I had to reach Pune by the evening of November 13, 2021 to get into a train to Kerala from Pune. I was on the look out for trains to travel from Mumbai to Pune - Deccan queen was my first call. I almost booked my ticket as well - but two things bugged me. One, the train reaches Pune only an hour and a half before my train to Ernakulam departs, and two, the train transverses the Bhore ghats under darkness. I wanted to see this ghats in the day once again - I have traveled this way multiple times in the past - this would be an opportunity to experience this section again. I looked for options departing earlier, which would give me an opportunity to see the section during the day.
I came across this Panvel-Nanded express while searching for tickets - I never knew about the existence of this train until I saw the train listed on IRCTC. I was quite excited about this train - I'd give two reasons for the excitement - one, this train operates via the Panvel-Karjat railway line, and two, I would get to visit Panvel again! I had traveled through the Panvel-Karjat railway line back in 2008 - over 13 years ago (read that experience here)! Although this line was built to reduce traffic on the mainline, this line was never used optimally for passenger traffic. The railways have floated new plans to double this section and use it for operating suburban trains as well. Panvel is very close to me - I can't count the number of time I've been to this place for trainspotting. I took this as an opportunity to relive my memories!
November 13, 2021:
I headed straight to Kunj Vihar right outside Thane station for a lunch after having arrived from Shirdi. I took a suburban Electrical Multiple Unit train (aka the ubiquitous local train) from Thane to Panvel. This ride was also a recreation of old memories. I reached Panvel a little past 1500hrs - about an hour or so before the departure of my train to Pune. I roamed around the station a little bit - but couldn't explore the station as much as I'd have loved to, since I was quite tired and I was carrying a heavy backpack on me. My train, the 07613 Panvel - Huzur Sahib Nanded Express, was already on Platform 6.
|WDP4 #20038 of Krishnarajapuram shed working by train from Panvel
Panvel station seemed to have been frozen in time. The mainline section hasn't seen much upgrade - the platforms seem to have gone worse from what they were in 2008! My first stop was to check the loco working my train - Krishnarajapuram's WDP4 #20038, working long hood forward. The locomotive was in Krishnarajapuram's "bleed blue" livery. The "Panvel Express" was not a short train by any chance - it was a 21 coach CBC (Centre-buffer-coupler) rake. My coach was the 20th in the formation, and it was a long walk from the locomotive to my coach. The work on a new terminal station at Panvel was in progress -but, it did look like the work had been slowed down further due to the pandemic.
My coach, D1, was a 2017-Integral Coach factory built "General" coach - WGS #177474/C, based at Nanded. The coach was packed - in every sense. There were plenty of people without reservation, perhaps without even a ticket. They did vacate seats for reserved passengers, though - but the experience traveling in a crowded coach wasn't so very pleasant. Meanwhile, a special train from Gorakhpur turned up at Panvel, and announcements about a Coimbatore bound train were being made. My train got moving exactly at 1600hrs.
The train slowly crawled out of Panvel, and entered the branch line towards Karjat. We crossed two freighters as we slowly moved out of Panvel - one came from the JNPT side and the other was coming in from the Roha side. The train slowly ascended a grade to enter the line to Karjat. This train is the only daily train operating on the Panvel-Karjat line - the other being a biweekly train from Pune to Ernakulam. This line has great potential since it reduces the distance from Karjat to Mumbai - but has limited use for passenger trains due to it being a single line. We picked speed a little past Panvel. There are three stations between Panvel and Karjat - Chikhale, Mohope and Chauk. The train doesn't stop at any of them, though. We crossed the Mumbai-Pune expressway just past Chikhale station. The stretch after that had some good visuals - and we also passed by some movie sets - some period movies were shot here, and one could spot palaces and warfields set up there.
|Somewhere between Panvel and Karjat
We had an unscheduled halt at Chikhale for unknown reasons - we did not cross any train there, though. Past Chikhale, we entered the Wavarle tunnel - this tunnel is a little over 2.5 kilometres long - it took close to about 5 minutes to travel through the tunnel. The Wavarle tunnel is situated on the Matheran hill range. We had a short halt outside Karjat station. We entered Karjat station by around 1647hrs - Karjat is not a commercial halt for this train, but the train stops for operational reasons. A huge crowd barged into the coach at Karjat - since this was not a commercial halt, I am sure none of those who barged in had a ticket that was valid on this train. It was a mess inside the coach now - people everywhere, including the gangways. Although I did contact the Rail Madad for help, no ticket checkers or assistance turned up. This was a complete mockery of the passengers who reserved their tickets.
