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The Sambhar Salt Railway, India, April 2014

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Scott Jesser write about his visit to Sambhar Lake on 8th and 9th April 2014, the pictures below are courtesy of Sumit Sharma/Real India Journeys who made the arrangements for the trip. Following this visit, the party went to Tipong.

Sambhar Salts Limited, owned by the Government of India and the Government of Rajasthan, operates an industrial railway system on Sambhar Lake, 60 kilometres west of Jaipur. Salt is harvested on the lake and moved by rail between March and June on 610mm (2' 0") and metre gauge systems to the salt works, located at the south-western edge of Sambhar Lake town, beside the 5'6" gauge Indian Railways route from Jaipur to Jodhpur.

The Sambhar Salts rail system looks like a capital "E" on its side, with the lower line (running along the southern edge of the lake) and the two outer uprights metre gauge, while the centre upright is 610mm gauge. A board posted beside the track outside the old locomotive shed showed there had been 45 kilometres of metre gauge track and 25 kilometres of 610mm gauge track. There are two diesel-hydraulic locomotives on the 610mm gauge system and two diesel-hydraulic locomotives on the metre gauge system. Track condition is generally very poor, with many rotten timber sleepers and missing dog spikes. Indian Railways have declined to supply Sambhar Salts with metre gauge sleepers, but the site manager hoped this situation may change in the near future.

On the 610mm gauge there is a 125 horsepower VENTRA (Venkateswara Transmissions & Locomotives Limited, Hyderabad) 4wDH (095 of 1985) and a 200 horsepower OEPL (Ovis Equipment Private Limited, Hyderabad) 4wDH without builder's plates that appears to have been supplied some time after 2004 (Simon Darvill's list of Indian/South Asian Industrial Locomotives - revised August 2004 does not show it at Sambhar Salt).

The light blue OEPL locomotive is the only working locomotive on the 610mm gauge, used to haul small four-wheel wagons with steel frames and timber bodywork. When we visited the 610mm gauge system was temporarily out of use with several wagons from the small fleet under repair. The VENTRA locomotive, also painted light blue, has been out of use for several years but the site manager said that with sufficient funds it could be returned to service. The VENTRA appeared to be complete, but as you might expect its bodywork showed signs of extensive corrosion. Also present on the 610mm gauge at the salt works and under repair was a small four wheel inspection trolley, powered by a petrol engine.

On the metre gauge there is a 335 horsepower SAN (Suri and Nayar Engineering & Locomotive Company Limited, Bangalore) 6wDH (217 of 1981) and a 150 horsepower TELCO (Tata Engineering & Locomotive Company, Jamshedpur) 4wDH (109 of 1968). These two locomotives were used each day to move non-braked four-wheel wagons from the sites that were being harvested on the eastern edge of the lake to the works, near the south-western corner of the town.

The large blue SAN 6wDH locomotive is too heavy to be used on the poor track out on the lake, and is confined to operation on just over two kilometres of track between the salt works and the point where the line drops down onto the lake surface. It brings empty wagons out and then waits for the TELCO locomotive to bring loaded wagons back to the handover point. The line through Sambhar Lake town is double-track with several level crossings manned by flagmen, but only one track is now in use. The yellow TELCO 4wDH has a centre-cab with diesel engines under each small hood. Working on the eastern edge of the lake, the TELCO brought loaded trains of 18 wagons several times each day from two loading sites to the handover point. One loading point was 4.5 kilometres from the handover point (6.5 kilometres from the works) while the other loading point was 1.5 kilometres from the handover point (3.5 kilometres from the works).

Another metre gauge line extends west from the works, approximately 6 kilometres along the southern shore of the lake, and then north along a dam wall for just under a kilometre to several small buildings. Workers from Sambhar Lake are taken out to this site each morning in a four wheel trolley, powered by a petrol engine, but there was no sign of any salt harvesting taking place in this area.


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