Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A 54 Hour Train Ride


       This was a short trip to Kolkata for my PhD exams and also a railfanning trip which I took July 19th 2012; honestly I was more excited for my railfanning part in this trip than my exams. I’ve had some other plans, as well but they didn’t turn out as I wanted. I Boarded Howrah bound 12151 Samarsata express from Mumbai for an unusual 54 hour train ride instead of 35 hours…… and how did this happen??  Please read on…!!!! :) 

  On Board Mumbai (LTT)-Howrah 12151 Samarsata Express

    This trip was no different from my other train trips except for the fact that I was little more than just jaded at the end of the trip, not that I didn’t feel jaded before but this was a little too much to handle. I was all geared up with my backpack and left my house at 7:30PM for Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT), the starting point for Howrah bound 12151 Samarsata express. This station being so very close to my house, I was in no hurry.  Upon reaching LTT, the first thing I noticed was a complete makeover of this station. I couldn’t believe my eyes that I am at LTT which was once so damn filthy!! My train was already scheduled on platform#2 and as soon as I entered the platform, I saw my train being shunted probably by one of those new WDS-6AD class locos, and 18029 Shalimar express aka ‘Super Crawler Express’ was already shunted on platform#1. I was also very surprised to see the change in the orientation of this train; usually all of the 9 AC coaches of this train are in front, but not this time hence this avoided a long walk but I also knew that upon reaching Howrah I will have to walk a long way.  I quickly settled in on my berth and was quite happy to see the coach half empty after checking the reservation chart.  The train departed on time at 8:35PM but little did I realize that this is going to be one nirvana of a train ride! The loco attached to my train was WCAM-3 road# 21934, I was hoping for a WCAM-2P loco but never mind..!!! After carefully negotiating the speed restrictions, we came over newly laid 5th line and then the loco pilot hit the gas!!! We were sailing at 80KMPH until we came to a complete halt right outside Mulund station. At first I didn’t know why but as soon as Chennai Egmore bound express overtook us, I figured out that we will be diverted on main line and this is exactly what happened!!  I thought after joining the 3rd main line, the train will at least do 100KMPH, if not 105KMPH but I was totally disappointed. The train struggled to do even 50KMPH and as a result we reached Kalyan Jn., the first commercial stop, 25 minutes late. We departed Kalyan after about 15 minutes stop, quite unusual and got further delayed, a good 45 minutes now. By this time I started to feel a little strange because such delays have never occurred in Mumbai suburban section unless something seriously has gone wrong. The speed (of the train) was seriously taken a back even after departing Kalyan Jn. and to add salt to wounds, the train was taken on an isolated loop line outside Titvala station. This was by far the most unusual thing to happen and I was puzzled, I thought perhaps an EMU will overtake but then this does not make any sense. After about 30 minutes into the stop and couple of EMUs overtaking, I decided to call my good railfan friend Arzan Kotval to check if he had any information about this unusual delay of my train. Arzan told me that there has apparently been a major train collision involving Mumbai CST bound MRVC EMU and Nagpur bound Vidarbha express near Kasara. At first it was hard to believe but the same was confirmed by a coach attendant, he said that it will take about 3 hours to clear but as the details egressed and realizing the gravity of the accident, I knew we are not going to move for a long time!!! Later my mom called and informed me that 9 coaches of an EMU train derailed due to landslide and Vidarbha express which was running on adjacent track crashed onto the derailed coaches at high speed. The loco hauling this ill-fated Vidarbha express was a WCAM-3 road# 21939. There were 3 more trains ahead of us stranded viz., Firozpur bound Punjab mail, Nagpur bound Duronto express, and Amravati bound Amravati express. Being at such isolated area and not knowing when the train will move had me quite disquieted, I tried to sleep but couldn’t as the ACs were turned off and it was getting very difficult to breath. Around 2AM, I spotted an unknown Duronto express heading towards Mumbai, I was puzzled but I thought one of the affected lines must be cleared but later I realized that this was the same Nagpur bound Duronto express which is now heading back to Mumbai. This was soon followed by Punjab Mail and Amravati express.  By now I became so sure that my train too will return to Mumbai and this was confirmed by seeing my train loco, the WCAM-3 21934 getting attached at the other end of the train at Vashind station. Now I was left with 2 options, either my train will be canceled or will run via different route. I’ve had a backup plan to take the first available flight to Kolkata in the event of this train being canceled and if diverted, I decided to do the thing I love the most….railfanning!!! I was praying that the train shall get diverted and my prayers were answered. One of coach attendants informed me that the train will run via Panvel-Karjat-Pune-Manmad route. The usual train on an unusual route, wow!! Never in my wildest dream had I ever imagined that my train will run via Pune!! I, however, was a little concerned about my arrival at Howrah yet the railfan part in me was very excited! We reached Kalyan Jn. again at 5AM and after an abbreviated halt, the train got diverted on a line heading for Panvel.  I wanted to see the Panvel-Karjat route but I overslept only to be woken up at Karjat by the vox of ‘Chai-Chai’ around 7AM. The train departed Karjat with three WAG-5 banker locos pushing the train, interestingly all three locos were ex-Bhilai locos transferred to Kalyan shed. I was fully awake and was at the door, as usual, to capture the beauty of the Bhor Ghat in rain. It was truly a tranquil ambiance, a lot of small waterfalls, mist, and drizzle. Here's the video of my train climbing the Bhor Ghats

