Saturday, June 22, 2013

The 84th Birthday Celebration Her Highness Deccan Queen


This was rather a different kind of birthday celebration, the 84th birthday celebration of 12123/12124 Pune-Mumbai Deccan Queen express train. This train was flagged off on 1st June 1930 between Mumbai and Pune as weekend train, especially used to ferry the Brits before independence. Interestingly, it is the first superfast, and ISO certified express train on Indian Railways.  Every year on 1st June we (railfans and regular passengers) conglomerate on platform#1 of Pune Jn. to celebrate the birthday of this lovely sweetheart. It sounds kind of infantile to most of the non-railfans people but for us, it is the happiest feeling  to be a part of this birthday celebration every year.  

  The 84th Birthday Celebration Her Highness
Like last year, this year too I decided to be a part of this grand birthday celebration without giving it a second thought. WellI don’t really like to be a part of any birthday celebration or celebrate it but to this, I just couldn't say no. The occasion was the 84th birthday celebration of Pune-Mumbai Deccan Queen express train.  One of my railfan friends, Akshay Iyer, and I decided to travel together to Pune by an overnight express train. Albeit it takes approx 3.5 hours to reach Pune from Mumbai by train, we decided to reserve tickets on 11027 Mumbai-Chennai Central Mail. However, to our surprise booking tickets in this train was not permitted (between Mumbai and Pune), the other option was to reserve tickets on Mumbai-Shridi fast passenger but even here the reservation status was waitlisted. There were, however, many other overnight express trains to Pune but we decided against it and booked bus tickets on Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) which we got without any problem.

An MSRTC bus to Pune
On the day, rather night of travel  i.e on 31st May I was very excited because this was the first time after 2010, I was going to travel by bus to Pune.  Akshay asked me to meet at a bus stop in Chembur, a suburb of Mumbai.  Upon reaching the bus stop, I saw a huge crowd getting ready to travel to various parts of Maharashtra, rather not surprising because it was a weekend. After confirming our tickets, we were offered to upgrade to an A/C class bus (Shivneri Volvo) which we did after paying the fare difference. The bus arrived at 11PM on the button and it was not a bad idea to upgrade as it was very comfortable, spacious, and very cold inside. I believe the bus is always a better choice to travel between Mumbai and Pune as it takes way too less time than train, thanks to the Mumbai-Pune expressway. After negotiating through the eastern suburbs of Mumbai, we entered the expressway at Panvel. Mumbai-Pune Expressway is India's first high speed, 6 lane road, which starts from Panvel (near Mumbai) and ends on the outskirts of Pune, a distance of around 100KM. I decided to sleep for some time while we were cruising over the expressway.  Akshay woke me up as we were almost reaching Pune railway station around 2AM. We reached our destination way too earlybut it is always good to reach early!!  Had we boarded the train, we wouldn’t have reached any time before 3:30AM. 
Upon reaching Pune railway station, the first thing we wanted to do was to have our lunch/dinner or whateverI don’t know what it is called when we a heavy meal around 3AM!! We did find a restaurant called Comesum on the station but it was a complete ripoff, extremely poor quality and over priced. Anyway, even at 3AM, the station was bustling with crowd with people waiting for 12779 Vasco Da Gama (Goa)-Nizamuddin (New Delhi) Goa express and other trains bound for North, West, and South. With a lot of time on hand, we decided to move around Pune station for a short observation. 11027 Mumbai-Chennai Central Mail was expected to arrive right time (3:25AM) on platform # 3 (the same train which we decided to take to Pune but didn’t get tickets), but not surprisingly it reached 5 minutes before time. The train was hauled by KYN WCAM-2P class loco and was replaced by GY WDM-3D class loco (a diesel loco) because the lines after Pune are non-electrified. Immediately after the departure of this train, announcement of arrival of 51033/51027 Mumbai-Shridi/Pandarpur fast passenger was made on the same platform. The train closely followed Mumbai-Chennai mail and as a result arrived 20 minutes before time. The loco at the helm was KYN WCAM-3 and was replaced by, a rather strange link, GOC WDG-3A.  I wonder where this GOC loco came from!! The usual link is PUNE WDM-2/3A.  Anyway, there were some of my railfan cronies traveling on this train for the same purpose so it was glad to meet them. We also met some railfans traveling all the way from Chennai to participate in the birthday celebration. 
Meanwhile, 12779 Goa express arrived on time from Vasco Da Gama (Goa) bound for Nizammudin (New Delhi), at the helm was PUNE-WDM-3A class loco. This is one of the trains which gets a reversal here with a new set of locos (twin PUNE WDM-3As) attached to the other end of the train. On looking inside the AC coaches of this train, I was surprised to see some of my photos used for display without giving me any credit.  It feels nice that SWR guys have used my photos, but they should have given me some credit!! The train departed on time at 4:10AM. There were many other trains scheduled to depart/arrive, most of them running on time yet a few delayed by 20-30 minutes.

An 86KG Cake to Celebrate the Birthday of 2 trains. 

                      Around 6AM, a huge cake was brought onto the platform weighing around 86KG. One of the good things about this celebration was that the 101th birthday of 12137/12138 Mumbai-Firozpur Punjab mail was also celebrated which I think was never done before. As the day advanced, a lot of railfans from Pune gathered and it was good to see them around, also happy to meet my very special friend Archit Goel.  The station was brimming with people all around waiting for the train to be shunted. Everybody, from kids to old lads, from cell phone’s Video Graphic Array cameras to high end DLSRs, was waiting to click pictures. Around 6:30AM, GY WDM-3D class loco shunted the rake of Deccan Queen to the platform#1. The joy and the emotion all around was quite visible as the train was being shunted. Little later, an adorned KYN WCAM-3 class loco was attached to the train which hauled the train to Mumbai CST.

GY WDM-3D class loco shunts the rake of Deccan Queen

KYN WCAM-3 class loco getting attached to Deccan Queen
The Deccan Queen being shunted
           After a grand celebration with a lot of media lads and even politicians taking part, at 7:15AM the train pulled out of Pune station towards its destination Mumbai CST, a 192KM journey. After negotiating through the turn outs, the train picked up the speed and over took Mumbai bound Sahyadri express from Kolhapur immediately after leaving Pune Jn. A 64KM journey between Pune and Lonavala was done with good speed with the train touching maximum permissible speed (MPS) of 105KMPH and as a result arrived Lonavala on time at 8:08AM. The next 25KM journey was amidst beautiful mountains called the Western Ghats (Mountain Pass) between Lonavala and Karjat as the train descends the extreme gradients with restricted speed of 40-50KMPH.  While descending, the train took 2 mandatory brake testing halts, as usual, however at one of the halts, the train got held up for over 10 minutes due to come technical difficulty with signal, as a consequence there was an unwanted delay.
It was time to head to the dining car for some breakfast, in fact we were already waiting in the corridor of the dining car since the start of the journey chatting with the servers. This is probably the only train on the Indian Railways to have a dining car, most of the trains have a pantry car. The food served on board is apparently the best with a lot of variety which one wouldn't find on any other train. I couldn't stop ordering baked beans with bread slices. Well….one of the reasons to order this dish twice was to spend more time in the dining car! 

The Dining Car 
After clearing the ghats (mountain pass) section, the train accelerated to make up the lost time however due to some caution orders (speed restriction) the train got further delayed.  Around 9:30AM, the train skipped Kalyan Jn. (a major junction near Mumbai where most of the trains have a 5 minute halt).  Still 52KM to go and a delay of over 20 minutes, we were hoping the train will make up some lost time but it didn’t happen due to rush hour traffic in Mumbai suburban section.  The train hardly got all clear signal, most of the time it ran though ‘attention’ aspect signal (the double yellow aspect on MACL type signals on Indian Railways) which resulted in further delay. We finally arrived at Dadar Central station, the penultimate station, around 10:25AM and the Mumbai CST, the destination around 10:40AM.
At Mumbai CST, a lot of people including railfans where busy getting their pictures clicked with the loco pilots which was very nice to see. I took wanted to click my picture with them but I didn't.  After meeting some other railfans, Akshay, Sriram, and I decided to head home thus ending a wonderful short journey until next 1st June.