Gujarat, India – November 22nd 2016
(Note: The following images were taken with official permission from the Indian Railways)
India’s meter gauge network one spanned thousands of miles, reaching from the very southern tip of the country in Rameshwaram to the mountainous north in Argatala. There were many stations where numerous meter gauge lines would meet, until recently there were even big cities like Jaipur and Madurai were served exclusively by meter gauge. However Project Unigauge has slowly but surely shrunk the meter gauge network down to the small fragmented system it is today. One goal of this trip was to photograph an entirely meter gauge junction station that had not been changed by gauge conversion, until early 2016 the go to spot was Philibit Junction, Uttar Pradesh in Northern India, however by November 2016 it had been reduced to just two lines and much of the infrastructure in disarray as the conversion process for the other lines gets underway. By this time there were less than 10 solely meter gauge junction left in India, Nanpara Junction in Uttar Pradesh, several on the Gir Network in western Gujrat and my target for the day, Himmatnagar Junction just north of Ahmedabad. Himmatnagar is the junction between the Ahmedabad to Udaipur and a branchline to Khed Brahma. While this was once a major artery of the meter gauge network today the junction only hosts 13 trains per day, all unreserved locals after the night train lost first its AC coach and then sleeper coaches in October 2016 just before my visit. However station still had some very impressive infrastructure including a veritable forest of cable operated semaphores, two interlocking towers and of course a manned station with token machines.
I’ve gotten alot of questions about the operation of these semaphores for previous photos so I have included the following hand drawn diagram which explains the function of each signal. After opening the full size image you can click each signal for a picture of it in real life. For those unfamiliar with the British signalling the three types of signals are:
1.) Warner (approach signal to station)
2.) Home (Signal that controls the switches into the station)
3.) Starter (Controls exit from station, gives permission to depart)
4.) Outer (gives permission to next station)
At this station there are also 4 crossover signals, one signal head for the crossover track and one for the main.
Click to open interactive image, click each signal on map for photo:
I had departed Himatnagar at 0600 in the morning after spending the night in the Hotel Payal following my all day train ride from Udaipur. Due to the train patterns and light angles I decided to spend the morning at the smaller Nandol Dahegam before returning to Himmatnagar on the 52920 Ahmedabad to Himmatnagar at 1300. I arrived at Himmatnagar and watched as the crew quickly uncoupled the locomotive and went to turn the locomotive, allowing for some photos of it passing through the amazing array of semaphore signals.
After the locomotive was attached back to the train I knew I would have some time before the 14:20 departure and went to speak to the station agent who graciously let me take a photograph inside his office. Note the dual token machines for the two line segments.
With plenty of time to kill I explored the decaying former goods yard that once no doubt was alive and busy with YDM4’s and YG steam locomotives switching out freight trains for Udaipur and beyond. Semaphores still guard the sidings but one has already been decommissioned. A steam era coal bunker can also be seen in the trees ahead, something I only spotted in pictures after the fact of course!
Due to the complexity of the track layout the junction has a interlocking tower at both ends of the station. The north tower stands here guarding the complex array of semaphores that guards the junction to Khed Brahma. For some reason I didnt think to go up in the interlocking tower, a major regret but James Billingham has kindly provided a shot inside the tower at Ringas Junction on the Jaipur-Sikar line for illustration.
A big part of my motivation to spent time here was the rare 5 blade semaphore signal that protected the south end of the station. Once a common sight all over India semaphores like the meter gauge have been rapidly disappearing as the Indian Railways moves quickly into the modern age. At 14:20 right on time the southbound starter signal dropped to clear and 52919 slowly chugged off towards Ahmedabad. The light was not the best as it was straight down the rails so I made the decision to postpone my departure and take the later Udaipur-Ahmedabad Mewar Fast passenger so I could photograph 52923.
52919 would be the last train movement for 2 and a half hours until the arrival of 52923 from Khed Brahma. At one the line was host to meter gauge express trains that connected Ahmedabad to Delhi and many other destinations but as the MG network shrank these trains disappeared leaving only the local trains and one night express. Freight traffic had been non existent as well since the MG north of Udaipur was closed in 2004, curiously two rusted out MG boxcars still sat in the siding, more than likely they were scrapped in place when the line closed. A keen observer can also spot the old water tank for refilling steam locomotives that not long ago were in regular service here. There were all kinds of remnants of the steam era just out of site here that I wish I had thought to document properly but hindsight is 20/20.
