North India Trip
by Vivek Manvi
Borivali-Jammu Tawi by 2471 Swaraj Express
Photos from this trip can be viewed here: North India Trip
I was to travel by the 2471 Mumbai-Jammu Tawi Swaraj Express from Borivali to Jammu Tawi on my way to Vaishnodevi. This was the first time I was traveling on this train for the entire stretch and I was looking forward to the journey.
Me and my wife reached Borivali station at about 07:55am. As soon as we entered the station, I could hear the loud roar of Generator cars passing by. This meant that the 2952 Mumbai Rajdhani was bang on time. With a happy feeling, we started the long walk towards platform no. 4. I was feeling positively drowsy after having slept for just two hours. The coach position boards at the platform were still displaying the coach positions for 9023 Ferozepur Janata Express. Soon enough, the 9023 arrived behind a WCAM-1. Nothing spectacular about it though. At platform no. 5, a steady stream of jam-packed Virar-Churchgate locals continued with people getting off and an even greater number of people getting on. Has somebody ever wondered that there could be a Guinness record hidden here for the maximum number of people packed per square foot?
Anyway, after a long halt of eight minutes, the starter turned amber and the WCAM-1 sounded its melodious twin tone horn. The train slowly picked up speed and cleared the platform. I knew that I would be meeting the Ferozepur Janata somewhere near Dahanu Road when it would be overtaken by our Swaraj Express. As soon as the 9023 departed, a surprisingly empty Virar local arrived. It was gone in no time and another one followed. After this, there was a lull of about five minutes. The indicators now displayed the coach positions for the Swaraj Express. Our coach was S1, which was third from the loco. This made me very happy as I could safely get down at every halt and walk down to the loco. The time was 08:28 and the Swaraj Express was to arrive at any moment. Very soon, I could see a faint outline of a dark colored loco in the distance. From the shape, I could make out that it was a WCAM-1. With WR painting its WCAM-1s in different liveries, it remained to be seen which one this would be. It did not take me too long to find out that it was a red-blue liveried WCAM-1. The Swaraj entered the platform behind a red and blue WCAM-1 #21822 and came to a halt. We boarded our coach and settled down in our seats. We had been assigned the side-upper and side lower and that too trackside!!! What more can a railfan ask for?
At 08:36 the WCAM-1 sounded its horn and we were on our way. The 24- coach train slowly picked up speed and made its way through the distant suburbs of Mumbai. Very soon, Vasai Road was passed and the freight yard looked surprisingly empty. We overtook a container rake hauled by a GMO WAG-7 #27340 just before Virar. Virar was passed at 09:07 at a speed of 30kmph. The Bhavnagar-BDTS Express headed by an LHB-liveried WCAM-2 #21861 crossed us just after Virar.
The train picked up speed as it neared Vaitarna. As we were nearing Saphale, I could make out a WCAM-2 loco approaching us from a distance. Soon enough, the 2954 August Kranti Rajdhani screamed past us behind a WCAM-2P #21876.
Saphale was passed at 09:24. We slowed down on the approach to Kelve Road and came to a halt at the outer at 09:30. It was an agonizing wait for fifteen minutes till the signal turned amber and we started again. Palghar was crossed at 09:56. The train was doing a constant 100kmph in that stretch. We were to overtake the Ferozepur Janata at Boisar but the 15-minute delay meant that we would now overtake it further ahead. Gholvad was passed at 10:37 and just then, the 2934 ADI-BCT Karnavati Express crossed us. As soon as we approached Umergam, our driver let loose a long blast of the twin tones of the WCAM-1. I peeped out of the window to see what was happening. I could see a train standing at platform no. 2. It was the 9023 Ferozepur Janata Express. We overtook the train at 100kmph, horns blaring.
We arrived at our first halt, Vapi at 11:02 - 30 minutes late. This meant that we had lost half an hour because of the unscheduled halt at Kelve Road. After a halt of three minutes, we started again. The driver now showed us that he really meant business. Udvada, Pardi and Atul stations passed in a flash. At 11:25, we were blasting through Valsad at 90kmph. It was fun to watch the Swaraj rip past and important station like Valsad. Only a handful of trains on WR skip Valsad!! The 2926 Paschim Express hauled by a WCAM-1 crossed us just before Navsari. Udhna Jn was passed at 12:08 and we arrived at Surat at 12:12, 20 minutes late. The driver had made up 10 minutes in the Vapi-Surat stretch!! A new set of caution orders for the Surat-Vadodara section was handed over to the drivers.
