Friday, October 24, 2008

KSRTC.... once again!!!

Opportunities to travel by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation is never to be missed. I simply love those red monsters. Last week, I had been to Trivandrum on some personal work. I wanted to travel by the City buses there, but had to leave the plan due to extreme time crunch. The next opportunity came in the way of a loooong journey back to Kodungallur by bus... but I had to half-mindedly choose a train - I had never traveled on the route via Kottayam earlier. I had to take the 6525 Bangalore Express from Trivandrum. However, the chance to travel by bus still remained! 

I took a bus from Ernakulam Jetty to reach my home in Kodungallur. The bus was TP36x of Guruvayur depot. It was a TATA bus, and I was seated right behind the driver. His driving skill was unique - he shifted gears quickly. The bus, however, performed marvellously, and he kept speeds in the range of 60kmph all the way. That was a journey all at night, and I was damn tired to enjoy the trip....

The next trip occured just a day later. This was longer than the first. After almost a day full of railfanning, I decided to take a bus to Alappuzha from Ernakulam instead of slugging out in a train. Although the train would've taken me to Alappuzha in much less time than the bus, the charm of traveling by bus was something that I did not want to miss! I took out some time to bus fan at the bus station before I chose a bus to reach my destination.

This is the bus that I took....

I took a Tenkashi bound Fast Passenger bus from Ernakulam. The bus was RRC447 (KL15-6626) of Alappuzha Depot. It was a TATA chassis, and I got a seat right next to the driver. My initial plan was to get down at Alappuzha and change buses to reach my destination. I later discovered that the bus was indeed going via my destination! The bus left EKM (Ernakulam) at 1715. We got stuck up in traffic jams often. The driver was desparate till the time he hit the highway and kept honking all the way. The driving was awesome, and he was real quick! The crowd in the bus too was good. 

We made a brief halt at Cherthala bus station. The bus had some problem with the horn, and the driver was desperate to get it corrected. He tried his hand at Cherthala, but could not satisfactorily restore it. The traffic on the highway was medium, and he kept speeds in the range of 60-70kmph all the time. The bus finally pulled into Alappuzha depot at 1910. The bus was about 10 minutes early. The driver managed to utilise that time to get the horn attended. 

An attempt at night photography ;-)

The bus pulled out of Alappuzha bus station at 1925, and left me at my destination at around 1945. The crowd after Alappuzha was meagre, and the bus had lots of empty seats.

The approximate schedule of the bus is like this: EKM Dep: 1720, ALP Arr: 1920 Dep 1925; Tenkashi Arrival: 2355.

In the return direction: Tenkashi departure 0600; ALP arr: 1220 dep: 1420; EKM arr: 1620. The long wait at Alappuzha is since the bus is based there and is taken for maintenance at this time. Direct tickets are not issued from TSI to EKM, and the trip is treated as seperate TSI-ALP and ALP-EKM services.

Images of that short bus fanning this time in Kerala are here...

Monday, October 20, 2008

The trip...finally concludes!

My long trip finally concluded this morning! The last leg of the journey was really forgettable. My last leg was from Cherthala to Ernakulam by 6307 Intercity Express, and Ernakulam to Bangalore by 2683 Bangalore express. The loco for the first train was WDM2 #16877 of Ernakulam, and the loco for Bangalore express was WAM4 #20549 of Arakkonam.

Overall, the journey was badly delayed. The first train was about 20 minutes late, and the second train topped all charts! We left late by 4 hours and 30 minutes from Bangalore, and reached Bangalore delayed by about 5 hours and 35 minutes! We left Ernakulam at 2130 instead of 1700, and arrived Bangalore at 0955 instead of 0420! Too frustrated by the delay, I preferred taking a bus instead of "donating" to a Taxi driver. The Volvo bus was held up traffic block, and it took more than 90 minutes to travel a mere 13 kms distance from the City Railway station to the stop near home! 

To sum it up: a very forgettable end to the otherwise marvellous trip! Images coming very soon, with more details...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Finally..@ Home!

The long trip from Bangalore to Thrissur via Ernakulam, Alappuzha, Trivandrum, Kottayam is finally over! I took about 3 trains, 1 bus and 4 autorickshaws to complete the journey!

The first leg was on 6315 Bangalore-Kochuveli Express from Bangalore to Kollam. The loco was WAM4 #21233 of Arakkonam. Leg two was on 6303 Ernakulam-Trivandrum Vanchinad Express from Kollam to Trivandrum - the loco in charge was WAP4 #22568 of Erode. The third and final train was 6525 Kanniyakumari-Bangalore Express from Trivandrum to Ernakulam Town - the loco was WAP4 #22269 of Erode!

