Dindigul to Palakkad: On the train via Pollachi!

Circa 2008

I traveled on a Meter Gauge train for the very first time in life. The journey was from Palakkad town station to Kollengode, on the Palakkad-Pollachi railway line. This stretch was the sole surviving stretch of a vast meter gauge railway network that connected Coimbatore and Palakkad to Madurai, and beyond to Rameswaram. That journey happened out of sheer luck - but I couldn't travel till Pollachi that day due to limitations on time. The railway line closed a few days after my journey, and I remained sad having missed the opportunity to travel all the way to Pollachi.  (Do read about that journey here, in case you missed it earlier!)

Years went by, and the reopening of the section in broad guage kept dragging on. The Pollachi-Palakkad railway line was originally opened in 1932 - it closed in 2008 for gauge conversion, and the newly converted Broad gauge line was opened only in 2015. Although the railway spent hundreds of crores on this gauge conversion, the railway line is severely under-utilized. I had been cherishing a dream of traveling on this route ever since the route reopened. However, lack of adequate trains was a bummer, and I had to put off the ride over a long time. 

While planning my return journey after the visit to Rameswaram, it struck me that I could also include a ride on the Pollachi line with a little bit of detour. I realised that the Chennai Central - Palakkad Super Fast could give me a day time journey on this route, and without much ado, I included that in my Rameswaram trip. 

January 09, 2022:

Completely tired and sleepy, I walked out down to the main entrance of Dindigul railway station. This was my third day of train travel, and I hadn't slept well the previous 2 nights. The previous day was quite tiring as well. I badly wanted to sleep for a while, but I had no options to do that. I sat down at the waiting area in the railway station. My train to Palakkad would depart only at 0605hrs, and the time then was just past 0435hrs. The waiting area was a bit crowded, and the chair wasn't a very comfortable place to sit on, either. 

After a while of sitting there, I headed to the enquiry counter to find out the details of my train. I was told the train would arrive on Platform 1, and my coach would be at the rear end when the train leaves Dindigul - the train reverses its direction at Dindigul, and the person at the enquiry counter explain what he meant by "rear side" of the train very clearly. I was a little sad, since I expected my coach to be at the front - just so that I could enjoy the sounds from the locomotive. The time was around 0500hrs then, and the Madurai-Villupuram Express was just pulling in, at that time. I headed towards the Pollachi end of the platform, and found a place to rest on. Cold breeze swept through the station, and I had to take out my shawl to make myself comfortable.

The Villupuram express was the only train at the station, and interestingly, this train was hauled by a diesel locomotive, despite the entire route being electrified. The station was back to hibernation after the Villupuram express left. The railways, as part of its electricity saving mission, turns off majority of the lights on the platform when there is no train. They ensure minimal lighting during this time, and all lights get turned on before a train arrives on that platform. 

My train turned up at 0522hrs - a full 38 minutes ahead of schedule. The train was brought in by a WAP4. I rushed to the "tail" end of the rake to check which loco would take us to Palakkad. The new loco came in about 5 minutes or so after the train came in. It was WDM3D #11187 of Golden Rock (earlier with Erode) doing the honours. I headed towards my coach soon after the loco was coupled - my coach was at the, now, rear end of the rake, and it was one long walk to get there. 

WDM3D #11187 of Golden Rock after getting us to Palakkad

This train has an ICF-CBC rake - that is, the regular Indian Railway Standard (IRS) coach, which is usually called an ICF coach (because this design was first built at the Integral Coach Factory in collaboration with the Swiss Car & Elevator Company, Schileren, Switzerland), with a Centre-Buffer-Coupler. The Centre-Buffer-Coupler (CBC) is a globally used mechanical coupling device used to couple two vehicles. The CBC is an advancement over the "Screw coupling" that Indian Railways had been using for ages. The Screw coupling requires use of "side buffers" to prevent the coaches from hitting on to each other during braking, or while negotiating curves. The CBC eliminates the use of side buffers and combines the buffer also into the coupler itself. The CBC is a safer technology since it prevents the coaches from getting uncoupled in the event of a derailment, and hence prevents coaches from sliding over each other. The railways had attempted using CBC on ICF coaches, before they decided to move over to the lighter and safer LHB design. 

My coach, D1, was a 2006 make ICF built Second Class sitting coach (GS 066435/C) based at Basin Bridge coaching Depot (BBQ) in Chennai. The coach was almost full - and more people were joining the train as the departure time came closer. The train was to depart at 0605hrs. I was quite hungry, and I couldn't find any working stalls at the station. I bought some Samosas from a vendor on the platform (that was the only choice at that hour). The samosas seem to be a snack of choice in Tamilnadu - saw them at every station there. The triangular shaped, crispy, oil-fried snack had a filling made of onions and potatoes. I washed it down with a cup of tea. The railway tea is a unique concoction of mostly hot water, some milk powder, may be a little bit of milk, plenty of sugar and a tea bag. It is a taste that has been consistent over generations - something that is very difficult to re-create at home, or elsewhere, for that matter. The Railway Coffee is an even bigger mystery. 

The train!

