Friday, January 23, 2009

The wait is finally over!

The big day for IRFCAns across the globe in now at the doorstep! The Fourth Annual IRFCA Convention is all set to begin tomorrow at 1030AM. The honour of hosting the convention this year is for the Garden City - Bangalore!


The venue for the convention this year is United Theological College, Millers Road, Bangalore. The event will begin at 1030 tomorrow, and will conclude at evening on Sunday. The organising part of the event began in August.

The proceedings at the event will be webcast live at the BNC2009 Blog. You can see images of organising meets of BNC2009 here.

So I am off to the venue of the convention... updates are not expected, although I will keep my efforts on to webcast them on this website too.

Monday, January 05, 2009

The first journey via Kottayam!

Prelude: I had to go to Trivandrum for an urgent work. The journey from Bangalore to Trivandrum was done in two parts. Bangalore to Kollam by 6315 Kochuveli Express, and then Kollam to Trivandrum by Vanchinad Express. My work got pretty early than expected, and I decided to return, to my hometown in Thrissur District, by the 6525 Bangalore Express. The journey was on October 16, 2008. So, here goes the trip report...

"Between the devil and the deep sea" was what ran through my mind as I got into a Rickshaw from the General Hospital at Trivandrum. The driver did not say a word about the fare, and I was a bit apprehensive if he would ask for the cost of his "three-wheeled limousine" at the end of the journey. He drove through cut roads, criss-crossing "bigger roads" often, and finally landing up at a road that distinctly identifies that "we are near the station". As he near Thambanoor, my confusion reached its heights - Should I take a bus or a train? Turn left for a bus, or right for a train...

I decided to take the call - "turn right"! While those Red-Yellow coloured "beautiful monsters" were tempting me in, I had to make a decision and headed off to the railway station - after all that was going to be my first daylight journey through the Kottayam line! A "not-so-very-long" line greeted me at the ticketing counter. I stood in a queue that appeared the shortest to me - but for some vague reason, the line seemed not to be moving ahead! I quickly jumped over to the nearest counter, and managed to get a ticket in under 5 minutes. The ticket (to Ernakulam Town, via Kottayam in Sleeper Class) set me back by Rs 110 (it is anytime cheaper that the bus fare). My cash resources were on the verge of drying up, and I had to replenish them from one of the ATMs at the station. After stocking up cash in my wallet, I went to the platform to stock up food for the rest of the day!

I had initially planned to purchase my lunch from the platform before boarding the train. But, for some reason, I decided to get only water and some cool drink and get my lunch from the train. In the meantime, the PA system where shouting aloud that my train - 6525 Kanniyakumari-Bangalore Express - would arrive on PF2. I did not have enough guts to road around to click pics, and decided to head straight to the platform instead. Just as I entered Platform 2, a rake seemed to be backed on to the platform. It turned out that the rake of the Chennai Egmore Ananthapuri Express would be 'parked' on PF2, and my 6525 would arrive on PF3. (An announcement to this effect was made soon after I reached PF2). PF2 and 3 are located on an island, and this last moment change, fortunately, did not affect passengers.

Looking at the number of passengers waiting on the platform, I momentarily decided to upgrade to 3A by paying up the difference. I went around in search of some spottings, and found out that the loco that would work my 6525 from Trivandrum would be WAP4 #22269 of Erode. Platform 4 was occupied by the rake of the Ernakulam-Trivandrum Intercity Express. Right behind the rake, WDP3A #15535 of Golden Rock, WAM4 #21240 of Arakkonam and WDM2 #17677 of Tondiarpet, were seen resting. The Tondiarpet loco was at the refueling point, while the other two were powered down. My train came in at 1230, early by about 15 minutes. The loco in charge was WDM3D #11149 of Erode. The loco was quickly uncoupled. In the meanwhile, I approached the TTE of the 3A compartment. He opined that I could easily get a berth in S12 if I was not very particular on upgrading. I decided to quickly check out and return if the coach was full.

The coach, S12, was being operated as "de-reserved" up to Ernakulam.  The coach was 05209 (2005-BEML Make), based at Vasco in Hubli Division. The coach had been retro-fitted with Side-Middle berths, and thus the capacity was enhanced to 81. We were the 8th from the loco. I managed to get a forward facing window on the "Action side" (I mean on the trackside, right side). I quickly "reserved" the seat by keeping a bottle of water and my bag there. I then headed out to have a look at the rush outside. The GS coaches were packed to the brim, while my coach was pretty empty. The train pulled out of the station perfectly at 1255. The WDM3D now occupied the position which was held by the WAP4 earlier. Oh! The loco working my train was indeed WAP4 #22269 of Erode. I was at the door for a while as the train pulled. I spotted WDP3A #15501 of Golden Rock, WAP4 #22580 of Erode and WAM4 #21255 of Arakkonam sleeping off at the yard. 