I'll post some notes from the trip and if possible the pics tomorrow! Feeling too sleepy to hit the keyboard... so good night for now! Come back tomorrow to check out the updates :-)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The journey has begun..

The journey is finally on! I am traveling by the 6315 Kochuveli express. The power for my train is Arakkonam WAM4 21233. We crossed krishnarajapuram a while back.. More details tomorrow...

Time for another trip!

Finally its time for another trip! I am leaving for Kerala this evening. The journey is by 6315 Kochuveli Express upto Kollam, then by Vanchinad to Trivandrum (reaching Trivandrum tomorrow morning). I'll return to Trichur tomorrow itself.

From there it will be to Alappuzha on Saturday, and finally back to Bangalore by 2683 Express from Ernakulam on Sunday....

Hopefully the trip has some surprise spottings in for me... will be updating the blog as far as possible ( as long as I have network connectivity).. so do drop in here for updates... bye for now...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Now KSRTC from Shantinagar?

After moving all Kerala bound buses to the Satellite bus station on Mysore Road, here is the next move: Move all Tamil Nadu bound buses (except the premium Airavat Volvo, of course!) to Shantinagar BMTC Bus station.

As a prelude to the move, all KSRTC Rajahamasa buses to Kerala/Tamilnadu added Shantinagar as a pick up point. Services to Kerala via Mysore now start from Shanti Nagar and then go via Mysore Road Satellite bus station, while service to Kerala via Hosur start at Mysore road and go via Shanti Nagar.

A KSRTC Rajahamsa bound to Kannur waiting at Shantinagar terminus a few days back... apologies for the poor pic...

I'd welcome the move which is benefit quite some passengers who find it easier to reach Shanti nagar compared to MCTC. The bus station, however, is not big enough to hold on buses for a long time. Ideally, these buses will have to be parked outside the bus station (it appears that a vacant plot right next to the bus station has been cleared and some sort of construction was being done there) and they should enter the bus terminus only at the time of departure.

As an initial move, KSRTC has opened a ticket counter (a reservation counter) at the bus station, and staff are posted there to assist passengers to find out their bus. The news of the shifting has been confirmed by newspaper reports (The Hindu dated 14 October 2008).

I am sad that Kerala SRTC is not being given this opportunity. If given an opportunity, they could atleast provide a pick-up point here, and may be operate their premium Air Bus services from here. It is not clear if all TN SETC buses would be moved here, and the fate of TNSTC "Premium" services is also not known. I'll try finding out information about these in the coming days....

For others, make it convenient to come to Shantinagar (or MCTC) to get into your buses, or hold on to private operators who continue operating from Kalasipalayam & Madivala.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A late Sunday afternoon railfanning...

A normal Sunday (A working day for me) was just on... It was about 11AM when my phone received a very unexpected call... from Colin of IRFCA Bangalore...That was an invite to go railfanning! It has been a long time since I used by camera to shoot trains, and I readily agreed. I rushed through my work in office, and headed out from there at around 1250.

Colin had instructed me how to reach the bus stop from where I could get a bus to our meeting point, and even tipped me on the fare that rickshaws would charge. Getting a rickshaw to travel short distance from my office is a pain, and I decided not to try for it. Instead, I walked off toward the Stadium (about 200 metres from office) and took a rick from there. He said that he needs to take a round-about route and asked (to be noted, not demanded) for Rs. 25. I said okay, and we were off! That was really decent driving, and he dropped me off near the bus stop.

Just as I got off the rickshaw, saw a volvo heading to my destination going off! It was too far for me to signal it to stop. Then I had to wait for some time to get a bus...though a normal bus did come - I decided to give it a miss and waited for the Volvo. The Volvo (on Route 333E) came in at around 1320 or so. It was from Depot-7, and the registration number was KA-01-FA-30X. I got a seat right behind the driver, and the bus seemed to be desperate to break free as it neared the 'Old' Airport road. Once we crossed Domlur, the driver let the beast free and the 'red' beast responded instantly to the need of the driver! He was competing with a Merc, and ultimately the Volvo won!

The 'Old' Airport still had boards saying "Way to Departure" and such. We did good speeds after the airport, and the driver and conductor were courteous to passengers. Passengers were addressed as "Sir" or "Madam" as the case may be, and each bus stop was announced through the PA system - something that is missing on most other routes. The driver was even courteous enough to stop between bus stops on request to help passenger board/alight the bus...hats off to this passenger friendly initiative! I finally reached my destination about 25 minutes after I started off from Mayo hall (The stop where I got into the bus).