We departed at 12:19 after a halt of 7 minutes. The Tapi river, which looked pretty dry was crossed at a speed of 30kmph. We slowed down again and just then I saw a BCNA rake parked at a siding, headed by TKD shed's beauty contest winner - WAG-7 #27455, "Samrat".
The grey-white loco features a single-piece windshield, a variety of flasher lamps and fog lamps and a slanting nose profile like a WAP- 4. Very smart indeed!! Ankleshwar was crossed at 13:05 and soon we slowed down for the approach to the long Narmada river bridge just before Bharuch station.
The arrival at Bharuch was at 13:15. Here, we were met by our counterpart - the Mumbai-bound 2472 Swaraj Express led by WCAM-2 #21868 in the LHB livery. WR has now painted atleast six or seven WCAM-2/2Ps in the LHB livery!! Anyway, the departure was at 13:20 and the train settled into a nice rhythm after Bharuch. Lunch was served then and nothing much was to be seen except a couple of crossings by container rakes.
Soon, we were on the outskirts of Vadodara. Vishwamitri was passed at a fair clip of 90kmph and I could clearly see the Maharaja's palace in the distance. The train slowed down and after negotiating the points, entered platform no. 1. Now, all 24-coach trains like the Swaraj Express use platform no. 1 at Vadodara. Other trains like the Rajdhani, JP Superfast, etc use platform no. 2. The arrival at Vadodara was at 14:24, again 20 minutes late.
As my coach was near the loco, I could reach in time to watch the WCAM-1 being uncoupled. The light loco after getting the shunting signal moved away slowly towards the trip shed, crossing on its way a 5000HP powerhouse called WAP-4. As soon as the WCAM-1 cleared the points, the WAP-4 closed in. It was in the normal BRC semi-Rajdhani livery. What was surprising was that this loco - WAP-4 #22352 did not have the usual "E" suffix that all the BRC WAP-4s have!! It was the first time I was seeing a BRC loco without that suffix.
At exactly 14:46, the WAP-4 sounded its HT horn, a high-decibel toot similar to a WAP-5 and we started. I was waiting restlessly to see the WAP-4 unleash all its 5000 horses and rip across the tracks at 110kmph. I didn't have to wait long. The train picked up speed as we crossed the numerous yards which surround Vadodara station. A container train led by a neat and clean NKJ WAG-7 #27622 was overtaken.
The driver stretched the legs of the loco and soon we were ripping away at MPS. The HT horn was thrown in at occasions for the W/L signs and it was sheer music to the ears. There's not much on IR that beats a WAP-4 hauling a 24-coach superfast train at 110kmph, with its horns blaring. You can never get this excitement sitting in an air-conditioned Rajdhani/Shatabdi coach even at 130kmph. Stations, LC gates, cabins all flashed past in seconds as the driver showed why the Swaraj is considered one of the crack superfast trains on this route. But this did not last for even an hour as the train slowed down and I could see a station approaching. Before I could even realize, we were at Godhra Jn. The train came to a halt at 15:45. The station was quiet at this hour and we were the only train at the station. After a halt of four minutes, we started again, the Malwa plateau ahead of us. The Godhra-Dahod stretch is interesting with long sweeping curves and long stretches of 1 in 150 up-gradients. The down and up tracks part from each other for nearly ten kilometers before they meet again.
The arrival at Dahod was at 16:47 and we departed after a halt of four minutes. The Dahod-Ratlam section is even more interesting with steep gradients and sweeping curves. It is actually a ghat section with a tunnel thrown in for good measure. Till now, I never knew that a tunnel existed on the Mumbai-Delhi mainline. It is between kilometers 596-597
There was a strange speed restriction sign at the entrance of the tunnel which read - 30kmph for passenger trains and 50kmph for goods!!! Does anyone know why goods trains are allowed to travel faster than mail/express trains here?
