Palakkad to Trivandrum: Sabari "Festive Special" Express

I am always excited when it comes to traveling to Trivandrum. The last time, I had tried to avoid an overnight stay and ended up having a tiring sleepless night and a very tiring day. I decided not to repeat that this time, and decided to travel the previous day. I had some official work to attend on Sunday, and I decided to travel during the day on Saturday. I was a little confused about what time would I be able to travel, and since tickets were fast running out, I booked a ticket on the Jan Shatabdi Express departing Ernakulam in the evening. However, as the day of my journey came closer, I decided to travel earlier. This was because the Jan Shatabdi arrives quite late in the evening at Trivandrum, and considering that I had to start very early the next day, this would mean very short sleep for me. I am a little fuzzy about sleeping properly - more so due to my tendency to have a headache if I am insufficiently rested. 

Some family circumstances meant I had to board a train from Palakkad, since I had to drop my wife at her parent's place before I set off on this journey (A bigger journey was coming up right after this one - more on that coming soon). I thought of taking an earlier train to Ernakulam and then continuing on the Janshatabdi express. I had even booked my accommodation accordingly at Trivandrum. However, the prospect of not sleeping sufficiently kept bugging me. I looked at alternatives from Palakkad - I found the Raptisagar express interesting, but the fact that it terminates at Kochuveli forced me to look at other alternatives. Kochuveli is still a poorly connected place, and I didn't want to put in more effort after the long journey from Palakkad. I finally picked up the Secunderabad Trivandrum Sabari Festive special for my journey. Since this was a day journey, and since, I was planning to record videos, I booked in Sleeper class - this was going to be a journey by sleeper class after a very long time. Since Sabari was, then, operated as a Festive Special train, the fare was higher than the other trains on the same route. 

November 06, 2021:

The biggest task I had was to get to Palakkad Junction railway station from my wife's place in rural Palakkad. I had initially planned to board the train from Ottapalam or Shoranur (both of which was closer to my wife's place compared to Palakkad Junction) - but the connectivity to both these stations were a little difficult. I finally found there was a bus early in the morning from my wife's place to Palakkad Junction (Olavakkod) - the bus would drop me at the station about an hour before my train. I had to leave home a little before 7AM to get into the bus though. I got to Palakkad station by a little past 8am. 

Palakkad Junction station

I had planned to have my breakfast from there - but then, my Wife had my food ready by the time I was ready to go. I had a very early breakfast at home before starting off. The bus came a little later than expected - I managed to find a seat as I boarded - the bus got crowded as the journey progressed, and remained so until I alighted at Olavakkod (the place where Palakkad Junction station is located). I was at Palakkad Junction station by 0812hrs - a little over an hour before my train was to depart. I had initially planned to head to the restaurant outside the station for some top-up - but dropped the idea as I neared the station. The entry to Palakkad Junction is beautifully arranged with a narrow gauge locomotive plinthed. 

ZDM5 #530 plinthed outside Palakkad Junction station

The station was sleepy - thanks to the access restriction to platforms. I quickly checked with the information counter about the platform number, and also the coach position. I was told my train would arrive either on Platform 2 or 3 - this is an island platform, with 2 on one side and 3 on the other. I headed straight to the waiting room - there were no trains to arrive at that time, and staying on the platform had no purpose. I moved out of the waiting room a little before my train was to arrive. There was one train ahead of mine, which my train would overtake at Palakkad. The train was 06323 Coimbatore - Mangalore Express - this train was a Fast Passenger earlier, and retains most of its old stops in its express form as well. Its a slow train - and hence an oft preferred last mile connection for many. 

The Mangalore express came first, and was received on Platform 2. My train was announced a little later on Platform 3. My train, the 07230 Secunderabad - Trivandrum Sabari 'Holiday Special' Express, arrived at 0924hrs - with Royapuram's WAP7 #30421 in charge. This train always gets WAP4s - but came in with a WAP7 for my journey! My coach, S6, was in the front half of the train - and was a 2002, Integral Coach Factory built Sleeper coach. We got moving from Palakkad by 0929hrs - 9 minutes behind schedule now. The run from Palakkad was eventless - a very spirited run along the Bharathapuzha river. We got to Ottapalam by 0950hrs - 7 minutes behind schedule. We crossed the Alappuzha Dhanbad Express special here - and got moving by 0951hrs. It was again eventless until we got to Shoranur A Cabin. Sabari Express proceeds to Shoranur, and reverses its directoin there - this is presently the only train to do that. All the other trains that did this in the past now skip Shoranur by going through the bypass "link". 

