Bengaluru to Chengannur: by Humsafar Express

Humsafar (Companion) Express was among the many brands of trains launched during the last few years in India. This brand of express trains provide only Air-conditioned 3-tier sleeper coaches, and come with quite some bells and whistles. Externally, the coaches are wrapped in some fancy coloured, pleasing looking vinyl stickers. Internally, the facilities include better berths, food storage compartments (including refrigerators and ovens), better toilets, status indicators and cabin fresheners. The only time the Indian Railways introduced coaches with only AC 3-tier sleeper coach was the Garib Rath Express - which was a revolutionary concept of bringing economical AC travel to the masses. Humsafar express, on the other hand, charges a premium compared to the other express trains on the route. Launched towards the end of 2016, about 34 pairs of Humsafar trains operate in the country now. The first Humsafar express on the Bengaluru-Kerala route was launched sometime in October 2018. My opportunity to try the Humsafar express beckoned in May this year - a journey to attend a colleague's wedding.

May 17, 2019:
The Banaswadi-Kochuveli Humsafar Express operates every Friday and Sunday from Bengaluru, starting from Banaswadi at 1900hrs. Banaswadi station is located in a densely populated residential area in North East Bengaluru - a sleepy station located amidst slums, that turned into a terminus for trains, mainly, to Kerala. The station is the worst when it comes to connectivity - the nearest metro station is only about 5 kms away, but there is absolutely no public transit connectivity between them. Forget connectivity to the metro network, there are very few trains that go there. The only way to get to this place is hiring a cab. Considering that we (I and two of my colleagues) were traveling on a Friday, we decided to head to the station directly from office. We had to purchase our dinner as well - the initial reports indicated that this train had very poor catering options. We started off at around 1730hrs - we took a metro till SV Road, where were reached by 1815hrs. We tried getting a cab (since all of us had considerable baggage) - but we couldn't get one due to the evening peak demand period. We finally settled for an autorickshaw - who wouldn't go by meter. He told the fare before hand, and did help us load our bags into the vehicle. We got to the station by around 1845hrs - about 15 minutes before the scheduled departure of our train.
The colourful rake of Humsafar

Destination boards, and coach number..

I was expecting the train to be on the platform already - but that wasn't the case! The platform was crowded. It was about to rain - there were lighting flashes. The coach position indicator was working, thankfully, and updated that our coach was located towards the front of the train. We walked in that direction. The rake of our train was brought in sometime around 1855hrs by a WDM3D of Krishnarajapuram loco shed. We had to walk a little more distance forward to get to our coach. The train had a 19 coach consist - two end-on-generators cum guard coaches, and 17 AC 3-Tier "Humsafar" coaches. The entire rake (except one of the two generators) had Western Railway markings. Our coach, B15, was a 2018 RCF Kapurthala built coach - the interiors were really fresh and clean. The AC wasn't switched on yet - I was wondering why - one of the EOGs were running as well! After leaving the bags inside, I headed to see who would be power us that night - Royapuram's WAP7i #37018 was just being attached. The HOG cables were attached as well. The AC in our coach turned on a little after I returned to my coach. There were no curtains, except for the windows. There were sufficient number of charging point, individual reading lamps for each passenger and a fairly wide center table. The bottle holders were located below the center table, and the design was a little quirky. It held only certain type of bottles, though.
Lots of charging points. Notice the reading lamp as well

The bottle holder. We had two bottles of water, but only this one could fit there.

It began raining soon after - there was no sign of the train moving, though. The train finally started at 1930hrs - 30 minutes behind schedule. The train slowly crawled out of Banaswadi, then crawled past Baiyyappanahalli coaching depot, then Baiyyappanahalli station, and finally reached Krishnarajapuram, at 1949hrs -about 38 minutes late. The train packed to capacity here - and we got moving by 1952hrs (39 minutes late). I must say, dinner was available on the train - there was a steady stream of onboard catering vendors with dinner items. We rolled into our next stop, Whitefield, at 2003hrs, and started off at 2005hrs. A brand new LHB rake was sleeping off at Whitefield - I had seen it dozing off there, in April as well! The train maintained good pace between the stations - the ride quality was good, but the irritating flat wheel existed in this train as well! I made a quick visit to the toilets to see how they were - the toilets were clean and didn't have foul smell. The toilet had a diaper changing station for infants as well.

