This is the first part of a long series of train journeys - one that I had been planning ever since the country re-opened after the pandemic forced lockdown series. Regular readers of this blog may recollect my visits to the temple town of Shirdi, in Maharashtra. Although not a rigid devotee, I usually make it a point to visit this place once every year. Every visit to Shirdi has had a positive impact on my live, and each visit was associated with a milestone for me. With life bringing me to a decisive point, I thought there was no better time to visit the samadhi of the spiritual leader, Sai Baba, at Shirdi. This was also the first time I traveled to Shirdi from Kerala - all my previous solo journeys to Shirdi were from Bangalore (the ones before that were with family, and we were based in Navi Mumbai back then).
Drawing out a journey plan wasn't easy - there are no direct trains to Shirdi from any part Kerala. The nearest a train could get me directly to, was Nashik Road. I kept this idea as a back-up plan, since the travel from Nashik Road to Shirdi was a little sketchy. Although frequent buses were available, those buses came in from Nashik - I was at the risk of having to travel without a seat, and that would be the last thing I wanted after a 24 hour journey by train. I did not rule out this plan completely, but I was looking at options that could give more comfort. I finally drew plans via Pune - but that didn't work, due to lack of proper connections. I redrew them via Mumbai, and bingo! They worked perfectly! So, the plan was split into 5 legs, on 5 different trains, spread over 5 days. This was also my first travel to Shirdi on a train - I usually reach Shirdi by bus, otherwise!
So the plan finally looked like this - Thrissur to Panvel by Netravati Special, then a Suburban train to Mumbai CSMT to kill some time, then the Dadar-Shirdi Express (via Daund) to Shirdi, then the Shirdi-Dadar Express (Via Manmad) to Thane, an EMU to Panvel, then the Panvel-Nanded Express to Pune, and finally the Pune-Ernakulam Express to Ernakulam. I'd explain my logic for each selection in seperate posts, as they come.
For Leg 1, I had chosen the Netravati Express. Netravati is a train with an emotional connect - I have had traveled in this train many times during the days were lived in Navi Mumbai. This was a non-nonsense option for the average Mumbai malayali those days. I wanted to travel again in this train, just to relive some of my old memories. I did consider some other trains - but either the timings didn't work, or the trains had no availability. So, it had to be Netravati Express - this one too didn't have confirmed availability (the Mangala Express and the Ernakulam-Mumbai Duronto Express did have confirmed tickets - but I didn't want to travel by them). My ticket was in RAC while I booked - it confirmed on my day of journey, and I got a Side-upper berth, perfectly what I wanted.
November 10, 2021:
I was so excited about traveling to Mumbai, and on the Konkan Railway after almost a decade, that I hardly slept the previous night. I ended up waking up later than planned - I had to spend some time packing and repacking my bags as well. I had planned to carry a single backpack - ended up having to repack my stuff into two bags to spread out the weight. All these delays forced me change my plans a little and ended up having to run to get a bus from my hometown to Thrissur railway station. I had to have my lunch from Thrissur - I had it from my favorite restaurant near the station and then rushed to the railway station.
Although I have traveled multiple times through Thrissur railway station in the recent past, I was feeling very excited as I walked down to the railway station. This was gonna be a long solo journey, after a fairly long time! I was at Thrissur station by around 1420hrs or so - about 40 minutes before my train's scheduled departure time. As I walked in, the Nagercoil-Mangalore Ernad Express pulled in. I looked at the coach position board at the entrance - oh yeah! Southern Railway's Trivandrum division proudly protects its heritage by not installing digital coach position indicators - the good old blackboard and a piece of chalk is all it takes to announce coach position, even to this day at majority of the stations in Trivandrum division.
