Saturday, May 26, 2012

Yet Another Rail Trip...

This trip was planned 70 days in advance on April 26th 2011 and the reason was my Indian Council of Medical Research PhD scholarship exam. I’ve had also made a plan to visit Shillong to meet Lynda but due to lack of time I cancelled it. Also traveled to Kerala (Tellicherry) via Chennai, traveled by Coromandel express from Howrah to Chennai Central and then by  Chennai-Mangalore mail to Tellicherry.  Met Vimal, an IRFCA Chennai member at Chennai Central Station.  Finally, on my way to Mumbai, at first I decided to travel via Goa by Goa expess up to Pune and then the Queen of Central Railway, the Deccan Queen to Mumbai but scrapped that plan and decided to travel by Netravati expres to Mumbai from Kannur, in Kerala.
                   Mumbai to Kolkata

After excogitating over which train to travel, I opted for 12859 Gitanjali express, an early morning departure from Mumbai. Although I prefer night starts but this was apparently the only better choice to reach Kolkata on time for my exam.  At one of the reservation centers in Mumbai (although almost always I book my tickets online or through my cell phone) I was surprised not to see long queues because it was a holiday season and usually (and especially) people traveling to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar line up as early as 10PM the preceding day  to get confirm tickets. Well…some were luck to get confirm tickets and those who did not takes the other illegal way out.  Anyway, in about 5 minutes I got my ticket versus ~60-70 minutes had there been a long queue.  My travel date was July 15th 2011 and my exam was scheduled on 17th.  I was happy I got around 2 months to prepare for this exam.
                On the day of travel, I was very excited for 2 reasons: 1) Traveling by train, and 2) Visiting Kolkata after exactly 10 years.  My mom woke me up at 3AM on the button, got myself ready in an hour and off I went.  Boarded a suburban train (or local train as you call in Mumbai) for Victoria Terminus (VT) or Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), politically correct term, from Vidyavihar at 4:30AM and upon reaching VT/CST station at 5AM, I was surprised to see the station so quiet, usually this station is full of people during rush hour.  Quickly I rushed to platform 19 of VT station where Gitanjali express was scheduled to depart and after reaching there, I saw a huge crowd ready to board the train, not an unusual scene!!  Also, I spotted now endangered twin WCG-2 species (locos) on the same platform. Soon those WCG-2s were moved and the rake of Gitanjai express was shunted in by a WDS-6 loco.  This train shares its rake with Howrah-Puri express which is why it had East Coast Railway rake but the train belongs to South Eastern Railway zone.  My coach was 7th from loco and a newly built in the year 2010, also had those mobile/laptop chargers in each aisle.  Exactly at 6AM, the WCAM-3 loco sounded its hooter and off we were for a 1939KM journey to Howrah.  It took about 7 minutes to come over to mainline and after clearing the speed restriction, the loco pilot/engineer of WCAM-3 loco stepped on the gas and we were cruising at 60KMPH……. and accelerating!!!  Dadar, the first commercial stop arrived in 15 minutes, the stoppage was for 2 minutes and at 6:17AM we accelerated out off of Dadar station.   The run from here was really good with the train notching up to top speed of 105KMPH through the suburbs of Mumbai.  We reached Kalyan Junction, 2nd scheduled stop on time and after a 5minute halt, we got diverted on a North East line. The speed on this section was considerable slower due to  may up gradients and speed restrictions, nonetheless we reached Kasara in 2 hours (exactly at 8AM) at an average speed of 60KMPH, not bad for its (the train) name and the superfast status given to this train. FYI.....This train is the 2nd fastest train (after Duronto express) between Mumbai and Kolkata takes 30hrs 30 minutes to reach Howrah.  Anyway, at Kasara the train was given a pronounced stop because it was before time and also 3 WAG-7 locos (the bankers) were attached at the rear to help train climb the mountains. After about 25 minutes stop, we accelerated out. Meanwhile, Nanded bound Topavan express which was dropping back also reached Kasara however we were given a penchant and accelerated out.  As we moved out of Kasara, I stepped to the door as usual enjoying the beautiful Western Ghats.
