By: Anil Dhir
The Mayurbhanj Railway . .
Half a century ago, it had 12 steam engines and a staff of 200. Today, all it has are three decrepit steam engines, a few battered coaches, some paraphernalia of the steam age and a glorious history behind it. The more than a century old Baripada railway station still carries an aura of majesty of the British Raj. For the old timers, its pure nostalgia of an era gone by, when every boy wanted to be an engine driver and blow the whistle.
The Rupsa-Baripada-Bangriposi Narrow Gauge line was started by the erstwhile ruler of Mayurbhanj, Maharaja SriramChandra BhanjDeo. The first section of 52 km, from Rupsa to Baripada, was inaugurated by then Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, Sir Andrew Fraser on 20th January, 1905. Rupsa was the junction with the Bengal Nagpur Railway’s Broad Gauge line. An agreement was signed on 2nd December, 1918, between the Mayurbhanj State and Mayurbhanj Railway Company, for extending the line to Talband, 61.5 km away. This section was opened on 15th July, 1920, and the management of the entire section was handed over to M/s Hoare Miller & Co. of Calcutta.
To work the line, the Railway chose 20 ton 0-6-4 T locomotives, designated as ‘ML’ class. The first two of these (No-691, 692) were built by Kerr, Stuart and Company. Later in 1924, two more locomotives (No-693, 694) built by the same company were added. These locos were later transferred to Naupada shed of Paralakhemedi light railway, class and heavier ‘CC’ class 4-6-2 locos of the Satpura narrow gauge lines were introduced. These were built by North British Locomotive Company, Glasgow. Later ZE class locomotives built by M/S Corpet Louvet, M/S Krauss Maffei and M/s Kawasaki were introduced. All locos were homed at Baripada loco shed.
After Independence, when the railways were regrouped, the Mayurbhanj Railway was taken over by government. The Bengal Nagpur Railway, along with eastern divisions of the East Indian Railway was constituted into the Eastern Railway in 1952. Later the newly formed zone was found to be too large for effective working and in 1955, the BNR portion was separated into a new zone-South Eastern Railway.
Till early 2003, there were two services each in either direction. The first service from Rupsa (1 RB) started at 0645 hours reaching Bangriposi at 1130 hours. The second service from Bangriposi (2 RB) started at 1210 hours reaching Rupsa at 1705 hours. Sometime in the late eighties, diesel took over; bring to an end the era of steam locomotives. Bowing to public demand, conversion of this narrow gauge line to broad gauge was sanctioned in 1995-96. The line completed in its centenary year in 2005 but services were closed due to gauge conversion. Work was finally completed in 2005 and regular broad services started from 2006.
In its heydays, the Baripada shed worked seven days of the week, the shed’s fitters, boiler makers, machinists, turners, painters, loco cleaners, and khalasis kept themselves busy servicing the engines; cleaning the parts, refilling their boilers with water and emptying coal from fireboxes. The engines took on 1 tonne of coal and 2000 lts of water and had to be fired up with 20 kg of wood and jute grass soaked in kerosene. The engines took three hours to get full steam.
The four original locomotives have survived the day. PL 691 has been plinthed outside the Southern Railway headquarters in Chennai. PL 692 has been plinthed outside BNR Hotel (now Chanakya) at Puri. PL 693 has been plinthed on the Ramakrishna beach, Vishakhapatnam and PL 694 has been plinthed outside the Vishakhapatnam station. All of them are in fairly good shape.
The Baripada Steam Shed can be converted into a prominent place on the steam map of the world. If properly restored, this heritage shed can be transformed from a ruin, lost and forgotten, to a grand museum. It will draw steam enthusiasts from India and abroad, who have come to enjoy the steam engines in their full glory. There are many who have not seen a working Steam Locomotive in their lives. Seeing such huge machines at work is one the most humbling experience in life and perhaps, the most joyous one too.