I was quite excited to see my coach come up at the front end of the train - the AC coaches in Netravati Express is usually at the rear end while going towards Lokmanya Tilak Terminus - this rake seemed to be an aberration. The display board said my train would depart from Platform 2 (or was it that I assumed it would depart from Platform 2, since that is the norm). I lugged my bags over the foot over bridge and reached Platform 2 - only to see some paving works progressing on the platform. There is no way they would accept a train on an under construction platform. Thankfully, the other platform (#3) is also located on the same "island" - so I didn't have to go anywhere else. I found a seat under a fan, and decided to rest for a while.
|My train at Shoranur
The H.Nizamuddin bound Mangala Lakshadweep Express came in a little later - a WAP4 did the honours. My train came in at 1508hrs - about 5 minutes behind schedule. WAP7 #30690 of Royapuram did the honours of hauling my train. My coach, B2, was a 2019 Integral Coach Factory built AC 3-Tier coach (LWACCN #194052). My seat was right next to the entry - a lot of people jokingly call these seats the "Toilet quota" seats. I am a fan of these seats, especially while traveling along - solely for easy access to the door! We started off from Thrissur at 1514hrs - about 9 minutes behind schedule. I had a side-upper berth, and the side-lower berth was allotted to the TTE - this meant, both the seats were at my disposal during the day!
We had a steady stream of crossings once out of Thrissur - I enjoyed them from the large windows of my LHB coach. We crossed the Trivandrum bound Venad Express, followed by the Ernakulam bound Intercity Express, then the Trivandrum bound Jan Shatabdi Express and finally the "king-of-overtakes", the Trivandrum bound Kerala Express (this train seems to be royally insulted once it enters its homestate). The Netravati has no stops between Thrissur and Shoranur and usually has a non-stop run between these two stations. We stopped at Shoranur home - right before the bridge across Bharathapuzha. I was sure we had a crossing, and I was right - we crossed the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus - Ernakulam Duronto Express hauled by twin WDM3Ds from Kalyan loco shed. This was among the trains I had considered for this journey.
We rolled in to Shoranur station at 1554hrs - about 26 minutes ahead of schedule. Like everytime, my train was received on Platform 7 at Shoranur. The long halt was a blessing - I picked up a tea and had a long walk on the platform. Interestingly, they sent a freighter right ahead of my train in the same direction as we were traveling. The Nilambur-Kottayam Express also pulled in just before we departed from Shoranur - this train, very interestingly, came in behind a WDM3A from Ernakulam shed. I've seen this train only with Golden Rock locos in the past. We departed from Shoranur perfectly on time - the Mangalore-Coimbatore "express" was sneaking in as we crawled out from Shoranur. I marked the express with quotations solely because it is actually a passenger train masquerading as an express train. We had to cross the Trivandrum bound Rajdhani Express - and I remained at the door just to see the train rushing past us. We crossed the Rajdhani express a few kilometres out of Shoranur. Sometime during the journey, I saw an update that Konkan Railway had announced some maintenance works in Goa, and quite a few trains were to be regulated for the work. I poured over the circular multiple times to check if my train was included - the trains ahead of mine were included though. I was sure that my train would be delayed due to the delayed trains ahead.
|While waiting for the crew change at Shoranur
|WAP7 #30690 of Royapuram in charge of my train
It was a largely uneventful run after Shoranur. We made an unscheduled halt at Pallipuram - a few minutes, for unknown reasons. We crossed a few trains on the way - the last time I traveled on this train, the Shoranur-Mangalore section was largely single line, and we stopped for most crossings! We stopped at Kuttipuram, Tirur and Parappanangadi before reaching Kozhikode (1759hrs - a minute ahead of schedule) - I was quite hungry by now and managed to pick-up some snacks from a stall on the platform. The pantry car in Netravati express used to serve mouth-watering snacks in the good olden days - the pantry car these days served mostly ready-to-eat "pour hot water" type food products!
We started from Kozhikode at 1806hrs - a minute behind schedule. It was getting dark, and I slowly settled on the side lower berth watching a movie on my phone. Meanwhile, a vendor from the Pantry car took orders for dinner - there was just one option - Biriyani, and three sub-options, Vegetarian, Egg and Chicken! I picked the Vegetarian Biriyani option. A lot of people in the coach didn't order their dinner though - quite a few of them had brought packed food as well. I remained engrossed in the movie that I was watching - and didn't notice the stops en route. There were no unscheduled halts, though. We pulled in to Kannur by 1920hrs - 12 minutes ahead of schedule.
