The derailed railfanning attempt..

Metre gauge railways always have a sentimental aspect is a railfan's mind - I am not different! The news that the final piece of Metre Gauge railway in Kerala, the Punalur-Shencottah line was closing down brought tears to the eyes of many - and a ride on the last train would be a fitting send-off for this humble train from railfans. Although elaborate plans were made, everyone dropped off at the last moment, and I was left all alone to make the trip - not be let down in any circumstance, I decided to go solo. My initial plan was to take a train from Ernakulam to Kollam, then the new passenger from Kollam to Punalur and finally the metre gauge ride. The return was to be by bus. However, being a weekend, trains were heavily waitlisted - I first thought of going unreserved.

However, on reaching Ernakulam station, I was greeted by heavy crowd and found that my train was running pretty late. I wasn't interested in missing the passenger and hence decided to take a bus instead. After a sleepless bus ride, I was in Kollam (Quilon) by 5 am. (a post on the bus ride would come later). Took a rickshaw from the bus station to the railway station, and decided to get my ticket first. Surprisingly, the counters had a very long queue even at this hour on a Sunday! I asked for a ticket to Aryankavu (so that I can return pretty early) - the lady at the counter warned me that she is not sure if the train would run. She said that they have received notification not to issue tickets from Monday onwards. I got a ticket to Aryankavu and walked into the station. The station was still asleep - no stalls were open any where. I had this faint hope of seeing the Vegetarian refreshment room being open - but that wasn't. Finally, saw one open stall - had a hot coffee and stocked some biscuits as a precautionary measure. Earlier, Kollam had Platforms 1-3 in MG and 4-6 in BG. Later, Platform 7 and 8 were added to the BG side. After the MG section was closed, the platforms weren't renumbered. Therefore, the BG section of Kollam currently has Platforms 3 to 8.

All set to leave from Kollam - the Punalur Passenger, with WDM2 #18533 of Erode in charge.

The rake of Punalur Passenger was parked on Platform 3 - the rake appeared pretty long, about 14-15 coaches long. The boards on the passenger clearly indicated that it has an RSA with the Nagercoil-Kollam passenger. The platform was wet after heavy rains the previous night. The passenger started off exactly at 6.30. The Maveli Express (the one that I was planning to travel from Ernakulam to Kollam) from Mangalore arrived just a while before the passenger left - I thanked my stars for not taking that train! Meanwhile, our train headed by WDM2 #18533 of Erode slowly pulled out of Kollam. There is nothing special about the line, other than the fact that it is pretty twisty with slight grades all along. Almost all stations have proper full length platforms - and the crowd today was pretty heavy. We were in Punalur at 0750.

The crowd on the platform was heavy - perhaps putting stations in Mumbai Suburban section to shame! There was a huge gathering, full with traditional drummers and people holding posters and banners! There was not an inch of space on the platform to move around - so much that I got off the train to the non-platform side and walked through ballast. I got outside the station to see that the station was literally bursting to seems! The queue at the ticket counter had already overflown out of the station building. The GRP and RPF guys were caught completely unaware of the crowd and they were struggling to control the crowd.

I was back into the station - the MG portion of the station had enough crowd for three trains! Seeing the crowd, I was doubtful if my plan of taking the train would happen - I was almost sure it wouldn't. Railway Employees were preparing to give the train a befitting send off, and were ready with banners, garlands and posters. The drummers were busy playing out traditional Keralite tunes (the famous Chenda Melam). The crowd on the platform was swelling by the minute and all my hopes of traveling in the train were quashed. There were videographers and photographers from almost all major media firms, plus a dozen local newspapers. The horn of the train was heard a minute past 8, and the cute little train made its appearance shortly - with more people than it can carry - passengers were everywhere, even on the catwalks of the loco! 
YDM4 #6310 arriving at Punalur, from Shencottah.

The train got filled in hardly a couple of minutes, and there was not a single inch of space to even get a foothold in the coaches! People got on the loco even as it was shunting, long before the loco was attached to the train. The loco was shunted around, and the decorators got into their job. The loco was all decorated, banners hung and posters were stuck on the coaches. After all the melee, the train was set to leave - sharp at 0830. The departure was delayed, perhaps due to the heavy crowd. The starter was given at 0840, and the train pulled out a couple of minutes later. With no possibility of getting on board the train, I decided to take a bus to Aryankavu instead.

The train all set to leave Punalur...

Dejected, I walked out of the station and took a rickshaw towards the bus station - only to be greeted by very heavy crowds at the bus station! The bus station was crowded beyond belief, and buses were leaving with not even an inch of standing space. I tried getting in, but all buses were crowded. Finally, I decided to call off all my plans of taking a ride, or capturing another scene of the train. Headed straight to a nearby hotel for breakfast, and finally I headed back to Kollam in a KSRTC bus. By now, I had a splitting headache, and I couldn't concentrate on anything that was going around. I finally reached home around 6 in the evening, and straightaway hit the bed, only to wake up at 7 AM the next morning!

Although I couldn't travel in the train on one of its last rides, I was atleast content of being able to see off the train. Local people had come in to the station to send off the train - almost all were heavy hearted about the loss of this charming train service. After having served local passengers for close to a century, the train is now destined to the pages of History. The railways are expecting to reopen the section in BG, in about three years - with an all new alignment. If at the railways are going in for a new alignment, what was the need to shutting train services? Whatever, the cheap means of transporting goods, and also travel for daily passengers is now no more - will remain so for atleast the next few years! I left Punalur that day with a promise to be there for the inauguration of the BG line - I hope I would be able to attend the inauguration!


rejoy leen said…
Binai i heard that the old mg engines will be send to some african country wer its still in use.thats what they did when they stopped the kollam punalur service long back.any news abt that?
Unknown said…
Was a Good story with sadness and happiness 😢 read fully i came now becuase this line is going to be electrified so which all train got electric traction to check that i came google and seen your story of Mg and alco i also got tears.