People kept pouring in as the departure time came closer. We started off from Dindigul Junction exactly at 0605hrs - perfectly as per schedule. The train departed in thick darkness - there was not even stray lights before the sunrise then. The first signs of daylight happened around 0625hrs. Our first halt was at Oddanchathram - we got there by 0638hrs. The station was deserted - except for the people who got off the train there. We left Oddanchathram at 0639hrs - delayed by around 4 minutes. 

I moved to the door after Oddanchathram - I knew that the Western ghats would appear on the left - they looked magnificient. It was a real sight - one that can only be enjoyed in person. The railway line hugs around the western ghats throughout the run to Pollachi. The Palani temple gets visible on the left side as the train nears Palani station. We got to Palani by 0704hrs - early by 6 minutes. The wait at Palani is a little long - we were ahead of schedule, plus we had to wait to cross the Madurai bound Amrita Express. This route is a single line section - however, due to very poor utilization, trains do not have to spend a lot of time for crossings. 

The Amrita express came in a little late, and we departed from Palani only at 0722hrs - about 7 minutes behind schedule now. I had purchased my breakfast from Palani - a plate of Idli Vada - the perfect breakfast combo to start the day! I finished my breakfast soon after the train left Palani - the combo had three soft idlis and 1 vada (medu vada - fritters made of Urad dal/black lentils) along with chutney and sambhar. The food was quite delicious - I was really hungry as well. 

Sunrise at Palani!

The landscape changes as we leave Palani. The rocky mountains move far away from tracks, and waterbodies, and farmlands, become more common. The area is quite windy, and hence one would also spot a lot of windmills all along the way. We crossed the Palakkad-Tiruchendur Express at Maivadi Road - it was an Alco from Golden Rock doing the honours. We got to Udumalpet by 0800hrs - about 7 minutes late. The station was very deserted - just like the other stations on the route. We left Udumalpet  a couple of minutes later. The run got eventless soon later - the train ambled through long swathes of Coconut plantations, interspersed with long lands with Windfarms.  

We rolled in to Pollachi station by 0833hrs - roughly 9 minutes ahead of schedule. This station too was deserted - not even a catering stall on the platform! The railways has not been taking sufficient interest on this railway line yet - despite crores of rupees being spent, there are too few trains to recoup the investment. We left Pollachi at 0845hrs - perfectly on time. 

The train switched tracks to enter the line to Palakkad - Pollachi is a junction from where trains diverge to Palakkad and Coimbatore. We slowly turned towards Palakkad and continued our journey. The topography slightly changes as we inch closer to the famous Palghat gap, through which the train enters in to Kerala. The Palghat gap is a low mountain pass through the Western Ghats - this pass plays a very important role in the trade between Kerala and Tamilnadu - and this is perhaps the only place that permits people to pass from the West to the east, and vice-versa, without having to ascend/descent mountains. 

The train picked very good pace as it left Pollachi - it has no stops between Pollachi and Palakkad town, helping the train maintain a very good speed. We rushed past the Meenkara dam as we entered into Kerala. Then came the beautiful Muthalamada railway station, with its arching Peepal (Sacred fig) tree - Muthalamada is famous for its mango orchards. This is one place I'd surely love to explore once! Unfortunately, there is no train presently that stops there during the day light! 

We passed Kollengode soon later - my first ever Meter gauge train journey was to this station. We passed the station in a flash - I couldn't even look at the station properly as we just rushed through. The run slowed down as we approached Palakkad town station. We reached Palakkad town at 0933hrs - about 5 minutes late. The train emptied out here. Only a handful of passengers remained in the train as we departed at 0935hrs - maintaining the 5 minute delay. Palakkad town is actually the station that represents Palakkad - its located right in the heart of the town. The railways owns a lot of space here - and is a perfect place to build a terminus along with coach maintenance facilities. However, the station is severely underutilized - it has more area under dense vegetation than cleared and used areas!

The run from Palakkad town to Palakkad Junction was quite slow - we had to wait for a while before being allowed to enter the station. Palakkad Junction, actually located at a place called Olavakkod, is located quite outside the actual town of Palakkad. We rolled into platform #1 of Palakkad junction at 0950hrs - about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. I headed straight to the retiring room to catch up some sleep, and later get ready for the last leg of the journey, back home! There ended a journey I'd been wanting to do since a very long time. However, the fact that the train just rushed past through the route makes me want to try the route all over again on a train that stops everywhere - just to feel the stations on the way!

Do check out the video of this journey on YouTube!

Journey in a Nutshell:
Train Number: 22651 Chennai Central - Palakkad Super Fast Express
Loco link: WDM3D #11187 of Golden Rock
Coach: D1, GS 066435/C based at Coaching Depot, Basin Bridge Junction 

Punctuality: 10/10 (No delays)
Cleanliness: 10/10
Coach Maintenance: 10/10 (Very well maintained)
Bedroll: Not Applicable
Catering: Not Applicable

Overall: 10/10 (It was a good journey)

I fulfilled my wish of traveling on a train through the Pollachi - Palakkad line - the Dindigul-Pollachi section was a bonus for me. The line retains the charm of a meter gauge railway line, and make for a very interesting journey. I did feel that the train I selected went wrong, since it mostly had a non-stop run, and I couldn't enjoy the stations in between - At the risk of repetition, I would still like to travel on a stopping train, all the way, just to enjoy the route in its entirety. That was another memorable journey, one that would add to my pages of history!