A chilly winter evening in early December (to be precise, on December 02, 2008) saw me loitering around at Yeshwantpur waiting for my train. An urgent and a very important reason had forced the travel upon me, and since it was decided at a very short notice, I had to book on the Garib Rath special. Although special trains are always best avoided, I thought this was the best opportunity for me to check out a Garib Rath! Tickets were quickly booked and my status was confirmed. I was dropped at the station by my brother. The entry area was totally crowded and I had a harrowing time wading through the crowd to reach the platform.
A glowing LED indicator revealed that my train would be departing from Platform 5. My bag was too heavy and I somehow lugged it on top. Just as I reached the top of the FOB, I heard the ever familiar drone from the Generator cars, and LO! my train was already at the platform! The rake was 18 coaches long, comprised of about 16 3A coaches and two Generator cars. The train - 0677 YPR-KCVL Garib Rath Special - was headed by twin Krishnarajapuram WDG3As #13267 and #13263. My coach - G15 - was the 16th from the loco. Against the seating capacity of 78, my coach had only about 10 passengers! The drone of the generator was too loud and could be even heard inside the AC coach! Although a special, my train was on time all the way, and we were at Palakkad with just a slight delay.
I checked into a hotel room near the Head Post Office at Palakkad. It was a nice hotel and the room was quite good. The rent was nominal and the facilities were too good for that charge. I was free upto 1400 hours, and a while after I checked in, a quick flash across my mind made me check the timetable immediately. On checking the timetable, I found out that I could do a quick trip on the MG line. I understood that I could travel upto Pollachi, but then the return timings were kind of disturbing. I decided to restrict the journey upto Kollengode. I quickly completed my morning chores, and headed out in pursuit of an autorickshaw. I was surprised to see autorickshaws standing right outside my hotel! I hired a rick quickly and headed to Palghat Town Station. The station was quite small, but the queue at the ticket counter was long. 50 % of the crowd was for the MG train, and the rest for the Coimbatore bound MEMU. I got a ticket very soon, and it cost me just Rs 4!
The station had a lone tea-stall, and he was just heating up to his day. I had a quick coffee from there and decided to capture a few scenes at the station. While downing the hot coffee, I overheard the tea vendor talking to another person that the station had received orders for the closure of the MG line - and that was happening the next week (To be precise - that happened on December 10, 2008). I was disappointed that the curtains were falling on this line, but on a side note I was very excited to be the last railfan to travel on the MG section - which also happens to be my first ever ride in that puny vehicle. The station - Palakkad Town (Railway Code: PGTN) - predominantly handles MG, and it has a couple of lines dedicated for BG trains. The station has a low level platform for MG trains, which also houses the station building and a computerised reservation centre. The platform has a short shelter. The BG trains are handled on a small island platform, which is separated from the MG platform by about three railway lines. Of these, only one (the one at the platform) seemed to be ever handling trains, while the remaining ones were in bad condition and had thick vegetation covering them.
The BG platform too appeared to be in a very bad state. The shelter was too short and the surface seemed to have only basic tiling on it. It seemed that there were a couple of siding lines also. I could not check the BG section since the train was expected to arrive any time. The crowd for my train was pretty heavy and I was slightly worried about being able to board the train. The Coimbatore bound Mainline-Electrical Multiple Unit (MEMU) was getting filled by the minute as the crowd on the MG platform too was swelling by the minute.
The train made its appearance around a slight curve from Palakkad, exactly at 0712. The 6-coach train was brought in by YDM4A #6141. The loco was in standard Golden Rock livery, with a very fade logo of the shed stuck on to its hood. All the Metre-gauge of Southern Railway are 'based' at Golden Rock. Since the loco shed does not have Metre-gauge connectivity any more, the railways have set up small "sheds" at important points. The train had two GS coaches, then one SLR and then three more GS coaches. I first decided to get into a coach at the rear, but then a split-second decision and I ran towards the first coach. The coach was absolutely empty and enough seats were vacant. I decided not to sit, and took position at the door to doorplate all my way to Kollengode.
The coach was more or less empty... notice the absence seats on one side of the train (This is due to the lesser width of the permanent way and the coach...
The train got its starter at 0715, and we started moving almost immediately. The starter was a "Multiple Aspect Colour Lamp" signal, while the signals beyond that were all Lower Quadrant Semaphores. A board right below the starter read: "Attention Drivers Entering 2 Aspect Lower Quadrant Territory". The line was all about curves and vegetation. The railway line covers quite some distance inside the town and hence the line had walls on both sides. The loco smoked generously and the pilot too was very generous about honking. We passed a couple of level crossings before we crossed over to the countryside. There were some signs of gauge conversion works. Land levelling were done in some sections, while in other sections work was yet to begin.
