A brief respite from regular Convention updates.
Some of you (apart from the Hyderabad party) might be coming down to Chennai via Vijaywada. While some others might wish to take an opportunity and indulge in short rail fanning trips. So here is a write I compiled digging into past posts of IRFCA mailing list and the internet on Bitragunta. Hope it is of some interest.
Bitragunta is located between Vijayawada and Chennai on the east coast trunk line. The town is in the Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh. Nearest major stations is Nellore to the south and Ongole to the north. But a few express trains do halt at Bitragunta today.
Bitragunta’s significance lies in the history of the Steam Era. The abundance of suitable water and availability of plain land enabled the construction of a unique Mechanical Loco Shed. The loco shed was first constructed in the year 1885. A roundhouse with turn-table facility was added in 1934. The roundhouse was known for its architectural value and joined the Mysore roundhouse as one of two spectacular loco sheds in the country. At that time, the loco shed handled 45 steam locomotives and later went on to become one of the biggest in the Indian Railways. Bitragunta was also provided with a major yard and also inter-changing depots for the drivers and guards. The steam shed was logistically important to medium and long distance trains originating from Madras and the ones passing through Vijaywada down south. In those days, experiments were being made with the Pacific locomotives (WP) of the Grand Trunk Express to provide it more mileage in terms of water and coal consumption. The objective was to provide the GT with a non-stop run between Madras and Vijaywada. The WPs were fitted with water scoops, to enable them to take on water while on the run. A water trough was constructed at Bitragunta just for the purpose. The water scoops on the WPs worked well enough. Unfortunately, due to a deteriorated level of the quality of coal, the engine had to be changed at Bitragunta. The coal carried in the locomotive’s tender could not sustain the 420 km long journey, due to the high ash content. Bitragunta had 22 WP locos in its shed then. Later, the shed, under South Central railways held 59 WG and 5 XD locomotives.
Along with the growth of Indian Railways, the marshalling activities at Bitragunta increased manifold. In 1968, a full-fledged marshalling yard with hump facility was established and a wagon-repair depot was added later. The marshalling activities included segregation of wagons and long-distance marshalling orders. The activities continued until 1998. Bitragunta was also a known “railway cantonment”. Predominantly occupied by Anglo Indians, it had 1000 spacious railway quarters built in European style. It also hosted a Western Culture Institute that is standing till today as the legend of those glorious days. The evolution in the mode of traction power from steam to diesel and diesel to electric caused the reduction of shed-activities and finally the steam shed at Bitragunta was closed. The closure of the marshalling yard brought a complete closure to the glory of the railway town. Consequent upon the closure of the steam loco shed in Bitragunta, the infrastructure, other equipment and land have not yet been utilized for any purpose. But Bitragunta still continues as a changing point for all up & down freight trains. Most of the express trains continue to halt here. An ART and MRV are still stationed at Bitragunta. The station still retains vestiges of the glorious past in form of its long platform and old buildings. The remains of the steam shed and the roundhouse can still be seen today.
Suggested itienery from Chennai:
Leave Chennai by 6031/6093 Andaman/ Chennai-Lucknow Express.
Reach Bitragunta by 9.09 AM.
Return trip involves a halt at Nellore as there is no suitable direct train from Bitragunta. here are the options:
10:45 AM Vijaywada Gudur passenger. Arrive at Nellore by 11:25 AM.
11:59 AM 7481/7479 Bilaspur/Puri – Tirupati Express. Arrive at Nellore by 12:28 PM.
12:12 PM: 2655 Navjivan Express. reach Chennai by 16:05
15:40 PM 5630/5930/2663/2665 GHY-MS/Dibrugarh Town-MS/HWH-TPJ/HWH-CAPE. Arrive at Chennai Egmore20:05/20:30
17:40 BZA-MAS jan Shatabdi Express. Arrive at MAS by 21:05
The last one might involve quite some time of waiting. Either way, have lunch at a local restaurant, the famed ice cream at Babu Cool Drinks and spend some time watching freights go by.