Quick trip to Hyderabad by 0163 Shatabdi Special and 7014 Hyderabad Pune express
by Apurva Bahadur
Lalam and I did a speedy trip to Hyderabad - we had a wedding reception to attend on the evening of 11th April 2010. Accordingly, we booked to travel on the 0163 Pune - Secunderabad Shatabdi Special for that day. The 0163 has a certain enigma attached to its persona and was in the pending list of trains to "do". With the waiting lists running into 100s, that was the only train we could have got bookings on at a short notice.
The return trip was just as exciting - this was by the 7014 express that runs on the BG avatar of the erstwhile Barsi Light Railways route. The Hyderabad Nampalli station announcers refer to 7014 as Osmanabad Express going to Pune! This reflects the history of run extension of the train and the resistance to change - Hyderabad is like that, as a staunch Punekar, I like that trait.
0163 at Pune
Arriving at Pune Jn at about 0540 hrs, we found the rake of 0163 waiting on pf 4. The rake composition was locomotive (Pune WDM3A # 18621R long hood leading - I think this loco has worked all the runs of this train to date), front power car (Garib Rath livery), C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, rear power car (normal livery). We had the first two seats in the coach, facing the rear of the train. The load factor in our coach looked around 100%, though the ticket checker told us that C5 (meant for Tatkal) was nearly empty.
The train was electrically charged from the rear power car. We were told that only one genset (from the two in the coach) is adequate to manage the load of this short train. During the return journey, the GR liveried power car would do the honours. However, on this day, the same genset would power the rake on both up and down journeys, as diesel tank of that power car was due for maintenance and hence had to be emptied faster.
In the near future, Pune division loco pilots could work this train with between home and Solapur and back - currently Solapur division pilots based at Daund are in charge. The loco crew change occurred at Solapur and Wadi. The train had ample support staff, some with walkie talkies, who constantly moving about the rake throughout the journey - electrical and mechanical maintenance, cleaning crew and ticket inspectors.
We departed right on time - picking up speed as we crossed the suburbs on the line to Daund. About a decade back, the first signal on pf 4 would start southbound trains by displaying the green aspect - this was the mainline itself and no diversion was necessary. Since then, addition of more points and diversions has meant that the trains from pf 4 face a normal yellow signal and a tortuous path to reach the mainline.
We were fast but not very fast - the strategy of this train is to maintain timing with a steady pace. In any case, the train is limited by the track speed limit of 105 kmph. Outside, the glorious sunrise was metamorphosing fast into the torrid start of a very hot day. Inside, the catering staff gave each passenger a generous bottle of water and starting the tea service on a tray. This consisted of two tea bags, sugar in a pouch, dairy creamer, two Marie biscuits, two "Mentos" (dimag ki batti jala dey), a paper cup of hot water and a rather large steel spoon (to stir.).
A mail/express pilot we know refused to accept this version of "tea", challenging the inspector traveling in his loco cab to make the hot beverage in the shaking workspace while driving at the same time. The traditional "ready to drink" version beats this cup that just about cheers, particularly in the so called premium places - aircon trains, airplanes, executive meetings.
The particularly obnoxious ingredient in this service is the creamer whose turgid pouch tends to open with an uncontrolled puff, dispersing the sub-atomic sized particles everywhere. There is just no clean way of doing this. One does not feel very "premium" when showered with a sticky white powder!
We paused at the home signal of Daund for a few minutes before sauntering through the station non-stop - this is the first time I have done this during daytime and while awake - the two conditions are not related!
Past Daund, the tiny rake accelerated to its maximum speed, curving through green countryside and hamlets. These were very beautiful moments as we savoured the taste of India and her railways at the coach door. Both Lalam and I wanted to view the same side - no problems - one of us just went to the adjacent coach through the vestibules. We had all the doors near us to ourselves - the only exception was the pair of doors commandeered by the catering staff to arrange food in the plates.