With this in mind I headed back to the Hotel Payal to retrieve my bag and grab a bite to eat. I figured the hotel resteraunt would be a safe choice and it was dietary wise but not so much palatte wise. I got my first introduction to fiery Gujrati cuisine and my veg biryani and garlic naan were both blazing hot, a gentleman sitting next to me took pity and instructed the waiter to bring me a side of butter to help cool the spices. Definitely a useful trick for future ordeals! After finishing my food I headed back to the station and tried to find a way to dump my bag so I could move around easily to photograph 52923, the language was an issue but I eventually managed to convince the staff to let me leave my bag in the otherwise unoccupied first class waiting room, somewhat of a pointless room nowdays as only two trains with reserved accommodations stop here every day. With the bag dropped I walked to the north end of the station to wait for the train to arrive from Khed Brahma. It was a hard decision on where to stand in the field of semaphores but I managed to include most of them in these shots.
Now for the reason I had worked so hard to ditch my bag, with only a 5 minute stop I hastily made my way to the down home signals for the shot I had been wanting in good light all day. I had just barely got into place when the train began to pull away. Semaphores, a clean YDM4 facing shorthood forward, great low evening light and a little bit it of smoke, couldnt ask for anything better! Glad I got rid of the bag!
The light was quickly fading and I returned to the station to retrieve my bag, I struck up a conversation the best I could with the station staff and gave them some prints to look over. I got so caught up talking and trying (and failing) to negotiate a cab ride that I was out of place to photograph the arrival of my train the Mewar Fast passenger 52927 but the light was about gone by then anyways. After the customary 30 minute halt we headed for Ahmedabad in the rapidly fading light. It would be a long dark journey sitting in the less than comfortable wood bench seats but I was able to strike up a bit of conversation with my fellow passenger Mohan who spoke some English. He was returning from Udaipur on business and was unable to get bus tickets so had to take the long way by train, a journey few others than local villagers and crazy rail enthusiasts undertake. Finally after 3 train meets and drifting in and out of sleep a few times we arrive at Ahmedabad Junction after 3 hours. My new friend helps me find a rickshaw that takes me to the short distance to the Hotel Ritz. As the name implies this is a rather fancy hotel and while I could easily afford it due to the currency differences I felt very out of place walking in to the marble tiled lobby dirty and no doubt smelling like diesel fumes. I quickly washed up and went to sleep in the comfortable bed as tomorrow would be another day of adventures.
The Ahmedabad to Udaipur line as well as the branch to Khed Brahma were closed on January 1st 2017 and no doubt everything in these photos is gone today. The locomotives and coaches have likely been scrapped or are being rebuilt for other countries, the stations, signals and other infrastructure has all been uprooted and new broad gauge tracks installed. When the line reopens in a year or so it will likely be much faster but entirely soulless. I’m glad to have experienced this wonderful meter gauge line in its final days.
Hotel Payal, Himmatnagar Gujrat:
Affordably priced and the quality about matches the price so nothing spectacular but good enough after a long day. The hotel did have a 24 reception which was very helpful since I was arriving late and leaving early. The clerks spoke English though at first they were reluctant to accept my booking.com reservation but eventually got checked in fine, paying ahead of time with booking.com was a godsend as this was in the middle of the currency demonetization fiasco. No luggage store space but kept mine in the lobby after telling the cleark and it was safe when I got back, the hotel has a guard at the door so security is good. The bed was reasonably comfortable, wifi worked as well as can be expected in out of the way India and shower had hot water (typical Indian geyser setup). The restaurant was quite good but the phrase “kam masala” (less spice) will serve you well unless you like your food actively on fire. Of course this is all basically pointless info as few reading this will want to go to Himatnagar now or will even be able to get there with now rail service for atleast a year while the line is converted.
Ritz Inn, Ahmedabad Gujrat
One of the nicer hotels I stayed at in India and a staple for visiting rail enthusiasts. The hotel is located very close to the station but its best to take a rickshaw as the traffic filled streets of Ahmedabad can be very disorienting and hard to cross. The hotel is upscale by Indian standards but a night here will only run about 40-50 US dollars, quite a deal. After being up since 6 thrashing about I was dead tired by the time I got checked in and I can’t really comment on anything other than the room and bathroom were clean and the bed was comfortable! Would recommend if you are staying overnight in Ahmedabad.
I used makemytrip, an Indian travel booking site which worked well. Book here