In the meanwhile, a guy came and called me. That turned out to be a guy from the "checking squad". I had a proper ticket, and he had no comment to make. I headed back to my seat, and sat down to relish my lunch. It turned out to be really bad, and I just managed to gulp it down. In the meantime, we cruised through Pettah station, and the train started picking up speed like mad. We were at MPS a short while after Pettah. A twin light Erode WDG3A pair crossed us at great speed near Pettah. While the marvellous journey was just begining, the checking squad guys caught a person traveling without a ticket in my coach. They seemed to be celebrating that moment. 

Our first halt was Chirayinkil, (pronounced as "Chirayinkeezhu" in Malayalam), which is about 29kms from Trivandrum. The station, which has an interesting code - CRY, was reached at 1316, early by about two minutes. Not many people joined our coach, but I guess many had managed to get hold of some space in the general compartments in the train. We left at our scheduled departure time of 1320. The next stop was about three kilometres away, at Kadakavur (Pronounced as "Kadaykavoor" in Malayalam). The WAP4 showed its real mettle, and the train made it to that station in just three minutes! We left the station after a three minute halt, late by about a minute now. There exists a small gradient after this station. It is an unofficial Ghat section, with pretty steep curves and gradients. We crossed them comfortably, and now rushed towards Varkala (our next halt).

Varkala (VAK) is about 41 kilometres from Trivandrum, and has the distinction of, and perhaps the only, station to have a BAR accessible from the platform! We were there at 1337, about 3 minutes behind schedule. This station had a humongous crowd waiting for my train. The train managed to pack each one of them into its coaches. By now, all seats in my coach was taken, and we had a few passengers standing around the doorways. The train left VAK at 1339. The Pilot let his machine loose, and the train now started off its show. I sat with my face stuck to the windows, looking out eagerly for crossings. The shape of the "bars" across the window ensured that my vision was limited. The overall finish of the coach was ages ahead of an ICF coach. 

This particular train never has a dearth of halts, and true to its tradition, our next halt was only 11 kilometres from VAK! The next halt was Paravur - PVU. We increased our delay from 3 to 5 minutes now. The halt was a customary two minutes. I've always wondered if a halt of just two minutes would ever suffice for an average indian traveller. The basic norm for a normal passenger is to carry luggage almost equal to his own weight. However, I have often noticed that mallus (an oft used term to describe the rare breed of Homo Sapiens from the southern most state of India - Kerala) carry pretty less luggage compared to any of their counterparts in the country - this could be attributed to the fact than Mallus travel pretty often. The train was determined to depart irrespective of whether passengers managed to fit into the few inches of space that were remaining in the train, and we did depart at 1351, maintaining the delay of 5 minutes.

My eagerness for a crossing was now reaching its heights, while there was no sign of 'the' expected train. We were, by now, clearing the sharp curve that leads to Kollam (QLN) station. Ah! There she is! The New Delhi - Trivandrum Kerala Express had just arrived Kollam then! The loco doing the honours was WAP4 #22357 of Erode. My train came to a complete halt at 1405 - early by about 5 minutes. The loco pilots and the guard changed here. A new pair took over, and we were game for the distance ahead. In the meantime, Kerala Express was cleared. We too started from the station at 1417 - about 2 minutes late. Just as my coach was clearing the station, WAP4 #22306 of Erode rushed in with our pairing train - the 6526 Bangalore-Kanniyakumari Express. 

The dismantled MG line gave us company for a while, before it took its path in a different direction. My train picked speed rapidly now. We had a very eventless run thereon. We made a brief halt at Karunagapally (KPY). The next 'major' halt was Kayamkulam (KYJ), where we reached at 1503 - delayed by about 10 minutes. A pretty sizeable crowd got in at this station. My coach now had a lot of standees, while the GS coaches were overflowing. The train started its crawl sharp at 1508. An unidentified WAP4 was sleeping off on a loop line at the station. My train did not pick speed for a while, indicating that we were still negotiating points. The run was painful, and it surely did not exceed 15 kmph. The crawl continued for a long time before the train slightly picked speed. I was very excited since that going to be my first daylight journey on the Kayamkulam-Kottayam-Ernakulam section. I kept capturing all that came on way on my camera.  

Doubling work was proceeding at quite a pace along the Kayamkulam-Mavelikara Section. At most places tracks are already in place, and OHE poles for electrification were also up. Given the pace of the work, this section should be ready in less than a year. Mavelikara marks the beginning of the "Gang of Five". The "gang" is a set of stations where almost all trains in the section stop. The five stations come in a short section of 47 kilometres. We reached Mavelikara (MVLK) at 15:18, delayed by about 9 minutes. The station lived up to its reputation, and we had lots of people to board. We left MVLK at 15:21, now delayed by 11 minutes. Our next halt, Chengannur - the second in the gang of five, and the first in the "Gang of Three" - is just 13 kilometres away.



