Bengaluru to Coimbatore: on Indian Railways' First UDAY express

UDAY aka Utkrisht Double-decker Air-conditioned Yatri Express trains were thought to be innovative high-capacity overnight express trains with seating facility that connected pairs of high-density points. These trains were to be built with two decks, thereby increasing the carrying capacity, and offering better seats than normal AC Chair cars - seats with calf rests and all the bells and whistles. However, in reality, like all Utkrisht coaches, the ones in UDAY express also turned out to be Lipstick on the Pig. The same old Double decker coaches were wrapped in a not-so-fancy vinyl including the interiors, and some fancy modifications were performed. Three coaches in the entire formation were converted to have a "pantry" - basically a storage area with heaters and coolers for the food, and a dining area with round stools and table. The railways also did announce plans to install vending machines in the dining area. The first UDAY express began its journey in June 2018 - on the Bengaluru-Coimbatore route. There began my wish to try these out, as well.

Fast Forward to March 2019: The Malayalam New Year (Vishu, as we call it) was around the corner. Although I didn't fancy traveling home for the celebration - TW had other plans. We finally decided to jump in, and travel home to celebrate Vishu. Both of us were unsure of getting leaves - but with the best of expectations, we decided to book an air ticket to head home for a Friday evening. The IRCTC Air website gave a great deal, and we booked for a late night flight, departing on April 12, 2019. A few days later, a Boeing 737-800 MAX aircraft owned by Ethiopian Airlines crashed, killing all on board. This was the second MAX crash, and the seriousness of the incident caused grounding of all MAX aircrafts across the globe - along with the grounding of the aircraft, our ticket for April 12th also got grounded. The operating airline, SpiceJet, had over 10 MAX aircrafts, and their grounding caused a major fleet crunch at SpiceJet, and our flight was among those cancelled to overcome the fleet crunch. Needless to say, the cancellation was communicated quite late, and the other options in the sector were priced quite high by now.

The trip was back on the drawing board. I wanted to see if our return flight (also on SpiceJet) also gets cancelled (which eventually happened) before I replan the journey. TW was committed to make this happen - it was the first new year after we got married, and we got to replanning all over again now. Trains were ruled out - all of them ran high waiting lists, while buses were making hay while the sun was actually burning all of us out - bus tickets appeared to be competing with flights to find who made more money - tickets were all priced upwards of 2.5k per passenger. TW didn't want a seater, and that made the ticket hunt tiresome. We finally decided to head to Coimbatore first, and then pick and option from there. So the hunt moved to finding buses to Coimbatore - they were also on the pricier side, but less than half of what a direct ticket to Thrissur would cost. I remembered about the UDAY express - and bingo! It had over 400 seats still available. TW approved this idea with a lot of excitement - so we booked a ticket from Bengaluru to Coimbatore, for April 13th - thereby cutting down our trip to two days instead of 3. We made further reservations from Coimbatore to Thrissur by a KSRTC bus - we were initially confused about this one, but didn't want to take a risk, and hence booked in a Superfast bus (the monetary losses if we had to cancel or forgo this booking was very less!)

April 13, 2019:
Bangalore was melting down at the peak of a very harsh summer - with the mercury soaring over 36 deg Celsius, traveling was getting very tiresome. I had to leave office in the middle of the hot day - it was terribly hot out there. I had book an autorickshaw - the booking mysteriously vanished from my app. I couldn't get another one either. I walked down to the bus stop, and managed to get a bus to head to Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna Station Bengaluru (still known as Bengaluru City station). The 15 minute ride to the bus station cost me just Rs. 10, one-sixth of what the autorickshaw ride would've cost me. I headed straight to the Vegetarian restaurant on Platform 1 at the station to have my lunch. TW was still on the metro, and she asked me to get her a takeaway instead of waiting for her. As I finished my lunch and picked her takeaway, she joined me - and we headed to Platform 7, where our train would depart from. Most people seemed curious - a whole lot of people were clicking the train. We had a long walk to our coach, which was the third from the locomotive, in a formation of 10 coaches in all.
Our coach #C7