My coach stopped right outside a refreshment stall and the crowd at this stall was huge. The stall sold Idlis and Vadas - I tried the vada, and they were delicious. The halt was long, thanks to the before schedule arrival. We started off from Kannur at 1935hrs - perfectly on time. Dinner was served right after we departed from Kannur. The Biriyani, as they call it, was more of a brownish yellow colored rice with an oily greasy vegetable gravy poured on top. The food was okayish - cannot be called a biriyani by any stretch of imagination. Its more of boiled rice with a masala gravy. I felt it would've been good had they provided some pickle or raitha along with the rice. We had stops at Kannapuram and Payyannur, before we got to Cheruvathur (Charvattur) by 2020hrs (ahead of schedule by 4 minutes).
|The Vegetable "Biriyani" served for lunch
A look at the timetable indicated we would be overtaken by a train coming right on our tails - the Tirunelveli-Dadar Superfast festive special express. My train didn't move even as the clock ticked past our scheduled departure time (2025hrs) - this indicated that we could be overtaken at this station. I quickly checked the status of the Dadar express on the NTES (National Train Enquiry System) application and found that the train had departed from the previous station already. The Dadar Superfast literally passed us in a flash - an unknown WAP7 did the honours of this LHB rake. We finally departed from Cheruvathur at 2034hrs - 9 minutes behind schedule. I was preparing to sleep soon after we left Cheruvathur. We had two more scheduled stops before getting to Mangalore - at Kanhangad and Kasaragod.
We made two unscheduled stops at Ullal and Netravati Cabin as well - and still made it to Mangalore Junction station by 2200hrs - ahead of schedule by 40 minutes. Interestingly, my primary SIM card turned off the moment the train entered Karnataka - for some reason, my telecom provider had messed up my connection profile, and the SIM had its national roaming deactivated. I had a hell of a time getting it reactivated - which happened only by the evening of the next day. The early arrival at Mangalore was what I wanted - this gave me plenty of time to watch the loco change ceremony. Interestingly, the Tirunelveli-Dadar Superfast was comfortably waiting on a nearby platform - we had rendezvous with this train once again the next morning!
|Waiting for the loco change at Mangalore Junction
The loco change took a while to happen - the WAP7 that hauled my train was disconnected and waited for a while before moving out. The Dadar superfast departed during this time, and the loco waited till the train cleared out. The shift from Head-On Generation (Power drawn from the OverHead Equipment and supplied from the locomotive to the power car) to End-On Generation (Power generated using diesel run generators by the power cars) was smooth. The Airconditioner was turned off soon as the train came to a complete halt - the generators came on about 5 minutes later and the AC followed. The next loco for my train was a WDP4D from Golden Rock shed - the loco was actually parked on a nearby loop line, and the loco was turned on only after the WAP7 was disconnected. The loco was WDP4D #40339 of Golden Rock Diesel Loco Shed.
I returned to the coach soon after the WDP4D was coupled. We departed perfectly on time - at 2250hrs. I headed to my berth soon after we departed - the lack of bedroll is a bummer. I had packed an air-pillow and a bed sheet with me - sadly, the bedsheet was small, but I still managed to sleep well. The coach wasn't very crowded and the interior temperature was quite cold. We had a scheduled halt at Surathkal - we were early here as well. I slept before we departed from Surathkal, though. I had a nice sleep - the passengers in nearby berths were alighting at Madgaon, and I was sure to wake up when they alight. I woke up a little before Madgaon - hearing the commotion of them preparing to alight.
The train pulled in to Madgaon by 0529hrs - 54 minutes behind schedule. Despite being delayed, we had a fairly long halt at Madgaon. We crossed a train there - I don't recollect which one, though. We departed at 0550hrs - 65 minutes behind schedule. The train crawled out of Madgaon - continued its crawl till we got to Verna. We pulled in to a loop line at Verna (non-Platform line) and prepared for a long halt here (0612hrs). The Tirunelveli-Dadar Super fast was cool its heels here - the update on the NTES app, and Konkan Railways' own train tracker showed that the train was here since around 0400hrs! Soon after we stopped at Verna, the Pune-Ernakulam Superfast (via Panvel) crossed us - unidentified ALCos were in charge. It was pitch dark to identify the loco. The Dadar super fast departed soon after the crossing.
