The Trivandrum-Chennai "Mail" is fondly known as the "Number 20 Madras Mail" - after a cult classic Malayalam movie, by the same name. This train was my first choice as I looked for tickets to travel from Kollam to Irinjalakuda. Although the mail doesn't stop at Irinjalakuda, it connects to a shuttle train at Ernakulam Town. Eventhough the train was quite heavily waitlisted, I took a chance, and booked on this train from Kollam to Ernakulam town, in Sleeper class.
December 26, 2021:
After a very fulfilling journey from Tirunelveli to Kollam via Sengottai, I found myself sitting at the IRCTC Refreshment room at Kollam Junction railway station. I wanted to have something heavy, but had to adjust with a couple of Vadas accompanied by a cup of strong filter coffee! The food was quite tasty - considering the fact that they were dished out by a "Railway base kitchen". I checked if they prepared dosas - the waiter replied that they were yet to resume such preparations, which were stopped during the pandemic. I headed straight to Platform 2/3 after the light snack. I had already checked the coach position of my train, and I was aware that my coach would be towards the rear end of the train.
Kollam station is preceded by a fairly sharp curve as trains approach from the Trivandrum side. This curve was necessitated so that Kollam didn't have to reverse at Kollam. The station was originally built for trains coming in from the Sengottai side - the line towards Trivandrum came much later. The sharp curve forces trains to operate at a very slow pace - and it also a bottleneck for increasing speed of trains. The Kannur bound Jan Shatabdi Express came soon after I reached the platform. The Kollam-Trivandrum Express special was getting ready to depart from Platform 4 at the same time. The station got into silent mode soon after the Jan Shatabdi went to Kannur, and the Express special to Trivandrum. My train seemed to be running a little behind schedule, going by the railway tracking website.
My train turned up at 1616hrs - about 16 minutes behind schedule. This was my first journey in an LHB (Linke Hoffmann Busch) Sleeper coach. Although LHB coaches came to the country in the late 1990s, they were mostly AC coaches - the sleeper variant came only around 2015-16. LHB coaches have better suspension and hence, offer better ride comfort. I was expecting a fairly new coach - but a 2016 built one turned up. The highlight, however, was that this coach was built by the Rail Coach Factory at Rae Bareili (now known as "Modern Coach Factory Rae Bareili"). This coach had the older design windows, and the window rails seemed to be placed flush with the exterior panel. The most fun component of a non-AC coach ride is looking out of the windows - rather, looking forward from the window. This rail design rules out this possibility.
|Chennai mail arriving at Kollam|
In the excitement of detailing about the LHB coach, I missed quoting this - the loco in charge of the train was WAP7 #30331 from Royapuram. The Trivandrum bound Netravati Express had arrived simultaneously as my train arrived. I think both the trains departed simultaneously as well. We started from Kollam at 1619hrs - maintaining the 16 minute delay. We crossed the Trivandrum bound Sabari Express a little away from Kollam. I had a middle berth - but I moved to a side lower berth nearby, so that I could charge up my phone, and also capture some videos. The coach wasn't very crowded at this point - I found from the TTE that most berths would be occupied by the time we get to Kottayam, though.
The general emotion inside the coach was dull - most people seemed to be returning to their workplaces after the Christmas break. Something that I could relate to - all my journeys back to my workplace, especially those after longer breaks (I usually came home even for 2 days - so a longer break means 3 or more days), were always heartbreaking! I was quite tired as well - hardly any sleep the previous night, plus a very exciting day! We crossed the Nagercoil bound Parasuram Express near Ochira, and continued our run to Kayamkulam (1656hrs). The biggest casuality in the pandemic, perhaps is Railway catering. Forget on board sales, the number of vendors are really less even at stations. It isn't possible for everybody on the train to get off the train at railway stations to buy things.
|Somewhere between Kollam and Kayamkulam|
We started off from Kayamkulam at 1659hrs. The reason I mentioned about the lack of vendors was due to me witnessing a person traveling with family trying to buy a bottle of water - he didn't want to get off due to the fear of missing the train, and there were no vendors anywhere in sight - there were no shops nearby either. Its a common scene in most stations to find shops closed (most of them have reopened by now - but the scene back at the time of this journey was different). There has been a few reports of people losing their lives trying to get back in to a running train - because they had to get off to buy food or water.