Our coach - C7

Our coach, C7, was built by Rail Coach Factory, Kapurthala in 2012. The coach looked well kept from outside - not so inside. Our seats were right at the entry to the upper deck - next to the stairway. Our coach was among the three coaches in the formation to have an onboard pantry. The coach had a dining area - in the 'middle' deck. Seats were replaced with table and stools. A vendor came around with some food items and took a seat at the pantry area. We headed out after leaving our baggage on the overhead bin. I wanted to check was loco was powering us - at the business end was WAP7i #37069 of Royapuram. We returned to the cool confines of our coach with about 5 minutes to go for departure. The first impression about the seat was - T E R R I B L E. There was hardly any recline (it probably reclines about 5 degrees, or maybe lesser). The seats were narrow, and the seat base stooped forward - make it a very uncomfortable seating posture. If the narrow seats weren't enough, there was absolutely no leg room. The tray tables wouldn't lock closed either - but the entire thing was tight and hence remained closed. The overall maintenance was terrible - more than half the windows didn't have blinds, and the one at our seat wouldn't lock down! The TTE came around to check tickets a little before departure - the coach had a lot of empty seats, while the reservation chart claimed that the train was completely sold out.
The upper deck of C7

The dining area in C7.. 

WAP-7i #37069 of Royapuram all set to haul the train to Coimbatore..

The train got moving exactly at 1415hrs - not even a minute late. We crawled out from Platform 7 - and slowly inched towards Bengaluru cantonment. We crawled up the grade - the train almost stopped at Cantonment station, but picked speed just short of a complete halt. We rushed through Bengaluru East and Baiyyappanahalli, before finally reaching the first stop of the train - Krishnarajapuram  (1442hrs). The train actually filled up here - the train halted for extra time to ensure everybody could board. The train finally got moving at 1445hrs - 10 minutes behind schedule. The train made an unscheduled halt at 1454hrs - and remained there until 1503hrs. The pantry guy was having great business now. Food items were stored in a hot case at the other end of the coach, and he kept bringing in more stuff as sales were quite high. We picked up some cutlet, samosas and Dal Vada along with tea - the items were good, not the very typical railway food. Cutlet was oily, but the taste was good. Samosa was very hard - the outer covering was really thick, and the filling was too little. The Dal Vada was okay - was rubbery since it was reheated. The packets of Tomato ketchup provided along was a very good saviour. The Tea - was the very typical railway tea - a very diluted concoction of milk powder in lots of water, and a tea bag very lightly colouring (not flavouring) it.
This place was the most crowded in the coach. A lot of people preferred spending most of their time here.

We rolled into Kuppam by 1603hrs - started off at 1605hrs (20 minutes behind schedule now). We reached Jolarpettai bypass soon later - we headed to the door to spend some time doorplating. My first observation was that the door was wider than normal coaches - this made doorplating a little difficult since it was difficult to balance. The train crawled for quite some time, till we passed Tirupattur station. By now the AC attendant had come around requesting us to close the door, since hot air was getting into the coach. We returned to our seat by now. The coach was actually getting cold - the attendant was saying he was running the AC plants alternatively, since the AC actually builds ice in the piping due to its high capacity. Back at our congested place, we had to spend the rest of the 5 hours required to get to Coimbatore. By now, the vendor of the pantry had disappeared - leaving behind huge piles of thrash in all the waste bins kept below the table. The water taps in the coach (toilets and wash basins) had run dry as well.
The dining area

The onboard information display screen in the coach..