|During our long halt at Verna. The other train is the Sawantwadi Road Passenger
The sun came out soon later. On the other loop line at the station was a Roll-On Roll-Off (RORO) rake. RORO was an innovative concept introduced by Konkan Railways in India. The Western Ghat highway had plenty of treacherous sections and accidents were common place then. The RORO service helped take off plenty of trucks of the road - it was a win-win situation for both truck operators as well as the railways. The railways earned some revenue, while the truck operators saved money on fuel as well as maintenance. These trains get fairly good priority and hence trucks make it to end point on time as well. Meanwhile, an Ernakulam WDM3A slowly pulled in to the Platform line with the Sawantwadi Road passenger in tow - this train would later become the Sawantwadi Road - Diva Passenger. Interestingly, this passenger runs with LHB rakes! All the trains "owned" by Konkan Railway use LHB rakes now. Perhaps, these are the only passenger trains in the country to get LHB rakes!
I was glued to the Konkan Railway train tracker and I knew we had one more crossing. In the good old days, travel on Konkan Railway was exciting - so exciting that I used to be at the door for most part of the ride to capture the crossings we make on the way. Konkan Railway is predominantly a single-line section, but their section controllers are usually very efficient when it comes to crossings and ensure trains do not waste much time. Back then, it was an interesting game guessing where we'd cross each train. Now with almost uninterrupted internet connection, and the well updated Konkan Railway train tracker, identifying crossings has become very easy (I still missed some crossings - that is a story for another time).
Soon later, the Trivandrum bound Rajdhani Express thundered past with an Ernakulam WDP4D doing the honours. We waited for a while more before being allowed to continue towards the next station. We departed from Verna at 0657hrs - after a 45 minute wait there for two crossings. The RORO rake was being prepared for departure as well. Our next halt was at Karmali (0716hrs) - we were an hour and 40 minutes behind schedule then. Most of the coach emptied here - very few passengers remained now. We had an eventless run from Karmali to Thivim, where we reached by 0740hrs - an hour and 52 minutes behind schedule now. We crossed the Mumbai-Mangalore Super fast here - that train was already waiting for us as we entered. We departed from Thivim a couple of minutes later.
|Idli Vada from the Pantry
Vendors from the Pantry were lining up with breakfast dishes now. I picked up a plate of Idly-Vada from the first vendor - the Idly was okayish by the Sambhar tasted more like Rasam to me. Not a very fulfilling breakfast, and I picked up another item - Veg cutlet this time. This one had two pieces of Vegetable Cutlet with two slices of white bread and a pack of ketchup. I am a fan of railway cutlet and this was an enjoyable experience - although I felt the cutlet was a little bland at the beginning, the flavours erupted only as I bit more into it. We crossed the Ratnagiri-Madgaon "Express" at Pernem - we ran though without stopping.
We had an unscheduled halt at Sawantwadi Road, to cross the Mumbai-Madgaon Konkan Kanya Express. True to the efficiency of Konkan Railway, this was just a 6 minute halt to complete the crossing. Between the stops, the train rushes at its maximum speed, and Konkan Railway is cleared for 110kmph. This lets most trains make up their lost time just with these high speed runs. Our next halt was a Kudal (0833hrs) - two hours and 2 minutes behind schedule. This halt lasted more than the scheduled 2 minutes - indicating a crossing. We did have a crossing - we crossed the Mumbai-Karmali AC Special Express. We got moving from there at 0838hrs - 2 hours and 8 minutes behind schedule, now!
We were looped again after 30 minutes of run - this time at Kankavali (0901hrs). The Main-line was occupied by a freighter. We were to cross a train here - the PA system at the system was busy announcing the arrival of the "Tutari" Express from Dadar (heading to Sawantwadi Road). This crossing was also quick, and we were off by 0912hrs. We had a nice run after Kankavali - barring an unscheduled halt for an unknown reason at Adavali. We covered 111kilometres between Kankavali and Ratnagiri in about an hour and 27 minutes (including the halt at Adavali) - that is 111 kilometres covered in 87 minutes, averaging about 76.5kmph.