Meanwhile, the train slowly ambled along the beautiful Alappuzha landscape, rolling in to Mavelikara by 1709hrs. Superfast or not, prestigious or ordinary - irrespective of adjectives and superlatives, every damn train has to stop at the Big-3 (Chengannur-Thiruvalla-Changanassery) - Mavelikara is a cousin to the Big-3, and most trains on the route stop here as well. [The newer generation trains haven't fallen prey to this stop pattern, though]. The stop at Mavelikara was eventless, so were our stops at Chengannur and Thiruvalla. The occupant of the seat I was occupying joined at Changanassery (1745hrs - about 25 minutes behind schedule). I had to vacate the window seat and move to my aisle seat. I headed to the door as the train departed from Changanassery (1747hrs).
Doorplating, an Indian railfan coined word for standing at the door (probably derived from the term "footplating" - referring to traveling on a footplate - footplate is the structure on which loco operators stood while driving railway locomotives, mainly steam locomotives. So people who traveled along with the crew were often referred to as foot-plating or foot-platers) of a passenger carriage in a railway train, isn't fun with the newer LHB coaches. The doors are wider and balancing oneself at the door is a little tricky as the speed increases. Maybe I am getting too old for such antiques, I didn't remain at the door for long. We crossed the biweekly Mumbai LTT-Kochuveli Super Fast Express between Changanassery and Chingavanam.
The train entered in to a single line territory post Chingavanam - I still wondered how foolish I was, that I didn't video record this section. It would have been a great addition to the archives, to show the future generation of how our railway tracks were. We reached Kottayam station by 1807hrs (20 minutes behind schedule). I picked up some light snacks to help me get home for dinner and a tea to wash it down. We got moving from Kottayam by 1815hrs - 25 minutes behind schedule now. The section ahead of Kottayam, till Ettumanur is single lined - work was progressing quite well in the section. There were a few caution orders (or speed restrictions, in common parlance) as well. We stopped briefly at Ettumanur home signal (Home signal - refers to the signal placed right out the station limit - a train can enter the station only if the home signal is at "off" - off refers to any signal other than danger aka Red) before we entered into the station. We didn't stop at the station - but entered the double line territory and picked pace quite rapidly. The Trivandrum bound Kerala Express was waiting for us at Ettumanur. We crossed the Trivandrum bound Venad Express at the next station (or might be at Ettumanur outer itself).
It got really dark by now. There was limited scope seeing anything outside - I resorted to watching something on the phone now. Phones are a real blessing while traveling - but I think the older resort, reading, was better! In the past, my favorite passtime while traving in the darkness was reading. Ever since mobilephones came in to my life, I've completely lost the habit of reading (not something I must brag on). We had a stop at Tripunithura, before reaching Ernakulam. I moved to the door as the train passed Ernakulam Marshalling Yard (and Ernakulam Coaching Depot). We had to stop for a while before being allowed in to the station. The train finally entered Ernakulam Town (commonly referred to as Ernakulam North) station by 1931hrs - 16 minutes behind schedule.
The platform was crowded - crowded would be an understatement. People were jostling for space all around the platform. It seemed a train to the North/East part of India was to arrive soon - all the crowd was for that train. Soon after alighting from the Mail, I rushed to the ticket counter to buy tickets for the rest of my ride. I was a little concerned since I didn't have change and I was carrying around a 500 rupee note with me. The lady at the counter politely refused to provide change stating her shift had just begun and she hadn't sold enough tickets to have change. However, the lady quickly suggested I could pay using UPI (Unified Payment Interface) - India's homegrown instant realtime payment system. I was quite surprised and told her to proceed with that. I had to give out my UPI Handle (UPI Identifier) to which I would receive a request from Indian Railway's central payment server - I had to accept the request and input my payment PIN. Bingo! The payment was done, and my ticket was issued!!
