Coromandel Exp. trip

by Mani Vijay (AKA Vijay Balasubramanian)


At Chennai - MRTS trip

My wife and I decided to ride the MRTS during off-rush hours. We took an auto from Adyar to Mylapore and were at Tirumeylai station in less than 1/2 hr. The station was well-kept - a flight of stairs led us to the elevated tracks. Work towards Velacheri is in progress. Purchased an SR suburban TT at the counter. The EMU frequency is mts. between trains during rush hours and mts. otherwise. The ride to Chennai Beach is just 20 mts. - the highlight of the trip was a view of the Marina beach. After a brief 10 mt. halt at Beach station, we took the same EMU back to Tirumeylei. Observed the domes at all stations - numerous slots have been created with the traction masts suspended from a few of them.

Chennai to Howrah by Coromandel Exp.

After celebrating the new year at Chennai, it was time to proceed to Calcutta. The Coromandel Exp. journey would be my first Y2K IR trip (excluding the short MRTS experience). First some general observations -

  • BZA to VSKP has been energized so that trains are hauled by electric locos from Chennai till VKSP after which changeover to diesel takes place (along with a direction reversal). OHE is in place between VSKP and Palasa. Between Kharagpur and Cuttack, OHE appears in patches sometimes with catenary and sometimes without it - so Kharagpur-Cuttack-Bhubhaneswar may well be the next section to be electrified.
  • I spotted quite a few WAG5/7-headed freight trains in the Chennai-BZA section alone. Also, most of the short-distance prestige trains are being hauled by WAP4s such as Pinakini and Ratnachal. I also spotted the Krishna and Gitanjali Exps. with WAP4s.
  • Tatanagar electric locos have a colorful livery and so do the newer locos from Itarsi. Tatanagar - Cream on top, green stripe, red at bottom, with a slight dip at the faces. There is an additional white 'dip' just above the green one. Itarsi - Cream on top, then light blue, black stripe, red at bottom, with the blue and black dipping at the faces to form a V. The shed-name 'ITARSI' is neatly implanted on a curved board at the V.
  • Riding was smooth with diminished track sounds suggesting that tracks have been welded and properly maintained. The train had sustained speeds of 90-100 kmph in many stretches. In fact, it may have even gone beyond 100 kmph. to make-up for lost time (it was traveling quite fast in some sections, Ongole-Vijayawada and Eluru-Samalkot to name a couple).
  • Chennai-VSKP has 3-aspect color signalling. KGP-Khurda Rd. has lower quadrant semaphore signalling.
  • The only uniform liveried train that I saw was the Nilgiri Exp. at the Chennai rake yard. I spotted only 3-4 coaches but even the luggage-cum-brake van had the blue-with-cream-stripes color suggesting a uniformity in the livery. Quite a few trains have dark /light blue coaches along with rust-red coaches. The Pinakini, Coromandel and Purshottam Exps. came closest to having a liveried rake with the dark/light blue color. The 24-coach Pinakini had 15 colored coaches, our 22-coach Coromandel had 13 colored coaches, and the 18-coach Purshottam had 12 colored coaches.

Here are the halt/passing times of our train at various stations. Stations with only the passing times indicate that the train did not halt there.

Station Time Comments
Chennai Central d 9 07
Sullurupeta 10 37
Gudur a 11 42 02
d 11 42 18
Unscheduled halt for just 16 seconds
Nellore 12 25
Kavali 13 13
Ongole a 14 05
d 14 15
55 mts. late
Chirala 15 01
Bapatla 15 10
Tenali 15 40
Vijayawada a 16 20
d 16 35
35 mts. late
Eluru 17 54
Tadepalligudem 18 40
Rajahmundry a 19 19
d 19 27
47 mts. late
Samalkot 20 15
Visakhapatnam a 23 27
d 0 04
1 hr. 12 mts. late on arrival (due to loco. failure at outer)
1 hr. 29 mts. late at departure
Vizianagaram 1 00
Palasa 2 55
Berhampur a 4 00
d 4 02
Khurda Rd. a 6 26
d 6 47
Bhubhaneswar a 7 13
d 7 18
1 43 mts. late
Barang a 7 37
d 7 58
Unscheduled halt for crossing
Gopalpur Balikuda a 8 15
d 8 22
Unscheduled halt for crossing
Cuttack a 8 32
d 8 47
2 hrs. 22 mts. late on arrival
d 8 47 2 hrs. 32 mts. late at departure
Bhadrakh - 10 36
Balasore a 11 30
d 11 32
Kharagpur a 13 40
d 13 45
2 hrs. 15 mts. late
Howrah a 15 46 2 hrs. 11 mts. late

