An on-call doctor’s experience

01.30 – An unknown number gives u a missed call… You call back to know that a patient is waiting for you, with eyelid injury and an eye pad applied.

01.35 – From your rented accommodation, you venture out onto the empty and dimly lit road, walking for 5min with the loud footsteps echoing around, total silence all around with crickets filling the void. The only three DNA possessing entities you actually encounter are two dogs and a frog.

01.50 – You enter the ward in anticipation of a major injury to your patient. You heave a huge sigh of relief when you find out it’s a minor linear cut injury over upper eyelid and no visual or ocular deficit.

02.05 – You start repairing the wound with stitches without any assistance. Its actually remarkable how a seemingly easy wound to stitch boosts your morale and confidence beyond expectations. The next 20mins go quite smoothly with your mind enjoying the learning experience to the hilt, ignoring the fact that its well past 0200 and you are so deprived of sleep.

02.35 – Even the notes come naturally out of the content of having done the job well enough as prompted by your conscience. The patient is referred to another speciality and your responsibility towards the patient ends for the time being.

02.40 – Another 5mins of the lonely dimly-lit road. Some human eyes stare at you for obvious reasons for trekking the untrodden midnight path against all odds. You brave it out and simply traverse the path with your head held high reckoning your past 30mins of glory.

02.50 – Back to your resting place. You gulp down the excitement as an ordinary case with exhibition of a pretty ordinary skill that is expected at a basic level. Nothing special as such and nothing to be so satisfied about. Ultimately it remains as

“An uneventful night emergency call for a doctor”

CR, WR Suburban Veteran as ER Suburban Newbie – Part 1

“Wow, I’m so excited. After years of curiosity I shall ride ER EMUs on a frequent basis…” uttered my mind with a childish grin as I lay my first steps at the mecca of ER – Howrah (HWH) on my way to Barddhaman (Burdwan – BWN). As a career-building opportunity, I wholeheartedly accepted my destiny as MS Ophthalmology trainee at Burdwan, practically a three year exile from home, my home state and home railway zone(s).

The story starts at HWH, where my 12101 Jnaneswari Exp was received around two hours late after a desperate delay of around 2hrs in the KGP-SRC stretch, thanks to the coincidental disruption of OHE wire the earlier night. Our 17th coach ended miles away from the business end. As a WDM2 would struggle with a fully-loaded freight rake, dad & I somehow managed to haul our heavy luggage to the suburban lobby on the ER side over the FOB. A quick dash to the Unreserved Ticket counter provided us the license to chase down a departing HWH-BWN chord local. Scheduled departure being 06.10, the guard was on his toes even before that and just about to ring the ting-ting. “Dada, ektu daaraan” cried my dad with immense hopes in his eyes and the gentleman surely obliged. We barely managed to board all our luggage into the first door that we came across after the guard’s cabin and the very next second we were accelerating out of HWH! As we settled on our seats it immediately gripped me that, had it been a Mumbai EMU departing from CSTM/CCG, we would have had to pull our triathlon of weight-lifting, running and high jump at least 20 metres longer possibly in a losing cause!

My last and only experience I remember onboard an ER EMU was about 18 months back as a pretty short journey to and fro. Several bits of that experience readily flooded my mind but this was quite different. The chord line that I had heard about for so long and of which I had viewed innumerable videos online about prestigious trains ripping across at 130km/h was gradually unfolding before my wide open eyes. I even got my dad interested in the proceedings to follow and I’m proud to say I did well.

So the first thing I noticed on a Monday early morning EMU is the relaxed crowd, really indifferent to the fact that they were up and running pretty earlier than most and that a potentially tough week could lie ahead. Monday mornings in Mumbai, in stark contrast, are invariably undesired. A group of people reserved seats for their fellow co-passengers boarding at next station, somewhat similar to Mumbai. But wait, there’s more. They have a tea/biscuits vendor serving them without a word from either party. Wow, so they have it this way everyday as a fixed service? Surely the answer is affirmative.

I couldn’t disturb my gaze fixed to the western side as I took my first peek at the humongous HWH ELS with several WAP-4, WAP-7, WAG-7, WAG-5 and a single WAG-9. It was a sight to behold as the red monsters and white beasts had outnumbered the passengers in my coach! The vast coaching yard with several rakes parked literally made my jaw drop in awe. The EMU carshed was another entity that could not be missed by my prying eyes. All-in-all just the several huge establishments around HWH makes a railfan visit HWH as and when possible.

As we bid goodbye to the mainline at Bally, I point out the same to my dad. For all practical purposes the mainline is of interest to him, while for me the chord line is the sweeping winner with regards to high speed action and several prestigious trains of the region. A few kilometres down the line, lush green rice fields are in abundance, which makes us wonder how quickly we have moved from urban to rural landscape skipping the ‘suburban’ whereabouts altogether.