We pulled in to Ratnagiri at 1039hrs - with a delay of an hour and 39 minutes. We crossed the Madgaon bound Jan Shatabdi Express here - it was a Golden Rock WDP4D at the helm. This train always got WDM3Ds from Erode in the past - a crack train with a very tight schedule, running roughly 575 kilometres one way. This train was recently upgraded to LHB stock and even runs with a Vistadome coach (the first one on Indian Railways). This was a quick crew change halt as well - the crew change happened real quick, but the unloading of mail bags from the train took a while. We got moving by 1045hrs - an hour and 40 minutes behind schedule.
|WDP4D #40339 of Golden Rock working my Train - taken at Ratnagiri during the crew change
We had one more unscheduled halt soon after Ratnagiri - at Bhoke, just 7 kilometres out of Ratnagiri. We crossed the Madgaon bound "Double decker" express here. Double decker is a misnomer - this train mostly had AC Sleeper coaches with a few Double Decker coaches just to justify the name. Double Decker coaches aren't the most comfortable ones around, and this would be too long a journey in a double decker coach for sure. We didn't have anymore crossing halts after this - we crossed a few trains, but the other trains were waiting for us. We crossed the Ernakulam bound Mangala Lakshadweep Special, followed by the Kochuveli bound Kerala Sampark Kranti special.
It was a largely eventless run - with the train sticking to maximum permissible speed most of the time. The coach partition doors kept opening and shutting every time the train rushed into and out of a tunnel. Our next scheduled halt was at Chiplun - at 1158hrs (an hour and 20 minutes behind schedule now). We crossed the Madgaon bound Mandovi express. We started off from Chiplun at 1202hrs. Lunch orders were taken soon after departing from Chiplun. The coach filled up at Chiplun. The train was back to its high-speed show. We crossed another train at Anjani (I think that was the Diva-Sawantwadi Road Passenger). We reached Khed, our last scheduled halt on Konkan Railway, at 1223hrs (an hour and 10 minutes behind schedule now). This halt was only a minute long - we got moving at 1224hrs. The section from Khed to Roha is now doubled (I recollect reading somewhere that the new line isn't electrified - rather, is electrified but not commissioned) - this is roughly a 98 kilometre stretch.
I recollect crossing a train in this doubled section - I am not very sure though. Lunch was served a little out of Khed - the same Vegetable Biriyani. This time, it was worse than the one served for dinner - there was very less gravy and it was just plain rice towards the bottom. I really miss the old pantry car on the Netravati, and their Kerala styled meals for lunch. The pantry also used to dish out hot snacks after lunch - which majority of the passengers used to carry home! We exited Konkan Railway a little past 1330hrs, and made an unscheduled halt at Roha (1337hrs). This halt was a few minutes long - I guess this was a technical halt for operational reasons. We started from Roha at 1341hrs. The train slowed down after Roha - it felt like we were crawling after all the blitzkrieg on Konkan Railway.
|The Vegetable Biriyani served for Lunch
We had one more unscheduled halt at Jite - about 3 minutes. I think a slow train was running ahead of us (We overtook a MEMU a little later). We rolled in to Panvel station at 1454hrs - just two minutes behind schedule now! The fabulous run on Konkan Railway made up all the time we lost due to the maintenance effect and the following traffic build up. After the amazing run on Netravati Express, I took an EMU to Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus to spend the evening, until my next train (to Shirdi) - wait for the next part for more on that!
Journey in a Nutshell:
Train Number: 06346 Trivandrum Central-Lokmanya Tilak Terminus Netravati 'Special' Express
Loco link: TCR-MAJN - WAP7 #30690 of Royapuram | MAJN-PNVL - WDP4D #40339 of Golden Rock
Coach: B2, LWACCN #194052, based at TVC.
Punctuality: 10/10 (Left a little late, ran very late, reached just behind schedule - things I tend to ignore)
Cleanliness: 10/10 (The train was clean - but maintenance was not great)
Coach Maintenance: 7/10
Bedroll: Not Available.
Catering: 6/10 (Too few options, and the ones available weren't that great
Lunch & Dinner - Only Biriyani Available (Rs. 110 for the veg option)
Breakfast - Idly-Vada, Veg Cutlet, Upma and Bread-Omlette available (The Veg options were sold at Rs. 50 each)
I really loved my journey on Konkan Railway, and on Netravati Express after a really long time. It was a repeat of the awesome journeys I've had in the 2005-2008 period. While the coaches have improved with the introduction of LHB rakes, the pantry car was a terrible let down. The old pantry served some really good food - the new one is a typical railway catering set up with "have it if you want" food. It was certainly a good journey that I'd love to repeat in the future!