Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Bus on the Railroad...

The old often makes way for the new. Vintage modes of transport are losing out to newer and faster means of conveyance. As the years roll on, it is inevitable that these timeless treasures make their way into museums and become chapters in history. Since the experience is elusive, some innovative inventions come to life only through stories of the past.
Railcars and railbuses feature among the unique carriers in the ranks of the Indian Railways. During a joyride that lasted for thirty-five minutes, I savoured sights and sounds aboard the only operational railbus in Karnataka. The railbus was on its routine daily round trip between Bangarpet and Kolar. Kids were quick to seize the seats on the first row which offer a good view of the track ahead. Youngsters were hanging by the poles at the door, sticking their heads out. I sat right behind the loco pilot to watch him effortlessly manouver the railbus. While some sneaked a short nap, it was time to read the newspaper for others. For me, it was an opportunity to watch the operation of the railbus from close quarters and to interact with the crew.

Chugging Along
The railbus offers a rare personal touch to its passengers. It has driving cabins at either end with two seats on one side and one seat on the other. During the journey from Bangarpet to Kolar, the assistant loco pilot Shashi found a place amidst the passengers in a coach that was packed to capacity. The wave of a hand made the loco pilot, Madhi halt for someone to get on as the railbus made its way out of the Kolar station. “It is a service in public interest and the railbus is a boon for around 65 government employees who travel from Bangalore to Kolar every day,” said a frequent commuter.
Bangarpet is a junction along the Bangalore-Chennai rail line. Passengers can board Chennai bound trains to reach Bangarpet and proceed to Kolar on the railbus. The departure of the railbus is linked to the arrival of the connecting train from Bangalore which makes it convenient for passengers. While a bus ride from Bangarpet to Kolar would cost Rs 10, the railbus fare is just Rs 3.
As the railbus pulled into the Kolar railway station, the rumble of the carriage ruffled the serenity of the quaint, colonial station. The loco pilot and assistant loco pilot, who were the last to disembark, obliged to be captured on my camera. After the riveting journey, I soaked in the rustic charm of the station, the operations of which are managed by just one person, the station master.

Stop and Go

A single rail line connects the Kolar and Bangarpet stations. In this section the “one train only token system” is used for controlling inbound and outbound rail traffic. The possession of a baton with the names of the two stations etched on it authorises a train to pass between them. One also gets to see the antiquated semaphore arm signal. When the semaphore arm is at a 180 degree angle, it indicates that the train should stop. When the arm is at a 90 degree angle, it implies that the signal is green and the train can pass through. A 45 degree inclination is a signal of caution.

Innovation Meets Simplicity
Innovative engineering, ease of maintenance and simple operation are some of the features of the Bangarpet-Kolar broad gauge (BG) railbus which was designed and developed indigenously by Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML). The four-wheeled single unit self-propelled diesel locomotive combines the simplicity of bus engineering with the comfort of a rail coach. Older models of railcars and railbuses had only one driving cabin and the locomotive was manually rotated on a turntable. This BG railbus manufactured in 1997 has a driving cabin at either end eliminating the need for a turntable.
Railbuses were in vogue a few decades ago but are now on the verge of being wiped out. Although railbuses are not profitable, they continue to function on certain routes for the benefit of the people. The number of round trips of the railbus between Bangarpet and Kolar has been reduced from three to two. How long will it be before Karnataka’s only operational railbus becomes an artifact in a museum?

Quick Facts:

The railbus operates on all days except Sundays.
It departs from Bangarpet at 9:40 am and 4:30 pm.
It departs from Kolar at 11:10 am and 5:15 pm.
The distance between Bangarpet and Kolar is 18 Kms.
The estimated journey time is 35 minutes.
The seating capacity is 72.

Connecting Trains

The Bangalore-Chennai, Chennai Express (2610) is the link to the railbus departing from Bangarpet at 9:40 am.
The Chennai-Bangalore Brindavan Express (2639) is the link for the railbus departing from Kolar at 11:10 am.
The Bangalore-Marikuppam Passenger (514) is the link for the railbus departing from Bangarpet at 4:30pm.
The Chennai-Bangalore, Bangalore Express (2609) is the link for the railbus departing from Kolar at 5:15 pm.

This article was published in Bangalore Mirror on the 6th of September 2009. Below is the link to the online version of the article.


  1. I have not seen a rail bus. Interesting to know about it. Nice work!

  2. Again an splendid research.... good to know about this... Rail Bus. Cool job!

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