We crossed 7032 at high speed between Daund and Boribial. We were speeding and so was the '32, so how did we know the identity? By the LED destination boards at the side of the coaches. Our combined high speed in the opposite directions was sufficient to disassemble the LED display's optical scan rate!
Single Line ahead
The first taste of single line action was at Bhigwan when the 0163 was diverted and halted on the platform line. We waited for over 15 minutes allowing the Mumbai bound 1042 express to cross with the KZJ WDM3A # 18915R.
Track status for your reference-
- Pune - Daund - Bhigwan = Double line
- Bhigwan - Kurduwadi -Mohol = Single line
- Mohol- Solapur - Hotgi = Double line
- Hotgi - Gulbarga = Single line
- Gulbarga - Wadi - Secunderabad = Double line
Bhigwan is a relatively new station, a result of a dam's construction, whose backwaters skirt the area. Prior to the dam, the route was through Diksal and Pomalwadi, rejoining the current alignment at probably Washimbe. Today, the first two names exist as small hamlets in the marshes, the stations are long gone - inundated under the shallow but vast backwaters of the Ujni dam.
Out of Bhigwan, we soon crossed the immense water body of the Ujni reservoir. In the placid waters of the lake, we could see the long and graceful stone arch bridge that carried the railway line before the construction of the dam.
We were stopped at the very next station, Jinti Road, for another piece of single line action. As we rolled to a stop on the platform line, a westbound BTPN also arrived with a Pune Jumbo. At one time, we were both moving, although in the opposite direction. I have never been received in a single line section station while the other trains in motion.
Normally, one of trains is halted outside the station, at the home signal, while the other is admitted on a loop line. Only after admitted train has stopped, does the second train move into the station area. This is what we observe in Pune - Miraj section. We were told that this was a safeguard and offers additional maneuvering space in case one train overruns a stop signal and bursts a point.
In case of the 0163 and the BTPN, both were moving. This is probably due to streamlining of working rules in this busy section. I guess the BTPN was halted at the southeast side home signal while 0163 was pulling in. Next, the tiny rake of 0163 diverted and moved along the long Jinti Road platform. As soon as 0163's rear power car cleared the main line, the BTPN was signaled to start and move into a loop line. Still safe, but following a slightly different system as compared to the Pune - Miraj single line.
While both the trains waited, the Kurla bound 2749 Express from Vishakhapatnam blasted through with a VSKP WDM3A # 18938R. We were now being seriously delayed, but the crew could not be flustered - they were sure that we would make the end destination in time due to the enormous slack periods in the schedule.
We left Jinti, went through Parewadi to halt at the next station, Washimbe - we were probably the only passengers on the train who were enjoying this jerky progress. The Kurla bound 1014 Express was already waiting on the platform line while we were halted on the south side line that has only a water filled gutter in a rock cutting. Across the gutter, the station has placed a couple of stone benches for the staff. These are benches whose legs touch the ground but the seat is over water!
A few minutes into Washimbe, the Pune bound 2170 Hutatma Express used the vacant mid line to rush through with WDP4 # 12079. This was the last of the sidelining for what should be the most prestigious train on the line.
While we were admiring the Ujni dam water from the doors, our coach was served breakfast - veg cutlets I think. We arrived later and demanded our non-veg breakfasts, as selected during the booking the tickets. I almost expected the caterers to tell us to eat what's available, else shove off. But surprise, they slinked in with a pair of non-veg breakfast casseroles, as if they didn't want others to see. Omelet, bread, a dab of butter, a pop pack of jam, a pair of mentos - were there potato chips? - can't remember.
After the breakfast, we asked for a cup of tea - and got it, while no other passenger was served tea. The crew had noticed our hyper enthusiasm with the public domain joy of traveling on a train and the apparent familiarity with the railways. A couple of staffers asked us at different times whether we were from the 'squad.' Now you know why we were targeted for a stiff variety of officious attention.