WAP7 #30425 of Royapuram with my train

We reached Shoranur at 1007hrs - about 33 minutes ahead of schedule! This time is quite busy for Shoranur - it handles trains from all the directions at this point. The Trivandrum bound Netravati Express, and the Nilambur Road bound express special where already there. A little after us came the Coimbatore-Mangalore express, which my train had overtaken at Palakkad. The Kannur-Coimbatore express had also arrived during our wait there. The Mangalore bound Ernad also had to come - but was rescheduled by 2 hours on that day due to some track maintenance work in the south. The loco reversal process at Shoranur is painfully slow - the station staff take their sweet time to complete the shunting activity. However, we managed to depart perfectly on time, at 1055hrs, after the reversal. 

The entry and exit from Shoranur requires a lot of time, plus the reversal adds more time to the entire travel. While the usual run time from Palakkad to Shoranur varies from 1hr to 1hr44minutes for other trains, Sabari express takes close to 2hrs and 15 minutes - atleast 30 minutes more than other trains. Really wonder what stops the railways from skipping this station - the stop here isn't relevant anymore since there are connections to Malabar (Northern Kerala) right behind this train - and Shoranur isn't a place that attracts sufficient local passengers either. 

The loco coupling "ceremony" at Shoranur

Meanwhile, we exited from Shoranur and joined the mainline. We crossed the Kozhikode bound Jan Shatabdi Express at Shoranur home signal, and the Palakkad bound Palaruvi Express a little later. Trains from the south (Trivandrum side) were running behind schedule since most of them were rescheduled due to some maintenance work - and the domino effect due to the delay of leading trains. We overtook the Dhanbad Alappuzha express at Wadakkanchery - this is an unnecessary overtake in my opinion - Dhanbad takes only as many stops as Sabari in the ensuing section, and Dhanbad diverts to the Alappuzha route from Ernakulam as well. 

We made it to Thrissur by 1133hrs - a minute behind schedule. For some reason, the onboard catering staff weren't serving "cooked" food - they had only packed foods like biscuits and chips with them. I checked with a vendor who claimed lunch would be served - but that never happened though. I didn't pick up any lunch from Thrissur, and opted to buy something from Ernakulam. We started off from Thrissur at 1136hrs - maintaining the 1 minute delay. We crossed a few trains after Thrissur - the Shoranur bound Venad express, Indore bound Ahilyanagari Express and Mangalore bound Parasuram express. It was otherwise an eventless run after Thrissur. I always wanted to capture the Cochin airport from the train - which I succeeded in, and like the cherry on the icing, I also spotted an aircraft taking off from Cochin at the moment we passed. 

We stopped at Aluva - a quick stop, and we departed by 1230hrs - about 5 minutes behind schedule now. We had a non-stop run to Ernakulam Town station (we localites call it "North station" - the station code, ERN, also reflects this "North" in it), where we reached by 1250hrs - 5 minutes ahead of schedule now! I picked up my lunch from here - Vegetable "Biriyani" it was. For some reason, "Meals" aren't available in stations these days, and the only vegetarian option in most cases in Vegetable Biriyani. Thankfully, its the kerala styled biriyani, which is low on spices. The vendor missed giving out the "Curd Raitha" - this made the meal a little too "dry", and it was an effort to finish off the meal. The train got moving from Ernakulam Town at 1300hrs - perfectly on time. I was just about finishing my meal as we got moving. 

I ended up injuring my hand since I didn't want to throw the refuse on the track - my attempt to put in into the waste bin ended up with me scratching my hand against a sharp edge in the waste bin. I washed my hand immediately with soap and applied the sanitizer I had (it was stinging as the alcohol in the sanitizer came in touch with fresh flesh that was now exposed) - my handkerchief came to my rescue to arrest the bleeding I had. Meanwhile, we crossed the Chandigarh bound Kerala Sampark Kranti express, and slowly turned off towards the Kottayam line. The coaching depot was choc-a-bloc with trains - the depot hadn't received LHB coaches back then (it now has LHB coaches for Mangala Express). 

We picked up some pace after Ernakulam. We didn't have any scheduled halts between Ernakulam and Kottayam - we did slow down at some places. We crossed the late running Sabari Express to Secunderabad after Tripunithura. We had an unscheduled halt at Kuruppanthra - about a minute or so. The double line ends at Ettumanur - the line after that is single at the moment, with doubling work progressing at a not so commendable pace. We had a crawl at places, and finally reached Kottayam at 1400hrs - exactly an hour after we departed from Ernakulam, and about 27 minutes ahead of schedule!

Trains have plenty of slack time these days, and this results in trains spending a lot of time waiting after a before schedule arrival. While this helps the railway portray a better punctuality figure, its a stress on the passengers who end up waiting endlessly for their trains to move. The early arrival at Kottayam was utilized by vendors very well! We departed from Kottayam perfectly on time - at 1430hrs. I was waiting to see the twin tunnels up close - the tunnels are right after Kottayam station, and these tunnels are a reason for delay in the doubling work. The railways opted to avoid the tunnels in the new alignment, and instead cut open the rock to have a "rock cutting" instead. Works for this was progressing quite slowly at that time. The single line after Kottayam is till Chingavanam, from where we have double line again. 