   We reached Lonavla around 7:55AM where the thee banker locos got isolated. I was hoping to reach Pune around 9:15AM but that didn’t happen. Between Lonavla and Pune, my train was given a lot of unscheduled halts for Pune bound trains to overtake. It was only after 10:30AM we entered platform # 1 of Pune Jn.  At Pune I met Archit Goel after so many months and I was very happy to see him. Meanwhile the power of my train, the WCAM-3 21934 got detached and, as expected, a UBL WDG-4 road# 12311 loco came in to take the charge of my train up to Manmad with a reversal at Daund Jn.  After leaving Pune Jn., for the first time I was happy to see the speed in excess of 90KMPH and the WDG-4 pulled my 24-coach train with ease!! We reached Daund Jn. in less than 2 hours where my train reversed after a 20 minute halt. As we were exiting Daund, I spotted Bangalore bound Udyan express with its usual KJM WDP-4 loco entering Daund Jn.  
              KJM WDP-4 at the helm of Bangalore bound Udyan express enters Daund Jn.

       The lunch was served after Daund but my mom had packed some home food so decided to avoid lunch served on train. Unfortunately after Daund, we took quite a lot of unscheduled halts due to single line section. At one such halts, I spotted the Mumbai bound 12102 Janeshwari express from Howah hauled by twin Pune WDM-3A class locos and Pune bound Jhelum express from Jammu, hauled by twin GTL WDM-3Ds. The Jhelum express overtook Janeshwari express, for the first time I saw a non-superfast express overtaking superfast express train. 
        Twin GTL WDM-3D locos hauling Pune bound Jhelum express overtaking Janeshwari express

      I was expecting to reach Manmad Jn. around 5PM but we entered only after 6PM. This stop was very important because from here the train will have all clear high speed run and also I was able to determine the approx. arrival time at Howrah which was around 11PM next day. The UBL WDG-4 loco got detached and an SRC WAP-4 road# 22743 loco was brought in to haul my train all the way to Howrah. I also spotted Bangalore bound Karnatak express from New Delhi hauled by twin ET WDM-3A locos entering Manmad Jn. After we departed, there was no stopping to my train and it constantly maintained the speed of 110KMPH, even crossing this mark many times. I, as usual, was by the door enjoying the speed and at this time I’ve had completed forgotten as to why I was going to Kolkata!! The train hardly stopped at intermediate stations and even at Nagpur the halt was not more than 10 minutes.

Next morning I was eagerly waiting to reach Raipur as my cousins were waiting for me with some homemade food. The train entered Raipur Jn. around 7:30AM where I met my cousins and their family after a long time. The train took less than 2 minutes halt as expected and while departing Raipur, I saw Raigarh bound Gondawana express entering Raipur with BSL WAP-4 class loco. It was raining heavily in Raipur yet my train sailed at 110KMPH without any difficulty. The next stop was Bilaspur which we reached in less than 2 hours, maintaining good speed throughout. I spotted quite a lot of freight trains on this section which is not unusual.
I was quite chafed by my co-passengers behavior who were apparently some railway employees working at Kharagpur Jn. as ticket vendors. They were, not to mention, traveling for free in my coach. I really hate such imbeciles who travel for free on trains. Besides, all of them were heavy snorers so it was very difficult get sound sleep especially when all 4 of them snored together. I started to get real world-weary and couldn’t door plate as it was getting too dark too soon. Luckily I had some air crash investigation videos on my lappy which helped me a lot to pass some time. We passed through some major stations like Jharsurguda Jn., Rourkela Jn. etc with minimum possible halt time.
After Chakradharpur, the train got diverted on Purulia-Adra route and for the first time I saw heavily armed policemen with AK-47 rifles and bulletproof jackets and helmets patrolling the train as this region is very dangerous to travel especially at night time due to heightened terrorist activities. Kudos to these policemen/paramilitary forces for doing wonderful job!! Few minutes after departing from Chakradharpur, we came to an abrupt stop for over an hour at a small station called Kunki for no apparent reason. Later I learned that there was a loco failure of a freight train which was running ahead of us. This additional 1 hour delay proved to be very expensive! I was expecting to reach Kharagpur Jn. around 8PM had it not been for this delay but we reached only after 9:30PM which meant reaching Howrah after 11:30PM. Nonetheless, the speed of the train was good considering the fact that we were passing through a very notorious area. As we were nearing Kharagpur Jn., the train slowed down and stopped numerous times due to non-clearance of line. This was very frustrating because it was already 10PM and we didn’t enter the Kharagpur station yet. It was only after 10:30PM we reached Kharagpur Jn. Here almost everybody disembarked and I was apparently the only passenger in the entire coach. I was feeling very jaded and I knew it will take more than 2 hours to reach Howrah so I decided to sleep off. I finally managed to get some good sleep without being perturbed. I woke-up to see the train marooned again right outside Howrah station due to non-availability of platform which is very usual. After 10 minutes halt, the train moved onto platform#21 of Howrah station around 1:30AM. I was very tired but also relieved that I finally reached Kolkata after 54 hours of train ride. Luckily got some good sleep before my exams. I thank my good friend Apurva Chaudhary from Kolkata for coming to receive me at the station at 1:30AM thus ending my 54 hours long train ride!!