We rolled into Bangarpet at 2056hrs - about 55 minutes late now - the stop was quick, and we got moving by 2100hrs (58 minutes late, now). Travel is always fun when you are in company - we spent most of the time talking. Lights in the coach were getting turned off quickly - ours was perhaps the last light to be turned off. By the time we headed to sleep, the train had already passed Tirupattur. The bed sheets and blanket were fresh. The pillow cover had some stains. The bed roll kit was not provided in covers - but where kept on the rack between the berths. I slept quite well - the ride was not very comfortable at times. The coach swayed quite violently at some places - but the cradle rocking motion of the older ICF coaches was absent here. I had left an alarm for 0530hrs - since the train would reach our destination, Chengannur, by 0619hrs. I woke up briefly, when I overhead someone saying we have just reached Coimbatore - I didn't check the time, though.
A random click..

I woke up a little before my alarm went off - I turned off the alarm, since I didn't want that to disturb others in the coach. I turned on Google Maps - I was shocked to find the train was just about to reach Ottapalam then! That is a delay of close to 3 hours!! The train made a brief halt at Ottapalam station (around 0545hrs) before continuing its journey. I tried sleeping for a while more - but I was left wondering where did we lose time! I checked the status of the trains behind us, and found almost all of them had over an hours' delay. We rolled into Thrissur by 0628hrs, now delayed by 03h20m. We got our morning coffee here. The train left Thrissur at 0636hrs. Thankfully, the section controllers did not hold up the train anywhere - we made swift progress, and got to Ernakulam Town station by 0743hrs (3h15m late now) - most of the train emptied here. We got moving by 0750hrs - 3h20m late now. We crawled for some time - picked pace after we passed Ernakulam Marshalling yard. We made swift progress later.

The train rolled into Kottayam at 0850hrs (just a shade over an hour since we left Ernakulam). I was quite hungry - so were my colleagues. We had finished our back-up stock of food as well. We picked up hot Idli-vada from a vendor (the base kitchen at Kottayam is run by Ariyas) on the platform. Three super soft idlis, one crispy vada, accompanied by Sambar and Chutney - awesome day to begin the day, I must say. The food was finger licking delicious. Meanwhile, the train had departed from Kottayam (departed at 0855, 3h10m late). The next scheduled stop for the train was only at Chengannur - but we made unscheduled halts at Chingavanam (just stopped and started) and Changanassery. We finally rolled into Chengannur at 0935hrs - against a scheduled arrival time of 0619 - a delay of 3 hours and 16 minutes!
Awesome Idly-vada from Kottayam..
The train after we got to Chengannur..

Journey in a Nutshell:
Train Number: 16320 Banaswadi - Kochuveli 'Humsafar' Express
Loco link: Royapuram WAP-7i #37018
Coach: B15, LWACCNHS 188951/C built by RCF, Kapurthala in July 2018. Based at Kochuveli. 

Ratings:
Punctuality: 5/10 (Started with a delay of 30 minutes, reached over 3 hours late)
Cleanliness: 10/10 (Was absolutely clean, even the next day morning!)
Catering: Did not use

Overall: 8.5/10

Was a good journey. I still do not know what delayed us - maybe the train was detained somewhere en route - I slept well, and didn't realise anything. The coach was quite comfortable - I felt it was more comfortable compared to the usual 3-tier AC coaches. The amenities were quite good - in fact, even the reading lamps were well located and easy to use. The toilets were clean as well. I quite liked the trip, and surely look forward to try this train again!

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