Igatpuri (IGP) was out next scheduled halt where the WCAM-3 was removed and a WAP-4 of SRC shed was attached to haul my train all the way up to Howrah and I knew it’s time for 110KMPH speed and sure the WAP-4 didn’t disappoint.  Meanwhile, Topavan express too reached IGP right behind us with a WCAM-3 loco which goes all the way to Manmad.  Immediately after leaving Igatpuri, the loco pilot/loco engineer didn’t perambulate and stepped on the gas. We were over 70KMPH even before the IGP trip shed.  Strangely, it was getting hotter with no sign of rain but I was enjoying the speed sitting by the door.  The next stop was Nasik, the Wine Capital of India and one of the gateways to reach Shiridi. We were for the first time delayed by over 10 minutes but that’s not big deal!! The run after Nasik was really impressive with train maintaining a top notch for a long time. I got little surprised to see the train skipped Manmad at full speed. I immediately text my very good friend and a railfan crony Arzan Kotval to know if the train has a halt in here, his reply was negative.  
I started to feel a little dopy while sitting by the door so I decided it’s time to get back to my seat for a siesta. I also remembered how lucky I was the other day when I actually slept for few minutes at the door (of Azad Hind express) and still didn’t fall off of the moving train. The food served on the train didn’t look too bad but my mom had packed a lot of home made food so decided against having food served on the train.  After having lunch I was back to doorplating and this time I made sure I don’t sleep or feel sleepy. All this while at the door, I spotted a lot of trains in opposite directions with a variety of locos.I was at the door until we reached Nagpur.
                A lot of passengers wanted disembark at Nagpur, the Orange Capital of India and one of the major junctions where the trains from North to South and West to East meets. We reached Nagpur delayed by 10 minutes and here I spotted a lot of trains, as well viz., Mumbai bound Sewagram express was getting ready to depart, Pune bound GR departed with Pune WDM-3A loco, and of course, the ever delayed Shalimar-Mumbai ‘Bullock Cart’ express with TATA shed WAM-4 class loco, Patna-Bangalore Sangmitra express hauled by a WAP-4 from ED and to name a few more. After a pronounced stop, we started accelerating with new crew handling the train. It was getting too dark to see anything outside so I decided to head to my seat for dinner and a good sleep.
At Raipur, my cousin brother Nikhil was waiting for me to handover some home made food. We reached Raipur, at 11:40PM delayed by 15 minutes. He's been at the station to receive me or meet me whenever I traveled to Raipur. Thank you Nikhil if you are reading this!!!  After Raipur, I decided to catch some serious Z’s. Woke up the next morning at 6AM to see my train stranded at some isolated station in Jharkhand state. After a 20 minute wait, spotted an intercity express hauled by KGP shed’s WDM-3A in the opposite direction.  After this train left, we were given a go ahead signal. We were apparently still running on time.  
The next big stop was Kharagpur Jn. (KGP), this station prides in having the world’s longest railway platform. We were again delayed by 20 minutes however after a 10 minutes halt we accelerated out. I was hoping for some good speed again but…………….I was totally disappointed!!! The train crawled big time for some unknown reason and we got further delayed.  By the time we reached the outer suburbs of Kolkata, we were running 2 hours late. An unknown express train hauled by TATA WAM-4 overtook us while we were still crawling through the suburbs. After a delay of over 2 hours and a lot of unscheduled halts, we were diverted on a mid line and only then the loco pilot showed some aggressiveness but it was too late. After reaching Howrah station, the train again took an unscheduled halt of about 20 minutes due to non availability of platform. We finally entered Howrah station at 3PM versus 12:30PM had my train been on time thus. I was little tired but happy to travel to Kolkata. 

 Part II 
                                 On Board Coromandel express A.K.A ‘Ambulance Express’
Well…I’ve had heard a lot about 12841 Coromandel express which runs between Howrah (Kolkata) and Chennai Central like the speed, punctuality, cleanliness, and, of course, one of the flagship express trains of the Indian Railways and this is the reason why I didn’t think twice before traveling to Tellicherry in Kerala via Chennai.  Upon canceling my trip to Shillong, I decided to visit Kerala immediately after my exams, albeit I wanted to spend some time in City of Joy.  This train departs Howrah station at 1450 hrs and arrives at Chennai Central next day at 1715 hrs, covering 1661KM in 26 hours 5 minutes at an average speed of ~63KM/HR.   This is probably the fastest train between these cities!!  Interestingly, this train is also known as ‘Ambulance Express’ because a lot of cancer patients travel on this train to go to Christian Medical College in Vellore near Chennai. Here's the photo of Coromanel expess. Photo by Bharat Moro.

                I reached Howrah station well before the departure time ~ 1300 hrs and I saw and was very much expecting huge crowd at the entrance of the station.  Upon entering the station after negotiating through crowd with my backpack I felt much relieved and as usual on seeing trains I forgot all my worries.  I guess it wouldn’t be incorrect to say the trains act as an anti-depressant for me!!!  I looked at the departure indicator but my train was not scheduled yet, I also looked at the arrival indicator and saw Gitanjali express from Mumbai had already arrived and some yet to arrive trains.  Albeit my train was not scheduled but I got a feeling that the train will depart from platform 20 and I was correct.  Around 1400 hrs the train was shunted by a derated WDM-2 class loco of Kharagpur shed. The train looked clean, Center Buffer Coupling (CBC) rakes, my coach was 9th from the loco. I saw a lot of people getting ready to board the train and in fact some waitlisted passengers too boarded the reserved carriages all going to Chennai but I was not surprised because I was told that this train runs full all 365 days. After settling down at my berth, it was too difficult to move out due to huge crowd blocking the entire passageway. The train was undoubtedly hauled by a WAP-4 class loco of SRC shed.
                Right at 1450hrs the train started to roll out of Howrah. We crawled for a long time but as soon as the train changed to mid (bi-directional) line, the loco pilot/engineer proved why this train is called the flagship train! I am sure we were cruising at 110KMPH. We over-took a lot of suburban trains and also express trains however being a CBC train the jerks were inevitable but it was fun!!  The train maintained over 100KMPH mark until we reached our first scheduled stop i.e. Kharagpur Jn. for a 5-min halt.  We pulled in at sharp 1630 hrs (115km)!! Although I was happy traveling on this train, I didn’t forget that this very train had met with a huge accident not too long ago. It crashed while traveling at 110KMPH in the state of Orissa killing some 15 people and injuring a lot.  We soon accelerated out of Kharagpur Jn., and while we were still crawling out, I spotted Howrah bound Falaknuma express from Secunderabad entering Kharagpur Jn. hauled by a WAP-4 class loco of SRC shed.  After we left Kharagpur Jn., we were back at 110KMPH speed and even on sharp curves the train didn’t slow down.  I was really enjoying it but unfortunately couldn’t go at the door as it was already occupied by waitlisted passengers. This is probably the only train ride where I couldn’t be at the door even for a few minutes!!  
                The next scheduled stop was Balasore and I was not surprised to see we entered on time at 1800hrs for a 2 minute stop and immediately after we left Balasore, we were back at top notch and I felt this time it was even more aggressive. I was sure the speed was slightly but definitely over 110KMPH.  Soon we crossed over to Orissa state and passed through Jajpur Road Station at 110KMPH. This is the exact spot where the train met with an accident. I was little nervous!!  Here's the photo. Note: I didn't click this photo.

 It had become too dark to see anything outside however I was lucky to get a glimpse of Chilka Lake under full moon night while the train was on top notch and again on sharp curves it maintained max speed throughout. The train passed through some major stations like Cuttack, Bhubaneshwar etc. running on time but I was fast asleep.  I woke up around 4:30AM to see the train entering Vizag.  This is the reversal point for this train, SRC WAP-4 loco got detached and another WAP-4 of AJJ shed got attached at the other end of the train. After about a 30 minute halt, we accelerated out of Vizag.  The run from Vizag to Chennai was disappointing with lot of speed restrictions and the speed, I guess, never crossed above 100KMPH yet the train maintained its schedule. The next major halt was Vijaywada Jn. however before entering the station; we took a long unscheduled halt of 25 minutes right outside the station, probably due to non-availability of platform. Here I took my lunch consisting of only rice and dal. It was very scrumptious and very, very cheap!!  This is one of trains which run non-stop between Vijaywada and Chennai Central, covering the distance of 431KM in about 7 hours.  I was hoping for some high speed run but again this never happened till we reached Chennai.  Meanwhile I called Vimal, my very good friend and an IRFCA member from Chennai, about my arrival. My co-passengers were all Tamils, probably from some political party as they were constantly talking about the political issues in Tamil Nadu. I was able to construe their conversation thanks to my knowledge of Malayalam language.
We soon entered the suburbs of Chennai running on time. It is only here I thought the train was running above 100KMPH. At sharp 1715 hrs we entered Chennai Central, I was kind of sure that we wouldn't reach on time but it happened even after a lot of speed restrictions after Vizag. I met Vimal who arrived after 15 minutes. I really thank Vimal for coming to Chennai!!  My connecting train to Telliherry, Chennai-Mangalore mail, was scheduled to depart at 2025 hrs so I had a lot of time to spend in Chennai and to do some railfanning with Vimal.

 Part III
                                                            To Tellicherry on Mangalore Mail..
            This is not going to be too long!!  After spending some good time in Chennai it was time to board Chennai-Mangalore mail to Tellicherry. We (Vimal and I) reached Chennai Central at 1950 hrs and I saw the train was already scheduled. The loco link for this train was a WAP-4 of AJJ shed. At 2025 hrs, the train started roll out of Chennai Central station and I bid goodbye to Vimal and thanked him again for coming to see me at such short notice. On board I saw a lot of local commuters traveling on this train up to Trivallur and/or Arakonnam (AJJ), a better choice than traveling in suburban trains!! As the train gained speed through the suburbs of Chennai, the only thing on my mind was to sleep and I was tired hence I decided to sleep immediately after crossing AJJ.
Woke up next day to see the train entering Calicut (Kozikode), one of the major cities in Kerala. I became nostalgic because I used to travel to Calicut almost every weekend while I was doing my post graduation!  Tellicherry was not too far, approx 68KM more to go from here!! I finally managed to be at the door of the train for some railfanning and observation. I spent good 2 hours at the door with my backpack till I reached Tellicherry.  I spotted a lot of trains with diesel power locos as this section is still non-electrified. At 0900 hrs, the train pulled into Tellicherry station. Tellicherry is a small but beautiful town 20KM south of Kannur, the district headquarter. Albeit notoriously well-known for its political rivalry yet a very safe place to be!  After disembarking I didn’t think twice before making a move to my house by bus. I was very tired! Thus ending my journey from Calcutta to Tellicherry via Chennai.

FYI……if you ever happen to travel on a private bus in Kerala make sure you carry your seat belt!!