Chengannur, CNGR, was reached at 15:31, delayed by about 7 minutes. The train average about 78kmph between MLVK and CNGR. Chengannur, often considered the nearest railhead to the pilgrimage town of Sabarimala, marks the begining of another "Gang" - the Gang of Three. This gang comprises of, as the name suggests, three stations. The three stations - Chengannur, Tiruvalla and Changanasseri - are located at a distance of about 9 kms between each other. Almost all trains taking this route halt at all the three stations. We left Chengannur at 15:33. My coach was badly crowded now. Our next halt was Tiruvalla, about 9 kilometres away. We reached Tiruvalla (TRVL) at 15:48. The Trivandrum bound Parasuram Express was waiting at TRVL. It was on the other side of the train, and I could just notice that the power was a WAP4. We left TRVL at 15:50, now late by 15 minutes. It got overcast as the train approached Changanasseri. And, it started pouring as we approached the home signal. All shutters were pulled down, and water started pouring in through gaps below those shutters. 

We reached Changanasseri at 15:57, delayed by about 9 minutes. The 8 kilometres from TRVL to CGY was done in just 7 minutes! It was pouring continuously through the duration of our halt at the station. The train showed no signs of movement even after two minutes, its official halt time. A while later, the Hyderabad-Trivandrum Sabari Express rushed in with an unidentified WAP4 in charge. We left CGY at 16:07, now the delay raised to 17 minutes. Changanasseri marks the third in the Gang of Three. The next station, Kottayam, marks the fifth in the gang of five. Kottayam is pretty big city. We were welcomed to the station by WAP1 #22009 of Arakkonam, dozing off with the rake of the Ernakulam-Kottayam passenger. We were received on Platform 1, while Platform 3 had the rake of the Kottayam-Ernakulam. The loco for that rake was a WAG7. Shortly after we stopped, the Kanniyakumari bound Himsagar Express pulled into Platform 2. The loco in charge was WDM3A #14075 of Ernakulam. 

We left Kottayam at 16:38, with a delay of 13 minutes. We overtook a BCNA rake, worked by Erode WAG7 #27392, heading towards Ernakulam. I had spotted the same rake, earlier in the day while going towards Trivandrum at Kollam. It was surprising to see a freight routed via Kottayam. (Perhaps, the rake was to terminate somewhere on that route). My train was absolutely crowded as we left Kottayam. The train was to have its second longest non-stop run (in the TVC-ERN Section) after Kottayam. We were to cover the next 31 kilometres in 33 minutes, without any halts. We reached Piravam Road, our next halt, at 17:11, now late by around 13 minutes. We crossed a twin Tondiarpet WDM2 hauled BTPN at this station. A majority of the crowd that got in at Kottayam alighted here. We left PVRD at 17:13. 

The run after Piravam road was not very fast, and we maintained subdued speeds through. My 'neighbours' in the cabin were traveling to Bangalore. We slowed down near Tripunithura Home, but ran through the station without stopping. We crossed the Trivandrum bound Venad Express, hauled by WAP4 #22543 of Erode, at this station. We slowed considerably after Tripunithura. The speed was pathetic as we neared the lines leading to the refinery. The train never exceeded 45-50kmph through the run. We had to stop for a pretty long time near the coaching yard. A WDM7 of Tondiarpet was shunting a few coaches around the yard. The rake of Mangala Express was parked inside the yard. One of my 'neighbours' said to his brother that "Nizamuddin is in Mumbai". We moved a while later, and the slow and painful run kept going on till we entered the main line. We finally reached Ernakulam town at 18:04, delayed by about 9 minutes. The Dhanbad-Alappuzha express waiting on the Down main line, with WAP4 #22617 of Arakkonam in charge. The last 13 kilometres from Tripunithura to Ernakulam took over 30 minutes to complete!

The 9 minute delay was reasonable considering the fact that the train makes as many as 15 halts in its 223 kilometre run, at an average of about one stop per 14.98 kilometres! The average speed works out to 44.6kmph. My coach was de-reserved only upto Ernakulam, and that did bring about some 'nice' scenes. I cleared the platform quickly and headed off to the rickshaw stand. I hired a rickshaw and headed off to Ernakulam Jetty KSRTC Bus station. I took a bus headed to my hometown from there, and I was at home by around 2030, thereby ending a marvellous trip, which I had been longing for long.

Images: Images of the trip may be viewed here... please do have a look at them, and post in your comments, suggestions and opinions.