Sunday, May 31, 2009

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 :)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

On the KSRTC Garuda yet again....

The Kerala State Road Transport Corporation's Volvo service to Trivandrum, from Bangalore, is renowned to stick to its timetable and is a well maintained service. I had a personal need to travel to Alappuzha on the 27th of this month. I booked tickets on the Bangalore-Trivandrum KSRTC Volvo the previous Saturday, and I was allotted my usual seat - #13 - on this bus too. 

I was at home on Wednesday due to certain personal reasons (did not attend office). I left home at around 1500 hours, to board the bus that would depart from Majestic at 1700 hours. As I reached Bannerghatta Road, I saw a Volvo sneaking off. Disappointed, I stood at the bus stop for an 'empty' bus towards the city. An old Pass Bus came around, and the driver shouted at the top of his voice that the bus was proceeding to Majestic. I jumped in and grabbed a nice window seat. The run was slow owing to a couple of deviations and traffic snarls associated with it. I was slightly tense through the run. The driver picked speed as soon as he was back on the normal route. However, the absence of a conductor (the driver does the ticketing himself) was a hinderance to our progress. 

Clearing all hurdles, we were soon approaching Majestic. The last stretch of road was unusually empty and we sped through. The bus soon crawled into Majestic, and I jumped down as soon as the bus entered the bus station. Headed off straight to the Canara Bank ATM right outside the bus station and then to the Inter-state (KSRTC) bus station. The guard at the entrance reluctantly 'brushed' the metal detector on my bag. It did give some beeps, but he was least interested. I rushed towards Platform 14 (from where my bus would depart). 

The bus - KL15 7231, RA 101 of TVM depot - was indeed parked there. As I stepped on to the bus, the driver asked if I had a reservation. I said yes and then deposited my bag on the hatrack. I headed off to a shop to get some refreshment. Then came back to snap a couple of images. The conductor was yet to come, and hence the driver was asking each passenger if they had reserved. In the mean time, a very old Karnataka SRTC Volvo came around and the service was working a 1630 departure to Chennai (the time was already 1650). 

The monster that took me to Alappuzha... this was the same bus, on which I did my first ever Trivandrum-Bangalore bus journey.

Our driver cranked up the 7-litre engine and the airconditioners were switched on. He also switched on FM radio on the entertainment system. The conductor arrived and quickly started checking tickets, and also issuing tickets to those who hadn't reserved. The white whale moved out of the bus station sharp at 1700. The driver found it slightly hard to navigate bus - I think he was on one of his initial runs. The bus switched off as he tried to negotiate a speed breaker. However, he regained composure soon and the bus quickly joined the traffic queue. The run from Majestic to Madiwala was painfully slow, and took over 45 minutes, for a distance of under 12 kilometres. 

Two passengers joined at Madivala. The driver was very considerate, and did stop for anyone who waved on the road side. Afterall, there were only 17 passengers in the 45-seater bus!!! The co-driver switched on a movie as soon as we crossed Electronic City. The ride ahead from here was eventless. Since there were too little passengers in the bus, every body could occupy a window. The aisle seat near me was vacant, and I made full use of it by lying across!!!

We picked up yet another passenger at Hosur - who seemed to be a regular. The run ahead was normal, and the driver maintained decent speeds - in the range of 80~110kmph. Somewhere around Krishnagiri, a guy on a motorbike decided to cross the road irrespective of the fact that a white coloured monster - with about 4 pairs of blazing lamps and a blarring horn - was charging at him. The driver braked at the right time and we were saved of the agony to go behind the police. 

The bus while waiting at Dinner Break....

The bus stopped at a way-side motel for dinner, a while after Krishnagiri. We stopped at 1940. The motel - which is nothing more than a tin shed, with parking space for atleast 6 buses - was too busy at that hour that no waiter turned up for atleast 5 minutes. There were about 5 buses already parked when we stopped by for dinner - prominent among the buses was the Kerala SRTC superfast to Ernakulam. I had a very quick dinner and headed out for some photography. Interestingly - and annoyingly - the motel was making full out of passengers' helplessness. Almost all products were over-priced and the service was least decent. There are no motels for long distances on the highway, and passengers are left to the mercy of such shady motel operators. 

The driver filling water into the wind-shield washer tank.

I was out for some photography, just when I noticed the driver opening the bumper to fill water for windscreen washers. It started raining a while after the driver completed the refilling operation. It was pouring at a very heavy pace and the driver had a tough time backing out the bus from the parking. The run after dinner was painfully slow, since the rain was too heavy and visibility was really poor. The driver maintained steady speeds through the rain. It dried up as we approached Dharmapuri. We did not take a turn at Dharmapuri, and ran straight towards Salem. We dropped a passenger at Salem by-pass and then continued into the city. The bus stopped at a place that resembled a bus station for a while and then continued its run. 

The road was in a very bad state after Salem. The section was filled with potholes and the road had only one lane each for up and down traffic. The bus had to slow down in this section. The bad state of the road continued till we reached somewhere around Erode. The bus took another break after the four-laned road started, and this was in the middle of no-where. By now, the first movie was over and the second one too was close to finish. The movie soon got over and the partition screens were pulled down.  

My sleep was heavily disturbed by the gentleman sitting right behind me. He was listening to songs on a personal MP3 player, using an earphone. But the volume was adequate for the entire bus to listen to music!!! I pity these people who torture their eardrums for some momentary pleasure on hearing loud music. I managed to overcome the torture from behind and caught up some nap. Thanks to a bedsheet that I was carrying, I was immune to the cold air from the AC. The temperature was varying from 22 to 26 deg celsius. 

The bus reached Coimbatore bus station at 0030 hours - it stopped momentarily outside the bus station. I slept soon after the bus started from Coimbatore. The crew entered all bus station hoping to get some passengers, but in vain. We also entered Palakkad, but got no passengers. We also entered Thrissur - luckily got one passenger. We left Thrissur at 0300. One fact that I noticed is that both Palakkad and Thrissur was packed with buses parked at every corner. With KSRTC adding more buses every year, it surely needs to add more depots. The Volvo driver had a tough time negotiating the bus through the little space that was available at Thrissur bus station.

