Howrah to Bolpur (Shantiniketan) by 2345 Howrah Guwahat

2010-06-01

I had the opportunity to embark on a short trip to Bolpur (Shantiniketan) a
couple of months back in June by 2345 Howrah Guwahati Saraighat Express. I
am pasting below the trip report for your kind perusal (the videos will
follow in a separate email). I will be most grateful for any comments or
feedback from the honourable members.

Howrah-Bolpur by 2345 Howrah Guwahati Saraighat Express, June 2010.

On the morning of the 8th of June, there was a sudden decision to pay a
brief visit to Santiniketan for a couple of days. I was to travel alone and
selected 2345 Saraighat Express for the 146 km journey. To my great
surprise, there were still 7 seats available in Sleeper for Bolpur at 10 in
the morning for a 1550 departure. I was booked on S4, lower berth, number 9.

I reached Howrah by 3 in the afternoon to find 2332 Himgiri Express with a
Siliguri WDP4 resting on platform number 9. It seemed that the train was
delayed by at least two and a half hours. In addition to this, post the 2101
Jnaneshwari Express’ tragic derailment, the schedule of trains between
Howrah and Mumbai (with some exceptions like Gitanjali and CSTM-Howrah
Duranto) was completely thrown off gear: 2809 Mumbai Howrah Mail was making
its appearance at 1505 instead of 0550! After wandering around for a few
more minutes, the announcement came around 1510 that 2345 Saraighat Express
was making her entrance into platform 8 and the first and the last coaches
were reserved for the physically challenged.

To avoid the rush of unreserved passengers, I walked on the opposite edge of
the platform and did not mark closely the rake formation but it seemed to be
2 SLR, 3 general compartments, 1 2A, 1 3A, 13 Sleepers, 1 Pantry Car and 2
High Capacity Parcel Vans, totaling 23 coaches. S4 was located 7 coaches
from the engine and from the reservation chart, it seemed to be the coach
hosting the Malda quota as there was very few reservations from Howrah. The
coach itself was not the cleanest (I found this to be the case with the rest
of the coaches too) and though fans were whirring most vigourously, the
interiors were shabby and ill-kept. As my family was traveling by road to
the same destination, I had zero luggage and walked over to take a look at
the engine. As I was crossing the parcel vans, I saw a Howrah WDM3A coming
over and attaching herself to our 23 coacher, long-hood forward. There were
quite few policemen near the parcel vans but none raised any objections to
my heading over to the edge of the platform and peering into the locomotive.
As I headed back, the 3011 Howrah Malda Intercity Express pulled out with a
pretty Howrah WDM3D, SHF.

Upon returning to my coach, I found it well-occupied and there was a large
group in my bay with loads of luggage. The issue of people traveling with
bulky luggage has become a big problem nowadays on Sleeper and AC 3 Tier,
especially during the holiday rush. A number of doors in the Sleeper coaches
I found were blocked with luggage and I have noticed this phenomenon on
other trains like the Poorva and West Bengal Sampark Kranti also. As this
train is the fastest connection between Kolkata and Malda/Siliguri, it is
heavily patronized by small businessmen and traders with their full
complement of goods.

The presence of a number of people and heavy luggage made me feel
claustrophobic and I resolved to find a relatively empty door in some other
coach. I moved to S5 where one of the doors was completely free of luggage
and inhabited only by individuals attempting to charge their cellphones. As
I made myself comfortable by the door, the WDM3A quietly pulled us out with
a small jerk on the dot of 1550.

We slowly crossed the points across Howrah and gathered some momentum as we
entered the Howrah-Bardhaman Chord line post Bally. In between Liluah and
Belur, there was a frenetic race with an EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)where the EMU (Electric Multiple Unit)rapidly overtook
us, only to restrained by its stop at Belur and we zoomed by, saving us the
embarrassment of witnessing a superfast left in the lurch by an overzealous
EMU!

As we left Howrah, the TTE started checking our tickets. He probably took me
to be a trespasser by the door as I was the first person to be checked.
Ticking me off on the passenger list, he smiled and enquired in Bengali, “So
you find this more comfortable than your designated seat?” I returned the
smile and nodded in the affirmative. I gathered him to be a jovial but
dutiful person: there were probably some track maintenance works prior to
Dankuni for which we were stopped for about 10 minutes when four youths
rapidly disembarked and ran helter-skelter to the unreserved coaches in the
anterior part of the train, mentioning amongst themselves the arrival of the
TTE!

The WDM3A as per its reputation did a fine job in accelerating the 23
coacher briskly to 80-85 kmph before attaining an equilibrium velocity. I
was calculating the speed from the catenary posts and never for once noticed
it crossing 95 kmph. Given the aggressive scheduling of this train, coupled
with the fact that is the most popular, quickest, reliable and convenient
connection to the north-east, this train certainly warrants a promotion to
double WDM2/3’s.

Prior to Bardhaman, three things of note happened: firstly, we crossed the
Howrah bound 2382 Poorva Express near Kamarkundu, hauled by a Mughal Sarai
WAP4: she was around 45 minutes late. A scheduled crossing is not of much
note in general but the Poorva had been running horribly late in the recent
past due to the political problems in Jharkhand and Bihar so it was nice to
see her relatively on time.