Ride into the heat
We were late at Kurduwadi and even later at Solapur where the coaches were watered and a fresh loco crew took charge. A number of passengers got off, a smaller number got on. An indeterminate passenger train with a zillion destinations on its board arrived from south. The day's heat was the overpowering emotion - from here on, we acted our age and stayed put on our seats.
This was an older coach with imperfect fittings, the coach interiors had holders for foldout TV screens without the TVs. The seats that once reclined wouldn't return, tray tables were wonky - the breakfast had to be held with one hand lest one spilt the contents, the interior advertising panels above the windows vibrated to the point of passenger's irritation - we loved it! Despite the age, the old style underfloor aircon ran so well - and nicely cool it was.
As we sped past Maharashtra into Karnataka the Mumbai bound Udyan waited for us at Akkalkot Road. We overtook the 1027 Mail to Chennai at Dudhani - before you ask the question - by the red mail coach with wide doors, okay? Before we knew it, we were magically running before time - even as we had departed Solapur 20 minutes late.
A couple in our coach with a pair of tiny children and an equally massive amount of luggage made it to the door in anticipation for the halt at Gulbarga - a good 40 kms/30 minutes before the stop. They got carried away with the classic trap of wanting to get off in time - even though they were the only passengers for GB from our coach. The general public perception is that if you are in the know, you are the first one in the line to get off, you know, start stacking up at Thane for a detrain at Dadar. While the true railway enthusiast (who really knows) stays in their seat until the very last minute without missing their stops - ever.
Even more people got off at Gulbarga - the train waited in the earsplitting siren like heat, catching up with the dot that tallied the clock with the timetable. Another run into Wadi and another long wait. We were so early that the relieving crew (who worked the train till Secunderabad) did not arrive for many minutes, leading to many ripe speculations in our railfan dosed minds.
Past Wadi, we were handed a tray with unknown finger sized thingies - mini soup sticks! Soon sharp tasting tomato soup was served in a paper cup, with a sachet of pepper, a dab of butter and a large spoon - no mentosÃ¢â'¬Â¦
Until this moment, Lalam and I were speculating of whether lunch would be served. But, true to its caring, altruistic soul, railways fed us a rather good lunch, just an hour from our end destination. A tasty paneer curry, a wonderful smoky flavoured daal, two soft rotis, nice serving of zeera rice, watery but sweet dahi, packaged pickle and a chewy, moist soanpapadi in a plastic cup - and yes, a pair of mentos! This was a full sized meal. I have a deep-seated impression that Shatabdi always tries to scale down things from the Rajdhani, especially in the food department - how I love to be proved wrong.
A couple of useless stops at Malkhed and Tandur - no one got in, no one got off. The double line eased our progress, through the serious curves limited our overall speed. Even before Vikarabad, the nervous janata started to move their luggage towards the doors. Soon the vestibule area was packed with people waiting for Begumpet to arrive.
Uttam wanted to videograph the 0163 and its waving railfan passengers as it curved into Bharat Nagar. We were informed of the exact structure to watch out for - below which was a video camera and its human operators. The obvious problem now was the passengers near the door who jammed the space. Fortunately the passengers aimed for the other side while our buddies were on the hot side - the sun was on this sideÃ¢â'¬Â¦
A few seconds of vigorous arm waving at Uttam and it was over for us. Uttam had waited with a fellow railfan for a sizable period in the heat for this short moment.
Past the shoot, we rushed inside the coach to get our own luggage as our stop, Begumpet was approaching.
Bharath picked us up from Begumpet. At the end of the journey, I was surprised to be fresh and well oriented, despite the partial sleep earlier night, lack of rest in the coach (to soak in details for our brothers..) and the relatively long distance of travel.
From here until our return departure late at night, we gloated in a potent version of IRFCA hospitality at Hyderabad which is a superlative's superlative. As the day wore on, Hyderabad was added to my list of Indian cities that are beautiful and wonderful but have atrocious weather.
