The Maharashtra Odyssey - Part 3 | Shirdi to Thane by 02148 Shirdi Dadar Express

This was an interesting journey. I had to travel from Shirdi to Pune - my first choice was the bus. I checked Redbus and found no buses listed! My next stop was the MSRTC website - this one showed one AC seater bus, and a few non-AC seater buses. For some reason, the options weren't exciting - I thought of traveling in an unreserved bus. I thought of making this journey exciting, and look at train as an option. Nothing came up when I searched for trains from Shirdi to Pune - I found some when I looked at options from Kopargaon or Belapur - but they were all waitlisted. I had already booked a ticket to travel from Pune to Kerala (more on this later). 

While doing this research, the option of traveling by Deccan Queen popped up - I had to drop this idea due to some other circumstances. While I was still contemplating this option, I also looked at options to travel from Nashik Road to Mumbai - that is when this particular weekly Shirdi-Dadar express popped up. The timing was enticing - an early start from Shirdi, afternoon arrival in Mumbai giving me enough time to travel by the Queen. Without much delay, I headed straight to the IRCTC portal to reserve my ticket from Shirdi to Dadar on this train - the weekly Superfast express via Manmad. This train would let me travel through the Thull ghats in daylight - after more than a decade!

November 13, 2021:

It was a very early start to my day. I had a very fulfilling darshan at the Samadhi the previous night - followed by a good dinner. I had slept fairly well, and woke up early - around 0500hrs. I checked out of my room a little after 0600hrs - check out took a while. I was a little worried if I'd be able to find a vehicle to reach the railway station - I really didn't walk to walk till the bus station/temple from where getting an auto would've been easy. Luck favoured me as I found an auto right outside my hotel - the driver agreed to ferry me to the railway station without second thought. This ride cost me Rs. 100. I was at the railway station by around 0650hrs. I could have a good look at the railway station this time - it was crowded with autorickshaws the previous day. The station was basic, but functional. There were a couple of shops - mainly selling ready-to-eat packaged foods and water. 

Sainagar Shirdi Station

I straightaway headed to check the locomotive - I hoped to get a WCAM3, but it was again a WCAM2 of Kalyan doing the honours this time as well. WCAM2 #21873 of Kalyan was set to work my train - the loco pilots who were to work the train were just coming in at the time. This train shares its rakes with the tri-weekly Dadar-Shirdi Express (via Manmad). This train (02148, now 22148 Shirdi-Dadar Via Manmad Super Fast Express) operates only once in a week - and is the only day time train from Shirdi to Dadar. I would consider it a blessing that I could travel through all the sections I wanted to within my time frame! 

My train ready for departure from Sainagar Shirdi

WCAM2 waiting with my train

I walked towards the rear end of the rake in search of my coach after looking at the locomotive - my coach, S7, was located towards the rear end of the 18 coach rake. The coach was built by Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML) in 2007 (WGSCN #071167). BEML is a Government of India owned Public Sector Undertaking that builds coaches and electric multiple units for Indian Railways - their coaches aren't very comfortable or ergonomic compared to the coaches built by Railway's own production units. I hate the window design of BEML coaches - especially since the window rails are almost flush with the coach wall - this prevents any possibility of "looking out" from the windows. 

I was a little hungry already - I had purchased a couple of "cream rolls" the previous evening from Yewale Amruttulya (A regionally famous quick-service restaurant specializing in tea). I waited for the train to get moving to dig into the rolls to keep my hunger at bay. We got moving from Shirdi perfectly on time - exactly at 0725hrs. The coach wasn't crowded - it wasn't very clean either. The maintenance was good, though. I was the only soul in the "cabin" that could seat 8 people. The train picked pace soon out of Shirdi - the railway line went through sugarcane farms. I had a lower berth - and hence a seat by the window. However, my seat was travelling backwards - although it was an emergency exit window, the grill wouldn't remain open. I moved to a side lower berth on the opposite side, and occupied the window seat. 

WCAM2 #21873 of Kalyan all set to haul my train

We passed through Puntamba about 15-20 minute later - we didn't have a stop here. Our next halt was at Kopargaon, where we reached by 0806hrs - and got moving by 0808hrs. We crossed the Secundrabad-Shirdi express right outside Kopargaon station. I was eagerly looking forward to the section ahead of Kopargaon station. I had been drawn by the beautiful images of Ankai Killa (Fort Ankai) that I had seen on the internet. Ankai is a famous fortress in this part of the country - its located on a hill, and is an architectural marvel. The fort becomes visible as we near Ankai station. The railway line from Aurangabad also joins this line at Ankai - the line to Aurangabad is under South Central Railway (SCR). These two railway lines (the one from Aurangabad, and the one from Ahmednagar -the one on which my train was operating) runs parallel between Ankai and Ankai Killa stations - after which the railway lines for a "bulb" like structure. Originally the SCR line turned "right" after Ankai Killa, and entered Manmad station from the north, while the Central railway line turned "left" after Ankai Killa and entered Manmad from the south. In the past trains had to reverse at Manmad due to this. But now, both the lines are under Central railway and trains are sent on appropriate lines from Ankai Killa depending on which direction they would travel from Manmad - my train took the "right" line and hence approached Manmad from the "north". 