Colin was to pick me up from the bus stop. I ringed him up, and he said he was about 15 mins away. I utilised that "precious" time for some snacks (I had skipped lunch) and a cold drink. While I had my "lunch" I was busy counting the Volvos that crossed me - 5 of them crossed me in about 15 minutes! Colin appeared exactly after 15 minutes, and we headed off to fellow IRFCAn Bharat Narayan's home about a kilometre ahead. We reached him in about 5 minutes, and we set off in another 10-15 minutes in Bharat's trusty old Peugeot 309 car! The car was too young for its age, and it insulated us from all potholes! What a car that was!!! Sad that this car is no more being produced in India :-(

The roads had craters big enough to swallow a small car, and at most stretches roads were inexistent! We finally landed up at a spot right next to Soukya (Soukya is an ayurvedic "resort" near Whitefield). Just as we stopped the car, the Kakinada bound Sheshadri exp flew past with a Vijayawada WAM4 in charge... (I regret not being able to capture it...I love their livery!).

We were expecting to capture the Chennai bound Brindavan Express, and quickly headed out in search of a good location, where we could get ambient light. We walked about 500 metres towards Devangonthi, and settled at a curve. Our first spotting was a loaded BTPN rake heading towards Krishnarajapuram - Twin Gooty WDG3As did the honors, with WDG3A #13068 leading. The locos were clearly struggling to pull the rake through the gradients, and we could clearly feel their hard work...

The Brindavan came after a few minutes... she simply rushed past us.


Lallaguda WAP4 #22322 did the honors. The loco looked like an elephant with the rear-view mirrors on. That was my first pic of a WAP4 with mirrors. After this, we decided to change our location. We tried checking out at Devangothi if we had some good places around, but then had to return. We then returned to Bharat's house, and headed off again after a short round of refreshments. It was now the turn of his Ford to take us to Satellite Goods Terminal at Whitefield.

We wanted to catch up with the Shatabdi, but it was already getting late. On the way, we lost our way as Bharat and Colin remained engrossed in a discussion about some cars. We finally landed up at our 'new' location. (Both Bharat and Colin were regulars here). We confirmed that the Shatabdi was late and then took positions for the photoshoot.

A twin Katni WAG5 combo was cleared to rush off to the loop line before the signal for the Shatabdi was set. The Mysore-Chennai Shatabdi rushed past us exactly at 1716 with a grandly decorated WAP4 (#22669) of Erode in charge. [The loco was decorated for the just concluded Ayudha Pooja ceremony]. We decided to wait till the Kochuveli express goes past...

In the meantime, the WAG5 twins which were sent to the loop line now reversed and headed back to Krishnarajapuram. A while later, the signal turned green once again and we readied to spot the onslaught of the Kochuveli Express. Kochuveli express is one train which has a real long non-stop run - all the way from Bangalore to Salem, a distance of about 269 kilometres in around 4 hours and 15 minutes - an average speed of about 63.29 kmph. The train rushed past us at around 1743 with WAM4 #21233 of Arakkonam in charge.

We decided to call it a day, and we headed back to Bharat's home. Later, headed off to Marathahalli for a dinner. After a dinner, we parted ways. I headed off to the bus stop very close to the hotel. Had to wait for a while. Finally got a bus at around 2010~2015. Got down at Silk Board, where my bro had come to pick me up... and landed up at home by around 2115 or so...

What a day that was... hope to have more such sweet sessions... the photos of the day are here... do take a look and send in your comments....

Monday, October 06, 2008

No takers for the Rs. 5 scheme?

Buoyed by the Re. 1 initiative that was run by the BMTC earlier (read my post on this) in September, the state transport minister announced reduction of Volvo fares on Weekends and holidays to Rs. 5 (minimum) against the normal fare of Rs. 10 (Minimum). The maximum fare charged by Volvos normally is Rs. 55, but on weekends - under the new scheme - it would only be Rs. 22!

This was what happened:

(The first image was taken when volvos were for Re. 1, and the second when the Rs. 5 scheme came in!)

Quite interestingly, The Times of India ran a story on the low patronage for Volvos, right the next day after the Scheme was inaugurated. (You can read the story here).

So what went wrong?

The newspaper (and some authorities/crew) blamed it on "low awareness" or "wrong day" for the poor patronage. I was on a Volvo on the day the scheme was launched (imaged above, right). I was traveling to Arakere Gate on the Bannerghatta Road, and the conductor charged me the normal fare. I was not bothered to ask him the reason, but a co-passenger wasn't ready to take the non-implementation lying down!

The conductor was question why he was charged normal fares, and the answer came with a smile: The offer has a "tiny star" on it! A tiny star implies Conditions Apply. So what are the conditions? The offer is valid only on selected routes.

Obviously, my route was not the "selected" few, and so was the Airport routes. He mentioned that the offer was valid only on buses which run within the city limits and passengers in other routes had to shell out the old fares! The move, according to the conductor, was to popularise volvo buses in the city. He was of the opinion that Volvos were performing very well on Suburban routes, and such offers were not necessary here.