A few Monday morning down locals towards HWH were running decently occupied with daily commuters. But immediately turning to the other side, I see a SDAH-Dankuni EMU racing with us and unable to catch-up. Although my EMU wins comprehensively, our crew generously waits for the lazy passengers to switch to our EMU, thus nullifying the advantage. I immediately reckon that CR’s Transharbour trains at Thane hardly care about their mainline counterparts and vice versa, which by ER standards stands as terribly heartless, isn’t it?

The fertile plains decorated with green crops turned into an endless and continuous landscape till my eyes could see. The morning beam of sunrays caressing their smooth and vast expanse gave it a glistening appearance in a hue that I had not often come across. A person starved of deep sleep for such a long time would have given up by now, but the railfan in me discovering new avenues in ER’s backyard turned out to be extremely stubborn.

A crawl followed by a complete standstill for around 20mins wasn’t on the cards. From the plentiful super-intelligent discussions around us, it appeared there was some technical problem ahead of us. There we were, anxiously stuck at Janai Road outer praying for no more shocking surprises in store for our already troubled journey. The brakes were released a few minutes later and we crawled into Janai Road only to find the guard being scratched for information by several daily commuters. It was obvious they are getting delayed but the level of frustration is far subdued as compared to a similar situation in Mumbai. In fact the news got confirmed that there was a signal failure at the next station, Baruipara. Another 20mins evaporate in vain as we don’t move an inch. Just when my eyes have given a green flag to the sleep request propped up by my subconscious, a miracle happens and we accelerate normally to Baruipara.

The chord line, thanks to its high speed MPS fully enjoyed by premium trains, has become quite a well-known stretch for Youtube followers. Having watched countless high speed and parallel action videos, the stations coming up one by one didn’t seem as unfamiliar. Throughout the stretch upto Saktigarh, we crossed quite a few expresses and EMUs but too much to identify for a newly hatched ER railfan. However before Saktigarh, around Palla Road at 08.40, the white beast hauling the red brigade at a decent speed with roaring EOGs was sure enough identifiable. Sealdah Rajdhani it was without a doubt. Saktigarh rail flyover was another interesting finding for me as I was unaware about it.

As BWN outer came within a stone’s throw, our EMU did the most expected thing of coming to a halt. What followed was the most anxious few moments as I could hear roaring EOGs. As we started to move, His Highness ER King HWH Rajdhani had already strolled through BWN and was being restrained over crossovers. Customary WAP-7, shining coaches, glimmering windows further reinforced its respect in my heart. BWN diesel loco shed has a conspicuous presence on the right side when one approaches from HWH and I was quite delighted at the sight of a few BWN alcos, which are extremely rare in my region.

Our EMU smartly pulled in around 08.57, after departing from HWH at 06.12, overall delayed by 40mins due to the technical problem. I had consoled my mind as none of the two bigwigs of ER could impress me by a high speed exhibition. However I couldn’t exit BWN station without a consolation prize as a surprise Yuva Exp crossed BWN at a sedate speed. Poorva Exp was expected soon, but I didn’t want to keep my uncle waiting who had come to pick us up.

More interesting journeys coming up…

“NIGHT AT MANMAD” – Part 3 of 3


 Continued from part 2…

WCAM-3 ‘rocks’ the cradle…

The overnight adventure had squeezed out every joule of energy from our bodies, while the serotonin in our brains urged for a desperate nap. The quiet lifeless coaches welcoming our four tired souls did wonders that would put hypnotics to shame. Half an hour to departure without much action, the seniormost among us had blissfully entered dream-world within minutes. The rest three of us looked forward to sustain longer. As amusing as it was a few hours ago, the ghost train 22102 MMR-LTT Rajyarani Exp, again kicked off on time with the same KYN WCAM-3 21890 with occupancy levels in decimals below unity.

We were thrusted to 3-digit speeds in the blink of an eye, thanks to the impeccable acceleration of the WCAM-3. However the dense cool air hitting our faces knocked out one more to sleep. The same TTE visited us with a stoic look on his face. I could never have put up such a face if I had to wake up at 05.00 to check just a dozen passengers on a train. With just half our manpower active, the two of us, still awake, could not afford to miss the raw might of the WCAM-3 unleashed at dawn. The multitude of green fields interspersed with tiny hamlets flashed past in milliseconds. The melodious rhythm of hammering the tracks at unshakable 105km/h along with the two-dimensional nudges proved to be the perfect lullaby for our sleep-deprived folks. The freshly acquired green robe flaunted by the earth all along served as the perfect substitute for an early morning cup of green tea for the rest two of us. Summit to Odha, all received undesired wake-up calls on a lazy Sunday morning, but their reverence for the Rajyarani kept the chain of greens unruffled.

