The Maharashtra Odyssey - Part 2 | Dadar to Shirdi by 01041 Dadar Shirdi Express 'Special'

My previous post had described the circumstances that led to this journey. To recollect in brief, this was my annual pilgrimage to Shirdi, to the samadhi of the spiritual leader, Sai Baba. I had traveled in the Netravati Express from Thrissur to Panvel (read here). I headed straight to the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Mumbai and then to the Gateway of India to spend some time before heading to Dadar for my next train. 

My next train was the 01041 Dadar-Shirdi Express via Daund. There were two trains that night from Dadar to Shirdi - one was the train via Daund, and the other was a train via Manmad. I chose the former for two reasons - one, it departed late from Mumbai and two, it arrived at Shirdi in day light. The latter arrived very early at Shirdi - a very odd hour actually. The train via Daund was to reach Shirdi a little before 10am - this would make it easier for me to check-in to the hotel, since the check-in time was only 12 noon. 

November 11, 2021:

I was a little tired lugging around my backpacks - they were heavy. I spent some time doing sitting on the roadside outside Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus, just watching the beauty of the UNESCO World Heritage site that was lit up in marvellous colours. I was planning to take the Airconditioned EMU from CSMT to Dadar - which I succeeded in. I had to spend some more time waiting at Dadar Station before heading out for dinner. My first stop was the "Upper Class" waiting room at Dadar, located on Platform 6. Unfortunately, the waiting room was packed to capacity - I found a seat outside the waiting room for a while, until a few seats got vacated inside the waiting room. The waiting room wasn't very big - it had a toilet, which was not very clean (the number of people using it was quite high). I left the waiting room around 2100hrs - in search of a hotel for dinner.

The beautifully lit Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus

I stopped by at a restaurant right outside the station - I was desperate to have a Pav Bhaji, which became my dinner for the night. Although I do cook Pav Bhaji at home, back in Kerala, its impossible to get Ladi pav in Kerala - so its more of Bun Bhaji at home. I returned to Dadar Terminus station a little past 10pm in search of my train. The information counter was shut, and the information display was silent about my train. 

Dadar Terminus is a small off-shoot to Central Railway's Dadar station. Two terminal lines make up this terminal station - the platforms #7 and #8 are used by trains originating from Dadar. I decided to casually check if my train was already berthed on either of these platforms. I was quite excited to see my train already berthed at the terminal station - and on Platform 7! It was a 14-coach long rake, shared with the Dadar-Pandarpur Express (Tri-weekly service). The rake was locked though. My ticket was in coach #AB1 - a composite AC 2-Tier cum 3-Tier coach.  This was to be my first ever journey in a composite 2A cum 3A coach. The coach was built by Rail Coach Factory Kapurthala in 2007. The coach seemed to be connected to ground supply for pre-cooling

The name board of my train

The coach was opened about 30 minutes before departure - the interiors were cool and very clean. Half of the coach had 3-tier sleeping and the rest had 2-tier sleeper. There were 32 berths in the 3A portion and 24 in the 2A portion. Interestingly, berth numbers 1-24 existed on either sides of the coach - this caused a lot of confusion, and I could hear some heated conversations as well. It would've been great had they given a prefix or at least opted for continuous numbers. I headed out to check the locomotive for my train after parking my bags at my seat - and duly locking them in true "railway" style with the typical railway chain and lock. 

I saw the loco coming in as I neared the lead end of the rake. I was quite thrilled to see a WCAM2 coming in. The last time I saw a WCAM2 was perhaps a decade ago! WCAM series of locomotives were unique locomotives that could be operated under Direct Current (DC) or Alternative Current (AC) traction. Mumbai was an island of DC traction for a very long time. Back in the days, they used Direct Current in the Overhead Equipment - however, DC had inherent issues and needed traction substations compared to AC traction. The rest of the country moved to AC traction over the years - shifting Mumbai to AC traction was difficult due to the complexity of the Mumbai railway network. This necessitated the use of locomotives that could be operated in both networks - the first AC/DC locomotive was the WCAM1. Then came the WCAM2s. 

WCAM2 #21872 of Kalyan working my train - at Puntamba

The WCAM2s were initially built for use on Central Railway - but it turned out that the locos performed very poorly when run on DC traction, especially on Ghat sections that Central Railway had. Thus, WCAM2s were transferred to Western Railway, which operated more on the plains. Western Railway used these WCAM2s for prestigious trains like the Rajdhani Express. Western Railway had homed all of these locos at Valsad loco shed, in Gujarat. Over the years, the WCAM2 changed colours and moved homes. Once a workhorse on Western Railway, all 20 of them have been transferred to Central Railway, and now homed at Kalyan loco shed. Did the ghats disappear now? No! The Locos had stellar performance in AC traction even before. Western Railway was the first to go fully AC, and these dual-power locos were irrelevant there - because of which they were sent to Central Railways, who were the last to join the AC network. 