I wanted to have some of Karjat's famous Vada pav - but I had carried some from Kunj Vihar, and my tummy was already full! We started off from Karjat at 1652hrs, now pushed by twin WAG7s as bankers. The stretch from Karjat to Lonavla requires Banker locomotives - bankers are also known as "pushers" (in the United States) - due to steep grades along the Bhore ghats.The ruling grade in the ghat is 1 in 37 - i.e, the train ascends 1 metre of additional altitude by running 37 metres. This is steep for the railways, and requires the use of banker locomotives. There would be excessive strain on the couplers if a banker locomotive isn't used - because the lead loco would have to exert higher force to pull up the heavy rake behind. This could lead to coupler failures. Interestingly, on such sections, the lead locomotive usually remains at idle, and does the job of watching out for signals, while the banker locomotives does the job of pushing up the rake.
The actual ghats behind right after Palasdhari - the station right after Karjat. The ghat section has two brake testing cabins en route - at Thakurwadi and Monkey Hill. The ghat ends at Khandala, which is also a station. All trains stop at both the cabins to prove their braking capability. Trains descending the ghats necessarily stop at Khandala station, and both the cabins to prove their brakes - the train could be diverted to the catch siding if the train has loss of brake power. We had quite a few crossings on the ghats - my video report of this journey had captured almost all the crossings (do watch the video - here, or given inline at the bottom). I was enjoying my journey through the ghats - I think this happened after more than a decade (interestingly, I had traveled through the same ghat the previous day, but that was at night, and I slept through).
We had a scheduled halt at Khandala, where we crossed the Mumbai bound Koyna express. The next halt after Khandala was at Lonavla, where the Bankers were disconnected. Most of the crowd alighted at Lonavla - only a few people were traveling forward. Lonavla is famous for Chikkis (Peanut Candy) and fruit jellys - I am not a fan of the chikkis, especially due to the use of liquid glucose, which gives it a very rubbery texture. I am a fan of the brittle chikkis from Tamil Nadu! I did not pick up the jellys though - all I purchased was a cup of tea, something hot to soothe my throat. We started off from Lonavla at 1746hrs. It got darker as we headed towards Pune. We ran parallel to the expressway for sometime. There were scheduled halts at Talegaon (1815hrs) and Chinchwad (1836hrs). It was already dark by the time we reached Talegaon - darkness sets in earlier during these months.
The train made an unscheduled halt at Pune outer for about 10 minutes, and then slowly crawled in to Platform 6 of Pune station, at 1914hrs - ahead of schedule by 11 minutes. Platform 6 is not a great place to be in - its a narrow platform, and has a trolley path in between, causing the platform to go down to ground level. I had to dodge the crowd on the platform to access the foot over bridge, getting to Platform 1 - my first stop was at the Cloak room, where I left my heavy backpack, before going out of the station for an amazing dinner, followed by a treat of Kulfi from Shiv Kailash dairy! The journey isn't over yet - do stay tuned for the next part in this series!
|My dinner from Sagar and Dessert from Shiv Kailash!
Journey in a Nutshell:
Train Number: 07613 Panvel - Huzur Saheb Nanded "Panvel" Express
Loco link: WDP4 #20038 of Krishnarajapuram
Coach: D1, WGS #177474/C based at Nanded.
Coach Maintenance: 10/10 (Very well kept)
Bedroll: Not Available.
Catering: Not Available.
Overall: 9/10 (Points down for the crowd)
This was a very interesting journey, keeping the crowd aside, though. I managed to visit Panvel, travel on the Panvel-Karjat line, and also witness the Bhore ghats in daylight (evening light would be more appropriate). The coach was kept well and was clean. I did miss traveling by the Deccan queen - but then there always is a next time, and I hope to ride on the Deccan Queen once it gets its much awaited LHB coaches! This was a journey I'd keep in memories for a long time!
Please do watch my videos of this ride here: