Selecting this train was an obvious choice for us. I did consider two other trains - the Garib Rath express and the Banaswadi-Kochuveli Humsafar Express. The former was ruled out due to its narrower berth (TW and TD had to adjust on one), while the latter was ruled out due to its very early arrival at Thrissur. The Island express ticked all the boxes, and it certainly had to be the 16526 Express. The only confusion that remained was whether we should stick to AC 3-Tier, or try AC 2-Tier - we decided to give AC 2-Tier a chance - and this would be my first ride in an LHB AC 2-Tier coach as well. Since we booked well in advance, we also managed to get two lower berths.
December 12, 2021:
Nobody in the family was excited about this journey. My parents were a little sad since TD was returning. I and TW weren't keeping well - I was a little too down with a chest infection, and badly wanted some rest. We had no choice but to travel - a long work week was coming up. We had started off from home about 2 hours before the scheduled departure of the train - knowing Bengaluru's infamous traffic, we didn't want to take any chances. We were to buy our dinner from the base kitchen before boarding as well. We got to the station with an hour for departure, giving us sufficient time to pick up the dinner, and also explore a bit of the food stall set up outside the station.
We first headed to Dakshen - the vegetarian base kitchen restaurant - to pick our dinner. Both of us wanted some peaceful food - but we had to finally choose between a biriyani and Chapati. We bought 1 serving of each before heading out to the eateriest outside. The Goli Vada Pav outlet was luring both of us - both TW and I have spent a considerable part of our life in Mumbai, and Vada Pav is certainly an emotion! Although the ones service by Goli isn't exactly the same as Mumbai's ubiquitous Vada Pavs, it still gives some satisfaction to our cravings.
We didn't want to spend much time there and end up missing our train - so picked up a takeaway from Goli and headed to Platform 2, where our train was already berthed. The display boards outside didn't have any information about the coach position - but I had spotted the AC coaches to be around the rear end of the train from the foot over bridge. The coach position display indicators on the platform weren't working either. We just walked towards the rear end of the train where all the AC coaches were lined up. Our coach, was like the 5th or so coach from the rear. I was hoping to get an MCF (Modern Coach Factory, Raebareily) built coach - I've never traveled in MCF built coaches. But then, as luck would have it, it was an ICF (Integral Coach Factory, Chennai) built one. The coach was built in September 2020 - a little over an year on on my date of journey. The coach was numbered LACCW #203002. The coach was maintained at Baiyyappanahalli coaching depot.
|KSR Bengaluru Station - my coach in the background
The interiors were fresh and well kept - something that I always appreciate about South Western Railway. Maintenance and cleanliness was top notch. All the interior fittings - lights, charging points, bottle holders were all in place and functional. I headed out to check the locomotive and also get some water after leaving our baggage at the seat. Curiously, almost all the seats around ours were already occupied - Kerala bound trains rarely fill at KSR Bengaluru - most of them run empty until Krishnarajapuram or Banaswadi (for Yeshwantpur originating ones).
Since our coach was at the rear end, it was one very long walk to the locomotive. A fairly new BLW (Banaras Locomotive Works, formerly known as Diesel Locomotive Works) built WAP7 #37370 of Krishnarajapuram was deputed to haul our train that night. After clicking a couple of pictures on my phone, I slowly walked the long way back to our coach. I stopped by at the HPMC (Himachal Pradesh Horticultural Produce Marketing and Processing Corporation Ltd) stall on the platform. I am a great fan of their Apple juice (Himachal is famous for apple production) - and for some reason, all HPMC stalls in Kerala shut after the pandemic. I picked up a 500ml bottle of apple juice from there, along with a bottle of water, and returned to our coach.
|WAP7 #37372 getting ready to take us to Kerala!
|The train's name board - it still says "Festival Special" though
Back in the coach, there were small fights about "double bookings" - two people were turning up with the same seat numbers and people get into a quarrel without even bothering to check if the coach numbers were the same! In most cases, people with seats in HA1 were busy sitting in A1 and claiming seats to be their own. In one such case, it had almost reach the level of getting physical. My policy has always been to wait for the Traveling Ticket Examiner to come in - an official person is always the best to defuse such tensions. Meanwhile, the Ernakulam-Bengaluru Intercity arrived on Platform 4 - and we started off soon later (2010hrs, perfectly at the scheduled departure time).