Our first halt was Pudunagaram. The station was on to the right side of the train, and the was located on the loop line. This was surely a crossing station. The halt was about two minutes long, and we pulled out at 0735. Our next halt was Vadakannikapuram. The station is only a halt station, and the ticketing seemed to be outsourced to an agency. The crowd joining this station was pretty high, and the halt was less than a minute. The 1350-hp loco took no time to get back to crusing speed. The train was swaying badly and the sound from the engine was really pleasing. The speed was never more than 45-50 kmph. The train pulled into Kollengode station 0749. The section has token signalling, and I was lucky enough to witness a token exchange at the station.
I rushed up to the loco to capture a few snaps of the loco, while the semaphore lowered its arms to permit the train move ahead. The 6 coach rake quickly pulled out of the station and disappeared into the horizon. I headed to explore the station. The station building was re-constructed not so back. The building was separated from the platform by about 50 metres. The station had two platforms - one on the loop line, and slightly elevated, while the second was on the loop line and at ground level. The station master's office was on the loop line side. The station had an old signal cabin pretty close to the platform. The station master was in charge of vending tickets also. One station assistant (perhaps a pointsman) was not very happy with me clicking pics, but did not have the courage to pull me into a mess. I went out of the station and clicked some more photos. Then I was back to the station, and purchased tickets for my return journey - another Rs. 4 ticket, and this was issued on a Blank Paper Ticket.
Kollengode Station: The station building (Top), The station Garden (Middle) and the old signalling cabin (Bottom)...
I headed back to the platform. The garden - between the station and the platform - was well kept. The crowd on the platform was now building up. The train is a life line for people working or studying at Palakkad or its surroundings. And there seem to be a lot of season ticket holders on the line. From what I could gather, the road distance is about 34 kilometres, while the railway route is only about 15 kilometres!
The Platform at Kollengode Station. Notice the low-level platform on the left - that is on the main line. Crowd was just gathering at this moment...
The return train came in at 0826. The train, again a 6 coach rake, was brought in by YDM4A #6287 - again of Golden Rock. The train originated at Pollachi and had average crowd. Quite a lot of people got in at this station. I was in the third coach of the train. All seats were taken, and there were enough people standing also. I quickly grabbed a door to capture a couple of images and some videos. The return journey was eventless. I was so excited that I forgot to note timings at each station. The loco was honking all way long, and the sway of the coach was maddening. More people got in at each station, and the train really proved to be a hit among daily commuters. Many of them were unaware that the train was to go into oblivion in a few days down the line, while some others were mindlessly attacking the railways for cancelling the service.
We finally pulled into Palakkad Town station at around 0902. More than 70% of the train emptied here and the rest were continuing to the train's terminus - Palakkad Junction. Some people joined the train too. Those people would change over to faster, bigger, BG trains at Palakkad Junction to continue their journey. The charming little train was generous enough to pose for some images as I clicked away standing on the BG side of the station. The loco pulled out of the station smoking heavily at 0905. It was getting hot and I decided to return to my cool room. While walking out, I noticed that the station complex was maintained really clean and staff were taking care to clean it at frequent intervals too. The rake of Amritha Express was also idling off on the BG side of the station. I walked out and hired a rick to get back to my hotel.
YDM4A #6287 at Palakkad Town after bringing in the passenger from Pollachi...
I enjoyed the nice run and I loved my first ever MG ride very much. Sadly though, the section is now no more operational and the services that I enjoyed are now history. For those who wish to enjoy the section may now wait for a couple of years and then enjoy ride in a BG train. But the charm of the quaint stations and the lovely little locos will never come back. The Dindigal-Pollachi-Podanur section is still operational for those who wish to enjoy the ride. However, make that quick since their death knell is also on its way.
The train continues its journey to the oblivion... Never to return back... Enjoy the ride before it goes away forever.....
On a side note: The return journey from Palakkad was by road. I took a bus to Coimbatore (A TNSTC Coimbatore division bus to Ukkadam, and then a PP bus from Ukkadam to Gandhipuram). From Gandhipuram, I took a KSRTC Volvo back to Bangalore. I was back at Bangalore by around 0515 AM. The bus journey was too good, and I got a seat diagonally behind the driver too.
A complete set of images from the trip can be seen here... Have a look at them, and do remember to drop in your comments.