The 0340 Kodungallur Super Fast

February 14/15, 2012

This year’s Valentine’s Day was befittingly spent on trains and buses. After a mind-blowing trip to Kanyakumari by train, I settled for the night at the tiny “AC Hut” at Trivandrum Central Railway Station. With that 2 hour long train journey, I finished travelling on all railway lines in Kerala. I settled at the Station’s retiring room facility with an aim of getting into an early morning bus from Trivandrum. I hit the bed after setting an alarm for an unearthly 0230hrs. I hadn’t slept much the previous night and hence I fell asleep the moment I hit the bed. I vaguely remember snoozing the Alarm – it was 0300hrs when I woke up. I literally jumped out of the bed, got ready quickly and checked out of the room at 0315hrs. 

By now I mentally calculated my alternatives, and ran towards the bus station. My bus, however, was still standing there. Meet RNE424 – a Super Fast bus from my ‘home’ depot, Kodungallur. This bus was built by Regional Workshop, Edappal (in the Malappuram district of Kerala) on an Ashok Leyland 222”WB Ashok Leyland Chassis. The bus was about a year and a half old. My favourite seat – Seat #51 – the ‘hot’ seat was still vacant. I got into that seat without doubt – this seat actually gives a lot of luggage space. The scheduled departure time of this bus is 0340hrs – the unearthly departure time meant that this bus get very poor loads.
RNE424 - KL-15-8728 of Kodungallur depot. This is an old photo.
Our driver was waiting near the bus, while the Conductor was at the station master’s office awaiting the go ahead. The bus got moving at 0335hrs – 5 minutes before time. The load was about 60% as we began moving out. The roads were still empty – deserted, ill-lit at some places. The bus was vibrating fairly heavily – not as much as a TATA, but still too high for a Leyland. In the meantime, the conductor came selling tickets – the journey cost me Rs. 163. The driver was in no mood to speed – but he maintained fairly good speeds. We reached the highway in no time. Once on the highway, we had to trail loaded trucks for long durations – traffic was slightly on the higher side.

We stopped briefly at Attingal (0417hrs) before continuing the run. I was feeling very sleepy, and I fell asleep sometime into the run. I felt bad to sleep sitting right next to the driver. I am sure the driver understood my predicament. We crossed the Bangalore-Trivandrum Garuda (KeSRTC Volvo) near Kollam bus station. We reached Kollam at 0505hrs – the bus was stopped outside the canteen. I utilised this time for a short walk and had a cup of tea. The bus station was a beehive of activity at this point of time – newspaper agents were busy sorting newspapers and arranging them according to order, while some delivery boys were busy picking up their packets. The guys were all busy talking and teasing each other. I had a short chat with the driver, who was happy about the comfort of driving a Leyland over long distances compared to a TATA.

We started off from Kollam at 0523. The bus station was jam packed with buses parked in every corner – there were lots of buses parked on the road side as well. The driver wasn’t very fast, but surely maintained decent pace. He stopped for passengers on the way – even at places where Super Fast buses would usually not stop, considering the fact that day break was still away. While crossing the fishing harbour, I spotted a lot of boats coming in from the sea. We pulled in to Karunagappally bus station at 0553 – the stop was hardly a minute long. It was still dark outside – with not much to see, I was back to sleep. We pulled in to Kayamkulam at 0610 and left at 0613. By now, our bus slowly started getting more passengers – mostly people heading to Ernakulam or to Amrita Hospital at Edappally. We had another stop at Haripad (0630hrs). We crossed the Trivandrum bound KaSRTC Airavat Club Class around this time – this bus leaves before the KeSRTC Garuda (which we crossed at Kollam)!
Dash of RNE424.
I felt that our driver too was finding it hard to control sleep – he was singing so as to stay awake. I decided to not sleep anymore and tried different ways to keep sleep at bay. This particular bus operates on a very tight schedule – it reaches Trivandrum past 2150hrs and has to depart at 0340 in the morning. The driver gets less than 6 hours of rest. The unearthly departure time means that the driver actually starts driving at the riskiest hour on the road – the 3AM – 5AM period is when most accidents happen. The bus reached Alappuzha at 0712. The driver washed his face with water that he was carrying – this perhaps helped him remain awake. We left Alappuzha at 0715hrs – the scheduled time here is 0720.

The bus had fairly decent crowd by now. We also had competition – a Super Fast from Kayamkulam depot ran more or less ahead of us most of the time now. The other bus was to Thrissur – both the buses would go via Vyttila Mobility Hub, without touching Ernakulam bus station. We got into Cherthala bus station at 0746. The other bus too was running at our speed, and we maintained healthy competition all the way to Vyttila. The drivers are a happy lot after the buses were diverted through Kochi bypass – buses are now saving a lot of time, and drivers save a lot of the effort that they had to put in to squeeze these buses through the hell crowded Edakochi-Thoppumpady route. We reached Vyttila at 0839, and parked at the corner bay. The crew headed to the SM’s office to get the waybill signed, while I headed out for a stroll. The lack of sleep and the cramped seat had taken a toll on me – I was very uncomfortable by this time.

We left Vyttila at 0848 (scheduled time at Ernakulam is 0845). There was heavy traffic after Vyttila – we literally crawled till we reached Edappally. Our bus was more or less empty by now – around 10 passengers or so, while most other buses on the road were jam packed at this time. It took us over 20 minutes to reach Edappally from Vyttila – this was my first journey in a bus through the newly opened Edappally ROB. This road-over-bridge was a long standing demand from highway users – it took a long 13 years for the bridge to be built (delays were due to various issues over land acquisition, design, contracts, etc). We reached Parur at 0935hrs – it took a super fast bus about 50 minutes for this distance! The driver was really slow – he was still sleepy for sure. They had some parcels to unload (departmental packets). We left Parur at 0938 hours – by now, I was getting desperate to get home.

Parur to Kodungallur on National Hellway – 17 (NH-17) is a pain for any driver. Horribly narrow potholed roads, with reckless driving by private bus drivers makes it an ‘experience’ for everyone. Our already fatigued driver went very slowly on this stretch. Regular buses do this stretch in about 20-25 minutes, while our bus took 25 minutes to finish this distance, running non-stop! The bus finally reached Kodungallur at 1003hrs, completing its 263kms in 6 hours and 28 minutes including halts. We were 12 minutes before time despite the slow run!

Sometime back a news channel had run a story on how Kerala SRTC’s drivers were subject to restless schedules, which were causing a lot of accidents. This particular schedule accounts for only 5 hours and 50 minutes break on paper – in reality, the actual break time would be much lesser. The driver has to park the bus, have his food before he can sleep. He would surely have to get up by 0300hrs for a 0340hrs departure – making it literally a restless run. This schedule needs to be redrawn a bit so that the crew get more rest at Trivandrum – the departure time should also be delayed a bit so that the bus can get more passengers. Although the journey took less than 6:30hrs, it felt as if I travelled for a very long time in the bus – sleeplessness to be blamed! The bus was good – vibrated a bit heavily, but still not unbearable. It was clean and looked well kept inside. They had installed a clock on the dash and a bit of decorations as well.

Will I dare travel in this bus again?? Why not? Provided I am not deprived of sleep – I did not really enjoy this trip, since I was half asleep most of the time. For Rs. 163, this journey was paisa vasool!


vinchel said…
Always our KSRTC buses are still the best in terms of suspension and legspace, compared to other players. Save for the speed governor setup and they could be the best all round