The arrival at Ratlam was at 18:20. It had become dark by then. There was some problem with the batteries of our coach - S1 and the entire coach was plunged into darkness. After 10 minutes of troubleshooting, the lights came on. We departed from Ratlam at 18:40. The Mumbai-bound 2904 Golden Temple Mail crossed us, led by a BRC WAP-4. The 2952 Mumbai Rajdhani passed us at 21:28 just after Shamgarh. It passed so fast that it was impossible to see what loco was hauling it. One could only see the huge LHB windows flash past and the entire train was gone in seconds. We arrived at Kota Jn, 25 minutes late at 22:05. I promptly got down and proceeded to check out the loco. Just then, the 2954 August Kranti Rajdhani arrived at Kota Jn at 22:10, behind a BRC WAP-4 #22351. The AK Raj had an LHB rake that day. It was a really cold night and I had a nice hot cup of tea, thankfully in a plastic cup.
The departure from Kota Jn was at 22:25. I decided to hit the sack then and it was too dark outside for any railfanning. As I was falling asleep, I could feel the train ripping past with the driver sounding the horn occasionally. The constant rocking and swaying lulled me to sleep. I woke up just when the train was entering Mathura Jn. The time was 02:00. It was too cold for me to venture out on the platform, so I just lay there on my berth. The train departed at 02:07. We were in the high-speed Mathura-Delhi stretch now, but I couldn't keep myself awake and I drifted back to sleep. I woke up as the train was approaching Tughlakabad. As I stood near the door and opened it, the biting cold hit me. Even at a speed of 20kmph, the wind chill felt like -10 degrees. We came to a halt at Hazrat Nizamuddin. The rake of the NZM-Kalka Himalayan Queen Express was parked at platform no. 7. Soon, I heard a high tone toot and the power of the Himalayan Queen, WAP-7, "Navgati" arrived to take charge of the rake. After a slow trundle, we approached New Delhi. Even at that unearthly hour, there were quite a few people at the station. We finally came to a halt at 04:45, again 25 minutes late. Repeated announcements about various trains, which are so typical of New Delhi station were being played over the PA system. It wasn't very hazy so the trains were running on time. Anyway, we departed at 05:20. I could see BRC WAP-4E #22540, "Rajhans" among other locos in the NDLS trip shed. As it was still dark outside, I decided to hit the berth once again. When I woke up, the train was just passing Kurukshetra and the time was 07:22. I freshened up and plonked myself at the door. It was really hazy and adding to that was the smoke lifting from the chimneys of numerous small houses. Acres after acres of Haryana fields passed by. Soon, we arrived at Ambala Cantt at 07:55, ten minutes before time!!! The scene at Ambala Cantt station was so typical of the stations on IR. People brushing their teeth on the platform, tea and food vendors doing brisk business, the waft of food rising above.
The departure was at 08:15. It was a pretty fast run thereafter with the WAP-4 doing MPS throughout. The next halt was at Ludhiana at 10:05. The train was now just five minutes late. Here we were met by the Mumbai-bound 2926 Paschim Express arriving behind a WAP-1 #22024 with retrofitted WAP-5 style windscreens.
The halt at Ludhiana was supposed to be for 25 minutes as it involved a loco change. These days, with the electrification of the route till Amritsar, the loco change happens at Ludhiana as opposed to New Delhi. There was absolute chaos at the station as nobody knew which loco was to be attached to the Swaraj. A LDH WDM-3A was ran up and down atleast three times before it was finally attached to the Swaraj. The loco no. 17906 had a smart red-black livery.
We finally departed at 10:45 after a halt of 40 minutes and now we were 20 minutes late. The difference in acceleration between the 3100HP WDM-3A and the 5000HP WAP-4 was obvious as the loco huffed and puffed to get the 24-coach monster train upto speed. However, the run was a diesel lover's absolute dream come true as the driver kept one hand on the horn and the other on the throttle. Before I knew it, we were at Jalandhar Cantt, our next halt. This is a junction with one line going towards Amritsar and the other going towards Jammu Tawi. The line to Jammu Tawi is an unelectrified single line section. The doubling work on this section is in progress and I could see tracks being laid in patches.
This section is very interesting with wide open fields so typical of Punjab. It reminded me of the scene from the Bollywood film, "Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge" which shows a WDM-2 hauled train speed through, surrounded by lush green fields. The national highway to Jammu also plays hide and seek as it crosses and re- crosses the tracks several times. This section has lower quadrant semaphore signaling and manual token exchange system. We saw a couple of crossings including one by the Malwa Express which was headed by a Katni WDM-2 and an unknown WDG-3A. Really strange!!
