Tamilnadu Exp. Trip

by Mani Vijay (AKA Vijay Balasubramanian)


Before I get into my details about the five IR journeys that I undertook during my recent India trip, here is a synopsis of the Tamilnadu Exp. run - we boarded the train at Chennai on Sunday, Dec. 12, 2000. I have indicated the passing/halt times at select stations as well as the commercial speed between consecutive stations listed here.

Time Station Comments Commercial Speed (in Kmph)
22 01 d Chennai Central
23 18 Sullurupeta 64.68
24 00 Gudur Crossed the Bilaspur-TVC Exp. 78.57
00 43 Nellore 54.42
01 07 Bitragunta 85
02 37 Chinnaganjam 74
02 45 Vetapalem 90
02 52 Chirala 68.57
03 30 Tenali 91.58
04 09 a
04 29 d
Vijayawada Arrived 8 mts. before time
departed 1 mt. before time
07 06 Nekonda 68.41
07 36 a
07 45 d
Warangal Arrived 20 mts. late
departed 21 mts. late
08 19 Jamikunta 63.53
08 57 Ramagundam 90
09 08 Manchiryal 76.36
09 30 Bellampali 51.82
10 17 Sirpur Kaghaz Nagar 49.79
11 08 a
11 23 d
Balharshah Arrived 13 mts. late
departed 18 mts.late
11 38 Chandrapur 56
12 50 Hinghaghat 70.83
13 19 Sewagram 76.55
14 18 a
14 28 d
Nagpur Arrived 13 mts. late
departed 13 mts. late
16 07 a
16 14 d
Teegaon Banker attachment 68.49
16 41 a
16 44 d
Chichonda Banker detachment 40
17 12 Amla 79.29
18 05 Ghoradongri 66.79
19 00 a
19 37 d
Itarsi Overtaken by
Bangalore - NZM Rajdhani
21 13 a
21 20 d
Bhopal Arrived 18 mts. late
departed 15 mts. late
23 08 Bina 77.22
01 15 a
01 35 d
Jhansi Arrived 20 mts. late
departed 30 mts. late
03 01 a
03 04 d
Gwalior Arrived 44 mts. late
departed 44 mts. late
04 45 Agra Cantt 70.10
05 30 Mathura 74.67
07 21 a
07 24 d
H. Nizamuddin Arrived 28 mts. late
departed 28 mts. late
07 40 a New Delhi Arrived 10 mts. late 30

What impressed me most about the Tamilnadu run was the extremely few unscheduled halts in its long run. It also maintained avg. speeds above 60 kmph. for most of the sections indicated above which indicates a consistent run. The most impressive run in terms of distance was the 431 km. non-stop run from Chennai to Vijayawada covered in 6 hrs. 8 mts. (70.27 kmph). The most impressive long run in terms of speed was the non-stop run from Gwalior to Nizamuddin - 306 km. in 4 hrs. 17 mts. (71.44 kmph). Both of these had fairly consistent runs within various sub-sections.

Just a year back, the Chennai-NDLS Tamilnadu had been speeded up by about 1/2 hr. Its somewhat aggressive schedule (relative to other trains) is evident from the fact that it made up only 13 mts. from Warangal to Nagpur despite no irritating halts. It was well in time at Itarsi and could have reached Bhopal before time if not for the Rajdhani overtake. The delay at Jhansi was to provide a reasonable gap after the Gondwana - the latter, itself was runnning about 35 mts. late and left Jhansi just after our TN arrived there. Further delay at Gwalior could have been a direct result of the Gondwana ahead of us. Once a sufficient gap was created, the TN went back to a no-nonsense run - it must have overtaken the Gondwana somewhere between Mathura and Nizamuddin as the train was not at Nizamuddin when we arrived. A good dose of make-up times in the last lap helped the TN to regain most of its lost time. Teegaon to Chichonda was covered at a low 40 kmph. b'coz of the Vindhyas.