The driver put up an amazing show as we left Thrissur. We reached Ernakulam bus station at 0425. I was surprised, since Volvo guys avoid the bus station and go straight through the by-pass. Perhaps, the fact that the bus had very little passengers forced the crew to enter the bus station. We left Ernakulam at 0430. Ernakulam bus station was no different, and buses were seen parked at every nook and corner. The driver zipped out of the bus station, and we exited through Vytilla, instead of the normal route via Aroor. 

The conductor came around to remind me as the bus neared Alappuzha. I requested him to drop me slightly ahead of the town, since Autos were not seen very frequently. The driver stopped at the requested place - a very nice gesture since it was too early in the morning to get public transportation. I got down from the bus at 0515. The promised time of arrival was 0500 - we were just 15 minutes late and this was despite the fact that we entered almost all bus stations on the route!!!

An amazing show.... The Kerala SRTC Volvo service has an amazing product. They could spruce up the service was adding some more goodies like providing a Blanket. The crew are courteous and really helpful. One female passenger on the bus fell sick while traveling. The crew quickly offered to stop the bus for her, in case she wanted to vomit. The conductor even had medicines to control emesis. The bus was clean and was pretty well kept. There were signs of a patch work on the rear side of the bus - which is perhaps a result of a minor accident. A very good product, overall, and recommended to passengers!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

On the humble AC bus yet again....

The weekend vacation at home was counting down to a close. The weather was hot and unbearably humid over the day, and it was pouring during late evenings. As the hot afternoon was getting towards a close, it was time for me to pack up for my return journey. There was loads of goodies to be taken to Bangalore and that ensured that I had a very heavy baggage this time around too. The packing was over by about 1700. I remembered to pack a bedsheet too, this time. I left home at around 1755 on a tired looking autorickshaw.

Just as we reached Kodungallur Private Bus station (See it on Google earth, here), a Thrissur bound bus pulled out. I still had a long time for my bus, and I did not bother to run behind that bus. Very soon, a colourful bus pulled over to the platform for departure. The conductor-cum-cleaner was already shouting at the top of his voice, announcing the destination and the fact that it was a Limited Stop service. I got into the bus and took a seat on the last row - for the fact that I had lots of baggage to be stowed under my seat. 

The bus left about 5 minutes later, only to stop outside the bus station for another 5 minutes. The conductor was personally meeting each person standing at the bus staiton and persuading them to get into the bus - which was now brightly lit up, with a lamps emitting all colours but white. After many rounds of persuation, some people got in and the bus slowly crawled towards its destination. The driver kept his cools for the first 4 kilometres (to ensure that the conductor could collect fares from all passengers). A while after that, the driver resorted to driving F1 style! 

I wonder why we need people to be trained on F1 - give the seat to private bus drivers and they would surely put Schumachers to shame. These guys manoeuvre these fully laden buses through narrow roads - often just adequate for two parallel vehicles - at 70-75kmph! Each of my journey on these buses are not complete without long prayers to God, to just help me reach my destination in one piece. We made the customary halt at Irinjalakuda bus station and continued the hair-raising, nail-biting run towards Thrissur. The destination was still about 12 kilometres away. Thunders were now appearing across the horizon and there were growing signs of a downpour. 

I was worried for two reasons - I was sitting at the rear door, which does not have a window and I had lots of luggage to tug to the bus station. As my levels of apprehensions grew, the sky decided to open up and it started raining - albeit at a slight pace. The driver continued his heroics on the road, as we zipped closer to Thrissur. The conductor by now started announcing at every bus stop that the bus would terminate at Vadakke Stand (Thrissur North Bus Station) and would not go to Sakthan Stand (the normal bus station). I quickly confirmed if the bus would go to my destination, and the conductor responded affirmative. 

We were now closer to my destination, while the rain strengthened up. The bus stopped at Chettiyangandi (The bus stop closest to KSRTC Bus Station and the Railway station) as the rain slowed down. I pulled out my baggage, and now the conductor joked if I was carrying baggage for a year... I joked back saying yes! I first thought to wait until the rain stops - then decided to brave the rain. It was drizzling now and I had to walk briskly with all the baggage with me. The weight was too unbearable and rain was making me sick. With luggage in both hands, holding an umbrella was ruled out.

I somehow made it to the bus station and parked my baggage near the point where my bus would come. One AC bus was parked there, and that was RR212 (KL15/6410). The bus was working the 2000 schedule to Bangalore. I quickly confirmed that the bus wasn't mine. The bus station was leaking, and water was dripping down the roof at many places. Being a Sunday, the crowd was heavy and there was no space to walk around. The AC bus went, and the place was quickly taken over by a Karnataka Volvo (Airavat). The bus was scheduled to leave Thrissur at 1930 itself. The bus picked up about 25 passengers from there. 

The KSRTC Super Deluxe to Bangalore too was parked nearby. The bus was almost full. The PA system was continously announcing that a particular passenger was yet to board and he was asked to get on board immediately. A while past 2035, my bus was brought in. The bus was KL15/6412 (RR214) of Thrissur Depot. I was slightly depressed on seeing this bus, since I had an earlier journey in this bus and was not very impressed by it. The driver kept the engine on during the period, but did not open the door. The conductor was yet to arrive with the charts and he waited till the conductor was around.

The bus at Madiwala, after I got down....

Soon the conductor arrived and the door was opened. I requested the driver to open the luggage compartment, and he quickly responded. I left the luggage inside and then went to get a cold drink. By now most passengers had completed boarding. I joined the queue, and quickly go it. An elderly gentleman was my co-passenger and he sat all covered in a good shawl. The Airconditioner was yet to be switched on. It was still raining outside. The conductor came in and announced that we wouldn't be stopping for a considerable time, people should use the restroom before the bus started. 

The AC was switched on at 2050, and the bus slowly backed out at 2100. We left the bus station at 2103. Immediately, water started leaking out of the AC unit - the blower unit located overhead. Passengers complained and the conductor quickly came around to check. He said that a leakage was reported to the depot, and they hadn't fixed it. Some commuters were infuriated and they argued with the conductor. The conductor insisted on the passengers filing a complaint and one passenger called up the KSRTC Control Room. The matter was not resolved, and the leakage stopped as soon as the rain stopped.