The loco working my train on the day was WCAM2 #21872 of Kalyan loco shed. The loco coupling was a simple no-crowd affair. Soon after the loco coupling was done, I returned to my coach -  picking up a bottle of water on the way back. My coach was not crowded - in fact, had very few passengers on board. The chart vacancy position showed that the train was more-or-less sold out - so I guessed more people would join on the way. I was really tired after my long journey from Kerala, and badly wanted to sleep for a while. I was just waiting for the train to depart, and the TTE finish checking tickets so that I could sleep. We started off perfectly on time (2355hrs). 

The TTE came in soon after we departed from Dadar. I had a middle berth - so set it up soon after we joined the main line and headed off to sleep. I slept even before the train pulled in to its first halt, a few kilometres away. I had a really nice, undisturbed sleep. I couldn't thank my decision to book a ticket in 3A any less - I had originally planned to travel by Sleeper (just for the fun of it), but decided to shift to AC just while booking my ticket. This decision turned out to be a great one, just because it was terribly cold that night and I wouldn't have slept had I been in Sleeper class! I woke up the next morning hearing some train passing us at high speed - we were stationary at Ahmednagar at the time. I could also hear calls from vendors selling tea - the berths around mine were now occupied. 

I was a little groggy, and did not wake up till the train departed from Ahmednagar. I realised how cold it was outside only when I came out of the temperature controlled cocoon to finish my morning chores. The temperature was around 16 degrees or so - not very cold, but really cold for a person coming from the hot southern coast! I headed to the door for a while - doubling work seemed to be progressing at a great pace here. Land was levelled, and electrification work was also in progress. The track cut through sugarcane fields and it was a visually pleasing experience. I remained at the door for most part of the ride ahead. We reached Belapur (better known as Shrirampur) at 0738hrs (about 8 minutes behind schedule). The halt was short, and we got moving in 2 minutes. Shrirampur is hardly an hour by road from Shirdi. Shirdi was about 32 kilometres by rail - and the train had 2 hours to complete this journey.

It was a quick run from Shirdi to Puntamba - where the train had a technical halt. The train reverses its direction here as well. The train did not have a commercial halt, though. We arrived at Puntamba at 0757 - for a long halt until the locomotive reversed. In the meantime, I had a lovely ginger-powered tea from a vendor. I really liked the flavour - the typical Maharashtra tea is creamier and far sweeter than the tea prepared in Kerala. Tea is generally served in small quantities - but it is creamy enough to give a filling feel. The one sold at the railway station wasn't as creamy, but wasn't as watery as the regular railway tea. The locomotive reversal took fairly long - the train was well ahead of time, and hence there was no risk of a delay, though. 

We started off from Puntamba at 0839hrs - on the last 10 kilometre leg to Sainagar Shirdi. This stretch is a single line section with no crossing stations in between. The train slowly proceeded from Puntamba to Shirdi. The Puntamba-Shirdi railway line was commissioned in the year 2009, followed by electrification in 2011. Although I had travelled to Shirdi no less than 5 times after the railway line had been commissioned, I had never been able to travel by the train until this journey. I usually reach Pune and travel to Shirdi by bus - I thought of making it different this time around and booked entirely by train. While my intention was only to make it "different", I wasn't really aware that MSRTC staffers were striking work, and buses weren't operating there! I was wonderstruck thinking what would've been my case had I planned to travel by bus instead of the train!

During the wait for loco reversal at Puntamba

The line from Puntamba to Shirdi also passed through sugarcane fields. The train ambled slowly through these fields towards Shirdi. The train rolled in to Shirdi by 0901hrs - ahead of schedule by 34 minutes! This was the only train at the station at the time, and hence all the crowd in the station was due to my train. There was an ocean of autorickshaws outside the station - it was literally an ocean, and I couldn't see free space anywhere! The autos operated on a "share" basis, with each passenger charged Rs. 20 for a 3 kilometre ride to the temple - and each auto took in 10, yes, TEN passengers! I asked if I could be dropped atleast till the bus station - which was denied. I didn't have an option - so got into one of those share rickshaws to get to the temple, from where I had a long walk to my hotel.

Journey in a Nutshell:
Train Number: 01041 Dadar - Sainagar Shirdi (Via Daund) 'Special' Express
Loco link: WCAM2 #21872 of Kalyan
Coach: AB1, WGACCWN #071175 based at Dadar (?).

Punctuality: 10/10 (On time departure, before time arrival)
Cleanliness: 10/10 (The train was clean)
Coach Maintenance: 9/10 (Very well kept)
Bedroll: Not Available.
Catering: Not Available.

Overall: 9.75/10

That was an amazing journey. Its a perfect train to travel to Shirdi from Mumbai - the late arrival at Shirdi also helps you overcome the 12noon check-in time at most hotels in Shirdi, since most places do allow check-in around 11am, but not earlier. Although it was mostly a coincidence, I could escape travelling difficulties due to the bus strike as well! Looking forward, already, to my next trip to Shirdi on this train!!

Please do watch my videos of this ride here: Panvel to Dadar via CSMT | Dadar to Shirdi