This train stops almost everywhere on the way. The first stop after starting off, was at Bangalore Cantonment (2021hrs). We crossed the Tirupati-Bengaluru Intercity express here. We had our dinner soon after Cantonment - the food was good - I must say, I haven't had bad experiences with the base kitchen at Bengaluru. The train had rolled in to Krishnarajapuram by the time we finished our food. The coach was fully occupied by now. We started from Krishnarajapuram by 2042hrs. Interestingly, the train had onboard catering staff, and they were selling some dinner food items and water bottles. They were talking among themselves that they couldn't book a profit on that day. I wasn't aware of onboard catering facilities - I might have purchased on board instead of carrying it from the station, had I known of the existence of this facility. I am sure a lot of others weren't aware of this.
|Our dinner spread!
My body wasn't really letting me stay at the door - my chest infection was already pulling me down and I was too fatigued to stay near the door. The train had stops at Whitefield (2054hrs) and Malur (2115hrs) on the way. We had steady crossings all the while - we crossed the Shatabdi Express, Lalbagh Express and a lot of other trains that I couldn't identify. We got to Bangarpet at 2135hrs - we did cross some train here, I cannot recollect which one that was though. The stop at Bangarpet was a little long. Bangarpet is a major operational halt for the railways - it is the last major station before the train enters into Southern Railway, and hence a lot of operational instructions, in the form of caution orders, are issued to operating crew here.
A caution order is a document that enlists speed restrictions, and other important safety/engineering information that the crew must be aware of, in the section they are about to enter. Much of the permanent restrictions are printed in their working timetable - it is mostly the short term restrictions that are printed on caution orders. This is similar to the concept of "Notice to Airmen" (NOTAM) in aviation.
We started off from Bangarpet at 2145hrs - about 20 minutes behind schedule now. By now TD was getting a little uneasy and was getting sleepy - we wasted no time in setting up our berths and heading to sleep. We had berths right next to the door (berths #1 & #3) - so there was a constant disturbance of light from the passage near the door. Things get worse as people keep going in and out of the coach frequently. I was getting a little breathless due to the chest infection - the cold in the coach made me a little uneasy. The lack of bedding made things a little more uncomfortable. The large windows of the LHB coach let in all the light from the stations we passed through. The AC was set at fairly low temperatures and it got a little too cold as well. Although we were carrying sufficient shawls to take care of the temperature, I was quite uncomfortable.
I found it really difficult to sleep with all the lights around - may be my sickness was irritating me a lot. TD was not keeping well either - she woke up many times during the night. To make things a little complicated (for me), the side lower berth near us (berth #5) was allotted to the TTE (Travelling ticket examiner) - who would keep turning on the reading lamp at his berth to do his work. The reading lamp seemed to have been focussed badly - all the light was on my berth! I managed to have short bursts of sleep between all this.
I remember seeing Erode station - did not notice the time though. I slept quite well after Erode, and woke up just as the train was rolling in to Palakkad station (0419hrs). This was a slightly long stop, and we got moving by 0425hrs - about 5 minutes behind schedule. This was a reassurance that I'd be getting to my destination fairly on time. I slept for a while more after setting an alarm to wake me up well before we get to Thrissur. I woke up just as the train was pulling in to Wadakkanchery (0532hrs). I had sufficient time to get fresh and keep all our bags ready to detrain. The passage near the door got crowded as the train neared Thrissur - looked like most passengers in our coach were booked to Thrissur.
We reached Thrissur at 0553hrs - about 11 minutes behind schedule. My coach was exactly next to the exit, making it really convenient. It also looked like most passengers in the train had alighted at Thrissur - the platform was really crowded. Since our coach was near the exit, we could beat the crowd and get an autorickshaw very quickly. The auto dropped us at the bus station, from where we got a bus to return to our hometown. I ended up spending well over a week to recuperate from the chest infection - having been on a course of antibiotics and respiratory steriods!
Hey! Do watch my video from this journey on YouTube!
Journey in a Nutshell:
Train Number: 16526 KSR Bengaluru - Kanniyakumari "Island" Express
Loco link: WAP7 #37370 of Krishnarajapuram
Coach: A1, LWACCW 203002 built by ICF in 2020. Based at Baiyyappanahalli
Coach Maintenance: 10/10
Bedroll: Not Applicable
Catering: Not Applicable
The good old Island express is often considered the slowest train between Bangalore and "Kerala" - Kerala, actually a very vague statement. This train is actually the second fastest train between KSR Bengaluru and Thrissur (the fastest being the Intercity express). This train is perhaps very close to the every south Keralite staying or working in Bengaluru. I hadn't traveled much by trains during the 9 years I worked in Bengaluru - mainly because trains never fit into my office schedule, and I often got leaves sanctioned only at the last moment. This journey was very special because this was our first AC 2-Tier LHB ride. It was great journey - no complaints to speak of. The coach was well maintained, and very clean as well. Fittings were in place, and most importantly, they worked! The train left on time, and arrived not much behind schedule. A journey I'd surely love to repeat!