Video: Kasbe Sukene To Khervadi at MPS

Video: Skipping Odha at MPS

The train through beautiful locations…

Nasik Road populated our train to a decent level. Families with casual attires and not-so-bulky luggage were privileged to grab a seat of their choice. With no delay whatsoever, the Rajyarani charged towards the next close halt Devlali. Further, the scenic locations upto Igatpuri were mouthwatering enough to have woken up our napping counterparts. The womanly curves along the tracks being looked upon by mountain-tops shielded by clouds had the envious Rajyarani craving for attention. Daily runs by the unscathed Rajyarani had blunted its appreciation for the scenic worth of the surroundings; however it was delicious fodder for our group of craving monsoon railfans.

Video: The stretch from Padli to Ghoti at MPS

The mesmerizing Thull Ghats in monsoon

Igatpuri trip shed was all painted in red. A host of WAP-4, WAM-4 and WAG-5 locos with a few WAP-7 and WAP-1 was the densest collection of electric locos I had ever seen. A few could be recognized after their late night encounter at MMR. Just a couple of minutes before time, our train had claimed the platform at IGP as a sight-seeing point for the next 5-7mins. The LP seemed to be in no hurry at all. The snack vendors were zealously offering their hot vadas, while three railfans were scouring the territory to live the moment. A dose of idli vada renewed our enthusiasm to such an extent that we ended up jogging to catch the departing train.

An unbelievable welcome into the Thull Ghats put us on high alert. Clouds, fog, mist all around, the gentle streams of water stroking the musculature of the terrain, the enticing dark tunnels and the stunning viaducts towering high over the valleys were treating our expectant eyes to delight. They must have surely noticed the graceful Rajyarani snaking over the tight curves and descending the trying gradients. The green mountain slopes were joyfully enduring the soft drizzle under their faithful cloud cover. Their virgin beauty untouched by man and beast would inspire nature lovers for centuries to come. The climax had us jumping with excitement as the Rajyarani dominated a freight led by a WAG-9 with triple WAG-7 breakers by overtaking it on-the-go. It was hard to think how 30mins of heavenly pleasure passed by so swiftly.

Videos: Complete Thull Ghats (Igatpuri to Kasara) in 3 parts

Last few moments…

A two-minute halt at Kasara was done with and now the WCAM-3 had some great gradients to assist its MPS glide towards Kalyan. As one would expect, it seemed nature had exclusively applied a green filter to the visible spectrum. The cool relief sent from the skies had sprung new life into the otherwise barren slopes and plains around us. Gitanjali, Tapovan, Kashi Exp all breezed past us splashing the downpour. Ah, the Thull Ghats were going to have more guests and admirers. Just before Kalyan, the weekly visitor LTT-Kamakhya AC Exp made a humble appearance that proved to be the icing on the cake. My three companions were to continue upto Thane, while my Rajyarani ride ended at Kalyan itself.

With Kalyan getting closer, a sense of achievement and content had set into our minds. We had experienced an awesome extra-ordinary run onboard the empty train, an adventurous 6 hours at Manmad with all the night action covered, the mind-blowing blast by the Nagpur-Mumbai Duronto and last but not the least the fantastic Thull Ghats on a monsoon morning. In short, I would describe it as a railfanning experience unparalleled and a visual delight incomparable. I offer my heartfelt thanks to my three friends for having made this trip possible and for the countless memories to cherish for eons.

“NIGHT AT MANMAD” – Part 2 of 3


Continued from part 1…

First Impressions at Manmad…

As we laid our first steps on MMR pf6 around 23.20, we were pretty much surprised by the unexpectedly cool atmosphere. However our enthusiasm shot through the roof once we realized the whole bunch of trains expected at various platforms. Although we spent the next one hour to figure out the track layout, I should probably brief you about it here before going on.

Looking from left to right while arriving from Mumbai,

  • A stabling line
  • Pf1 (mostly for loco change for trains towards Bhusaval [BSL])
  • A mini-length dead-end line for stabling locos to be coupled to pf1 trains
  • Pf2 (down through line towards BSL)
  • Pf3 (up through line towards Mumbai)
  • A mini-length dead-end line for stabling dead locos, especially WCAM-3
  • Pf4 (up loop line for trains towards Mumbai)
  • A couple of freight stabling lines
  • Pf5 & Pf6 (for terminating trains and trains from/towards Daund or Aurangabad, which may also involve loco change/reversal)

Too much of action to cover…

11077 Pune-Jammu Tawi (JAT) Jhelum Exp had already arrived on pf1 with Pune WDM-3D 11367 and WDM-3A 18748R combo. The combo then detached itself and moved ahead, and within minutes GZB WAP-4 22667, earlier stabled at the stabling line between pf1 and 2, reversed itself to couple to the rake. Indeed the first loco change seemed quite exciting. It appeared quite relaxed compared to the ones happening at IGP. On the other extreme end, the WCAM-3 21890 having brought our Rajyarani had found some other place to rest. A diesel shunter flexed its muscles just before midnight to have the rake of our Rajyarani pushed to the yard. The interesting part of this whole process was that the diesel combo reversing to another line, the GZB WAP-4 approaching the rake of 11077, the WCAM-3 moving to resting place and shunting of the rake of Rajyarani were all taking place simultaneously!