I did clock the TN's speed at a few places using the traction masts. For example, just before Nekonda, it was doing 109 kmph. during a fast early morning run. Since it was running late in the Vijayawada-Warangal section, it's speed was close to the max. permissible in this section - 110 - and well above the 100 kmph. booked speed.

As we drove towards Chennai Central, my heart raced a beat as I would be traveling on IR's most prestigious non-Rajdhani/Shatabdi, "the last of the Mohicans" as Pushkar calls it. Fortunately, the train lived upto expectations, in fact, excelled in certain sections. At the station, I had expected the TN to depart from PF1 (which can handle 24 coach trains) but was surprised to spot it at PF5. This indicated that PF5 can handle 24 coach trains as well. Is this true for all platforms? A short walk led us to our AC 2-tier sleeper coach - 5th from the end. All visible coaches had the dark blue - light blue color and I hoped that this would be preserved for the entire train. Fortunately, our 4-berth cubicle was close to the door which would be my 'resting place' for a substantial portion of the journey. Even as we were adjusting the baggage, the Mysore Shatabdi pulled into PF4 with a matched WAP4(?) in charge, 10 mts. behind schedule. The train spilled out a reasonable-sized crowd - a friend recently informed me that this train is quite popular among Chennai-Bangalore and Bangalore-Mysore commuters but is hardly used for Mysore-Chennai.

As we departed almost on time, I noted that the Shatabdi was a modest 9-coach train with 1 AC executive chair car and 6 ac chair cars - no mismatched power cars. I zoomed in on the rake maintenance yard hoping to capture some interesting liveries. I spotted a Sapthagiri coach right behind a Shatabdi one and then the electric locos. from the shed cut-off my view. After Basin Bridge, the train took a sharp curve to the right and accelerated towards Gudur. Around 11.05 pm, we crossed Tada which meant that we were now in Andhra Pradesh. Just before midnight, the train slowed down as we approached Gudur - the electrified track from Renigunta joined us on the left. Would the train skip Gudur?! My last two journeys via this route had succumbed to Gudur - Rajdhani and Coromandel. The TN did not disappoint me as we went through PF2, flanked by the Bilaspur-Trivandrum Exp. on the right and a passenger train on the left. The pass. was most probably the Kakinada-Tirupati pass. although the loco. was nowhere in sight!

The TN had pulled into Vijayawada 11 mts. before time and I expected to stay there for 21 minutes. Not much activity at that time. We departed a minute early. Departures from a huge junction such as this one are ideal candidates for audio coverage - such sweet sounds as the train snakes through numerous points and switches with an occasional squeak as the wheel flanges touch the rails. On the right were a couple of WDM2s and a few rakes within the maintenance yard. The station is right next to a mountain with a temple at the summit - this was to my left as we accelerated towards Warangal. A bunch of lights went half-way up the mountain arranged in neat rows and columns. And then I settled in for my longest nap of the trip - 2 1/2 hrs. Somewhere in this run, the train had made a couple of unscheduled stops. Was back at the door just after 7.00 am to enjoy a fast early morning run. The weather had been a boon all through the night - no rain and cool winds! No major curves but I confirmed that all 24 coaches had the dark/light blue color - the loco. was most likely a WAP4 - standard red-cream livery. We reached Warangal 20 mts. late. The AC sleeper coach next to us had two extra silver stripes above and below the light blue band across the windows - I later discovered that this is the new all stainless steel coach rolled out by ICF.