We had a halt at Changanassery (departed at 1455hrs) and then at Thiruvalla (arrived at 1503hrs). We crossed the New Delhi bound Kerala Express at Thiruvalla. This station is part of a series of stations that come in immediate succession, with a gap of 10 kilometres, but lies in three different districts! Majority of the trains on this route stop at all the three. The stations are Changanassery (Kottayam district), Thiruvalla (Pathanamthitta District - the only railway station in this district) and Chengannur (Alappuzha district - also an important base point for the Sabarimala pilgrimage). We departed from Thiruvalla at 1657hrs. Trains stop only for a minute or so at each of these stations, and the platform is located on the main line as well. 

Our next halt was at Chengannur (1513hrs) - we got moving at 1515hrs, but an accident caused our train stop again. A passenger trying to board/alight from our train, which was already moving, fell down on the platform - and, as a precaution from avoiding the passenger falling in to the gap between the train and the platform, the pointsman at the station immediately signalled the guard, who radioed the loco pilot to stop. This caused a small delay - and we got moving by 1517hrs. This passenger, who fell down, boarded my coach - the TTE explained the passenger the risks associated with the thing they did, and later gave an earful asking them to never repeat this. We got to Mavelikara (also part of the string of stops, but not many trains stop here) by 1525hrs - we crossed the KSR Bengaluru bound "Island" Express here. The run was uneventful after Mavelikara (departed at 1527hrs). 

We reached Kayamkulam at 1537hrs - 6 minutes ahead of schedule. The platform was empty - not many people to board or alight either. And the railways too seemed to have ignored the arrival of this train - there were no announcements of our arrival or departure! We departed perfectly on time - at 1545hrs. We had a stop at Karunagappally as well - just a 14 minute ride ahead. We were before time at Karunagappally as well - and we departed from there perfectly on time (1605hrs). We had a crossed the Chennai bound "Mail" a little before Kollam. We arrived at Kollam by 1631hrs - ahead of schedule by 16 minutes! I was expecting some food at Kollam - but just the routine snacks turned up. My coach was quite behind - and I was too lazy to walk down to the refreshment room to check if something was available either. 

While at Kollam, we crossed the Nagercoil-Kottayam passenger (I didn't really notice while this train came in - it was some WAP4 in charge) and the Kochuveli-Sriganganagar Express (WAP7 in charge). The long wait at Kollam was a bit tiring - it was a little hot, and I was traveling in Sleeper after a very long time - the heat did take a toll on me. We started off from Kollam at 1650hrs - perfectly on time. We had a short run to Varkala (a scheduled halt) - we were before time here as well (11 minutes ahead of schedule). This meant we cooled our heels for a fairly long time - and got to move at the scheduled time of 1722hrs. We crossed a few trains after this - first being the Kochuveli-Mysuru Express, then the Shalimar Express, followed by the Trivandrum-Punalur Passenger "Express" special, then the Trivandrum Central-Chennai Central super fast express. 

We were able to maintain maximum permissible speed most of the time - Trivandrum division is perhaps the slowest in Southern Railway - with the maximum permissible speed not above 100kmph anywhere. Indian Railways is speaking of Project Raftar, but this division is in deep sleep and has never bothered upgrading tracks anywhere. We crossed the Ernakulam bound Vanchinad express at Kazhakoottam, and later made an unscheduled halt at Kochuveli station. Sabari Express was slated to be terminated at Kochuveli once - but got a lifeline and continues running to Trivandrum central as of now. We got moving from Kochuveli after a 2 minute halt - which was used by a few people to alight as well. We made another unscheduled halt at Trivandrum Petta - perhaps due to platform unavailability at Trivandrum central. We finally got to Trivandrum central by 1805hrs - 25 minutes ahead of schedule now!

Please do watch my videos from this journey. They are in two parts: Part 1 | Part 2

Journey in a Nutshell:

Train Number: 07230 Secunderbad Jn - Trivandrum Central Sabari 'Festive Special' Express
Loco link: WAP7 #30421 of Royapuram
Coach: S6, WGSCN #027213, based at Tirupati.

Punctuality: 10/10 (A little late at my origin, but well before schedule at destination)
Cleanliness: 08/10 (Okay - could be better)
Bedroll: Not Available.
Catering: Onboard catering available - but only prepackaged ready-to-eat products available. Not eligible for a rating

Overall: 9/10

This was a good one. One in Sleeper class after long - and a day journey all the way till Trivandrum. Lack of onboard catering is a worry - but thankfully this train had long halts at most major stations, allowing time to buy food. The reversal at Shoranur is a major time-wasting exercise - the train could cut atleast an hour if they avoided Shoranur. 


Sunup said…
We once had a heated debate in the IRFCA forum regarding Sabari's time wastage at SRR. As per a Trivandrum based rail-fan, it is just not possible to admit Sabari one hour prior to it's current arrival time at TVC due to 'platform and yard constraints' at TVC.