Around 23.35, 51421 Pune-Nizamabad (NZB) Passenger arrived on pf6 carrying a huge crowd. Suddenly the platform started bustling with activity. A short halt of around 15mins was enough to see it off. At the same time 18030 Shalimar (SHM)-LTT Exp had arrived on pf3 behind a Howrah (HWH) WAP-4 and soon proceeded ahead. Pf5 now welcomed 12150 Patna (PNBE)-Pune SF with a Bhilai (BIA) WAG-5A, making it the first offlink of the day! The stabling line between pf1 and 2 was now occupied by AJNI WAP-7 30304 in anticipation of 12113 Pune-Nagpur Garib Rath.

Around 23.40, the pf2 starter turned green and against all odds, a WAG-5 23082 and WAG-7 27xxx headed freight blasted its way through MMR just preceding Vidarbha Exp. Within the next 5mins, the sparkling rake of 12105 CSTM-Gondia (G) Vidarbha Exp made a grand entry into pf2 led by BSL WAP-4 22831. Although people in most of the coaches were in deep slumber, the situation on the platform was totally contradictory. A good number of passengers were somehow wrestling each other with their luggage in a bid to enter the coaches. It was not a surprise at all with respect to a premier train on a Saturday night. The halt easily extended to around 6min after which a superb show of acceleration saw the tail light disappearing rapidly. Soon after 12105, the already delayed 11077 was allowed to proceed ahead. The Ghaziabad workhorse gave out a soothing twin-tone honk declaring its willingness to discharge its responsibilities for the next 1595km and started rolling. Around 23.55, 12150 also departed towards Pune. We missed its loco change but nevertheless much more was in store ahead.

Things slow down, literally…

Around 00.00, 12113 Pune-Nagpur (NGP) Garib Rath Exp entered pf1 behind Gooty (GY) WDM-3D 11350. At the same time 12130 HWH-Pune Azad Hind Exp quietly entered pf6. A lazy decoupling process of 12113 on pf1 dimmed our immediate interest in it and we scaled the FOB towards pf6 as soon as possible. Once we walked the entire length of the platform towards the other extreme end, a tired BSL WAP-4 22928 was waiting to be decoupled. The LP stood aside on the platform waiting 15min for decoupling staff to attend his train! Once decoupled it was rewarded with the same diesel twins that brought 11077 Jhelum exp. After another 10-15min it could finally roll ahead. 12810 HWH-CSTM Mail arrived on pf3 with a Santragachi (SRC) WAP-4 and soon left.

Around 00.25, we managed to cross tracks and enter pf3/4 from a secluded end. An RPF constable approached us, but was dealt with quite easily. I should say RPF patrol is quite frequent and spread out across all platforms. However we did not miss 12289 CSTM-NGP Duronto, led by an unclean AJNI WAP-7, blasting through pf2. Truly an amazing 110km/h blast and even more amazing because it was a rarity!

Around 00.30, 11402 NGP-CSTM Nandigram Exp arrived on pf4 and in the next few mins, it underwent a loco change where WCAM-3 21899 took charge.  Around 00.40, GZB WAP-1 22049 with 12137 CSTM-Ferozpur (FZR) Punjab Mail completed its 2-min halt on pf2. Around 00.50, 12111 CSTM-Amravati (AMI) SF with WCAM-3 21961 passed through MMR at a sedate speed of under 80km/h, against our expectations of 105. Around 01.05, a surprise gatecrasher 12781 Mysore (MYS)-Hazrat Nizamuddin (NZM) Swarna Jayanti Exp with Krishnarajapuram (KJM) WDM-3A 14007R arrived on pf2, thus blocking the expected pass through of 12101. The technical halt easily stretched to 12min. Around 01.08, 12130 could finally proceed towards Pune after being stationary for 60min.

Just as 12781 cleared the through line, around 01.20 12101 LTT-HWH Jnaneswari Exp led by SRC WAP-4 22577 put up a subdued skip of MMR as it was closely trailing the former. Around the same time 17058 Secunderabad (SC)-CSTM Devgiri Exp arrived on pf6 with Maula Ali (MLY) WDM-3A pair 16477 and 18978R. It was my first ever encounter with a MLY pair and I felt quite thrilled that this railfanning trip was showering me with a good deal of unknowns. Around 01.28, 12112 AMI-CSTM SF, led by WCAM-3 21939, cruised through pf3 again at a slow speed. Just 10min later, BSL WAP-4 22834 arrived on pf3 with 12106 G-CSTM Vidarbha Exp and soon left without further delay. Around 01.50, 12809 CSTM-HWH Mail with SRC WAP-4 22465 arrived on pf2 about half an hour late.