We got to Manmad by 0848hrs - about 3 minutes behind schedule. I had to get my breakfast from here - I could see vendors selling Idly and Vada pav as the train rolled into the station. There was one vendor right outside my coach as we stopped - I picked a plate of Idly from the vendor. The plate contained 4 pieces of Idly along with a very spice Coconut chutney - it was just Rs. 20! The idly was a little hard, but the spicy and watery chutney help make it tolerable. We got moving from Manmad by 0852hrs. Very interestingly, I got to exchange seats at Manmad, and I got hold of a forward facing side lower berth! The train picked pace soon after we departed from Manmad. We did cross a few trains - but I did not note them down. 

We rolled in to Nashik Road by 0950hrs. Majority of the passengers for this train boarded from Manmad and Nashik Road. We started from Nashik Road at 0954hrs - 09 minutes behind schedule. The run ahead was very uneventful, just like the stretch we had from Manmad. We had to wait for a while at Igatpuri home signal for a while - departed at 1045hrs. We pulled in to Igatpuri station by 1050hrs - this was a technical halt for brake testing. This halt also doubled up as a snacking break for the passengers. We departed from Igatpuri at 1056hrs. We were sent on the mid-line through the Thull ghats. I was traveling through the Thull Ghats after at least 14 years!

My last journey through the Thull Ghats was in June 2007 - a little over 14 years ago! My post in this blog, posted then (read here), also showed I had traveled through the Mid line back then as well! The Thull ghat is a 15-kilometre long ghat section between Kasara and Igatpuri. The train climbs up from 948ft above mean sea level (MSL) at Kasara, to 1918ft above MSL at Igatpuri - the ruling gradient in the section is 1:37 - that is the train climbs an altitude of 1 metre by running 37 metres. This is quite a steep incline by railway standards - this necessitates use of banker locomotives for trains ascending the section. Trains descending the section (like mine) need to make brake testing halts at Igatpuri, and then at three more braking testing halts (numbered TGR1 through TGR3). Heavy freight trains descending the ghat requires use of braker locomotives. All the brake testing halts have "catch sidings" that can be used for trains that experience loss of brake power. There are a total of 8 tunnels in this section.

There was one more express train along with us - the other train was sent on the "up" line. Interestingly, the "down" line actually ascends the ghats, while the "up" line descends the ghats! The mid-line is bi-directional. The descend was eventless - we crossed a couple of freight trains on the way. The bridges on this section are picturesque - I was busy recording videos that I forgot to click some photographs of the marvelous environs that I was watching! The descend is a slow affair - the trains stop at the home signals of each cabin to prove their brake power, and then roll into cabins for another halt, and then continue. Back in 2007, WAG5s ruled the section as banker locomotives, while the role has been taken over by WAG7s now. The train picked pace once past Kasara - and continued the high pace run till we passed Shahad. We had a longish halt at Kalyan outers, before crawling into the station by 1237hrs - we had a long halt at the station as well. We started off at 1242hrs - delayed by 17 minutes now. 

We stopped again after rolling out of the station - and started off again at 1244hrs. The section from Kalyan to Diva has 6 lines - two suburban slow lines, two suburban fast lines and two lines exclusively 5for express/freight trains. The newer lines for express trains were built as a part of the railways' project to segregate express trains from the suburban traffic. The work is completed from Kurla to Thane, and between Diva and Kalyan. The Thane-Diva section was completed recently (as of January 2022) as well. The railways are also embarking on a project to build a new station at Kalyan, exclusively for express trains by relocating the present freight yard. We crawled through the ocean of railway lines once past Kalyan 

We stopped multiple times on the way - I think we were following another train. I was feeling very nostalgic as we passed Parsik tunnel - I cannot recount the number of time I've traveled through the Parsik tunnel in the past. It was always an experience traveling through this tunnel with diesel locos doing the job - some of those might be on this blog. The speed came down to a crawl as we neared Thane station - we finally crawled into Platform 6 of Thane station by 1305hrs - 23 minutes behind schedule. I rushed out of the station for a lunch and I had to get into another train in less than an hour - more on that in the next post!

Journey in a Nutshell:
Train Number: 02148 Sainagar Shirdi - Dadar (Via Manmad) 'Special' Express
Loco link: WCAM2 #21873 of Kalyan
Coach: S7, WGSCN #071167 based at Dadar (?).

Punctuality: 9/10 (On time departure, a little delayed arrival)
Cleanliness: 7/10 (The toilet was clean, but the seating area was littered)
Coach Maintenance: 9/10 (Very well kept)
Bedroll: Not Available.
Catering: Not Available.

Overall: 9/10

I really liked this journey. This seemed like a perfect train for a weekend trip to Shirdi - and I am already looking forward for my next journey on this train. While I have always traveled by bus to Shirdi, this journey was very different, and was the first one by train. Although I love traveling by buses, journeys by trains are more predictable and have the great advantage of advance reservation as compared to buses. I would certainly recommend this trains for people traveling from Shirdi to Mumbai. 

Please do watch my videos of this ride here: