Out of favour with CR, ‘pappus’ still a hit with WR
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Even as the Central Railway's (CR) shunting engines, fondly called 'pappus', are now almost extinct after losing a long battle for survival, these are still being routinely pressed into service by the Western Railway (WR). Despite the availability of modern engines, the WR has not retired its 'helicopters' — another name used for these hydraulic-based, small but powerful shunting engines.
From 80 a decade ago, the pappu count at CR came down to 20 last year. "Despite protests by many CR officials, the remaining 20 pappus were condemned at the CR last year. Right now, it has only two small engines - one for taking garbage from tracks and one for shunting purposes at its home at the Kurla carshed," said a CR official, who did not wish to be named.
"The WR, however, has not condemned its 31 small shunters. During the monsoon, these green-coloured engines attached to wagons are seen on tracks, carrying bags filled with muck and silt.
"CR is known for low-lying areas, and during monsoon, these engines are much-needed. But with the end of these pappus, CR has lost its 'rescuers' — they always rescued local trains trapped on flooded tracks during the monsoon," said the official.
Normally, in case of electrical failure, sections are cleared by these small locomotives. However during monsoon, when the tracks are flooded, the helicopters/ pappus are pressed into service. With its large wheels, they have higher ground clearing than normal engines.
The services of these small engines were extensively used during the 2005 deluge in the city and after the 2006 Mumbai serial train bomb blasts, to clear the clogged suburban section. Besides, they also facilitate in transporting the medical van to the accident site. As these locomotives are fitted with coupling rods, their wheels do not slip on the line.