After crossing Warangal town, I positioned myself on the left side to witness the Kazipet bypass. Twin electrified lines took off on a sharp curve followed by the cabin which said "Kazipet Byepass". Pretty soon, two lines joined us as we curved around a lake. The train went through Jamikunta at a slow 30-40 kmph. At 8.20 am, the Nagpur-Kazipet pass. crossed us - a live WAM4 was hauling a dead one followed by 7 coaches - this train was around 40 mts. late. We went through Ramagundam pretty fast - couldn't see the Thermal Power Plant - is this some distance from the station? Saw a WDM2-headed BOXN fleet loaded with coal, most likely, for the plant. Within 7 minutes, we were on a long bridge over an almost dried-up river. Only after crossing it did I realize that this was the Godavari - what a contrast to the mighty river that probably has the longest curved bridge over it near Rajahmundry. In another 8 minutes, we crossed Manchiryal - a single line with just the contact wire (low-speed catenary) took off maybe towards the cement plant. No sign of the Kerala Exp. yet - this was definitely late. We slowed down to overtake a WAG7-headed frieght train - since this was on the Dn. main line, we had to switch to the loop line and get back on the main track - this gave me yet another opportunity to zoom in on the loco & coaches. The train was on a non-stop running spree as we crossed Bellampalli around 9.30 am. Bellampalli is the latest GT halt.

Finally, the Kerala Exp. was passed at 9.36. WAP4 #22232 was in charge. Couldn't get the shed name but it said "Da Re" in Hindi - so an SR loco. - AJJ or Erode? The 22 coach train was organized as: 1 SLR - 1 GS - 8 sleeper - 1 pantry - 6 sleeper - 1 AC 3-tier - 2 AC sleeper (i.e. 2-tier) - 1 GS - 1 SLR. All coaches but one had the RCF livery - the odd one was a sleeper coach with green-yellow-stripes color (same as original Brindavan). The Kerala Exp. was 40 mts. late. We slowed down to a crawl on our approach to Sirpur Kaghaz Nagar but went through the 3-platform station on a non-platform through line. In the process, we overtook a long 20-coach train headed by WAG5 #23664 from Lallaguda shed with the front panto up. All but the end SLRs were plain GS coaches - never seen such a consist before - 18 GS coaches!!! Since I couldn't get the name, I feel that it was a holiday special OR the Kazipet-Manikgarh pass. runnning over 45 mts. late. An hour later, we were at Balharshah and the train completed a 3 1/2 hr. non-stop run. Had a chance to examine the interior of the stainless steel coach next to us - a brand new look with dark green curtains and upholstry. Different reading lights, as well. On the panel was proudly stated "This is stainless steel coach manufactured by Integral Coach Factory, Chennai". A side note about Manikgarh - this is one station shy of Balharshah and the passenger from Kazipet terminates here - so looks it's a satellite terminal for Balharshah.

We were now in CR territory and I put away my SCR timetable and took out my CR one. We left at 11.23 am and immediately met the Wardha-Balharshah pass. which was standing at the outer signal - WAG5 #23582 was in command with a fleet of 10 coaches, first two being sleepers. Although the train was 10 mts. early, why was it standing outside when all platforms were available - a mystery! A 3rd unelectrified line kept us company till Babupeth after which it veered off towards Naghbir. Evidently, this was the extension of the newly converted Naghbir-Chanda Fort line till Balharshah. Any trains running between Naghbir and Balharshah? The next station after Balharshah (and before Babupeth) was actually an abandoned one with the boards greyed out - could have been Chanda Fort, but I'm not sure!! After passing Chandrapur, saw an OHE maintenance car in action with its panto up - a traction mast was being worked on. Around 1.10 pm, the train slowed down on its approach to Sewagram. A line took off on the left, bound for Wardha Jn. And then we went over a reasonably sharp curve (to the right) followed by a short straight stretch - this put us almost perpendicular to the Wardha-Sewagram line. It looked as if we were waiting at a level crossing of-sorts - in fact, the Pune-bound Azad Hind Exp. crossed right in front of our train (at least, that's how it seemed when I zoomed in). And then the grand daddy of all curves - as the loco. negogiated this one with it's sizeable load, I was able to capture the number - WAP4 22203, most probably, from Jhansi. For a while, it seemed that this was a totally different train since the curve was at an acute angle and I was at the rear. Finally, the train straightened out and switched onto a loop line before going through Sewagram. The through line was occupied by a WAG7-headed BOXN load - I did not see too many WAG7s on this trip. Ten minutes later, the GT Exp. crossed us hauled by WAP4 22203 from Jhansi - 1 SLR - 1 GS - 4 2AC - 2 3AC - Pantry - 12 Sleeper - 1 GS - 1 SLR - 1 Parcel Van - a total of 24 coaches. All coaches except the parcel van had the RCF color. The parcel van was all blue - on the side was written "Green Parcel Service", "CC not to exceed 23 T" (something similar in Hindi indicating a weight restriction). Surprisingly, this was from WR. The train was bang on time!

20 mts. later, around 1.52 pm, we crossed the sorry-looking Jammu Tawi - Chennai Andaman Exp. at Buti Bori. WAM4 #20540 from AJJ was in charge followed by a dead loco #21261 followed by 1 SLR - 4 GS - 1 FC (First Class coaches are still on the run) - 1 sleeper - 1 GS - 2 sleepers - 1 SLR - 1 Motor-cum-parcel van (from NR). A GS in the middle of sleeper coaches, strange! All coaches had the drab maroon color and NO vestibules. So much for rake maintenance. The train was running nearly 1 1/2 hrs. and does not have a halt at Buti Bori. The fact that it was parked on a loop line meant that it was waiting for an overtake, most probably, by the Jaipur-Chennai Exp. since we met the latter just 10 minutes later. This was hauled by WAM4 20502 from BRC shed, of all the places - this train is under the wires right from Sawai Madhopur - could this loco. be working it right from Sawai Madhopur? The loco. had the familiar red-cream color but with a very slight dip in the front and no MU cables. The consist - 1 SLR - 9 sleepers - Pantry - 2 3AC - 2 2AC - 1 GS - 1 SLR. After going through Ajni yard, we arrived at Nagpur on PF1 at 2.18 pm. Just before that I spotted a WAG5HA from BHEL - didn't see any more of these on this visit. I noted that Nagpur has 7 platforms. The Vidarbha Exp. was stationed on PF3 with an Itarsi WAM4 #20426 in charge. The words "Air Braked" was clearly written on the face. These Itarsi locos. have an elegant livery - cream & blue bands at the top with a V-dip in front, and then a thin black stripe, red at the bottom. A few more of these were idling on the non-platform lines between PF1 and 2. A dual-braked WAM4 from Tatanagar shed, #21209, gave them company.

We left Nagpur 13 mts. behind schedule. At the far end of PF3, an RDSO Auxilliary Oscillograph Van was parked, with an elegant cream-blue color - probably used for high-speed trial runs. Saw two parcel vans next to each other - one red and the other blue. A set of electrified lines branched away headed for Durg/Howrah. Just after that, we went over an NG line - one of the many NG lines that make up the network around Nagpur-Itwari. Within 5 mts., a single line with single contact wire appeared out of nowhere and joined us on the right. And then the Chennai-bound TN Exp. crossed us at 2.38 pm - again a uniform-liveried rake - 1 SLR - 1 GS - 4 2AC - 2 3AC - 1 Pantry - 13 sleepers - 1 GS - 1 SLR. The composition matched that of the GT except for an extra sleeper and no parcel van. Are the TN and GT rakes still being interchanged? The train was nearly 48 mts. late. By this time, a yard-of-sorts had formed with few loop lines. On one of these was parked a long NMG train headed by WAG5A #23693 from TKD shed - the fleet consisted of 25 NMG vans and an SLR at the end. Most of the vans had been converted from sleeper coaches and GS coaches had been used for the rest. Mostly the standard maroon color except for a few light blue ones. Looks like the train was transporting Maruti cars/vans from the Gurgaon plant to Nagpur and beyond.

After a short 1 1/2 hr. nap, I woke up to find the train at Teegaon. Three MUed Itarsi WAG5s were headed for the rear, they crossed our train from behind to emerge on the other side and were attached to a BOXN load. In the meantime, a lone Itarsi WAG5 (23538) attached itself to the end of our train with the trailing panto. All this consumed around 7mts. and we were off towards Itarsi. Passed an OHE inspection car in unsual livery - cream on top and bottom - light blue at windows - two black stripes above and below windows. Even as we accelerated out of Teegaon, the Dakshin Exp. crossed us hauled by AJJ WAM4 #20603 - 1 SLR - 4 GS - 6 sleepers - 1 Pantry - 1 First Class (it's alive!) - 2 2AC - 4 sleepers - 1 SLR. So, a total of 20 coaches. The train was 25 mts. late. The ride till the next station, Chichonda, was very scenic as the train snaked through the Vindhyas - innumerable curves, two tunnels, one catch siding. At Chichonda, the banker was detached - it actually followed us till the end of the station though at a much slower speed. Between Betul and Ghoradongri, we crossed five more tunnels - here the gradient seemed noticeably lesser than the earlier one. It was getting dark as we crossed Ghoradongri - the full moon was very close to the horizon.

We pulled into Itarsi at 7.00 pm on PF1. Was looking forward to the meeting the Bangalore-NZM Rajdhani. Much to my chagrin, a WAG7-headed freight train pulled in next to us in the same direction, blocking off the view. After 20 mts., the Rajdhani's arrival was being announced (on PF3), so I decided to run all the way to the end of this *stupid* freight train. I crossed the caboose and waited between the tracks. The Rajdhani came in with its 12 coach load. Since I was some distance from the station lights, I did not get the train in full glory - neverthless, the fluorescent lights from the AC coaches combined with the clattering sounds was something to remember. Not satisfied with my 'catch', I decided on a somewhat risky venture. On confirming that our train would leave after the Rajdhani, I ran all the way to the other end of PF1, climbed the foot overbridge and ran down to land-up on the PF2 / PF3 island. I was rewarded with parallel departures of two unique-liveried trains - the Mysore-bound Swarnajayanthi Exp. with its red-cream-blue livery and the Nizamuddin-bound Rajdhani Exp. with its red-cream livery. What a sight!!! The Surat-bound Tapti Ganga Exp. had just arrived on PF4. And then I retraced my steps as fast as I could back to my AC coach. As soon as I stepped in, the TN Exp. departed on the heels of the Rajdhani. Phew, that was a close one!

Between Itarsi and Nizamuddin, I slept for most of the time except near big stations - Habibganj, Bhopal, Bina, Jhansi, Gwalior, Agra, Mathura. This night was distinctly colder than the previous one. We crossed Habibganj at 9.04 pm - on the 'terminus' platform, the Habibganj-Bhopal Exp. was waiting to depart with bright RCF coaches and a WAP4 in charge. We went through Bina a little after 11.00 pm - a WDM2 + luggage van was on PF1 - it said "Gondwana Exp.". This must have been the remains of the Gondwana Exp. from Jabalpur which got amalgamated with the one from Bilaspur. So, we were trailing the 'longer' Gondwana and caught up with it at Jhansi. Just before we entered the station on PF3, the 24-coach GT crossed us about 15 mts. late. I observed that Jhansi has two additional platforms, 4 and 5. The Gondwana was on PF4, on the track to our left. It was allowed to go minutes after our arrival. In 10 mts., the Habibganj-NZM Exp. caught up with us on the same track. All this took its toll, and we left Jhansi 1/2 hr. late. Expected to overtake the Gondwana at Agra Cant but that did not happen. Of course, the Agra skip, in itself, was an event to cherish. As we went through the non-platform Dn line, I saw the Agra-NZM Exp. parked on PF4 - in about 75 mts. it would start its northbound journey. Agra also has a new island for platforms 4 and 5. Daylight had descended upon us as we crossed into Faridabad. Met the Taj. Exp. at Hazrat Nizamuddin - it continues to have the DQ livery - a WAM4 was in charge. After Tilak bridge, the diesel-hauled Frontier Mail gave us company for a short while. Initially I thought that this was coming from Mumbai and was puzzled at the arrival time and the diesel power. It took me a while to realize that the train was from Amritsar, and would have to reverse at New Delhi to continue towards Mumbai. We finally arrived on PF12 which is next to the entrance. So, my TN experience came to an end - most definitely one of my favorite IR journeys.

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