The Coromandel Exp. was waiting on Platform 1 which can accommodate 24-coach trains. I was disappointed to find rust coaches among the colored ones. Ours was a I AC cum II AC sleeper coach and was third from the rear - so I would have to zoom in to capture the WAM4 in front. We left 2 mts. behind schedule and I quickly positioned myself at the right door to spot the loco. shed and rake yard. I was rewarded with the Nilgiri Exp. blue'n'cream rake. We accelerated out of Basin Bridge on a bright Wednesday morning. At Ponneri, we crossed a Staff Train hauled by a Dark/Light Blue WDS4. The four coaches were the Electrical Tool Van, Engineering Tool Van, Staff Rest Van, and Kitchen Car. The livery was the standard rust with a huge horizontal yellow V painted along the length of the coach. Just after Ponneri, we crossed the 7-coach Bitragunta-Chennai pass. headed by WAG5 (23489) from BZA shed. We then overtook a BCN-train headed by a live WAG5 BZA loco. (23920) and a dead WAG7 (27205). At a massive curve, I got a chance to observe the loco. and 22 coaches. I could not get the shed name, but the red-blue livery with double yellow stripes suggested a BZA loco. Around 10.30 am, we crossed the 15-coach Ganga Kaveri Exp. headed by an Itarsi WAM4 with the new livery. All the coaches were rust, a far cry from the exquisite red-yellow-blue livery about 20 years back. After Sullurupeta, I was waiting for the Pinakini Exp. - we met the 24-coach train at 10.46 am, hauled by a Jhansi WAP4 (22243). It had one 1AC-2AC, three 2AC, two 3AC, a pantry car, and 13 sleeper coaches. One of the 2AC coaches sported long windows similar to a 3AC coach. Just after Nayudupeta, we crossed the 10-coach LKO-Chennai Exp. - the coaches looked old and dusty.

After a 10-mt. halt at Gudur outer, we negotiated a sharp curve and met the electrified line from Renigunta. I was hoping that the train would run through the station but it stopped for a mere 16 seconds - a 1/2 halt of-sorts! On Platform 1 was a WAG5-HA(23562) headed container train. As we were cruising through Nellore, someone pointed out a temple next to the banks of the Pennar river. We crossed the river and then the Thermal Power plant on the left. Pulled into Ongole, nearly an hour behind schedule. On Platform 2, was the Ongole-Vijayawada MEMU.

An 80 kmph. speed restriction board greeted us as we approached Ongole station, 55 mts. behind schedule. At Ongole, I had a chance to observe the rear of the 8-coach Ongole-BZA MEMU. There were two red lights, one on the top left and the other below the windows - one might be a steady light for LV indication and the other could be a flasher. Below the right window were two glass-covered panels displaying 'A B' and 'C D'. What are these? At the bottom left, was an X sign and on the bottom right was inscribed 'MC 004'. What do all these mean?

Between Ongole and Krishna Canal Jn., I had a chance to catch some sleep but ensured that I was awake at Bitragunta, Kavali, Chirala, Bapatla, and Tenali - our train went through all of these. Just before Chirala, I caught the 18-coach Krishna Exp. headed by WAP4 22312 from Lallaguda. The loco. had a cream-red livery - two red bands on top and bottom with a cream band in the middle running along the sides and faces with no dip or V. At Tenali, I observed a train in bright yellow livery with some sort of paintings on them - I did not have time to zoom in. A special train perhaps? The Up line separated from us after we passed Krishna Canal - we were now crossing the mighty Krishna river at a snail's pace - I could see the dam to my left. And then, the all too familiar sounds of our train negotiating numerous points'n'swithces as it headed for Platform 1 of Vijayawada Jn. Spotted quite a few WAM4s at the loco. shed to my right. This included a triple MUed WAM4 set- 20455 and 20623 in regular red-blue livery and 21264 in 'reverse livery'. And then, I had my RARE SIGHTING #1 : WAP1 22001 from GZB shed with its pantos down - the first of the high-speed locos. designed for Rajdhani operation. What was it doing at BZA shed? At BZA, I saw the Kakinada-Tirupati pass. pull out with a Kazipet WDP1 (15059) in charge and noted the crisp sounds - seemed more like a YDM4A in action.

After a 15 mt. halt, we were off to Rajahmundry. A WDM2 was bringing in seven MEMU coaches, presumably, from the yard. The front power car had a cream-blue livery while the rest had the regular cream-green livery. Have they started messing around with MEMUs as well? The BZA bypass line (doubled and electrified) joined us from the left as we accelerated out of Vijayawada town. Met the WAP4 hauled Ratnachal Exp. just before Powerpet. A fairly decent run till Rajahmundry skipping Eluru, Tadepalligudem, etc. It was dark by the time we crossed the bow-string arch concrete bridge over the Godavari river - the 3rd one constructed across this river during the last 100 years. [the Jan. 2000 issue of IR is a special issue on bridges and has an article devoted to the Godavari bridges]. Around 10.15 pm, I saw an electrified line take-off at a sharp angle on the right - must have been the VSKP bypass line (used only by freight trains). This indicated that the train had made-up lost time and was running on schedule. Unfortunately, we had to endure an agonizing 55-mt. halt at VSKP outer due to loco. failure. The train had come to rest with the last coach still on a level-crossing. I observed with amusement the reaction of the bicylists and scooterists. They waited patiently for about 15 mts. for the train to leave. And then a few ventured onto the tracks carrying their respective 'vehicles', walked around the last coach and were on their way. I captured a WDM2 attaching itself at the front and hauling the dead WAM4 + our train into platform 1. Since there would be a direction reversal at VSKP, my coach was now third from the front where a single Kazipet WDM2C (14042) had been attached. The Mumbai-bound Konark exp. arrived on Platform 3.

