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The great Indian rail story

An illustrator and fan of Indian Railways studies the lifeline of our country to illustrate over 100 Indian rail engines

There has always been a sense of enigma around railways. From the choo-choo of a steam engine of yesteryear, the clackety-clack of wheels running on a joint on the railroad, to the horn of a distant train, announcing its arrival — it has inspired many works, right from children's literature and poetry to the first moving images on screen. For desi film buffs, there are iconic frames like the epic fight scene in Sholay. But what remains at the epicentre of this is the engine, one whose evolution has in many ways, coincided with India’s growth.

The WAG 7 is an AC-powered (A), broad gauge (W) engine suitable for goods (P) trains, also built in Erode Electric Shed. The number 7 in its name denotes that this locomotive is chronologically the seventh electric locomotive model used by the Indian Railways for goods service.The WAG 7 is an AC-powered (A), broad gauge (W) engine suitable for goods (P) trains, also built in Erode Electric Shed. The number 7 in its name denotes that this locomotive is chronologically the seventh electric locomotive model used by the Indian Railways for goods service.

Chronicling these agents of change, is Siddharth Dasari, a graphic designer from Vishakhapatnam, who recently released a set of illustrated rail engine wallpapers on the website, Cupick.com. Till date, the artist has illustrated 46 engines, and is planning to launch a website that will serve as an online encyclopedia on these engines.

The WAP 4 is created in the Erode Electric Loco Shed. It is an AC-powered (A), broad gauge (W) engine suitable for passenger (P) trains. The number 4 in its name denotes that this locomotive is chronologically the fourth electric locomotive model used by the railways for passenger service.
The WAP 4 is created in the Erode Electric Loco Shed. It is an AC-powered (A), broad gauge (W) engine suitable for passenger (P) trains. The number 4 in its name denotes that this locomotive is chronologically the fourth electric locomotive model used by the railways for passenger service.

Art on track
In 2013, Siddharth Dasari was visiting his grandfather in Hyderabad, where he met a retired railway engineer who used to design engines for the Indian railways. The retired gentleman’s passion for rail engines generated curiosity in the graphic designer, and thus began the Indian Rail Project, which saw him illustrate nearly 46 rail engines in the next three years.
"You will be surprised by the number of people who are enthusiastic about rail engines. There are too many blogs and groups, each talking about rail engines, their make, the sound, horn, speed; everything. Many, in fact, spend hours, trying to spot a train and record its sound. It’s a whole different world of rail engine fans out there," he says.

The WDM 3A, built in Gooty Diesel Loco Shed (South Central Railway), is a diesel-powered (D),  broad gauge (W) engine suitable for both, goods and passenger (P) trains. It is also built in Erode Electric Shed. The 3A in its name denotes that this locomotive’s power is 3,100 hp (3 stands for 3000 hp, ‘A’ denotes 100 hp more)
The WDM 3A, built in Gooty Diesel Loco Shed (South Central Railway), is a diesel-powered (D),  broad gauge (W) engine suitable for both, goods and passenger (P) trains. It is also built in Erode Electric Shed. The 3A in its name denotes that this locomotive’s power is 3,100 hp (3 stands for 3000 hp, ‘A’ denotes 100 hp more)

Having been exposed to the rail obsession, Dasari began on a similar journey, capturing trains and engines during his travels, and illustrating each engine individually. "Since childhood, I have been curious about trains. And after I met the retired rail designer and other rail enthusiasts, I knew I had to do something. Illustrations came naturally, since I knew it well," shares Dasari, who is a graduate from National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.

Illustrations of rail engines WAM4, an indigenously designed locomotive from Chitranjan Locomotive Works in 1970, and built at Arakkonam Junction ELS for mixed service

Dasari has managed to not only capture the essence of rail engines, but has also been able to represent every minute detail — from its shape and structure to duplicating the most intricate element of each logo on its façade . Still, it wasn’t easy to get his hands on images of every rail engine that runs on India’s lifeline. "I had a lot of help from rail enthusiasts across the country, and from platforms like railinfo.com, which helped with details about the engines. Without them, it wouldn’t have been possible," he admits.

WDG4, a goods locomotive built in Kazipet Diesel Loco shed

Another variant of the WDM3A, a mixed locomotive from New Guwahati Diesel Shed
Another variant of the WDM3A, a mixed locomotive from New Guwahati Diesel Shed. Illustration Courtesy/Siddharth Dasari

Wheels for India
Such precision in artwork would need time, we imagine. "It takes at least four to five days to finish each illustration. But in between, it has been slow.

Final version of rail engine prototypes created by Siddharth Dasari
Final version of rail engine prototypes created by Siddharth Dasari

I had almost given up on the project but some time ago, a blog picked up my works and a wallpaper company showed interest in selling the illustrations as posters. I am nearly done, and am expecting to finish the rest soon," he adds.

Initial sketches from the illustrator's drawing board
Initial sketches from the illustrator's drawing board

Buoyed, Dasari wants to take forward his Indian Rail Project. He wants to create a pictorial guide for enthusiasts keen to learn about rail engines. The graphic designer has a prototype ready for a website, and is expecting to release it soon. "I am almost there, and working towards making it live," he says, adding, "There’s also a children’s colouring book, and a coffee-table book for grown-ups lined up."

Siddharth Dasari
Siddharth Dasari

Log on to: siddharthdasari.com

The Rail engine syntax

Whenever you look at a rail engine, you will spot a combination of letters and names printed on its façade. Siddharth Dasari explains that while the letters denote the type of the engine and the work it can do, the names represent the home shed where it was made.

>> When it comes to engine names, the first letter denotes the gauge (the breadth of railway tracks), the second letter denotes the motive type and the third letter represents the type of job it’s designed to perform. Here are a few
letters usually found in the engine names:

W: Indian broad gauge (W stands for wide gauge) which is 5ft 6in wide.

y:
Metre gauge, the letter Y stands for Yard gauge, which is 3ft or 1000mm wide.

Z: Refers to narrow gauge which is 2ft 6in wide.

N: For narrow gauge or toy gauge which is 2ft wide.

D: Diesel only

C: DC electric (can run under DC overhead line only

A: AC electric

CA: Both DC and AC (these engines can run under both AC and DC overhead line)

B: Battery electric locomotive

G: Goods

P: Passenger

M: Mixed; these engines can be used for goods and passenger trains

S: Shunting (these engines are used as switching engines or switchers)

U: Multiple units (Usually refers to EMU/DMU engines used for short-distance local trains like in Mumbai)

R: Railcars

>> Apart from these letters, some engines also come with extra letters like 4 in WAP4 and 3A in WDM 3A to denote engine rank in terms of introduction, and traction power.

>> The name of the locomotive shed where an engine is made (its home) is usually printed either on the front or side. The shed names appear in Roman letters on one side and the full name of the shed in Devanagari on the other. For example, Erode refers to the Erode Electric Loco Shed and AJJ for cars from Arakkonam Junction Electric Loco Shed.

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