The bus was not very fast and the run was only average for the initial hour. I was worried if it would arrive in Bangalore on time the next morning. My worries were dispelled soon enough. The driver put up a very nice show, that saw us cross Palakkad By-pass at 2221 itself. We entered the Coimbatore by-pass road at 2300 itself. I dozed off as the good run continued. As I woke up, I noticed that the bus was now slowly pulling up the ever-familiar Hotel Plaza at Perumanallur. The time was now 0015. I got down for a leak and had some light refreshment. The crew got back at 0025 itself, and we started off at 0030! That was an impressive 15 minute break!!!

I was awake for a while, until we crossed an underconstruction toll-gate. I dozed off immediate after that. I woke up sometime at 0330, when we were around Krishnagiri. The bus was now crawling due to slow moving traffic ahead. To make matters worse, we were trailing a TNSTC bus, that was crawling literally. A long line of buses overtook us on the left, including the Trivandrum-Bangalore Kerala SRTC Volvo. My driver lost the momentum that he keeping this long, and this led to a lot of time loss. 

There was pretty heavy traffic around Hosur, and this increased our delay heavily. The run was pretty painful around Hosur. The driver picked speed soon after we crossed Hosur Flyover. The run till we reached Attibelle was fine, but the road condition around Attibelle was too bad for the driver to maintain speed. Another crawl ensued. We crossed Electronic City at around 0525. The run ahead was not very fast. We made a couple of halts to allow some passenger alight. Finally, the bus crawled past Bommanahalli at around 0540. The bus stopped at Silk Board fly-over, and then continued forward. I was at the door as we approached Madiwala. 

The approach was very interesting, with autoguys waving at the driver to stop near them. Finally, the driver chose one particular location - right outside the BBMP office at Madivala. The drivers crowded around the door even before it opened. I was the first 'victim' to get down and about a dozen auto-drivers crowded around me - like how flies cover a piece of sweet. They offered to take me to any corner of the world in their rusty-trusty blank-and-yellow contraption that make more sound than a train's horn, emits more smoke than a coal-fired engine and has a meter that runs faster than a supersonic aircraft. I somehow managed to dodge them and head towards the luggage compartment to unload my baggage. 

I had left one carton in a soggy condition the previous night, and was scared of it would still remain in one piece at the end of the ride. The conductor opened the compartment door and I was happy to see my luggage still in intact condition. I pulled them out. One seeing baggage, another dozen rickshaw drivers were hovering around to see if I would succumb to their pressure. I politely declined, and continued waiting for my pick-up. In the meantime, a couple of KSRTC Airavat Volvos, about half a dozen KSRTC Rajahamsas, about three KPN Air-buses and a Kallada B9R went through. My brother arrived soon, and I loaded my baggage into the car and headed home. I was home by 0615, ending a quick weekend trip.

As I hit publish to this post, the tickets for my next trip has been reserved... wait for more info on that very soon :)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

On the 0644 special to Kerala

Some personal reasons, and the need for a break from the monotonous routine in Bangalore made me travel to Kerala. I was initially planning to take a bus, but had to switch over to a train since my parents too were accompanying. Thanks to summer holidays, coupled to a weekend, all trains were running full to the brim, and there was no chance that I could get a ticket anywhere. Once the train was chosen, we decided to book tatkal. (The experience booking this tatkal ticket was described earlier, read here)

I left office early on the day of my journey - 15 May 2009. My brother was to drop my parents, and bring along my baggage, at the station, while I went straight to the station from Office. I reached the station a while before the Shatabdi arrived. The rake of the New Delhi bound Karnataka Express was deposited on PF1 by a WDS6 already. WDM3D #11188 of Erode, which 'would have' brought in the 1014 from CBE, was parked on the stabling line near Platform 1. Two inspection cars were providing company to the WDM3D.

Platform 2 was occupied by a very late running Sheshadri Express (to Kakinada). This train was ready to depart to its destination, with WAG5 #23826 of Vijayawada in charge. The displays were showing that the train is re-scheduled to depart only at 1700 hours. Platform 3 was occupied by the rake of Kacheguda Express, while Platform 4 and 5 were vacant. Platform 6 had the rake of Chamundi express (as usual), while Platform 7 was awaiting the arrival of Shatabdi Express from Mysore.

The Shatabdi arrives from Mysore, with WDP4 #20009 in charge...

The Shatabdi came in perfectly on time, with WDP4 #20009 of Hubli doing the honours. The train left later with WAP4 #22618 of Arakkonam doing the honours. The rake of the Kochuveli Express was brought in by WDM3A #17994 of Krishnarajapuram (a while before the Shatabdi left.). Kochuveli express was crowded to the brim, thanks to the day being Friday. All general coaches were overflowing, and people were trying to persuade the Guard to allow them in his cabin!

Kochuveli Express got WAP4 #22794 of Arakkonam. By now, Platform 4 was allocated to the Marikuppam bound "Swarna" passenger. The delayed running of Sheshadri Express had by now disturbed the entire platform allocation, and the Marikuppam-Bangalore passenger (which later works as "Bangarpet Express") was sent to Platform 7. The passenger came in with WDM3A #17902, and left as the Express with WAM4 #20573 of Arakkonam.

The Kochuveli express left delayed by about 5 minutes. The starter was given on time, and the Guard cleared the train as well.. But something happened, delaying the train. Meanwhile, WDM3A #18904 was preparing to depart with the Chamundi express to Mysore. A while after the Kochuveli Express pulled out, WDG3A #14660 of Krishnarajapuram brought the rake of my train - 0644 Ernakulam Special - to Platform 5. The rake had 13 coaches - one 2A, one 3A, 7 Sleepers, two unreserved second sitting and two SLRs. (This train shares rake the with one of the ERS-Patna Expresses).

Meanwhile, WDP4 #20043 came in from Krishnarajapuram shed to work the Kacheguda express, and WDM2 #17477 of Krishnarajapuram was preparing head the Marikuppam bound 'Swarna' passenger. The Itarsi twins - WDM2 #17826 (leading) and WDM3A #18960 - were idling on Road 7 (the line adjacent to Platform 5). A while after I returned from Platform 3, a triplet led by a WAM4 of Vijayawada came on to Platform 5. The trio comprised a WAM4 of Vijayawada (the leading loco), an Arakkonam WAM4 and an Erode WAP4. The Erode loco was uncoupled from the rest, and attached to my train. The loco was WAP4 #22729. By now, my family reached and I had to rush to pick up my baggage. After dropping my baggage inside the coach, I headed off to Platform 1 to get some Vitamin M (read cash), and a couple of bottles of water.