We arrived at Chakki Bank, the last major station before Jammu at 13:45 and departed at 14:10. The track now goes through serious twists and turns and numerous river bridges. The Ravi river bridge was crossed at 14:35 at a speed of 30kmph. After a journey of nearly 32 hours, we were nearing our destination. The outskirt of Jammu is a huge cantonment area with heavy security and fencing. Quite a few military school kids waved out to our train as it sped past them. Good to see that the love for trains exists in kids everywhere. For all you know, our next IRFCAn could be from J&K :-)
We finally slowed down on our approach to Jammu Tawi and trundled past the trip shed. Three to four WDP-3As and a LDH WDM-2 Jumbo were seen in the shed.
We finally came to a halt at 16:00, a good 20 minutes before time!!
Jammu to New Delhi by 1078 Jhelum Express
I traveled from Jammu Tawi to New Delhi by the 1078 Jhelum Express. We were worried whether our train would leave on time because of the accident at Mukeriyan on the Jalandhar-Pathankot section. After reaching Jammu Tawi station at 18:00, we heaved a sigh of relief when we learnt that the Jhelum was scheduled to leave right time at 21:30.
After finishing shopping on the insistence of my wife, we entered the waiting hall at the station. The minute I laid down the heavy bag I was carrying, the entire hall was plunged into darkness. There was a power cut and only the emergency lights on the platform were on. Some people panicked but sanity returned in a couple of minutes. I decided to take a stroll down the platform and check out the various arrivals and departures.
Platform no. 1 was occupied by a Holiday Special to New Delhi. The rake comprised of brand new 04xx coaches. I was impressed with the fit and finish of all the coaches - even Sleeper and GS!!! I simply fell in love with the 1st AC coach, which had a wooden laminate finish and red-carpeted flooring. Simply awesome! The loco was a TKD WDP-3A. Soon, the signal turned green and the train departed. I then decided to grab something to eat. As I was just finishing my meal, the Jhelum Express rake was shunted into platform no. 1. My coach was AS-2, '96 built coach. Our seats were again - side upper and side lower and that too trackside!!! After plonking the luggage on and below the seats, I proceeded to check out the loco. My joy knew no bounds as I discovered that we were to be hauled by a WDP-3A. The loco number was 15514.
We departed right time at 21:30. Even in the air-conditioned coach, I could hear the 3100HP loco notching up. The acceleration was quick and we were doing 60kmph in no time at all. Within minutes, the train slowed down and came to a halt. It was Bari Brahman, the first station out of Jammu Tawi. I still don't know why we halted there, as it was not a scheduled halt. This had happened in January as well when Vabby and I traveled on the Pooja Express from Jammu to Delhi. Anyway, after a halt of seven minutes, we departed at 21:52. After this, the only thing I could see out of the window was darkness. The pantry guys began their routine runs through the coach. We were not that hungry and after having eaten only pure vegetarian food at Katra (J&K) for five days, we were dying to taste something else. I decided to go in for bread-omlettes. It was a pleasant surprise as the omlettes were nice and warm and the bread was soft!! Kudos to CR and their catering staff. More surprises were in store for us. The coach attendant then began distributing bed-rolls. I was shocked to see the sheets nicely wrapped in a brown paper bag that read - Happy Journey - CR Pune Division. I had never seen such packaging for bed- rolls ever!!! I have still saved the paper bag as a memento :-)
At about 22:30, we decided to hit the bed, or should I say berth? I could feel the WDP-3A throbbing away ferociously into the night. I woke up to see the train halted at Pathankot. The Jhelum reverses here before proceeding towards Jalandhar. We departed at 00:40 and I fell asleep again. When I woke up, we had reversed again (the second reversal is at Jalandhar City) and were moving in the direction of New Delhi. The time was 06:45 and the entire area was covered with dense fog. Wonder how the drivers could spot the signals let alone see anything on the tracks!! I freshened up and decided to stand at the door. I could make out that we were being hauled by a WAP-1 and were approaching Ambala Cantt. The train was running nearly one hour late. The delay must have been due to the cautious running in the accident zone at Mukeriyan in Punjab which we must have passed at somewhere around 01:30. The arrival at Ambala Cantt was at 07:12 and I walked to the front of the train to check out the loco. It was a WAP-1 #22067.
