December 26, 2021
I had a little over two hours to spend at Sengottai. The station was silent - except for the occasional barks from the street dogs around. The station had absolutely no activity - even the stalls on the platform were closed. I walked around the station for a while, and then positioned myself on a chair opposite the ticket counter for a while. The reservation counter was active, and there were plenty of people all the time, while the unreserved ticket counter was closed. The counter opened a little before 1000hrs - I approached the counter clerk to check if I could buy my ticket to Kollam (the train was to depart only at 1145hrs). I got my ticket immediately. The 94 kilometre ride through the western ghats would cost me only Rs. 50!
|My ticket to Kollam!|
|WDG3A #13564 arriving at Sengottai with the passenger from Madurai|
I picked up my lunch a little past 1100hrs - the stall had only two times - Lemon Rice and Tamarind Rice. Both were small servings - and was priced at Rs. 18 (one of them was priced at Rs. 20). I purchased one each of both the items. I was sure I'd eat one of them right away, and I'd end up hungy by the time we got to Kollam. So one of them would be my back-up for the journey. Sometime while walking around the station, and RPF office approached me and told that I shouldn't take photos at the station - although there is no such legal provision, I just replied "ok" to her and left it there.
|My lunch, along with my train!|
In the meantime, I headed towards the forward end of the train in search of a coach that could give me my favorite window seat. Most of the coaches were empty, and I had the liberty to choose the best among the lot. I picked up a coach that had empty "single" seats and a working charging point! Very interestingly, all the coaches in the train were cleaned at Sengottai - the toilets were washed as well. Indian Railways has progressed on the cleanliness front over the past few years, for sure. I finished the first portion of my lunch before we departed from Sengottai.
The train started off exactly at 1135hrs - its scheduled departure time. My coach continued to remain empty even as we departed. I remained at the door to see if the Banker loco was still attached to the train - It still was! The train slowly crawled out of Sengottai - the railway track is not at "level", and we were climbing at this point. I could see the Banker locomotive putting out its might - the loco was smoking out to indicate this. A little in to the journey, I noticed gradient markers along the track side - they indicated that we were on a up gradient! The line has a speed limit of only 30kmph, and there is a high risk of trains stalling at low speeds - especially if they have to make an unexpected stop for any reason.
Now, the banker made sense to me. I was eager to know how far does this up gradient go. The line out of Sengottai passes through farms and dense vegetations. The line retains its meter gauge charm as well. The first "phase" was eventless, and slightly monotonous as well. We got to Bhagavathipuram station by 1148hrs - the station was deserted, and nobody boarded from here. We started off in a minute, making just a customary stop. I have fond memories of this station - back in the meter gauge days, the platform were fill with overarching trees providing great canopy to passengers. The broad gauge platform is a little away from the old meter gauge side - the trees still existed at the time of this journey, though.
|WDG3A #13499 taking charge as the banker locomotive|
We slowly began ascending the ghats as we moved out of Bhagavathipuram. The terrain slowly changed and we began hugging around the slopes of the western ghats now. The banker loco had a lot of work to do now - the gradient markers began reading out figures in the range of 40-50 (a 1-in-40 grade to 1-in-50 grade). The section is filled with curves and its a marvellous scene - something that cannot be described in words. We kept going up the hills for the next few minutes. We entered into the first tunnel in the route past noon. The tunnel dates back to the early 1900s (the line opened in 1902) - and still bears the insignia of the kingdom of Travancore - the Panchajanya Sankhu (The Conch of Lord Vishnu - this was also the royal coat of arms of the kingdom of Travancore, who were believed to be followers of Shri Padmanabha) at its face. The tunnel is the longest on the route - at roughly about 900 metres in length. This tunnel also marks the border between Kerala and Tamilnadu - the train enters the tunnel in Tamilnadu, and exits into Kerala. Interestingly, the up grade also ends inside the tunnel, and the train would be on a down grade as it exits!
The train reaches Aryankavu station on exiting the tunnel. This is the "old" Aryankavu station (read my travelogue from the onward journey to understand this - here) - this station used to be a crossing station in the meter gauge days - it is now downgraded into a halt station. The station is located on a curve, and is amidst a hill due which they couldn't widen the yard to accommodate two railway lines. I forgot to note down the time we reached here. The station had a few passengers - but I think they were waiting for our pairing train, which was to reach in some time.
The slow run continued. I could hear the lead loco screaming out as it went full on its dynamic brakes. The chugging sound was replaced with a high intensity humming sound now. The banker was still attached - I believe it was also participating in the braking process now. We were to cross two trains during the ghat section run - our pairing train, as well as the Kollam-Chennai Express. I was on the lookout for these crossings. The terrain had changed rapidly by now - we were traveling through a forest, with the national highway giving company at places. The route was filled with curves - so typical of the meter gauge alignment. Sections laid as broad gauge tends to have lesser curves, and the curves tend not to be too sharp as well.