WAP4 #22729 of Erode comes in to take charge of my train...

I rushed back through the subway to Platform 5, and got into my coach. It had started raining - albeit slightly - outside. The clock slowly ticked towards 1845, but there was no signs of our 'co-passengers' turning up. I quickly checked the charts, and found that only about 15 of the total 64 tickets issued for the coach were booked over the counter - the rest were all E-Tickets! 16 seats were allotted for Tatkal Quota, and 4 for Salem Quota. Most reservations were end-to-end. The clock now ticked past 1850, but there were no signs of my train moving. I checked out from the door, and saw that the WAM4 duo (which had dropped the loco for my train) were still parked ahead of my train! The locos were given clearance at about 1855. My train finally pulled out at 1905 - a delay of 15 minutes at origin.

We had a painfully normal run from SBC to Cantonment. We reached there in exactly 10 minutes, and left Cantonment at 1918. About 10 passengers - including one of my 'co-passengers' joined the train here. The train never speed above 60kmph on its run from Cantonment to Krishnarajapuram. There was another short halt at Krishnarajapuram (1932/1934). We crossed the Chennai-Bangalore express at this station - It was a WDP4, but could not check the number since my window had condensation formed between its glass panes.

The run from Krishnarajapuram to Whitefield was even more painful, and the train had to crawl its way there. It was raining pretty hard, and visibility from my window was negligible. I did not notice that the train actually made a halt at Whitefield. A while later, I saw on my GPS receiver that we were near Malur. Around this time, the train kept a decent speed of about 85-90 kmph. A steady stream of vendors made rounds with dinner options - that included Chapatis, different varieties of rice and dosas. We slowly descended on to Bangarpet by now. We made the 'customary' halt at Bangarpet Home, for a couple of minutes, and then proceeded to the station. 

It was pouring down as the train slowly entered the station. The new "aerodynamic" DEMU was parked at one of the platforms at Bangarpet. The train had the boards "Bangalore - Bangarpet - Marikuppam" on it. The downpour just strengthened as our halt progressed. A couple of passengers got into our coach, but the TTE refused to accomodate, since the coach was fully occupied. We left Bangarpet after the customary halt at 2042, instead of the scheduled time of 2005 - a delay of 37 minutes. 

Passengers slowly pulled out berths and lights were being switched off in cubicles one after the other. Our co-passengers too followed suit. In the mean time, we reached Kuppam. It was just a customary halt - about a minute long. I recalled my visit to the place in December last year. The train picked speed quickly, and we reached a comfortable 104 kmph in a very short time. While I was busy recording speed on my GPS, I suddenly noticed that the speed graph was on a sharp downward curve. The train came to a dead halt at Mulanur - we remained at the station about a couple of minutes. 

I dozed off a while after the train started moving from Mulanur. I woke up as the train crawled into Somanayakkanpatti - the station just before Jolarpettai. The train crawled through, and then stopped right outside Jolarpettai 'B' Cabin. A short halt - about a minute long - later, we cruised towards the main line. Another minute-long halt later, we continued our crawl towards Coimbatore. The signal was double-amber, and we had another painful crawl towards Thirupattur. We left Thirupattur at 2242 - 42 minutes late. I dozed off soon after the train started from Thirupattur.

As if after ages, the coach was cooling brilliantly. On most of my previous journeys, the coach resembled more of an oven than an airconditioned coach. This time, the coach - 01914, made in 2002 - was cold as if it was a refrigerator. I enjoyed the climate inside the coach really well - and it was raining outside - as I pulled on the blanket for a nice sleep. The sleep was really undisturbed and it went on till 0400. I woke up at 0400 as a few alarms in the coach went off. The train just crossed over into Trivandrum division then. I just saw a road going parallel, and a Kerala SRTC Air Bus rushing off. That was adequate indicator about the location to me... the train just pulled into Vallathol Nagar then. An unscheduled halt later, we continued our roll towards Thrissur.

We made unscheduled halts at all stations en route. We still pulled into Thrissur at 0445  - early by 5 minutes. We had arranged for a taxi, and my mom 'spotted' the driver standing at the main exit. It was still raining outside, and we had a drenched walk back to the exit from our coach. The driver quickly pulled out the trusty ambassador from the parking. The journey to my home from the railway station - about 32 kms - took about an hour. It was drizzling slightly through the journey. I was at home at 0600. That was one train journey I loved a lot - after really long. Moreover, that was my first train journey to my hometown after about 10 long months - all my journeys to my home town were by Bus since August 2008. 

Images from the trip are here.... do have a look, and don't hesitate to drop in a line :)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The AC AirBus yet again...

Exactly a month back - on April 14, 2009, I was on a KSRTC AC Airbus, traveling from Thrissur to Bangalore. I was on a Vacation from office, from April 10, 2009 to April 14, 2009. I traveled from Bangalore to Kasaragode to Kannur to Thrissur to Kodungallur, back to Thrissur and thence to Bangalore. The first two parts of the journey (Bangalore-Kasaragod and Kasaragod-Kannur) were by Car, second (Kannur-Thrissur) by Train, then the rest by Road. The concluding part of the journey (Thrissur-Bangalore) was by the ever familar Kerala SRTC AC Air Bus.

Coincidentally, I got the same bus as my last journey - my last journey was on March 01, 2009. The bus was RR210 (KL15-6408). I had heavy luggage with me to carry back to Bangalore. A trolley bag and a carton - both very heavy. The first part of the journey - from Kodungallur to Thrissur - was by a Private bus. I was tracking the journey on the bus using a GPS receiver, and found that the top speed we achieved was about 72kmph (on a bus that has a speed governor 'claimed to be' set at 60kmph). Wonder why cops fail to book these guys who flout rules so obviously.

