago, the lifeless body of Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay, then recently elected President of Bharatiya Jan Sangh against stiff opposition from a particular Lobby, was found besides the track at the inner signal post of Mughalsarai Station.

But our topic of discussion concerns 2 Stations beyond Mughalsarai , sorry DDUJ ! These are FATEHPUR and ALLAHABAD which can be seen on the first Map above (above the word Legend written in green).

Both these Stations are on the Main Line and a number of Trains ply, most notable being the Rajdhani, the Duronto Express and a host of other Trains.

As our dear Buddy Ashis (Datta), ex-Member Railway Board, will tell you, the Railways maintain a discipline of logging all timings of all trains at all stations en-route, even if the train does not stop at a particular station. This is not only to ensure punctuality but also to pull up errant drivers and/or Station Masters for not adhering to the timing and seeking justifications for shortfalls, if any.

One story from the distant past comes readily to mind. Brajrajnagar (BRJN) on the SE Rly. is a tiny town of hardly a few thousand people. But it also has the second largest Paper Mill in Asia, the Orient Paper Mills, owned by the Birlas. This I have heard from my Dad who was then Manager of the nearby Orient Colliery, also owned by the Birlas. Once Mr. SK Birla had paid a visit to BRJN and was scheduled to return to Calcutta by the Bombay Mail, which, in those days used to arrive at the unearthly hour of around 1 AM . Due to some reason, Mr. Birla could not make it in time to the Station and by the time he did, the Train was already a few kilometres out, crossing a bridge over a river. The next is unbelievable but true. The Train was stopped at the next station, named IB and then steamed in reverse to BRJN to pick up Mr. Birla. Needless to add, the Books must have been suitably fudged up. The same would perhaps be done today for a Mr. Mukesh Ambani, but then Mr. Ambani rarely, if ever, travels by train.

Ashis will also tell you that to avoid any future such “mishaps” and fudging, the Railways had sometime back introduced a mouthful, called INTEGRATED COACHING MANAGEMENT SYSTEM (ICMS), which monitors real time data of train operations. But, as the saying goes, nothing in India is Jack-proof.

During a routine Audit (the results of which were released recently) conducted by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) who review the working of all Govt. Agencies and Organisations, the Auditors were horrified to see that even the highly computerised ICMS was fed with incorrect entries.

For instance on July 9, 2016 , it was observed that the 12276 Down New Delhi — Allahabad Duronto reached the height of its naughtiness (Duronto also means “naughty child”)! First let us revisit that Map between Fatehpur and Allahabad Jn:

The distance between the two Stations along the tracks is 116 Kms and on any other day, the Duronto, travelling at a top speed of 130 Km/hour would cover the distance in 53 minutes!

But on that fateful day in July 2016, the Duronto was logged at having passed Fatehpur Staion at 5:53 AM and pulled into Allahabad Station at 6:10 AM. Thus the “naughty” child also became “speedy” that day, covering a distance of 116 Km in just 17 minutes, travelling at an average speed of 409 Km/hour. On any given day, the Bullet Train in Japan operates at a maximum speed of 320 Km/hour although the tracks are designed and tested for much higher speeds. The Bullet Train had arrived in India!

But that is not all. CAG also found other anomalies . One was that on April 10, 2017, the Jaipur-Allahabad Express outdid itself, travelling back into time. It was recorded that the train reached Fatehpur at 05:56 AM and gained time while covering the 116 Km to Allahabad , reaching the Prayag City at 05:31 AM on the same day!

THAT WAS THE FAST PART OF IT!

On November 10, 2014, a goods wagon loaded with bags of a particular type of fertiliser was booked at Visakhapatnam Station by the local Indian Potash Ltd (IPL), bound for a private individual located in Basti in Eastern UP (you’ll find the station on the map above, between Faizabad and Khalilabad Railway Stations. It is a distance of 1,326 Km and ordinarily a goods wagon (which gets detached and attached to different trains along the route) should reach its destination within 45 hours of its leaving Vizag.

Now, Basti is no sleepy one horse town. It is a District HQ and an important link to other destinations. The most notable being the proposed 90 Km Railway Link to Kapilavastu in Nepal, the railhead for Lumbini, the Birthplace of Gautam Buddha!

Originally cleared as far back as 2013, work on the Survey has just begun. One can imagine the tremendous boost it will give to tourism, attracting both local and oversea tourists.

In the event, the Railway Officials at Basti were unpleasantly surprised to find the errant wagon turning up in the afternoon of July, 25, 2018 , almost 4 years from leaving Visakhapatnam Station! The consignee was one Ramchandra Gupta, the local distributor for Indian Potash in Basti District.

NEEDLESS TO ADD, MR. GUPTA WAS FURIOUS !

Partho

P.S: The Indian Railways can derive small comfort from the longest delay in the Guinness Book:

The longest time elapsed between a letter being posted and its delivery is 89 years. In 2008, Janet Barrett, a guest-house owner in Weymouth, Dorset, UK, received the letter — an RSVP to a Boxing Day party invitation, which had been posted on 29 November 1919.

(Like the Indian Railways, there was no accompanying apology from the Royal Postal Department).