The evening was spent railfanning at the spacious and methodical Secunderabad junction. It was clean, well marked and humane. Despite the tens of railway movements flowing on its rails, the vivacious SC lacked the vein throbbing tension of Pune, the ever-present danger of New Delhi or the black despondency of a Mumbai station. This is for me is the model station, if there is one.
I love being overwhelmed by a force I worship - I got my wish as I sat drained but happy at SC Jn. For us, the last movement as the sun dipped in a sea of humidity was of the southbound Bangalore Rajdhani, with its ritualistic swapping of WAP 5 with a specially selected Kazipet WDM2 - always running short hood leading.
Thank you Hyderabad chapter for the wonderful time and kind, caring gestures that made this trip so memorable. Post the wedding reception, we arrived at Hyderabad Nampally station for our return ride, the 7014 express. For the uninitiated, Hyderabad station is a dead end terminus,built on a swampy land and Nampally is the local non-railway name of the locality.
The return journey
The 7014 rake was already stabled on pf 4, which is the principal platform that is directly connected to the main entrance. By contrast, the pf 1, 2 and 3 are shorter addendums that hold EMUs and passenger trains. The other platform, the pf 5 held a very long train - the 7056 passenger to Narsapur that had no less than two AC 1 sleepers - the rear end had an additional departmental coach that was touching the dead end buffer stops!
The 7014 has a 14 coach rake with a long hood leading Maula Ali WDM2 # 17774 at helm. The rake composition was designed around plenty of disabled friendly space - Loco-SLR-Disabled, 2nd seating (1-60), 2 X AC2, 1 X AC3, S1 to S5 3 tier sleepers, 3 X Disabled + seating and GSLR!
Exactly at 2245 hrs, our 7014 departed slowly, warming up to an initiation for the long and plodding journey ahead. Three sets of crew worked the train between Hyderabad - Latur, Latur - Kurduwadi and Kurduwadi - Pune. This train diverts at Vikarabad, travels through Zahirabad, Bidar, Bhalki, Udgir, Latur Road and then gets on to a totally new a alignment that starts with Latur and ends at Kurduwadi - the new Barsi (Light?) Railway. This route adds about 100 kilometers to the Hyderabad - Pune run.
This route too was on our 'to do' list, especially having seen Dinesh Hukmani's pics of the section - see the images at the album's end.
As we settled into our lower and middle berths, I witnessed the roll into Begumpet and then was lost to the world. I was aware of the stops during the night but was way too tired to investigate.
Daybreak at Latur
I had set an alarm to wake up with the daybreak at 0500 hrs. Plan didn't work and I woke up as we were exiting the new Latur station (33 kilometers from Latur Road station on the Vikarabad - Prabhani line) at decent hour of 0600 hrs - we were right on time.
Perhaps the only crossing on this route was that of the 1005 Mumbai Latur Express waiting at a small station shortly before its end destination with a Pune WDM3D.
As the morning rose, we witnessed running through some fantastic country - on top of long swooping embankments and around low hills. The landscape is mildly undulating with a cache of water at the lowest point and its consequential oasis. Clumps of short, green, sturdy shrubs vied for a place with vast grasslands. We were delighted to see herds of long horned blackbucks strolling near the track.
This is a sugar-growing belt of Maharashtra. We saw rows of disciplined cultivation of cane reined in by a strict irrigation, we come across purpose built sugar factories, their minimalist housing colonies with nearby ponds of dense and smelly spent wash.
As with the tracks on the Latur - Kurduwadi route, the stations are also brand new and built in the middle of wilderness with equally new roads leading to it. The lack of traffic or infrastructure is a little startling and makes for a nicely desolate ambiance with an industrial touch - perfect!
An hour and half from Latur, we curved into the new station of Usmanabad. The old Barsi Light Railway did not come even close to this place - the new line is purposely diverted via a sharp kink in the route to touch this district headquarters. Of course, this station is over 10 km from the real Usmanabad town and thus is just as remote.