The bus guy announced, as the bus neared Thrissur, that he wouldn't go to the city (the areas around the 'MO Road' constitute parts of Thrissur 'City'), and would take a turn straight to the bus station. That means that he would stop a bit far from the KSRTC bus station. Had no option but to get down from the bus. While pulling my baggage from below my seat, a rope that I had tied across the carton broke off! I had to balance the carton in a very odd manner, and was forced to hire a rickshaw to travel hardly 500 metres. The rickshaw guy was decent enough not to exploit by situation, and he charged strictly by meter (some people do make the autodriver community great).

Tugging the load into the bus station was no fun. Having copious amounts of baggage also meant that I had to stand at one place 'guarding' it. I reached the 'platform' area of the bus station pretty quickly. The bus station was crowded as if everybody was trying to get away from the town. Thanks to the vacation, and the festival that just concluded (Malayalees across the globe celebrated Vishu on the 14th of April - a festival often regarded as the "New Year" for Keralites), the bus station had a very humungous crowd.

A Superfast bus heads to Chengannur, from Thrissur... look at passengers waiting to pounce on the next bus...

Every bus that entered the bus station was leaving absolutely crowded, and a fair amount of extra buses too were run. My bus was seen parked at the depot, and the driver was seen 'making' his seat. The stream of arrivals and departures kept on, with about half-a-dozen buses departing Trivandrum in less than 20 minutes, and a similar number heading to Bangalore in approximately the same period. There was an alternating stream of Kerala and Karnataka buses, and all this commotion meant that my bus couldn't park on to a platform till the clock ticked past 1945. The departure was at 2000.

The boarding was very chaotic. The conductor insisted on checking tickets before letting anybody get into the bus, and he stood on the steps that lead into the bus. The entrance into the bus is too congested, and the conductor standing on the steps made the entire boarding process very slow. To add to woes, the reservation chart appeared to have been printed very light and the conductor had a tough time verifying each ticket.

My baggage was too big to fit in the passenger section, and I had to stow it into the undercarriage. The "luggage" portion of a Tata Globus vehicle (which was used by the corporation to work my schedule) has its opening at the rear end. The compartment was closed and I had to wait for the driver to open it. The driver had gone to fill up some drinking water in atleast half-a-dozen bottles. (Perhaps, he carries sufficient water for the return journey as well!). The driver came and opened the luggage compartment, after about 5 minutes of waiting. He enquired as to what was I carrying (on seeing the carton) and was satisfied with my answer.

Now it was my turn to board the bus. The entry continued to be chaotic even after 10 minutes since the start of boarding. I got into the bus at about 1955. The bus had almost full loads. We had one vacant seat, which was to be filled at Palakkad. The conductor managed to sell a couple of unreserved tickets as well. The delay in boarding meant that our departure too was to be delayed. The conductor ran around to confirm that everybody was on board before signalling a start.

The bus backed from the platform at 2007 - seven minutes past departure time. As we were about to pull out, a traffic controller came around and asked the conductor to accommodate one more passenger - a female in her mid-20s. The bus was already full and the conductor expressed helplessness. Finally, she was accommodated in the driver's cab (pretty unusual in government buses). We finally moved out of the bus station at around 2015. The initial run was too slow. The conductor once again checked if all passengers were in, and also checked if the AC was working. He announced that passengers could call up the conductor to enquire if seats were vacant on weekdays (if they could not reserve in advance, or are running short of time to reach the bus station) and announced his telephone number (which was also painted inside the bus).

We were cruising past the city bus now. I was yet to have my dinner (I had packed it from home). I went about having food, while some amazing songs were played over the AV system in the bus. Buses from Thrissur depot do not have TVs (since they operate mostly on pure overnight trips) and the only source of entertainment is music. I admire the kind of songs that are played in KSRTC buses (usually evergreen melodies from movies). By the time I finished my dinner, we had hit the highway.

The driver was slighly lethargic, and his overtakes were over cautious. We stopped at Palakkad bye-pass to pick up a passenger (At 2131). I had a very short nap as the bus continued its 'dream run'. I woke up as we were about to enter Coimbatore bye-pass. I switched on the GPS receiver again, and tracked the speed. We reached a top speed of about 97kmph in this section. I fell asleep soon after the bus exited from the bye-pass road. I woke up just as the bus stopped for a short break - the place was as usual at Hotel Plaza, Perumanallur. We stopped at 2325 and left at 2347. I took a couple of photos while we stopped for the break.

My bus, while we stopped for the break

Instead of the usual shortcut, the driver drove through the normal highway. Works seem to be complete at patches along the highway (NH47), and we even crossed a toll booth (which is yet to be functional). I fell asleep once again. This was a pretty long nap, and it went on till we reached somewhere around Krishnagiri. We stopped for yet another break, this time at a place called Karimangalam - at 0329. Normally, these guys take only a single break, and I was really surprised on the need for a second break. The place appeared to be a regular state corporation stop, since buses of both KSRTCs and TNSTC/TNSETC were parked. No private buses seen anywhere. 

We left Karimangalam at 0341. The driver was already slow, and we were pretty late by now (compared to my last trip). The bus slowly entered the highway, when another KSRTC AC bus showed up from behind. I was expecting that to be the bus from Kottayam - but, that was not the case! The bus kept trailing by bus for quite some time, and made a marvellous overtake a while later. The bus was KL15-6409 (RR611) - the bus that started from Thrissur at 2100!!! A bus that departed a whole hour later, overtook us at Krishnagiri itself!!! Things were not falling in place for me this time :(

Our driver continued a lethargic approach, and he refused to overtake vehicles through the left. Truck drivers, on the other hand, were adament not to pull on to the left. We had to trail fully-loaded trucks for long durations on gradients. Finally, the driver woke up to reality a while after we crossed Hosur. He ripped after we crossed Hosur, and we entered Karnataka in style. The run was pretty superb after we entered Karnataka. I called up my home a while after we crossed Attibelle. My brother was to pick me up from Madivala (thanks to the luggage, taking a rick would cost me a fortune!). 

Finally, we reached Madivala at 0515. We took 9 hours and 15 minutes to cover the, approximately, 450 km distance from Thrissur to Madivala (Bangalore). The time taken this time was longer than my previous journey (about 45 minutes longer). However, the running is appreciable given the fact that the bus is powered by a 160hp engine, which has to power the Airconditioner as well. The ride is "just" comfortable. The seat width is pretty low, and the leg space is average. The ride quality is not great. For the price, it surely is a good 'package'.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A nailbiting finish!