In recent times, 12138 FZR-CSTM Punjab Mail has become a fairly debatable train with respect to its delays and step-motherly treatment by CR in its suburban stretch. However on such a lucky night, even this train showed up almost on-time around 02.15. A handsome GZB WAP-4 22723 was doing the honours. Quite of lot of passengers alighted from this train, apparently on their way to the nearby renowned Gurudwara and also to Shirdi for a Sunday morning Darshan of The Sacred Saint, SaiBaba.

Around 02.20, KYN WDM-3A 18926R entered pf6 with 12131 Dadar (DR) – Sainagar Shirdi (SNSI) Exp. It was packed to the brim and soon left without wasting much time. We were actually surprised that it had overtaken 17057 Devgiri Exp. Pretty soon pf6 was occupied by 17057 CSTM-SC Devgiri Exp brought by WCAM-3 21946. Due to these trains crossing over, poor 12152 HWH-LTT Samarasta Exp, led by SRC WAP-4 22634, had to make quite a long unscheduled halt at pf3. Another expected high-speed skip had gone down the drain!

Crisp action begins…

Having crossed the half-way mark of our overnight outing, we were now treated to some crisp action without the sluggishness exhibited till now. Around 02.50, Pune WDM-3D pair 11388 and 11378 with 12149 Pune-Patna SF arrived on pf2 and quickly left. BSL WAP-4 22913 with 11016 Gorakhpur (GKP)-LTT Kushinagar Exp was a guest for just 2min. Just as 12149 cleared pf2, HWH WAP-4 22331 brought 18029 LTT-SHM Exp to pf2 and soon left. Around 15mins after it had arrived 17057 Devgiri exp received MLY pair 18972 and 14071 for its further journey. Within a few mins, one of the rare catches on CR, a Jamalpur (JMP) WDM-2A, precisely 18604, arrived on pf5 with 11034 Darbhanga (DBG)-Pune Exp. It was literally overflowing with passengers.

Around 03.15, Hubli (UBL) WDG-4 12151 brought the heavily delayed 12129 Pune-HWH Azad Hind Exp to pf1. Apparently it had some problem after Daund that delayed it by 3 hours. The WDG-4 gave way to BSL WAP-4 22361. Around 03.25, AJNI WAP-7 30303 (palindrome) brought 12136 NGP-Pune SF to pf5. It was to be replaced by GY WDM-3D 11350 that had earlier brought the Pune-NGP Garib Rath. On the other hand 13202 LTT-RJPB Exp, led by ET WAM-4 20646, arrived on pf2 and left before 12129, which was presumably ready for departure.

Another mind-blowing scene was about to unfold. The starter of pf3 turned green. Announcements of a fast train expected to pass through were in full swing. Our eyes remained glued to the millimetre-sized white dot slowly growing on the distant horizon. In respect and anticipation we rose from our seats and prepared ourselves for the jolt. Adrenaline rushed through our blood and widened our pupils to capture the most-awaited few seconds of glory. As the glare of midlevel headlight blinded us to the approaching monster, our ears endured a continuous shriek of honking with the Doppler effect exemplified. As we got the first glimpse of the Duronto liveried WAP-7, it had flown past us at 110km/h (or even more) with several Duronto coaches in tow. The calm and dense air at 03.48 in the night was violently unsettled by a storm. Dust and papers confidently defied gravity while each and every living being witnessing the moment was shaken up to the soul. Without a doubt we registered this moment as the highest point of thrill in the entire outing. Yes, the 12290 NGP-CSTM Duronto, the cracker of a train on this route had lived up to its reputation unlike the other big-wigs who had failed to impress us.

As we took a few moments to calm down, 11015 LTT-GKP Kushinagar Exp quietly sneaked into pf2 behind BSL WAP-4 22203 around 03.50. However it was made to wait as the battered 12129 finally got to proceed, following which it got the starter. Around 04.00, 11025 BSL-Pune Exp made an entry into pf3 behind WCAM-3 21937. The huge slack would compel it to wait 30mins for departure. In spite of this, incessant announcements conveyed an immediate departure. After say 10-15mins passengers were quite obviously pissed off at such misguidance. Around 04.15, 12141 CSTM-RJPB SF, led by ET WAP-4 22731 made a quick halt of 2min on pf2 and proceeded ahead. 11025 finally came to terms with its schedule and left at sharp 04.30.

