Aug. 24: A missing dog or cat may take a few hours or days to find but how long does it take to locate a “missing” train engine?
Four months, if you are the Indian Railways.
The electric locomotive — all 70 tonnes of it — was reported “lost” from the Kazipet junction in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh, in April.
After a nationwide search, with lookout notices pasted at every major junction, it has been found just 4km from the Kazipet loco shed, stranded on an unused track behind a hillock where its drunken drivers had abandoned it.
At least now you know why, if you lose your luggage on a train, you shouldn’t expect the railways to find it.
The powerful locomotive, which can pull a full-length goods train, had been taken out of the shed to haul wagons parked at a distance from Kazipet station. But the drivers, who seem to have had a swig too many, took it along the wrong track.
A while later, when it began raining, they jumped off the loco and took shelter under a tree. Later, they trudged back to the station, having apparently forgotten about the engine.
All hell broke loose. The South Central Railway, Government Railway Police and the Railway Protection Force joined hands to crack the mystery of the missing loco. Railway staff clocked hundreds of miles on their four-wheel, two-seater “trackers” scouring the state’s railroads.
When the search failed, passengers were surprised to see a lookout notice displayed prominently at every major junction. The notice, issued a few days ago by the chief electrical locomotive engineer, asked all “loco pilots” and “assistant loco pilots” to watch out for locomotive number 24039/WAG5/JHS and report immediately if they saw it.
But no one thought of looking at the old “central Mumbai track” running out of Kazipet.
“Eventually, a motorist on a rural road alerted us about a train engine lying in the middle of an abandoned track,” a railway official said.
Railway police superintendent P. Kantha Rao said: “Yes, I have heard that the missing locomotive has been found but we haven’t received any information about that from South Central Railway or the Railway Protection Force.”
Loco shed officials said the engine went unnoticed for months because there was no traffic at all on the abandoned line.
“What would have happened if the loco had been stranded on the trunk route? There would have been a disaster,” shuddered Nori Narasimham, a banker and frequent railway traveller.
But one thing is certain: it would not have stayed missing for so many days.