Why was this very important condition skipped when the minister announced the scheme? The website of BMTC has however mentioned that the new fare is applicable only for selected routes.

Not only that the "Rs 5" initiative is for selected buses, so is the fare for other buses. Buses running along the "IT" corridor charge higher than normal buses! I feel this is outright cheating since it is the IT corridor ones which run crowded during peak hours. Perhaps, V-365 (KBS to Bannerghatta National Park) is the only route which is pretty popular among passengers, and this route always has passenger in it! I am one of them ;-)

Moral of the story: Take any offer from BMTC with a pinch of salt :(

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Bangalore "Satellite" bus station...

The authorities at the Karnataka Transport Department hatched a plan to decongest the crowded and congested Central Bus station (officially called the Kempegowda Bus Station, and locally called Majestic) located right opposite the City Railway Station some time in 2004-5. The new terminus - called the "Satellite Bus Station" was planned at a place called "Guddadahalli" along the Mysore Road. This place is about 6 kilometres from the existing Terminus at the heart of the city.

The place is undoubtedly mordern that the current bus station, but is not even one-fourth the size of the current place!

View Larger Map

The plan behind the entire move was to decongest the current bus station. The terminus finally was inaugurated sometime in August 2005. As an initial measure, all express services towards Mysore was shifted there. Sometime in August 2007, another 419 services (including 373 of Tamilnadu) were sent there. The terminus is situated away from the city, and for passengers residing around the city or is parts of the city away from Mysore road - reaching the bus station is a nightmare. 

BMTC was supposed to operate services from different parts of the city to the bus station - both no such services seem to exist these days. Connectivity from the old bus station is poor (except for the courtesy coach services run by KSRTC). The only buses heading towards the bus station (referred to as "MCTC" by the authorities) are those heading to Kengeri/Bidadi from the city. Getting into those buses could be tedious for passengers travelling with luggage. To add salt to their injury, the BMTC stop for buses coming to the city from MCTC is pretty far from the bus station! The bus stop is atleast 500 metres from MCTC, and passengers have to climb a gradient to reach the stop - imagine the plight of passengers walking to the bus station with their luggage after a tedious journey!

To add more woes to the passengers, the transport authorities in Karnataka have ordered shifting of 32 services run by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation there! The services run by Karnataka SRTC towards Kerala (except Volvos) have also shifted there (w.e.f 29 September 2008). 

Karnataka SRTC operates "Courtesy Coaches" between MCTC and KBS (and vice-versa). Swaraj Mazda buses with a seating capacity of 36 passengers are operated on this route. The fare for a one-way journey is Rs 6. 

This is a Courtesy Coach run by Ka.SRTC

The seating is congested. The driver doubles up as the conductor too. He would start issuing tickets to passengers only after all seats are taken. A negative side of this is that the bus would wait until all seats are taken - this could take a long time in off-peak hours! You can count on these buses if you need to reach MCTC urgently! The travel time could range from about 30 to 70 minutes to cover the 6 kilometre stretch from KBS to MCTC (Thanks to the reckless traffic in Bangalore).

The passenger facilities in the bus station is adequate for the current rush handled by the terminus. The terminus has about 21 departure bays spread over 9 platforms. A majority of the platforms are divided between buses operated by Karnataka and Tamilnadu RTCs, while Kerala operates from Platform 6 alone. The parking space for buses are poor. Karnataka's buses use their depot (along the bus station), while Tamil Nadu buses rarely park themselves at the bus station - their services return within minutes of arrival. The buses from Kerala lie-over at the bus station through the day (with very little departures during the day hours). 

The buses are parked around the departure area itself (good for spotters)! Here is a group photo of Kerala buses:

All I can do here is to wish all the best to passengers traveling from there. One suggestion: leave atleast 90 minutes prior to the departure of the bus from the city. Any duration lesser than this would inversely affect your chances of missing the bus! The terminus has poor facilities for operating staff. There is one reservation "office" shared by Tamilnadu and Kerala corporations. To add to your woes - the reservation counter in KBS and MCTC (Kerala) is not interlinked. 

I cannot understand what is the government gaining by adding to the vehicular population in the city. The buses from MCTC (run by Tamil Nadu) have to run through the city to reach Hosur road for their journey ahead! Even Kerala buses running via Hosur road have to cross the city! As of now, 8 services run by Kerala SRTC (all AC buses) and 3 services of Karnataka SRTC (Volvo services) from KBS. It is not clear when these would also be kicked to MCTC. Meanwhile, there are some news reports which seem to suggest that services to Hosur road side would be handled at Shantinagar - this is a welcome step. More as details emerge...

Here is a picture gallery of the Satellite bus terminus...(it would be frequently updated). Please do post in your comments, queries and suggestions....