The third encounter with MLY pair came in the form of 16601 and 18887 leading 17020 Hyderabad (HYB)-Ajmer (AII) Exp into pf1 around 04.40. For a person like me who rarely ventures out of Mumbai, spotting 3 MLY pairs in a matter of hours was nothing less than a miracle. A few mins later 12618 NZM-Ernakulam (ERS) Mangala Lakshadweep Exp, led by BSL WAP-4 22204, and 11057 LTT-Amritsar (ASR) Exp, led by GZB WAP-4 22564 made their 2min halts and left. Around 04.55, GY WDG-3A 13583 with 57452 Hazur Sahib Nanded (NED)-MMR Pass arrived on pf6 and simultaneously 12811 LTT-Hatia (HTE) SF, led by SRC WAP-4 22263 made its 2min halt on pf2. The NED-MMR pass departed around 05.20 as 57562 MMR-Kacheguda (KCG) pass.

Our 22102 MMR-LTT Rajyarani Exp was berthed on pf4 since 04.30. With the doors closed and electricity switched off, we were bound to wait till around 04.50 when the staff did the needful. As expected, we were the only 4 people with reservation from MMR. A last stroll on the platform before leaving our camp for the night introduced us again to the familiar beast, WCAM-3 21890, which had hauled our 22101 Rajyarani and which would now haul us back. All of us were totally fatigued and with the little reserve energy we had, we were left anticipating the departure of our train in the next half an hour.

Continued in part 3…

“NIGHT AT MANMAD” – Part 1 of 3




Around the end of June, the monsoon had made its presence felt throughout India with varying degrees of bliss, benefit, disruptions, havoc and mass-scale destruction. Although wrong to generalize, we as railfans relish this opportunity to ride trains through regions adorned with picturesque beauty courtesy of monsoon showers. Adding a flavour of adventure and to satisfy our appetite for trains and locos, a trip to Manmad for overnight railfanning was chalked out spontaneously and the trip finally materialized on the weekend of 29th-30th June 2013.

Reservation is a cakewalk…

The train that chooses itself in such a situation is the 22101 Lokmanya Tilak Terminus (LTT) – Manmad (MMR) Rajyarani express. Running since the last 15 months, this train has floundered miserably in terms of patronage due to a variety of reasons. Nonetheless, it perfectly suited us in terms of its schedule both ways. After all, an evening departure, a late night arrival at MMR and the return in the wee hours was the perfect prescription for our plan. Having finalized the trip just about 36hours before departure, a status of 170 available (out of 185) gave us a further 24hrs to ponder further about any last minute inclusions or dropouts or changes in the plan. Hardly 7hrs to departure, Second Sitting (2S) tickets are booked with a status of still 148 available. Usually anyone would heave a huge sigh of relief to have claimed a confirmed seat in general quota within 7hrs of departure. But in this case, it was nothing but a “taken for granted” emotion to say the least. Myself, Rahul Sharma, Sriram and Ajitesh Dubey were now counting down minutes.

LTT modernized…

I reached LTT about an hour before scheduled departure. It may sound ridiculous but after 25yrs in Mumbai this was my first visit to LTT and I was pleasantly impressed. LTT has a huge frontend now, with a sprawling parking space and lanes/queues for public transport, although not functional yet. An imminent connection with the under-construction Santacruz-Chembur Link Road (SCLR) will further boost its connectivity and importance. Anyone who lands up at LTT can’t help notice an erstwhile steam loco perched on a mini-platform just outside the huge station building. Thoughtfully applied glass panes not only add a modern charm to the terminus but also manage to make it bright and airy. A bunch of large-font boards pointing passengers to the various facilities provided or soon-to-be-provided heavily cut down on confusion. I’m glad I came across a rather tranquil atmosphere at LTT thanks to the dearth of trains, both arriving and departing, at that moment.

The scene now shifts to pf1, adjacent to the huge building. As expected a dead-looking rake of Rajyarani Exp, devoid of any passengers, is already berthed on pf1. The platform also has a single-digit attendance to go with it. A quick stroll on the platform paints a clearer picture of the rake composition. SLR followed by 10-11 GS coaches, 1-2 coaches for MST passengers, then two 2S coaches, a CC coach and an SLR. My eyes catch blank reservation charts with barely 10% occupancy in the lone CC, 50% occupancy in D1 and 1% occupancy in D2. The GS coaches too follow suit with even lesser numbers. It instantly clicks to me that it will be a free-for-all situation all the way.

As the clock ticks 18.20, a roaring WDP4D 40102 brings in 16346 Thiruvananthapuram (TVC) – LTT Netravati Exp to pf4 right on time. Pf2 is empty, while pf3 holds the empty rake of 11056 Gorakhpur (GKP) – LTT Godan Exp that must have arrived a couple of hours ago. A few minutes tick by and Kalyan (KYN) WCAM-3 21890 takes charge of my train. A long walk back to my coach D1 rewards me with no new faces at all. It has the new kind of 2S seats with rows of 3+3 seats as compared to earlier bays of 12 seats with 3+3 facing 3+3. As quickly confirmed by Rahul, I grab one side of a bay in D2 coach and drive my D1 reservation out of my mind. A few loyal patrons pay their respect to the Rajyarani by choosing to travel with general tickets. Few of them have already turned supine and dozed off.