In each section, we were running before time and had to wait for some time before allowed further. We were now prepared to take on the descent of the erstwhile Ramling ghat. In the NG days, this was a sharp incline between Panri and Yedshi. This section needed bankers in the steam days - there are stories of trains running away due to brake failure with tragic consequence. Today, the new alignment of the semi ghat starts only a few kilometers from Usmanabad. Here is a satellite view of the UMD station
Follow the line towards west to reach the ghat. This section is the jewel of the line - a spectacular tunnel of 1.6 kilometers length and a tall viaduct of 347 meters length that would grace an archetypal Konkan section, all this ably supported by yet another tunnel of 100 meters length. This is magical country, stark, rocky and wild - with a totally different feel as compared to the others lines that we have travelled. These are shades of Maharashtra, flavours of the great country that we live in, knit together by bonds of steel we love so well.
Here is a blog with history of the 'modern' Barsi line Jump to 'FINALY Osmanabad is on rail map…' (pic 'borrowed' from Ashish's collection?). The map in the blog explains a lot of details - the BG was diverted to touch Usmanabad / Osmanabad (railway uses the former name) - great move. This is similar to the KR diverting to reach Ratnagiri.
Even in the peak of summer and this gradient, a surprising amount of clear water flowed below the bridges. As the slope leveled, we stopped at the place that lent its name to the line - Barsi Town. We were told that this was 2.5 kilometers away from the old station, although the old stone buildings and culverts along the new line led us to erroneously believe that we were close to the NG alignment.
By now at mid morning, the dayÃ¢'s heat was picking up, although nothing like the one faced at Hyderabad. Active rotary columns of dust tossed grass bits rise above, adding zing to the otherwise predictable landscape. Before we knew it, we curved into the mainline at Kurduwadi - 28 minutes before time.
While we were waiting at Kurduwadi, two loaded BCN rakes thrashed through nonstop towards Solapur, each with a Gooty WDG4 in charge - an impressive sight.
The rest of route is a reversal of our first journey, running on documented landscape and well studied spatial awareness. Interesting, but not as interesting as our earlier journeys.
Amongst our fellow passengers, on the front berth was the tiny kid with steady, limpid eyes who stated to no one in particular, 'I love mango!' When offered the window seat for the kid, his father dropped the glass and the shutter, lowered the middle berth and crashed! My note of familiarity with the father was him trying to read a thick software guide. Barely past the first half of the page, he was overcome and needed rest - did he expect to be master of this subject at the end of this journey? Such an endearing attribute, so close and personal to me. If only possessing books could be the same as having knowledge!
A long halt at Daund to match the minute hand with the schedule, followed by a fairly rapid thrash into Pune. After a long stop at Mundhwa, waiting for free platform, we were home at Pune as the clock showed 1315 hrs exactly, unheralded and unsung by the very railways that runs such wonderful trains.
Decades after being an active railfan, I am SO impressed at how good the Indian Railway is. Both 0163 and 7014 show creative use of resources. Both trains shook side to side while running - a combination of an ageing ICF rake that is run fast on a non-high speed tracks.
0163 is an old Shatabdi rake from WR (Mumbai - Ahmedabad) that was sidelined when the new LHB (Linke-Hofmann-Busch Alsthom Coaches) rake arrived. It could do well as a daily - perhaps in a Jan Shatabdi form to rationalize the fare for the masses. Even a year back, the idea of going to Hyderabad from Pune and returning the same day was unheard of - now, a creative thought has made this possible.
7013/7014 was a train only till probably between Hyderabad and Latur Road, later to Osmanabad. Now it runs to Pune. The 7014 needs to speed up and arrive at Pune during mid morning rather than in the afternoon. Would it do well if made daily? Can't say, the load factor was close to 100%. I suspect some of these end to end passengers would rather be on the 7032 but were unwilling spots on the daily hundred strong waitlist. With a slightly changed timing, this could form an alternative train between Pune and Latur at a decent hour - a battalion of 'luxury' buses still move daily between these two destinations.
Thanks for your patient reading.