Howrah Loco/Trip Shed!!!

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Acknowledgement :-

My trip, my learning experience, my understanding of the Locomotives, my easy access to all the workshops, and my innumerable questions being answered and explained to, has all been possible because of the kind help and encouragement of Mr Brijesh Kumar, AEE, HWH Loco Shed, Howrah.
Thank You sir, Thank you very much.
I am ever grateful to you.

A continuous horn assaults the ears, making me wish I had brought a pair of earplugs along. Sometimes it’s low tone, sometimes high. I wonder what’s the matter as even a 130 km/hr station skip does not warrant this much honking. And here the locos would be moving at maximum 5 or 10 km/hr; surely slow enough for the workmen to move out of harm’s way without being turned deaf in the process.

The horn has been repaired and is being tested. At least the problem was relatively minor then, unlike some of the locos which are standing with missing bogies or defective traction converters. A bewildering array of spare parts – motors, bogies, brake cylinders stretches out almost to infinity.

At the entrance i am greeted by a couple of localite WAP4s. They are in the fact the flag-bearers of the huge procession which stands assembled in rank and file. Row upon row of locos lies dormant, some completely dead and some energized and idling, the blowers whirring away to glory. The primary occupant is the proven workhorse, the P4, and after that comes its biggest challenger, the new hi-tech three-phase machine. Some of the names are familiar – locos which have hauled me in the past or have at least appeared before my camera.

There is a vast difference though between locos at the station and at the shed. From the platform, they are impressive but from the shed they appear almost overwhelming. Even more so as I see the spare parts ranged on the workshop floor.

In one area there are rotors of the P4’s mighty traction motors. They are the same as the ‘ordinary’ rotors I have seen on fans and mixers, except for the magnification by about thousand. The complete motors are also arranged beside the isolated rotors – their size makes them appear like oil drums.

 Well, six of those motors can make mincemeat of a 24 coach 1500 tonne rake so one cannot expect them to be piddly, but still their size is mind-boggling. The motors have the driving gear attached to them, and I quickly count the 23 teeth. Many of the gear wheels are freshly painted with the newly solidified black pigment reaching towards the ground like stalactites.

 Another part of the shop floor is the storehouse of the axles, and yet another has the complete bogies. Once again in my life I get to see the motors in their actual place, connected to the wheels they power. What is even more amazing is the components other than the motors themselves. Amid the dizzying array of wires and pipes I can just make out the suspension springs with dashpots and the connections to the brake cylinder.

Another exhibit on display is the array of pantographs. That is a component one tends to take for granted but now I can clearly glimpse the complications behind the simple exterior. There is the shoe with the spring mechanism to keep the attachment secure. There is the device to raise and lower the panto, and to fold it in the process. And of course the conductors to transfer the current from the OHE to the inside of the loco. The view of the loco’s innards is at once spectacular and frightening – after seeing the complexity beneath the shell, it appears an even greater wonder that the loco is running trouble-free day after day. Well, not exactly trouble-free as there are so many of them in the shed, awaiting repair both major and minor.

Me being a fan of induction motors, the WAP7 is my natural selection, and I am led over to a bay where one of the white beasts is undergoing repair. To my utter surprise it is none other than 30311 of Howrah. Apparently it is here due to a damaged panto. I start hunting for the steps leading up from the ground. When I finally locate them, my blood freezes – the first two steps are still ok but then the next is a recessed groove a good metre above the second step. I check again but no; between the two there is only the brake cylinder and if I step on that, it will mean additional work for the shed staff. After the groove, it is a short step upward and outward into the cab floor. I find these acrobatics daunting but now as a railfan and loco fan, the last thing I can afford is to make a mess of boarding a P7. As I had thought, the first two steps pose little difficulty; the challenge comes after. Grabbing the handrail tightly in both hands I apply hundred percent tractive effort combined with a jump up from the second step. I am lucky and land safely on third, from which point a second kick accompanied by a fresh tug at the handrail sees me with a sigh of relief landing up inside 30311.

