An unreserved train journey... after long

May 29, 2009: After a tiring function, and a sultry day at Nedumudy - in Alappuzha District, of Kerala - it was now time to return to my home in Kodungallur, Thrissur. A variety of options were available for the journey, including a direct bus or a train. Although I am a big fan of trains, I am averse to the idea of traveling unreserved in a train that usually is a commuters' train. I was more inclined to taking a bus, but my parents were not that interested.

So the final call was made - the train was to take us back. We had two options - the Alappuzha Kannur Express or the Alappuzha Chennai Express. We were too late for the former, and hence the latter was finalised. We left from Nedumudy is a Bajaj Rear Engine autorickshaw. Four of us - atleast two of us were weighing more than 100 kgs each - andsome baggage were the load. The driver maintained a decent speed through the road - which is asphalted to very good standards through the way. 

The autorickshaw ride....

The road cuts across paddy fields, crosses atleast a couple of backwater streams and runs through a tourist hotspot. The weather was hot and humid, with the sun shining straight on to the driver's eyes. The 11 kilometre journey took about 20 minutes, and we were at the Railway station at around 1515 - for a 1610 departure. I quickly joined the queue to get tickets and the fare for three of us worked out to some 190-odd rupees. (Sleeper class unreserved tickets). I then headed out to help my cousin brother, who had to reserve tickets for a journey. 

After he finished booking his tickets, I headed back to the station. The LTT-Trivandrum Netravati Express rolled in with a WAP4 just as I entered the station. My train - the 6042 Alappuzha - Chennai Express - was parked on Platform 3. We tugged our luggage across the FOB to the platform. On the way, we downed a bottle of flavoured milk from the Milma stall, and also stocked up cold drinking water. I headed straight to check the loco. 

The 21-coach rake had about 11 sleepers, two 3A, one FC and two 2A coaches in addition to the unreserved second sitting and SLRs. The loco in charge of the train was WAP4 #22693 of Arakkonam. The pilots were just taking charge of the train. They would work the train only up to Ernakulam. I took a couple of images, when I got a call from mom that they were sitting in S7 - which is operated as a "de-reserved" coach upto Palakkad. The coach had about 65% occupancy before we started. 

WAP4 #22693 of Arakkonam at Alappuzha, before starting with the 6042 Express to Chennai

The starter turned amber at 1609, and the train started moving, sharp at 1610. Just as the train started moving, a couple of ladies tried entering the train. One of them just threw her bag in, while the second was running parallel to the train, holding on to the railings. People around shouted at them to get in, since the train was still crawling. An RPF officer came running to help them, but they managed to board before the train picked speed. 

The train slowed down at Mararikulam, and ran through to Cherthala. We reached Cherthala at 1636. Most seats were grabbed at this station. We had a slightly long halt here, to cross the Ernakulam-Kollam passenger. The Passenger train took its sweet time to reach the station, and the usual 2 minute halt for my train elongated to 10 minutes. The passenger came in with WAP4 #22712 of Arakkonam - it is interesting to see 11 coach trains with WAP4s!!! We left Cherthala at 1646. The train made another brief halt at Thuravur - a.1658/d.1659. Most small stations en route - like Aroor, Ezhupunna - are receiving face lifts. Long, standard sized platforms are being built at these places. 

We slowed down as we approached Ernakulam, and stopped on Platform 1 at 1725. The newly re-painted Sapthagiri liveried WAP1 #22005 was waiting with a passenger train on Platform 3. The Trivandrum bound Jan Shatabdi was preparing for departure from Platform 2, with WAP4 #22341 of Erode in charge, with WAM4 #20581 of Arakkonam trailing behind dead. The surprise was WDM2 #17249 of Itarsi standing dead on the Main line!!! No idea as to what brought the loco to Ernakulam. WDS6 #36011 of Golden Rock was dozing off in another corner with the accident relief rake. 

My train packed to its capacity here. Each sleeper class lower berth had four passengers each. The upper berths were taken, and some side lowers were seating about four passengers each. The gangway was by now crowded with standees, and there were passengers hanging out of the door. The train resembled a peak hour EMU train in Mumbai. We started crawling out of Ernakulam Junction at 1735. The diesel loco shed seemed deserted - WDM3A #16295 and WDM3A #14081 were parked near the washing pit. The Wappie picked speed quickly, and we were now cruising at around 50 kmph. The train had a halt at the very next station, and LP surely thought that it did not make sense to speed up further.

We reached Ernakulam town at 1743. WAG7 #27212 of Gomoh was standing on Platform 1 with the Nagercoil bound Gurudev Express (from Howrah). That train appear packed to capacity, with passengers peeping out of toilet windows too! While both the trains were enjoying their break at ERN, the Alappuzha bound express from Tatanagar/Dhanbad rushed through with an AJJ WAP4. We left ERN at 1750 - delayed by about 18 minutes. The train got even more crowded now. Almost all passengers seemed to be regular office goers, and two of our co-passengers were traveling from Ottapalam to Ernakulam on a daily basis - traveling to and fro in the same train. We were now joined by a celebrity guest - a television anchor and her husband. 

The train continued its healthy run, while passengers inside were chatting to each other, while some were counting winks. The weather was too hot and humid, and the crowd inside the coach wasn't helping matters. The coach - made in 1993 by BEML - had SMBs retrofitted. The train was now doing a very good speed. We crossed an unidentified train near Aluva. We reached Aluva at 1805, and left at 1810. The number of passengers inside the coach remained stable - the number of passenger alighting was equal to/or less than the number of passengers boarding the train. The same story repeated all the way. 

While we were around the Airport - for the uninitiated, Cochin Airport is located at a place called Nedumbassery, which is pretty far from Ernakulam  - an Indian Airlines (or should I call it Air India) A320 aircraft landed. The plane was taxiing to the apron with its lamps on. The apron already had one Air-India Airbus, and a couple of Jet Airways B737s. We reached Ankamali station at 1819. A heavy crowd alighted here, but the number of passengers inside still remained stable. 

Heavy crowd alighting at Angamali

We left Angamali at 1824 - delayed by 16 minutes. We made another brief stop at Divine Nagar. We reached Chalakudi at 1843. WAP4 #22388 of Erode was waiting there with the Guwahati-Trivandrum express. The loco was shut down as it waited for the starter. The LPs switched it on as the starter turned amber. The sounds were just amazing. We left Chalakudi at 1848 - delayed by 23 minutes. We were to get down at the very next station - Irinjalakuda. The crowd was still heavy, and we had a bad time negotiating the crowd to get to the door. The doors too were crowded and we had to stand in very little space. 

Interestingly, the Side Middle berths were given the same number as the side lower, but with an "A" suffixed to it. The side middle berth closest to one door was numbered "7A". That is a very interesting manner to number them!!! The train crawled into Irinjalakuda station at 1857. The platform was not of the standard height, and we had to jump down. A pretty nice crowd got down at this station. The train left exactly two minutes later. The exit was away from where my coach stopped. 

Irinjalakuda station is located at a place called Kalletumkara, which is about 7 kms from the town centre of Irinjalakuda. History says that people opposed to laying a railway line through the heart of the town fearing that trains could spread diseases. My place was 16kms from Irinjalakuda town. It started raining - albeit slightly - moments after we reached IJK. We hired a taxi from the station to head home. The driver noticed that the brakes were not too effective a while after we left the station. He offered to get us another taxi - and he did it. Finally reached home at around 2000, ending an unreserved journey after long. The crowd was too heavy and the sultry weather added to our miseries. 

Images of this trip would be uploaded soon... stay tuned to this post for the links... in the meantime, drop in your comments on this post :)