Four crazy railfans, one empty train and an aggressive LP…

Sharp at 19.00 the train sets into motion. As I look back through the window a few last-minute chaps enact the DDLJ scene. The guard is not ruthless like in the movie and halts the train promptly. For a moment it felt like those desperate cabs running empty that halt abruptly anywhere to take up any potential passenger. The daredevilry of two guys thus paves the way for a group of 10 to board as well, and the delay now mounts to 5min.

LTT trip shed is housing a few WCAM-3 and a couple of WCAM-2. Once on the 5th line, I come across 15018 GKP-LTT Exp on the 6th line waiting to enter LTT along with a surprise 12142 Rajendranagar Patna (RJPB) – CSTM Superfast Exp detained at Ghatkopar loop. The first exhibition of WCAM-3’s might excites me like anything as we achieve 90km/h within no time. Vikhroli and Bhandup are treated with exhilarating blasts. Thane soon arrives without much delay.

As the three others join me at Thane, they are equally flummoxed by the “empty” train. A few new characters enter the scene but barely contribute to the occupancy levels. Parag Dhabe enjoys his two minutes of reunion and sees us off. The train has not been detained at Thane for EMU traffic and smoothly joins the fast line. Thane creek, Parsik tunnel, Mumbra creek, Diva mangroves all fly past as darkness sets in. A rocking blast through a crowded Dombivli station at MPS deserves appreciation for the LP in charge.

A quick 2-min halt at KYN does not add any delay and soon the SE line veers away. Within a few minutes we are again flying at MPS with the distant suburban stations bowing down with respect. As we share and appreciate each other’s experiences, suddenly our train enters the loop line at Asangaon. A terminating EMU is seen occupying the through line and hence the detour. However we don’t miss out on relishing another exposition of the brilliant acceleration by the LP and the might of WCAM-3. An further MPS run brings us to the foothills of the Western Ghats.

The breathtaking Thull ghats in darkness…

Twin KYN WAG-7 bankers quickly attach to the rear of our train at Kasara and the ascent starts. We are warmly welcomed by cool breezes and a misty atmosphere. As the adjacent line plays hide and seek, we run through century old tunnels with a slight drizzle. On occasions melodious downpour of waterfalls rings our ears but the stream is nowhere to be seen. As we ascend higher, the temperature drop is significant and the cloud cover thickens. Visibility takes a severe hit. A few blurred lights in the distance just confirm we are amidst dense clouds. Equipped with a 10,000hp pushing force, we tear through the clouds over not one but two stunning viaducts. On both occasions, we hear the clanks, but the clouds below don’t let us estimate the height of the viaducts. It feels like an airplane ascending the skies with clouds covering the void beneath it. Obviously such an experience can be a million times better in daylight. The fact, that we are surrounded by clouds and still achieving a higher altitude by the minute, quietly builds up the suspense regarding what to expect at Igatpuri (IGP).

As IGP arrives, we are compelled to take a walk on the platform, just to experience the mist and the chill. Just two tracks across, a WDG4 sounds to be idling, but we can just faintly see it. Such is the extent of dense fog around us. The cool breeze has us shivering but our adrenaline downplays it as just pleasant temperature. Where else can someone ascend to such a hill-station in just 20-25mins? Eyes are seeing blurred lights, hands have gone numb and ears have gone quiet, all in a matter of minutes. Tea and snack vendors are enjoying their brisk business and why not? Even the aggressive LP seems to extend his halt at IGP just to spend a few more minutes in this terrific atmosphere.

A thrilling run to end the journey…

After IGP, the coaches seem even more deserted. Once clear of the points, the train literally shoots to MPS. Ghoti and subsequent stations face the demeaning rage of a slightly delayed Rajyarani. In high spirits after IGP, we munch on some packed food but not without appreciating the awesome run. It seems we are having dinner, but the WCAM-3 is happily digesting kilometres. The feat of aggressive acceleration to MPS after halt at Devlali with just 6km to the next halt is unanimously appreciated by all four of us. Both Devlali and Nasik Road are touched more or less on time.

A lot of passengers expectedly alight at Nasik Road (NK). There are hardly any passengers still onboard across whatever coaches we could see through the vestibules. Even the likes of “RGV Ki Aag” gather more viewers than the passengers on our entire train. Post NK, the LP seems to be in a hurry to retire for the day and is madly accelerating to MPS. After a caution order, the continuous tug felt from 30 to 105km/h is comparable to a WAP-5. The rhythmic track sounds have their tempo tuned to maximum and show no relent at all. Even a caution order as above is unable to keep us from reaching MMR outer by 23.00, thus covering 72km from NK in a mere 45min with an MPS of 105km/h. The MMR-DD line is visualized and a train from that line crawls ahead of us, possibly towards pf1. Once it clears, the Rajyarani is allowed into MMR pf6 around 23.10, very much before time.