We slowly crawled in to New Aryankavu block station by 1224hrs. I thought we might cross our pairing train here - but that didn't happen, and we were given the proceed signal soon later. We got moving by 1226hrs. I did not notice anybody boarding here, either! This station is also located on a curve. This station was built during the gauge conversion process - as an alternative to the old Aryankavu station. But local protests forced the railways to keep both of them functional, and this station got the "New" tag as a way of identifying each other.
The train "skipped" two stations after New Aryankavu - the word "skip' is a misnomer, though. The train doesn't have a scheduled halt at both the stations as of now - the stations are Edapalayam and Kalthuruthy. Both are halt stations. The scenic Pathimoonnu Kannara (13-Arch) bridge comes soon after Kalthuruthy. The 13-Arch bridge is an old stone arch bridge connecting two hillocks. It curves along the highway, and the structure is a visual treat. The original stone bridge was strengthened using concrete jacketing during the gauge conversion process. The original plan was to skip this alignment though - but public pressure and the additional expense forced the railways to strengthen the existing alignment itself.
|The 13-Arch bridge|
The train enters into a tunnel right after the bridge - a series of tunnels, actually. We slowed down, we were only at 30kmph anyways, as we approached the next stop - Thenmala. We crossed our pairing train - the 06660 Kollam Sengottai Express special here. This train was hauled by Golden Rock's WDG3A #13436, and banked by WDG3A #13495 from Golden Rock. Golden Rock is presently the largest Diesel loco shed in Southern Railway, and their locos are present almost everywhere in SR. We had one more crossing lined up.
The next crossing was set at Edamon. We had to wait for a while at the outer signal first, and then crawled in to the loop line at Edamon (1324hrs). This was a long wait. We crossed the 16102 Kollam - Chennai Egmore Express (more popularly known as the "Quilon Mail") here. WDG3A #13437 of Golden Rock worked the Quilon Mail. Although WDG3As are speed restricted to 100kmph, they make a lot of sense in such ghat sections. Their bogies (trucks, in American Parlance) are designed for higher starting torque (high-adhesion bogies are used in these) and work wonders in such sections. This train was banked by WDG3A #13163, also from Golden Rock loco shed. We left from Edamon by around 1335hrs.
|Somewhere in the ghat section|
The run after Edamon was quite dry - and it got really hot as well. I dug into my second lunch serving now - a very delicious Lemon rice. It was a nice idea to split my lunch into two servings - this avoided having to travel hungry or being overfull! The train rolled in to Punalur by 1357hrs - about 17 minutes behind schedule now. The banker locomotive was detached here. This process took a while, and we got moving only by 1402hrs - maintaining the 17 minute delay. The rake of Punalur-Madurai Express, along with its twin WDM3A from Ernakulam were parked at Punalur station.
I was a little worried about the delay, since I had a very tight connection at Kollam - roughly about 15 minutes or so. Since, I was traveling right after Christmas, getting ticket on an alternative train would not be an option either - I would have to travel by road, an option that I am not very fond of, of late. I was just hoping the train makes up time - the only consolation was that the train almost regularly had been reaching Kollam ahead of schedule on most days. The train had left Punalur by now, and we picked pace on the main line. The Punalur-Kollam stretch is a single line section - electrification works are happening at a swift pace, as well.
We crossed the Guruvayur-Punalur Express at Auvuneeswaram (twin WDM3As of Ernakulam were in charge of this train). This train halts at all the block stations (sometimes referred to as "flag stations") on the route. Block stations are those with onsite railway staff, and signalling infrastructure. Non-block, or Halt, stations are those without onsite staff or signalling infrastructure. All the stops were really short, and very few passengers boarded or alighted at these stops. The train runs at a very "odd" timing, and it being on a Sunday, meant the train was mostly empty.
I am skipping details of each station to maintain brevity. We overtook an electrification special train at Kilikollur. The train had a flat wagon for carrying OHE poles, and a crane to unload them. We departed from Kilikollur at 1453hrs - perfectly to schedule. The next stop, also the terminus for the train, Kollam was only about 5.6kms from Kilikollur - and we were scheduled to reach Kollam only by 1535hrs. I was quite relieved now, and was sure we'd make it to Kollam well before schedule. As expected, we rolled in to Kollam station by 1502hrs - about 33 minutes ahead of schedule!
From what would have been a very tight connection, I now had plenty of time to spend! I managed to have some snacks and a very nice coffee from the refreshment room at Kollam station, before boarding my next train!
Hey! Do watch my video from this journey on YouTube!
Journey in a Nutshell:
Train Number: 06659 Sengottai-Kollam Express Special
Loco link: WDG3A #13564 of Golden Rock. (Banked by WDG3A #13499 of Golden Rock between Sengottai and Punalur)
Coach: GS, GS #126520 based at Madurai
Coach Maintenance: 10/10
Bedroll: Not Applicable
Catering: Not Applicable
This was an amazing journey. I had traveled in the same section back in the metre gauge days. But I must say, I enjoyed the journey completely only on this journey - the last time, I had fallen asleep somewhere on the route and had missed a part of the ride. This time around, I was awake throughout, and enjoyed the ride through this over-a-century old windy route. This section would be even more spectacular during the monsoons - maybe I should travel again, during the rains!