|Ticket for my ride to Irinjalakuda|
The 48 kilometre ride to Irinjalakuda cost me just Rs. 30! Indian Railways are certainly the cheapest mode of transport - probably across the globe! I was quite sleepy and tired by now - badly wanted to reach home and crash on to my bed. The station was quite crowded - I walked a little towards the starter end (locomotive end) of the platform to beat the crowd. While waiting at the station, the Nilambur Road-Kottayam "Express" arrived. My train also arrived soon later. I was traveling by the 06448 Ernakulam - Guruvayur "Express" special - this train was earlier a passenger train - it still is, but charges express fares. The train stops at most of the stations on the way, as well. This train has a long rake - about 16 coaches long!
The Guruvayur express came in at 1958hrs - perfectly at its scheduled arrival time. A WAP7 (#37297 of Erode) was at the helm of the Guruvayur "Express". The rake was made up of mostly old coaches - and most of them were vacant as well. I was a little scared to get into an empty coach - walked a little more forward to get into a coach that had a few passengers. I got into GS #03431 - a 2003 built coach. The interiors showed age - the seat backs were shivering most of the time, and the coach had higher than normal oscillations as well.
We started off from Ernakulam Town at 2000hrs - a minute behind schedule. The WAP7 had very little to do - it had 6350 horses to pull 16 passenger coaches - most of which were empty - thats roughly about 600 tonnes! The WAP7 is used to heavier loads and had quite little to do here - we were flying out of stations and hitting maximum permissible speed quite soon. The Ernakulam-Shoranur section has a maximum speed of only 80kmph - so the trains are really that fast - but the way they pick pace is enjoyable. The train had about 6 stops before reaching my destination - including one unscheduled halt, at Kalamassery. The train was almost mobbed at Aluva - people bound to Shoranur/Palakkad, etc mobbed the train - but they got off soon after realizing the train went to Guruvayur. The coach continued to be empty even as we slowly departed out of Aluva.
The stops were eventless - just stop and go types. I couldn't see anybody boarding at these stops - people in single digits were alighting as well. This isn't an unpopular train - it was just because the journey was on a Sunday following a holiday. The train would've returned without an inch of breathing space the following day. The train finally rolled in to Irinjalakuda station at 2123hrs - about 22 minutes behind schedule. The train hadn't had long halts anywhere - but there were quite a few speed restrictions and we lost time in most of them, ended up accumulating a delay of 22 minutes. The train took an hour and 23 minutes (83 minutes) to cover a distance of 48 kilometres - we took about 21 minutes more than the scheduled running time of 62 minutes.
That was a long, but fulfilling day - a dream come true day. This journey was, however, just a beginning. I had a few more amazing and memorable journeys the following weekends as well!
Watch my video from this journey on YouTube!
The journey at a glance portion is being avoided in this post since the journey was not on a single train!
This was a usual journey - nothing specific to talk about, and nothing bad to note of!
Additionally some LHB rakes tend to have a sharp violent jerk when starting from a station.This often results in unsecured doors opening or closing with a bang
Have personally experienced this(MAQ-MAS SF or Mail rake; pardon my poor memory) in the pre covid era. Since you have relocated to Kasaragod maybe you can observe it first hand if you travel by any of these trains.
Is it due to poor maintenance or any difference in the LHB coach couplings of the 2 rakes?
A few LHB Sleeper coaches have a sliding shutter window that seems to let in lesser air and light than the conventional ones
And more importantly the bathroom fixtures in LHB don't seem to be as abuse friendly as the ICF coaches (the passengers need to be more nicer to public infra though)
Sliding shutters are a nightmare. It's even horrible if you are traveling backwards.
"Problem of train jerks in LHB coaches arises due to Centre Buffer Coupler (CBC) system that is used to join the train coaches. IR uses the draft gear equipment to connect the couplings to the rolling stock. The new balanced draft gear couplings that are being replaced with the old ones have high-capacity shock absorbers, which help in reducing jerks" Excerpt from one of the articles
Hopefully the problem of jerking in the Chennai bound LHB rake from MAQ should have been solved by now. Did you experience any such jerks in your recent journeys by the MAQ-Chennai SF ?