The experience onboard this so-called product of public demand asks too many questions about its existence. It evidently looks to be a loss-making endeavour and unnecessary wastage of resources. The smart food vendors blissfully ditch this train as they don’t wish to echo their shouts through empty coaches. A few ones do manage to run through the vestibuled coaches at halts, but without much sale. However this is the best train to have peace of mind and body while travelling as you can sit and sleep practically on any of the seats in any of the coaches. A hell of a run by the monster WCAM-3 and the brilliance of the ever-aggressive LP cannot be ignored. Finally, here we are, a bunch of maniacs, looking forward to an action-packed night at Manmad…

Continued in part 2…

The Boon that’s taken for granted

The exam day has arrived. You are quite zealous about the exam to the extent of being insomniac for last two nights. With a zillion prayers finding their way across your vocal cords, you step out of the house with a confidence of a different nature, along with a deep-seated anxiety. Your admit card reads reporting time as 09.00 at some place in Kandivali. It also reads that candidates would not be allowed to enter after 09.30. For a person staying at Ulhasnagar this should be a matter of extreme concern as the road connectivity is poor to say the least while CR & WR local trains are the sole means of a satisfactory travel. The confidence – local trains are quite good for approximate time-bound travel with good reliability. The anxiety – it’s monsoon and CR (especially) and WR to some extent, have reported unexpected snags and delays in the past few months.

The day starts at 04.30 with an express version of daily chores followed by rushing to Ambernath station. A long queue awaits you as you desperately need to get an extension ticket and catch the next train at 05.20. Somehow you wonder that as soon as you get the ticket and walk into the platform, you find the slow CSTM bound local with a comfortable seat assigned to your fate. Without much delay it cruises through the distant suburbs and in about 50-55mins time you enter the official limits of Mumbai. The dawn outside heralds a new weekday for the mechanical Mumbai population, however for you, you have already completed more than half of the first leg of your journey, till now with fingers crossed!

You tend to speed through suburbs towards Dadar with a feeling of assurance that come what may, you can now reach the exam center on time, even if it means paying a cab/auto driver his dream amount. However with no further glitches your local train smoothly rolls into Dadar. You frantically rush over the long bridge connecting CR to WR. Your fondness of a down Virar fast early morning is at war with the urge to board an arriving Borivali fast (slow after Andheri). Ultimately you decide a bird in hand is worth two in the bush, and silently occupy a seat in the Borivali fast. As expected being in the opposite direction, the atmosphere in the train is absolutely calm in contrast to the mad peak hour rush. A pleasant run through Western suburbs just refreshes and prepares your mind for the upcoming exam, while your subconscious railfanning spirit relishes the sight of WAP-5 and several WAP-4 locos. Finally you arrive at Kandivali where with a sense of gratitude you salute both the CR and WR local trains for bringing you on time to your destination on such an important day.

You easily reach your exam center thanks to another lifeline – the BEST buses, which are literally best. With a cool balanced mind you are through with attempting your exam, thanks to the uneventful and timely journey in the past few hours. A friend joins you for the return journey upto Bandra, but you are obviously interested in the long journey ahead. You both arrive at Borivali where you are greeted with a WAP-7 brandishing its supremacy with a prestigious 24-coach load (Paschim) and another two WAP-4 doing their regular hauls. A slow local brings you to Bandra where after bidding goodbye to your friend you doorplate upto Dadar. Now that you have a lighter head after the exam is over, you can afford to do so, isn’t it?

Back to home territory (CR) you wonder whether to go for a crowded fast Siemens rake ride (Khopoli fast), or a comfortable opportunistic WCAM-3 ride (Sewagram Exp). As it seldom happens, both your mind and heart agree to the latter. Within no time you settle yourself at the door of a GEN coach, which also happens to be 2nd from the loco. The next 50mins give you the extreme pleasure that you dearly yearn for. At KYN you finally have to deboard and wish your express train a safe and punctual journey ahead, while you move on to a local train for Ulhasnagar. For the masses, another routine day has passed, but they fail to notice the jackpot that they have already hit decades ago.

It would surely be an understatement to say that local trains in Mumbai (CR, WR & Harbour) are the best things to have happened to Mumbai in the past century. Had it not been for that Boribunder – Tannah maiden run, the first electric trains on IR, and the rapid development of suburban trains in Mumbai region to even the farthest of places one can imagine, today a person like me would have had to think a hundred times to even attempt a tightly timed Ulhasnagar to Kandivali journey early morning. I would even think that the mere existence and flourish of our suburbs is a direct gift of the ever-so-thankless local train entity. It does mean a lot to me though and I was, am and shall always be respectful towards the local trains of Mumbai, better known as the Lifeline of Mumbai.