Secondly, about three-fourths of the way to Bardhaman, we overhauled a
CONRAJ rake headed by a Ludhiana WAG7 in WAP4 shell. Regardless of the fact
that they are the primary breadwinner for IR, I am not all that
perspicacious with respect to freighters so took little heed of this
overtake. Soon after this incident however, we were given the red and halted
for about 10 minutes. As our signal turned green, the above-mentioned
freighter whooshed past us with great gusto as we took cover to save
ourselves from the dust. By the time the 41 wagon CONRAJ was past, we were
inching up to around 30 kmph. The LP was no doubt incensed at being
side-tracked and being allowed to be crossed by a freighter for soon, we
were cruising at 75 kmph and as we curved into Nabagram, the caboose of the
CONRAJ came into view. We were gaining rapidly and soon, roared past the
CONRAJ in style and there were no upsets this time around as we maintained
our cruising speed of 85-95 kmph right until Bardhaman.

As we sped towards Bardhaman, thick black clouds appeared on the western
horizon and descended upon us, accompanied by a steady drop in the mercury
and cool winds. Rounding off a curve, I noticed the tail-end of a train on
the track next to us (this is a quadruple line section and we were on the 4
th track), also headed towards the Bardhaman. Our LP, no doubt still upset
at being side-tracked a couple of times in the past hour, showed no
inclination of decelerating and charged towards Bardhaman! Soon, we were
rushing past the above-mentioned train, to the awe of both sets of
passengers on the respective trains. The race this time was with the 3011
Howrah Malda Intercity Express: this train leaves Howrah 15 minutes prior to
Saraighat but travels via Bandel (main line) and thereby takes an additional
35 minutes to Bardhaman. After Bardhaman, both the Saraighat and the
Intercity take the same route till Malda though the Intercity, true to its
name, has a plethora of halts.

Back to the action: the race was on but the Intercity was not putting up a
very good show as we charged past it: I guess the LP of the intercity was
not even aware of the competition in the initial stages! I watched with
bated breath, hands on my camera, steadily recording our dash, and prayers
on my lips, praying for a complete overhaul. The rain Gods above certainly
answered them: even though we started our deceleration around the
15thcoach, Saraighat had sufficient momentum to cross the 5 succeeding
coaches
and the Howrah WDM3C of the Intercity, just as we entered platform number 1
of Bardhaman with the Intercity giving us company on the adjacent platform.

We were delayed by about 15 minutes at Bardhaman, courtesy those two
unscheduled halts in the middle of the paddy fields of 10 minutes each.
Nonetheless, our heroic victory in the race to Bardhaman with the Intercity
was sufficient to ensure that we were given the starter prior to the
Intercity. I could not help but feel for the Intercity: poor soul, she was
bang on time till Bardhaman and now was being delayed because of an errant
superfast! The ALP of the Intercity and I exchanged waves as we pulled out
of Bardhaman.

The rainclouds enveloped us as we cleared Bardhaman’s yard and minutes
after, unleashed upon us their full fury. I battled the shower for a few
minutes but it rapidly grew in force and developed into a full-blown
nor’wester, accompanied by heavy thunder and lightning. I shut the door and
downed the shutters, ruing the lost opportunity to capture the ‘S’ curve
where the train would snake into the Sahibganj Loop. The increasing
intensity of the storm was accompanied by a proportional decrease in the
velocity of our train. I wonder if this was because we were traveling in the
LHF mode and the overwhelming downpour obscured the vision of the LP/ALP,
necessitating a reduction in speed. I would welcome the opinion of
knowledgeable members on this issue, especially Shri Sampathkumar.

Courtesy the rains outside, I was focused to turn my attention inwards into
the coach. The clientele now had been bolstered by a multitude of daily
passengers from Bardhaman, traveling to Bolpur, Rampurhat and Malda, who
happily occupied the aisle and the bay. The rains also brought its problems:
the windows would not shut completely and even with both shutters downed,
the rainwater seeped through, making a complete mess in the coach. The train
in itself was not very clean and the water made it even worse. Soon after,
we creakily curved and climbed into the Sahibganj loop and after another
quarter of an hour, the rain Gods finally showered some mercy on us and
stopped pouring.

Unencumbered by the rains, the LP notched up and soon we were tearing past
the paddy fields as dusk settled on the fields of rural Bengal. The final
half an hour of the journey was a pleasure to the body, the eye and the
railfan: the downpour had cooled the temperatures and in collaboration with
the speeding Saraighat, there was a splendid cool breeze blowing across the
landscape. The storm had not cleared completely so there were numerous
flashes of lightning in the horizon which I attempted to capture, mostly in
vain! Soon, we crossed the Ajoy River and breezed into Birbhum and halted at
Bolpur at 1815, fifteen minutes behind schedule.

Thus concludes the first leg of my trip to Santiniketan.

My gratitude to all the members for a patient reading of my narrative. I
will upload the videos from this trip shortly. I will be most grateful for
your honoured comments and feedback,


Material provided by Ritadhi Chakravarti, Copyright © 2010.