We rolled in to Salem at 1811hrs - we badly needed to stretch, and decided to get off the train and stroll on the platform. As we got off, I saw that the crews were changing. There were no vendors on the platform anywhere near the train. A while before we got the starter, a vendor selling got into the coach - believe me, he was mobbed by people as if it was relief supplies at a relief camp! We got moving at 1820hrs (40 minutes behind schedule). The coffee vendor was busy battling the crowd, and we battled to find way to get back to our seat. The windows were tinted - quite dark, and as it was getting darker outside, there was nothing to see outside - TW retired to sleep, and I tuned in to some movie on my phone. The seating layout was a big disadvantage - very tight leg room was making me very uncomfortable. The train rolled in to Erode at 1918hrs. Soon after the train stopped water pipes were attached. We got off the train to pick-up some refreshments from a nearby food vendor - piping hot idlis with vada and sambhar were on offer! We picked one plate of this, and thought of picking up some coffee - but the train had received its starter and the loco gave out a long horn. We rushed back to the coach - the wider doors, and wide steps helped. We left Erode at 1922hrs - 42 minutes behind schedule now.

We remained at the dining area to finish our Idli-Vada - the sambhar was yummy! After food, I checked the toilets - there was no water even now! I had expected some blitzkrieg from the crews to make up some time - but nothing happened, and my GPS never recorded speeds over 100kmph! We reached Tiruppur at 2008hrs, and left at 2010hrs (30 minutes behind schedule now). I was feeling relieved as we neared Coimbatore - the journey was quite tiring. The train maintained pace for the rest of the journey. We reached Coimbatore North at 2055hrs and departed a 2057hrs. I spent almost 12 years of my life in Coimbatore - no trains stopped at Coimbatore North those days! We crawled from Coimbatore North towards Coimbatore Junction - past what used to be Brookbond factory (famous beverage brand) and my kindergarten! The train finally crawled on to Platform 5, at Coimbatore Junction, at 2106hrs - 6 minutes behind schedule!

Journey in a Nutshell:
Train Number: 22665 KSR Bengaluru - Coimbatore 'Uday' Express
Loco link: Royapuram WAP-7i #37069
Coach: C7, LWCZDAC 12894/C built by RCF, Kapurthala. Based at Coimbatore. 

Ratings:Punctuality: 10/10 (Negligible delay at destination - was delayed en route though)
Cleanliness: 6/10 (Heaps of Thrash, stinking toilets, no water more almost half the journey)
Catering: 6/10 (The food, whatever was available, was above average. But no food for most of the journey)

Overall: 7.5/10

A below average journey - The seating arrangement was terrible, the toilets had run out of water, there was no food - there were no vendors, and whatever food was sold was sold only at three coaches. It did get me from Bengaluru to Coimbatore in 'reasonable' time - for a fully electrified double line section, I feel the 7 hours it took was on the higher side. I wouldn't prefer repeating this ride again - unless I am left with no other options!

The ride continues..
RPK305 of Trivandrum, ready to take us from Coimbatore to Thrissur

It was tough dodging autorickshaw and taxi drivers while getting out of the station. We headed to the bus stop, and took a city bus to Gandhipuram. The next stop was Hotel Gowrishankar in Cross cut road for dinner. We walked down to the erstwhile Thiruvalluvar Bus station (now called SETC Bus station) for the connecting bus to Thrissur. Fortunately, we had reserved a ticket to Thrissur. Every bus to Kerala was going full, and it was this reservation that helped us. Our bus, 2230CBETVM Super fast (RPK305 from Trivandrum depot) was ready to go. The bus was packed to its capacity - we managed to sit, but the ride was far from comfortable. We left from Coimbatore at 2230hrs - perfectly on time. The ride was largely uneventful. We got to Palakkad by 2347hrs and left by 2353hrs. We got stuck in a traffic snarl at Kuthiran pass for a while. We finally got to Thrissur bus station at 0126hrs - 19 minutes before scheduled time! 

Comments

Sunup said…
I took the UDAY DD from Salem to KJM yesterday as an onward connection. Had reached SA by 12698 TVC>MAS weekly Superfast. Other than uzhunnu vada and coffee, nothing else was available. And like you said, they don't ware those around, you have to go to the dining space and buy it. Ditto with the speed too. Didn't cross 95 kmph for the whole leg from SA till KJM. Made frequent stops after Kuppam and reached KJM with an hour's delay.

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