Trichy to Thrissur: 'Tea Garden' Express train!

The options to travel from Trichy to Thrissur seemed quite limited - only one premium bus listed, and at a high cost as well. I wasn't very happy booking this ticket at the price they had listed. I looked at trains, and found one option listed there as well. Sometime during the process, I even considered doing a break journey - changing buses on the way. I hadn't factored in the amount of luggage I would be carrying when I planned this journey. As the date for my journey came closer, I decided to book on the train - and ended up getting a side-upper berth.

The train I booked my ticket on is the present day Karaikal-Ernakulam Express. This train traces its roots to the 20th century when it started as the Mettupalayam-Cochin Harbour Terminus 'Tea Garden' Express carrying parcels containing tea leaves from the Nilgiris to the port at Cochin from where it is exported. I am not sure if it always ran from Mettupalayam - but that is what my father tells me. The train was later extended to Trichy, and operated between Trichy and Ernakulam Junction for a long time, before it was extended to Karaikal. The train no longer bears the name 'Tea Garden' - but a lot of old timers prefer calling it thus.

December 21, 2019:
The event I was attending took slightly more time than expected to conclude. The event organizers had arranged transportation to the railway station, which ended up being cancelled due to lack of takers. An alternative bus was provided till Chathram bus station - volunteers of the event did a great job by helping us (My colleague and I) reach the railway station well before the departure of my train. In fact, one volunteer traveled with us with the railway station so that we didn't lose our way en route.

My first stop was at a hotel in the railway station to pick my dinner (as a take away). We also took a cup of Coffee, and waited for the train to arrive. Announcements were already being made about the arrival of my train, and the coach position indicators were already showing coach position. My coach was to arrive right outside the hotel from where I took my dinner. The train rolled in at around 1947hrs, with an Erode WDP4D (did not really notice the number) in charge. The train reverses and the locomotive changes here. It was completely an Utkrisht rake. Utkrisht is a scheme introduced by the railways sometime ago to refurbish older coaches with better facilities, read as fancy vinyl stickers and useless wall stickers.

The berths got newer upholstery - the colour changed to brown instead of the usual blue (in older coaches), and the interiors took a cream and brown theme. I left my bag at my seat, and headed towards the rear end (soon to be front end) of the train - a high capacity luggage van was being shunted in by the new locomotive - a WAP4 (#22793) homed at Arakkonam shed was  the new power for the rest of the ride. The locomotive was attached and the new loco pilots took charge as I walked back towards my coach. The rake is shared with another express train (Chennai-Karaikal Express), and the boards on the train still read "Chennai <> Karaikal". We started off from Trichy at 2005hrs - perfectly on time.
WAP4 #22793 all set to take me home!

Soon after departure, I finished my dinner, and prepared for a long sleep. The side lower berth occupants, an elderly couple, still had a RAC ticket and were waiting for the TTE to turn up for any hope of a confirmation. In the meantime, the train rolled in to the next halt - Trichy Fort (2015hrs) - we got moving by 2020hrs after a longish halt. The TTE turned up soon after this halt. There were no cancellations, and the poor couple had to wait until Karur to see if their seat would get confirmed. I had completed my dinner, and was waiting for my phone to get a bit charged before I headed to sleep - my phone had almost completely drained out while I got on to the train. We rolled in to Kulithalai by 2046hrs - my berth was ready by now, and I was rearing to go up and sleep! The berth had sharp edges, it missed having a bottle holder. We left from Kulithulai by 2050hrs.

I was on my berth by now - I watched a movie on my phone for a while, turned it off as my eyelids got heavy with sleep! I slept soon later - and slept well for quite some time. The AC in the coach wasn't cooling very well - I tried adjusting the air vents near the berth (advantages of upper berth) - but that didn't help either. I woke up multiple times, quite often dripping in sweat. I managed to get some decent sleep rest of the time, and woke up only as my alarm went off - at 0415hrs. I wasn't sure where the train was - the upper berth is terrible on this aspect. I turned on maps on the phone, and found that we were actually nearing Thrissur already! I headed to the door soon after we passed Punkunnam - I always love the approach to Thrissur, and trains usually enter the station at fairly high speeds. A speed restriction around the home signal meant we entered the station slowly - we reached Thrissur at 0437hrs - about 5 minutes behind schedule!

Journey in a Nutshell:
Train Number: 16187 Karaikal-Ernakulam Express
Loco link: WAP4 #22793 of Arakkonam
Coach: B2, WGACCN 13112 built by Integral Coach Factory Chennai in January 2014. Based at Chennai Egmore.

Punctuality: 10/10 (Negligible delay at destination)
Cleanliness: 10/10 (It was clean!)
Catering: Not Applicable

Overall: 9/10

A good no-nonsense journey. It was economical, and timely. I was able to get to my home by about 0630hrs, and catch up some sleep before my baby made me busy for the day! 


Arun said…
Tea Garden express indeed has a fairly long history like you have mentioned. It was infact the first train to Mettupalayam, which also formed the part of the Grand old GT express while it operated till Peshawar. Even till early 90s, 4 carriages of Nilgiri express were detached at CBE junction to be attached with Tea Garden express. The Nilgiris district had a sizable crowd for the Tea garden express for which one could get "sleeper"ticket from stations of Aruvankadu, Coonoor and Ooty which had fixed quota before the PRS era. I remember seeing the green liveried (popularly called the island express livery) coaches at the front end of nilgiri express at Mettupalayam. Though I can understand the reason for you choosing the train, I was kind of wondering if you would have inclined to take on those KSRTC super expresses or TN SETC, which have been in the route for a fairly long time.
Sunup said…
Even now announcements in some stations still say Tea Garden and Island for 16525/6. Tea Garden also shares its rake with Ernakulam<>Kottayam passenger. I thought even that is mentioned on the destination boards. And regarding the WDP4s -- some folks from the IRFCA forum said that all EMDs from ED and GOC would be transferred to ERS. Wondering if ERS can hold and cater to so many EMDs. Have you heard anything concrete on this?
Binai K Sankar said…
Sunup,ERS has already received one. It will receive a total of 9 from ED
Binai K Sankar said…

I am not a fan of Kerala RTC's non-AC buses - I find their seats quite uncomfortable and absolutely not a fan of their driving. About SETC, the timings were not comfortable, plus the baggage I was carrying. The train was thus an obvious choice.