The Indian Railways has always played a very important role most Indians' life, at some point or the other in life. Long distance reservations always meant standing in a queue and reserving tickets. The grime, dust and heat of the journey aside, most people enjoy the journey thoroughly. Reservations for tickets usually open 90 days (this was 60 earlier) prior to the date of journey. 

Earlier, people used to go to reservation counters the previous night, and sleep outside counters. This was to ensure that they would be among the first few in the queue, when the counter opens at 8AM. This was prior to commissioning of networked reservations, and those days each station had a fixed quota. The concept of waiting list did not exist then. With the advent of All India, computerised, booking, the pressure to get a ticket at 8AM just grew.

Summer Vacations are usually sold out on the opening day of reservation itself, with some trains selling out all seats and entering waiting list within minutes of opening (of reservation). I had once written about one such hair-raising experience of mine, waiting at the counter for a ticket. (You may read that experience here) Today was a repeat of a similar hair-raising experience.

The only difference this time was that I was seated at home in front of my PC. I logged on to IRCTC at 0756, and checked the availability of my train (in tatkal quota). It said "Available - 0016". I waited till 0800, and now hit "login".... Lo! The words "Service Unavailable" popped up. There was no response on hitting refresh. I closed the browser down, and opened again. The home page opened, but then does not proceed further. The same thing repeated three more times. 

Luckily, the availability remained stable at 16 all the time. The next attempt, I could reach all the way upto Payment options. Just after choosing the bank name, the "Service Unavailable" page popped up again. Now, I tried another browser - but the same response. Back to my old browser, and three more attempts later, it reached upto the payment page again. Meanwhile, the availability dropped to 12, and the clock now showed 0815. 

Lo! Service Unavailable again! I was totally depressed now, and cursed my luck for the response. Two more attempts later, I managed to get through the payment gateway again. This time the payment went through, and it issued confirmed tickets - and guess what! With two lower berths and one middle berth!!! The time was now 0818. I just thanked my fortunes that no body else was interested in the train of my choice (thanks to the fact that it was a holiday special). 

The 18 minutes of thrill-agony-and-anger could have been avoided had IRCTC tried their luck at improving connectivity, and perhaps their server capacity. The peak summer rush is proving to be too much for the poor server at IRCTC to handle. While IRCTC is surely an advancement over passengers plight of having to sweat it out at ticket counters early at morning, some advancements need to be accomplished in the server infrastructure of IRCTC. 

IRCTC is a very friendly feature if you wish to book a ticket other than during opening hours! Happy Booking!!!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Metric Musings: Across the Vindhyas

Prelude: A marvellous video presentation by Poochi Venkat at the IRFCA Convention on the Dhul Ghat spiral ignited a to visit the place in the minds of many. However, the distance and lack of encouragement, left the desire within many people. The Mumbai gang decided to finally make a visit to this place and they invited more people to join. The initial plan involved very little MG journey and was forcibly replanned. Independent from the plans of the Mumbai gang, some of us here in Bangalore decided to make a trip to the same place. For the sake of convenience, the same dates were chosen as that of the Mumbai Gang.

Finally on the 12th of March, four members from Bangalore, and two from Chennai, embark on a journey from Bangalore to Nagpur. We took the Rajdhani express to Nagpur, and then the Pune Garib Rath from there to Akola. Akola is a small town in the heart of the state of Maharashtra. The gang was to travel from Akola (in Maharashtra) to Indore (in Madhya Pradesh) covering the scenic Dhulghat spiral and the jaw-dropping ghat section from Kalakund to Patalpani. The chosen train was 458B passenger, that leaves Akola at 0800 and arrives Indore at 1755, the same day. (The journey was on March 14, 2009)

Now, some history: The history of Metre Gauge lines in India dates back to 1872, when the then Viceroy of India, Lord Mayo chose the Metre Guage for railway lines across the country. The idea was based on the fact that, a gauge of 3'3" could seat four persons abreast. However, the push for a metric system changed the gauge to 1 metre. The world's first Metre Guage line was laid between Delhi and Farukhnagar in 1872, and the first commercial service was run between Delhi and Rewari in 1873.

Following this, many princely states began building their own railway systems, all using Metre Gauge. However, there existed a dispute between the gauges, and this dispute between gauges was solved by Lord Salisbury in 1878, ordering that all railways in India should be built on Broad Gauge system (1676mm). The broad-gauge policy was overturned in 1879, and the usage of Metre Gauge resumed. The section from Khandwa to Indore was built by the Holkar State Railway in 1878. The line was extended to Ajmer by the Rajputana-Malwa Railway in 1881.

By now, South India had a relatively dense Metre Gauge section (about 7940 Route kilometres), which remained isolated with the system that existed in the north (a part of which was the Khandwa-Ajmer railway line). The much needed connection between the two systems came in 1960, with the construction of a railway line between Khandwa and Akola. This line extended further south to Hingoli, and further on to Secunderabad. The legendary Meenakshi express ran from Jaipur to Secunderabad on these very tracks.

Project Unigauge ate up much of the distance of this marvellous west-south connection. Secunderabad to Akola and Ratlam to Ajmer are now in Broad Gauge. The death warning has been sounded for this section too, and the railways are planning to close the Ratlam-Indore section too very soon for conversion. The Akola-Khandwa section too is expected to close not much later. Reliable sources point that the Spiral and the amazing Patalpani ghats would longer exist after conversion, since the new Broad Gauge line would take a totally different route.

The Present: The impending conversion would mean that we would no longer be able to enjoy a metre-gauge journey across a ghats, complete with a banker loco! Initial planning involved choosing the right train and days. All this was made convenient, thanks to the extensive experience IRFCA members have on the section. Trains were quickly chosen, and as if it was made for us, we had tickets available for all the legs of our journey! Messages were quickly exchanged, and the plan was sent for regulatory approvals (read: permission from home).

Once the plans had the mandatory green signal, the work on reservations begun. We divided reservations among ourselves, and the tickets were all ready - confirmed! The wait till the day of the journey was exciting. The appointed day came, and we all met outside our coach - B4 - of the Rajdhani Express. WDM3A #18897 of Kazipet did the honours of taking us till Secunderabad - a journey that I would love to forget. The run was slow, the food was average, and the ride was pathetic. Leave that aside - I promise to write a report on the Rajdhani ride separately...

