Wednesday, March 24, 2010

B7RLE turns a mile cruncher!

The Volvo B7RLE, or the 8400 as its called now, was always seen as a city rider. I am sure Volvo too built the bus for City applications only. Long back, I had once spotted a KSRTC (Karnataka) Volvo B7RLE arriving at Bangalore working a schedule from Mysore. I had looked at the bus in awe imagining how much the driver would've enjoyed clipping on the Auto box bus. Later, remember reading about such buses being used for Kolkata-Asansol runs up in the eastern part of the country. However, these buses lack the comfort for such long runs, and I always wondered how it feels like traveling in such a bus for long distances.

Never did I expect to experience such services down south! During our visit to Chennai, one hidden agenda was a run on these buses. TNSTC recently introduced Volvo B7RLEs on long routes. Older buses from MTC were transferred to TNSTC for this purpose. These buses were retrofitted with high-back seats. About 4 extra seats were fixed in the bus. TNSTC operates these buses on the Chennai-Vellore; Chennai-Hosur; Chennai-Pondicherry and Chennai-Trichy routes. The rate charged is Rs. 1 per kilometre. These buses have 38 seats instead of the usual 34.

The initial plan was to travel to-and-from Vellore on such buses. However, we missed the Chennai-Vellore bus at morning and the next bus was pretty late in the day. We had to take a TNSTC Ultra-Deluxe instead. On the way back from Vellore, though, we were stern on getting one of these buses. We reached the bus station around 1215 and found that the next bus was at 1300. The bus was already parked, and had a few passengers inside. We hadn't had our lunch earlier, and hence rushed off to a restaurant inside the "New Bus Stand" at Vellore. After lunch, we enquired if there was a bus after the 1300 bus, since this one appeared pretty crowded. Although the board indicated that there was a bus at 1330, the person at the counter said the next was only at 1500.


The TNSTC VPM Volvo that we traveled on from Vellore to Chennai

Not willing to take chances, we decided to check out this bus. The conductor quickly called us in, and agreed to make space for all the 10 of us. The conductor ran around the bus and requested a few passengers to make space for us, so that we could sit together. There was indeed space for all of us, although we sat apart. The bus started off exactly at 1300. All seats were taken and we had some 8 standees inside. The fare to Chennai was Rs. 145. The driver picked a couple more of passengers from outside the bus station, around the flyover.

The initial run was a bit slow and the driver stuck to the left of the road running at low speeds. The vibrations were horrible at the beginning, and we were about to wonder what would be our condition at the end of the journey. A while into the run, the driver made his foot heavier and the vibrations disappeared. The seat was a bit uncomfortable - the leg room was too low. The seat was soft and the cushioning was well done. The bus was by now "flying" on the road, overtaking vehicles at a steady pace. The distance to Chennai kept on reducing at the pace of an autorickshaw meter (pun intended).

The change of sound everytime the driver downshifted (being an Auto box, all he needs to do is just lift his feet off the accelerator, and depress it again!) was amazing! Being automobile freaks, me and my friend went into an ecstasy everytime the driver downshifted. The overtakes were exactly in a zig-zag pattern. The standees continued till we reached Sriperumbudur. Seats started getting vacant was we neared Poonamallee. The bus entered Poonamallee town. The traffic was a bit slow around here, but was moving. I was a bit worried if we were to take the interior road all the way to CMBT - but my apprehensions were shortlasted as we returned back to the High road in no time.

The airconditioner was switched (the blower was still working, though) off as we neared Koyambedu. The blowers too were switched off soon after the bus entered CMBT. The bus completed the journey exactly at 1455 - the run took just 1 hour and 55 minutes including the detour at Poonamalle! The run was really amazing, and perhaps the fastest I've experienced in a TNSTC bus in recent times. The fare was reasonable. However, the leg room is not very encouraging for longer runs. The longest such service (Chennai-Trichy) would take about 6 hours, and such a long run might precipitate leg aches in passengers. Such buses shouldn't be operated on routes longer than 4 hours (maximum). This is however an interesting concept.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Phew! Am back!

Finally back at home - sweet home, after a trip to Chennai and Vellore, spanning over 5 days. While the climate at Chennai was unexpectedly pleasant, Vellore was harsh and unbearable. The trip was official in nature - ours was a group of 24 students and 2 faculty members. We attended the Indian Congress of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (and the Indian Pharmaceutical Association Convention) at Chennai. A group of 16 (15 students + 1 faculty) returned after the congress on Sunday (March 14), while the remaining 10 (including yours truly) headed on an educational visit to Christian Medical College, Vellore.

The trip would be detailed in the coming days. An outline is here: Ernakulam to Chennai by 6042 Alappuzha-Chennai Express, Chennai to Vellore on a TNSTC Ultra Deluxe, Vellore to Chennai on a TNSTC Volvo B7RLE and finally Chennai to Thrissur by 6041 Alappuzha Express. Now let me head to clear my mailbox - its already ticked past 258 mails... the past 5 days of "off-line" life was surely interesting!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

From a Hot-air Oven to the Furnace?

The climate has been very different this year - heat started off early in February, and days are getting hotter. For the past 15 days or so, the temperature has risen so sharply that Kerala now feels like a Hot-air over. The air is hotter, and high humidity is making matters worse. The temperature now hovers around 33-35 deg celsius.

To make matters interesting, I am heading to Chennai tonight on a trip from the College. We would stay over in Chennai for five days before returning! Would this be a Oven to Furnace transition?