We were off towards Berhampur, nearly 1 1/2 hrs. late with sweet ALCO sounds to keep me company. I had a good night's rest with interruptions only at Vizianagaram, Palasa and Berhampur. Our train cruised through the first two and had a brief 2-mt. halt at the 3rd. At Palasa, I observed a train with MEMU-type coaches at rest with a WDM2 in front. This might have been the Vizianagaram-Palasa DMU temporarily operating as a Push-Pull unit till VSKP-Palasa was energized. I was sound asleep between Berhampur and Khurda Rd. and missed the Chilka lake. Khurda Rd. greeted us at dawn as we pulled into Platform 2 next to the Bhubaneswar-bound Konarak Exp. (on platform 1). If we had been running on time, we would have overtaken this train just after Berhampur - but that was not to be. Konarak left for its destination and we had to wait at Khurda for 20 mts. before obtaining clearance. Spotted a WDG2 as our train went through the fairly long marshalling yard at Khurda North. 1/2 hour later, we pulled into Bhubaneswar and met the Howrah-Puri Exp. all set to depart for Puri. It was hauled by WDM2 16381 with cream-green livery - similar to GOC minus the additional stripes - could not catch the shed name.

I headed for the WDM2C for a possible footplating opportunity till Cuttack. Lady luck was with me as I was beckoned inside by Mr. Nice Guy even as the loco. sounded its horn. A round of introductions followed - Mr. Nice guy turned out to be Sudarshan Behra, a goods driver stationed at Cuttack whose regularly commanded freight trains on the Talcher-Cuttack and Cuttack-Paradip sections. The layout was a mirror-image of a WDM2 cab with the driver sitting on the left side. Why the change to left-handed drives? Moreover, the throttle lever was never once used as the driver had a 'wheel' at his disposal (just like in electric locos). Is this an exclusive feature of WDM2Cs? The speedometer needle hovered between 80 and 90. As we sped through Mancheshwar, I noticed a coach from the Mobile Exhibition train with its brilliant cream-blue-color and the tricolor band running across. Mr.Behra pointed me to a few uprooted trees reminding us of the devastation caused by one of the worst cyclones ever to hit the East Coast. We crossed the 18-coach Purshottam Exp. on our way to Barang. After an unscheduled halt at Barang (the Tapaswini Exp. crossed us), we entered single-line territory as the line for Narajmarthapur took off on the left. It was a sight for sore eyes as we snaked through two huge curves and climbed the embankment of the Kuakhai river. The river was pretty much dried-up as the sun cast a shadow of the loco. and its load on the bed. After the bridge was our 2nd precedence halt at Gopalpur Balikunda, this time to allow a passenger train to go through. We were parked fairly close to the bridge over the Kathajodi river and it was fun to see the train emerge from the bridge towards us, be sidetracked onto the adjoining track at the last moment and accelerate towards Bhubaneswar. All these crossings took its toll and we pulled into Cuttack nearly 2 1/2 hrs. behind schedule. I bid goodbye to the drivers and headed towards my coach.

After Cuttack, we crossed two more bridges over the Mahanadi and Birupa rivers (all these four rivers form the Mahanadi delta around Cuttack) and were back on double-line territory. We sped through Bhadrakh and met the 15-coach Dhauli Exp., running on schedule. 1/2 hr. later we crossed the 17-coach Falaknuma Exp. - this had a Parcel Van at the rear. How often is this van used? Slept till Hijli which signalled the proximity of Kharagpur - someone pointed out the IIT campus on the left. We pulled into Platform 2 of the 6-platform station - 3 islands. Platform 3 was one of the real long ones with a pass. train standing next to the East Coast Exp. We overtook this train (with a Tatanagar WAM4 HS-DB-6P, #20684) and were forced to halt at KGP outer b'coz of chain pulling. Around 2.20 pm, we crossed the 20-coach Gitanjali Exp. hauled by WAP4 22253 from SBC shed!! The train had two ACII coaches and two ACIII coaches. One of the ACIII coaches was actually the last coach on this train suggesting that it was not part of the regular formation. Slept well for the next 1 1/2 hrs. and woke up as the train crossed Tikiapara EMU shed. We halted at Howrah outer (just before the arch bridge) and gave the Shantiniketan Exp. company. A WDS4 was hauling the Kalka Mail rake towards Liluah yard - it was around 3.45 pm and the train must have been running terribly late due to dense fog in MGS and Danapur divisions. We had a royal reception at Howrah station thanks to my uncle and were escorted out of the station even as dusk began to descend on the bustling city of Calcutta.

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