The Metric journey: It was a rather excited start for us in the morning... the first metre guage ride for many.. The start was somewhat confusing - we had to take a call on whether to have some breakfast from outside the station or settle for what we had parceled from home! We decided to head to the station straight. The Mumbai gang had already arrived, and they were put up on a BG platform. We quickly asked them to come down to the MG platform, while we all headed straight to the South Central Railway portion of the station. Our train had already arrived, and the loco was reversing to take charge of taking the train back to Ratlam.

Our train, getting ready at Akola....

The loco that brought in the 11-coach consist from Ratlam was YDM4 #6719 of Mhow. We went in search of our coach - S3. We walked along the coach, and found one coach with a marking S2. But S1 and S3 were conspicuously absent. Some of us, by now, rushed towards the loco, to take some photos. By the time, we returned to where others were standing, they had recieved some kind of information about which was our coach. Our coach - 88964Y - was the sixth from the loco. The coach had incandescent bulb lighting. We had two adjacent "six-seater cabins" and were closer to both the doors! Unlike BG trains, MG trains have three doors on each side.

We savoured Kachoris for our breakfast, washed down with hot tea. We also stocked some Kachoris for our day ahead. The train started from the station perfectly on time. The puny loco smoked its way out of the station quickly. The "cabin" adjacent to ours was occupied by two cops, the TTE and another railway guy. The TTE quickly said that we could close the doors to restrict other people to crowding the coach. We stopped at a small station soon after starting from Akola. The station did not figure on the timetable, and the reason why we stopped there confounded us.

The railway guy traveling in our coach got down and met the station master. He got some register signed, and then the train started moving. The station had absolutely nothing but the station master's cabin. These halts were well utilised by the TTE to move from one coach to another, since these coaches were not vestibuled. The string of halts continued well until we reached the first scheduled halt - Akot. Akot station has one platform line, and one through line. The through line was occupied by some decript MG wagons (flat cars and BCN wagons). Akot station serves as a watering point for trains, and our train too was watered here. However, the station had only two pipes (rubber hoses) for watering. So the entire process was too slow since they had to water coaches, one by one.

Akot Station : A typical countryside station....

Akot station had plenty of food options - including Samosas, Kachoris and Oranges! The unreserved coaches were filled to the brim, while our coach had enough place for us to play around! The run was pretty eventless from here on, other than the excitement among us to see the spiral at Dhulghat. The windows were all occupied and there was a mad rush to the doors as the train slowly approached Wan Road. We were all determined to capture the "dwarf" signal outside Wan Road station. One group argued that the signal would be on the right, while the other said it is on the left. We finally decided to divide and 'guard' both sides.

The train ran through a tunnel, and we slowed down on approaching Wan Road. Lo! There stands the signal beckoning on me! All cameras went clicking at a mad pace. It was time to move to the other side of the train, for we have a crossing set ahead! YDM4 #6737 of Mhow was waiting on the loop line with an Akola bound passenger train. Both trains departed in opposite directions at the same time, and we continued our run towards Ratlam.

Here comes the Spiral

The speed of the train was surprising us to no end, since we were expecting a snail like crawl, when the train was actually cruising at about 75kmph. The spiral approached soon, and the arrival of it was announced by a board stating "spirral". The train went over the spiral bridge at a slow pace. The bridge was rather long. The train took a sharp right curve. Finally the train came down a gradient, and we ran perpendicular to the train that were running earlier, but below the bridge.

The line below the spiral bridge...

The ride continued eventlessly as we progressed towards Khandwa - the next major junction en-route. Shantanu, who was among the 15 traveling in the train, was getting down here. He was to take a train back to Mumbai from Khandwa. We crossed over the main lines and continued our run towards Khandwa station. The train runs through a sharp curve to enter Khandwa station. The train runs through a pretty nice MG yard. The Yard seems to serve as a transshipment facility between BG and MG freight, since there were BG lines as well along the MG lines.

The entrance to Khandwa Station... notice kids on the right side...

The line also runs through a ghetto kind of area, and kids in the area seem to be too active. They threw all that was at their reach on to the train. This included baloons filled with water, colours, buckets of sewage (from a drain that runs along the railway line) and stones. Utmost caution is recommended to every body who wants to travel there. We were lucky enough to notice this on time, and we downed our shutters at the earliest.

The train slowly crawled into the station now. The MG section of Khandwa station had two platforms, and three lines between the two platforms. Catering facilities seemed poor at the station, and there was nothing beyond a small stall that sells Kachoris and pooris. We savoured on Kachoris and Pooris for lunch, downed with a couple of cold beverages. Two members of the group went outside the station, and got good food packed from a hotel outside the station.

The train moved out of the station at 1344. It got all clouded by then and was getting darker now. We were expecting very harsh climate during the day ahead, and were really surprised to see an overcast sky. It drizzled slightly as the train moved out of Khandwa. The train deviated away from the main line, and we continued our spirited run towards Indore. We crossed an Akola bound passenger at Ajanti - YDM4 #6736 of Mhow was in lead. Both the trains got starters together, and we continued out west-bound run.

The sleepless night the previous day started showing its effect on me, and I had a strong headache. I had a short nap as the train pulled out. We crossed another train on the way. I couldn't note further details of the train. I had yet another nap, and got up just as the train reached Omkareshwar Road. We crossed the marvellous bridge across Narmada shortly after the station. I was back to the berth now, with Colin jumping on to the middle berth.

Kalakund station... our banker loco is waiting on the right

Another short nap later, it was time to get ready, as Kalakund was approaching soon. Colin was "unloaded" from the berth soon, and we all were ready to pounce on Kalakund (the station... not the sweet). The entry into Kalakund is across a small curve. The train curved into the station at 1623. The station had four lines - including three loop lines. There is only one platform, and our train was admitted in that line. The Banker loco - yes! The train requires a banker for its up-hill journey to Patalpani - was waiting on the main line. YDM4 #6307 of Mhow was assigned as our banker. The loco attachment took a while, and we managed to cover it fairly.

The banker loco coming in to take charge...