After this the rest is a thrill. The two cabs of the loco are connected by a gangway. I walk down from Cab 2 (Howrah side) to Cab 1 (Delhi side) passing various blowers, coolers and the traction converter. Some of the components are imports carrying foreign labels; the rest are more familiar names. One of the blowers is made by Orient Fans – a company we have actually rejected at home because of the tales we have heard about it from various people. Possibly our domestic stance on Orient needs a relook. The LP’s cab appears quite comfortable and ergonomically designed – the throttle is the centrepiece, the brake related equipment and meters are on the left while the speedo and related controls are on the right. The reverser handle is lying isolated from its notch, and I feel like sticking it in, pulling the horn knob and giving the throttle a little shove forward. The control desk of the unmanned P7 sure tempts my wandering eyes and heedless heart but I have to accept that today it is not lawful prize. While the dead loco cannot physically respond to its temporary and unwelcome pilot, that sort of childish game would ensure that this trip is my last. And that thought quickly kills all desire to fiddle with 30311. 

Surely I have had more railfanning for the day than I deserve.

The shunting LP is followed by a posse of workmen returning to HWH from the shed. A large notice in the cab orders us to switch off our mobile phones, an issue of which I was aware from a recent IRFCA thread. The LP checks if we are all aboard and then pulls the horn lever towards the LT side.

He does not go the whole way so the blast stops short of shattering my eardrum. The honk rather resembles the drone of the conch shells used to inaugurate any auspicious occasion. Certainly the present occasion is as auspicious as can be – once again one more ride on the footplate.

Sitting in the cab I get yet another feel for the enormous size and weight of the loco as it lumbers forward in response to the LP’s command to notch up to 1. A panoramic view of Howrah shed and surroundings appears against the canonical barred grill – there are the shed lines running along the right side and the main Up and Down lines on the left. Localite 16445R is in front of us (on another line), doing the same shed to station run as we are. 

An EMU is disappearing into the distance along main Down.
I try hard to listen to any whine but the motors are silent at this low level of power. The primary noise stems from the blowers and after that comes the clatter of the bogies on the track. We accelerate a bit as we join the main line from the stabling line. At some places there are workmen on the tracks and the LP warns them off with a blast of the LT horn. The speedometer pushes up to 20 km/hr and holds steady there. The oncoming signal is yellow and the LP passes it coolly. A horn approaches from the left, getting louder and louder, and we are soon overtaken by an EMU in MRVC colours. 

Countless times I have seen overtake action from the viewpoint of both victor and vanquished but this was a different kind of sighting altogether. Even after the action is complete the local train slowly dwindles out of sight through the rounded rectangular windscreen. So far as throttle and brakes are concerned, the LP does more or less what I had expected him to do and I again get an irresistible urge to grab the controls in my hands. Reasoning similar to that on 30311 restrains me, and I limit myself to envying the LP who gets to handle these lovely beasts every day.

Before I can even get used to the footplate, the platforms are in sight. One of the workmen jumps off the moving loco with elan. I marvel at his ability to negotiate the dreaded steps on the run like a circus acrobat. The LP brakes a bit when he sees the jump-off. There is a rake on the platform directly in front of us – that is the one to which we will get coupled. The LP comes to a full stop about one coach length short of the train and then applies 1st notch for a brief second. 

We crawl towards the quarry at 4 km/hr but even that is deemed too fast by the LP who applies brakes again. We head for a halt so again a slight amount of notching is required to get us to 2km/hr which retards to 1 when we finally come to rest against the train. The gentleness with which we approach the rake reminds me of the elephants which pick up coins and distribute them to the amazed onlookers. I wonder just how much skill is required to park the brute so delicately against the rake – the buffers touching but the train moving hardly an inch on impact.
Thus ends one of the most memorable days of my life.

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Who Am I?

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A Rail Enthusiast. Born and brought up in Calcutta. Have interests in rolling stock and Locomotives and their control techniques.
Also love to collect information and trivia on our Indian Railway network...
Have worked with ABB, Siemens, Bombardier Transportation and Larsen & Toubro as an intern. 
I majored in Electronics and Communications Engineering as my undergraduate degree on 2nd August 2016.