The Fourth Night – 17-Oct-2013 :
RCF was a typical nondescript station with traffic mainly being employees moving in and out of the factory moving to Jalandhar and beyond. As we deboarded the flying camel aka Firozpur DEMU a convoy of cars with SBI Kapurthala Branch executives liberally expressed their warmest greetings and quickly whisked us away to the main administrative building of RCF Kapurthala. An armed security escort & pilot was missing which could have completed the PM convoy treatment. A quick history of Kapurthala in a condensed form was displayed along the hallway as we were made to wait in the main conference room. Punjabi hospitality at its best as we were immediately served tea and refreshments and with no further delay, the GM (Yes, The General Manager himself) welcomed us and started off with a short 10-minute video of RCF and its capabilities. I have to insist that this would have put any marketing collateral and NGC documentaries to shame and one of the moments which would make you proud to be an Indian and to see what we are capable of. With the video out of our way, a constructive discussion followed and the Railfans in us came up with our curiosity and wanted to know a lot of stuff and had tons of suggestions to share. However, respect is mutual and the fact that the GM of RCF had actually earmarked close to an hour for us is not to be taken lightly and we did not intend to waste much of his time. The discussion centered mainly around augment LHB coaches production capacity, role of Rae Bareilly and ICF in the longer term. Most of the suggestions centered around CBC coupling and its asociated jerks, how LHB AC expresses have taken Rajdhani livery thereby stripping the Rajdhani’s of its exclusivity, charging points in side lower berths of LHB’s etc. As we neared the end of our discussion, the GM assigned his right and left hands to make us feel comfortable and satisfy our curiosity. We thanked the GM for his time and set forth on our mission, only this time a couple of more cars was added to the convoy.
As we entered the main shop floor, we were instructed not to click any pictures or shoot videos of any work or machinery within the premises. However we were allowed to carry our cameras and mobiles. The factory area had a fluid workflow based layout and was long enough to consume close to a kilometre and a half of your daily walk schedule. No wonder the workers seemed fit and pumped up. I do not want to detail too much on the layout and work involved for one simple reason as its been close to 20 months and I am unable to recollect in vivid detail and the lack of photographs to refresh my memory, however the workflow was very fluid and with some state of the art machines. The factory is divided into multiple divisions to handle specialized tasks. Needless to stay, it all starts with precision cutting of the outer body, floor, moulded roof and all the larger parts of a typical LHB coach. Precision laser guided computer controlled machines subsequently cut out windows, door openings, conduits for electrical circuits etc. A second division gets the undercarriage assembly prepared in parallel along with another dedicated bending machine which creates the door frames fully automated in the blink of an eye. As we move towards the end of the long 1.5 km walk the entire skeleton of a typical LHB coach is ready as bare as it could be. As we move forward the undercarriage and the wheel assembly is integrated onto the body.
We move out of the main assembly area and walk around the sand blasting section where the body is bombarded with fine sand at high speed to increase adhesion as it enters the paint job. We moved on to the painting section and looking at those freshly painted coaches was a sight which would probably remain etched for a while. Next stop furnishing & electrics. Seats, berths, Cushions, curtains, wiring , electrical fittings and everything else you see around. This is where the authorities let us have some fun. We were allowed to get into any of the finished coaches and have a look around and were allowed photgraphy with their permission. We spent a good amount of time here and the authorities let us indulge. Lots of group clicks and clicks of brand new coaches smelling of fresh paint made us forget the long walks in oppressive heat. The final section would take care of couplers, cables, hotel load pipes, brake pipes and everything else along with Zone markings as and when it gets ready to be shipped to its respective zone
The entire factory visit lasted close to a couple of hours and by then the long walks and oppressive heat had taken a toll on us. Lots of water and queestions later, we were given a tour of residential facilities within RCF and it ended with tea and refreshments again at the sprawling golf course of RCF. We thanked RCF for their exceptional treatment and promised to be in touch. However, it is not yet over. SBI now decided to take it a notch higher and wanted to prove that there is no limit to warmth and generosity of the Punjabis. They had planned a delicious buffet lunch for the entire team at their premises. A sumptuous meal followed by generic discussions and it was time to bid goodbye as we did not intend to overstay the reception. We were dropped at Kapurthala station and a late running DEMU was just in time to rescue us from the unrelenting heat. A couple of crossings and another bone rattling ride later, we were back at Jalandhar on our way to our hotel to freshen up and gear up for the next activity
After a long hot day in relentless heat, it was time to unwind, relax and move on back to The Capital. Our return to Jalandhar was delayed significantly due to a couple of crossings on a single line section. The locals on seeing such “irregular” travellers along with them on the DEMU were naturally curious and interesting conversations ensued. The one that stood out for me went something like this. The conversation was in Hindi, but I present only the subtitles in English here.
Local : Where are you going from here ?
Me : Delhi
Local : Oh, there are a couple of trains right away, you can take whichever you want.
Me : No. We have reservation for a night train.
Local (With an expression of disbelief to his friend) : Bro, looks like they have reservation and all.
Back to our rooms in the hotel, we needed something to lift our spirits up and just as you have guessed, Bingo, Punjab was bone dry as well. However, we managed what we wanted and reached the station to board the Udhampur – Delhi Sarai Rohilla AC express, which has a reputation of reaching Delhi 30 minutes before time. What we did not expect us was that the train sneaked silently onto our platform with no announcement and we just had a couple of minutes before we realized that it was our train. Before we realized what happened, tiredness took us hostage and the eyes came back to life a good 30 minutes before the scheduled arrival of our train at Delhi woken up to some high pitched screams from the coach attendant. The brain came back to life 5 minutes later.