We started our up-hill journey with the banker pushing us up the ghats. The ghat section had sharp turns, long bridges and four tunnels. There was one amazing viaduct enroute too. The section had a gradient of 1 in 41 (for the record, the spectacular Braganza ghats has a ruling gradient of 1 in 37). The section, sadly, would cease to exist once the section goes under the Gauge conversion madness. It took about half an hour to reach Patalpani from Kalakund - a route that is recommended to every body who wishes to enjoy good metre gauge action. We were all expecting the banker loco to be disconnected at Patalpani - but that was not the case. The loco continued with us till Mhow.

Our train entering one of the 4 tunnels on the Kalakund-Patalpani section

Mhow is a pretty big station, with a huge yard. I saw the first ever MG freight in my life pulling towards the station from the yard. Mhow has a diesel loco shed, which handles all the locos working on the section. Mhow is recommended to all who love watching MG trains and MG locos. The station also houses the only coaching depot on the route. There were lots of MG coaches and wagons parked around the station. We crossed a train heading to Khandwa, and 'overtook' one heading to Ujjain. The station also had two MG Generator vans, parked at the Ratlam end of the station. It was still cloudy, as we pulled out of the station.

The entire gang at Mhow, posing in front of a Mhow YDM4. Our train is to the left.

The run was eventless after Mhow. All of us - fourteen in all, now - were busy discussing our plans after Indore. The 'Bangalore' Gang was getting down at Indore, so was the Hyderabad gang. The 'Mumbai' gang was continuing on the MG train to Ratlam. The train stopped at a station 'Rajendra Nagar' for a crossing. That was the first time in our entire journey that we stopped for a crossing - our train was allowed to run through at every point till then. The station's name brought a lot of amusement among ourself - for its similarity to another station up north in the country, which gets all the blessings of our respected railway minister.

The double headed MG passenger entering Rajendra Nagar...

A while after we stopped, a YDM4 came smoking in to the station. As the loco entered the loop, we felt something amiss! It was not one, but two locos!!! We were all excited to see a double headed train - the locos were YDM4 #6735 and #6638, both from Mhow. The train had about 18 coaches, and all of them were full. We started from the station soon later. We continued our run towards Indore. It was then a mad dash to pack our belongings - timetable, maps and some other stuff.

Soon a big BG yard - not a yard, but some trains parked close by - was visible. That was Indore station. The train pulled into Platform 1 and stopped for a while. We all bid adieu to the trusty - and rusty - MG train and moved towards the exit. The Mumbai gang re-assured that we would meet again the next morning at Vadodara. We went around to enquire about retiring rooms. The person manning the counter flatly refused to accomodate all of us - six in all - in one room. We later found our way to accomodation, and quickly got retiring rooms, paying the required rent. We went out on some night time photography of MG trains. The action seemed really high for an MG station.

One of the many night actions that I captured at Indore...

We returned from Indore by the 9310 Shanti Express. On entering the coach, we found that the train had Side-middle berths, and our seat numbers changed as a result. It was all a mess, and took a long time to settle. Having our dinner became a challenge as we struggled for space to sit. Soon enough, the issue was settled and we decided to hit our berths. With clouds looming large, it was cold at night, and this helped us have a very nice sleep. I slept almost instantly after the train left Ujjain, and slept till were at the outskirts of Vadodara... (The journey from there would be narrated separately.)

A Metre-gauge journey is a must for every railfan. My first journey on an MG train happened by a chance of luck. The Akola-Indore section is one that is recommended for every railfan. The Akola-Khandwa section, and the Ratlam-Indore section may be closed very soon - perhaps before this year ends. The spiral would be history once the Akola-Khandwa section closes. The spectacular ghats between Kalakund and Patalpani too would be destined to the pages of history, while the broad gauge section takes a less ardous way to reach Indore from Khandwa. I would congratulate my stars for the chance to cover this section before the train travels into oblivion.

The pilot waves the flag, for the train to move... this busy scene would soon be history, with the train itself running to oblivion....

See images of this trip here. Please feel free to write to me with your comments and suggestion. Wait for the next part.. which'll describe the journey to Akola, and the one from Vadodara to Bangalore.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Marcopolo: Off the radar?

Marcopolo buses hit the road of Bangalore with great fanfare in Novermber 2008. The city which first introduced Volvo City buses, made an attempt to introduce more AC buses. The local transport provider - Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation - decided to try out Marcopolo buses in an attempt to introduce more AC buses, but at a lower expenditure. Tata Marcopolo seemed made for the role.

Two buses were provided for trials by Tata Marcopolo Motors Limited. These red-coloured monsters were powered by 230hp rear mount diesel engines, and were claimed to be better than a Volvo, while being more cost efficient and comfortable that a Volvo. These buses were introduced on two routes - KBS-Nelamangala and KBS-Hoskote. The effective frequency of these services was about once in three hours, which was later brought down to approximately one in 30 minutes using Volvo buses.

The initial hype was shortlived since the buses could not be run on roads due to certain registration formalities, and the bus was actually put to service about a month after being flagged off by the transport minister, amid huge fanfare. The bus was not even a shadow of what the Volvo provides, and turned out to be an ill-planned box powered by a heavily vibrating engine that could be heard inside as good as a normal bus.

News reports suggest that this bus comes at a cost of Rs. 69 Lakhs, compared to Rs. 75 Lakhs for a Volvo B7RLE. Although the bus is cheaper than a Volvo, the cost still is steep for the meagre facilities provided by the bus. Yours truly was lucky to have a short ride on this contraption, and was seriously disappointed by the comfort level offered by the bus.

The ride was noisy and the ride quality was not even half of the bus that it was supposed to compete with. A recent report (BMTC drops Marcopolo idea, for now - The New Indian Express, dated March 20, 2009) suggests that BMTC is dropping the idea for now. I would say this is a good decision. A cheaper alternative to Volvo is surely a welcome idea, but the alternative shouldn't be cheap when it comes to ride quality. The bus should atleast be able to isolate passengers from the noise of the engine, while providing a ride better than ordinary on the road. Some unconfirmed reports suggest that Mumbai's BEST has also ruled against the Marcopolo. TATA should be happy that it atleast won the order from DTC before these disgusting information came out.

The corporation (BMTC) should perhaps turn its eye towards similar products from Ashok Leyland and may be King Long, and see if they fit its bill well! Till then, its all Volvos for the city!