As is the custom in North India, the loco had its front panto up. We departed at 07:18 and the WAP-1 displayed what it was capable of. The train constantly did not less than 100kmph. The hazy weather meant that the driver had to constantly sound the horn. Breakfast comprising of tasty bread-omlette and piping hot tea was served and the next 20 minutes were spent enjoying it!!! I was impressed with the way the pantry staff served the breakfast in Shatabdi style plastic trays.
We arrived at Kurukshetra at 08:15. After finishing the delicious breakfast I was sitting on the side lower berth, chatting with my wife. It was then when she spotted a WAP-7 arriving. It was a GZB WAP-7 #30207 with the 2006 Kalka-New Delhi Shatabdi Express. I put on my shoes, grabbed my camera and rushed outside the door. Thankfully, the starter was red and the Shatabdi had to wait. I clicked away as the drivers climbed on to the footboards in front of the loco and cleaned the windscreens. The WAP-7 too had its front panto up and looked absolutely stunning in the early morning sun.
The Shatabdi soon got a proceed signal and the drivers sounded the high tone toot. The WAP-7 then demonstrated its awesome capability as it started the puny 12-coach Shatabdi and accelerated like an EMU. The entire train was gone in no time at all. We got the starter at 08:35 and we were on our way. I decided to hang around the door for some more time as I knew we would cross the NZM-Kalka Himalayan Queen Express soon. It rushed past us, headed by a GZB WAP-7 #30215.
We arrived at Karnal at 09:15 and after a brief stop, departed at 09:17. The NDLS-Kalka Shatabdi screamed past us just after Karnal. The Shatabdi was headed by a CNB WAP-4 #22235. It's strange that the morning Shatabdi to Kalka always gets a WAP-4 whereas the evening one gets a WAP-7. After a sustained running at 100kmph, we were put in the loop again at Ganaur. It was now time for the ASR-New Delhi Shatabdi to overtake us. Even after protests from my wife, I got down, crossed the tracks and climbed on to the opposite platform. After a wait of about 3-4 minutes, I could hear a shrill horn approaching us from a distance. Soon, the silhouette of a WAP-1 appeared from the haze and rapidly closed in on us. The Shatabdi headed by WAP-1 #22030 overtook us at 100kmph, with its horns blaring. Check out the video of the overtake:
New Delhi to Ambala Cantt by 2029 NDLS-ASR Swarna Shatabdi Express.
I reached New Delhi station at about 05:50am. The 2002 NDLS-Bhopal Shatabdi Express was about to depart from platform no. 1. The loco heading the Bhopal Shatabdi was WAP-5 #30000. There was a flurry of activity as some senior official was on-board the loco. Members of railway staff were seen running around with documents and papers. I was happy to watch all this from a distance. Anyway, at 06:00am, the starter turned amber. There was no response from the driver. After two minutes, the driver sounded the shrill high-tone toot of the WAP-5. Another toot and the Shatabdi slowly pulled out of the platform.
As soon as it departed, I rushed to platform no. 12, where the 2004, Lucknow Swarna Shatabdi was getting ready for departure. The LHB-Alstom coaches looked shiny and new even after four years of use. The finish of the coaches is more like a car rather than a train.
NR has stuck stickers depicting the name of the train on the coach sides. These were not there when I traveled by this train in January 2004. All the broken/stolen plastic panes covering the name-boards of the coaches have also been replaced. This train surely deserves the ISO 9000 certification.
The coaches themselves were a mix of '99 and '02 built stock. One generator car was '99 built and the other was built in '02. The loco doing the honors was a WAP-1 #22052 instead of the usual WAP-5.
The LKO Shatabdi departed at its scheduled time of 06:15. As both my wife and I were feeling hungry, we decided to head to the Wimpy's outlet outside platform no. 12 for a quick bite. As we were relishing our chicken burger, a TKD WDM-3A with three marker lamps shunted the rake of the Dehradun Shatabdi into platform no. 12. Within five minutes, we could see the IR-20 rake of our train, the ASR Swarna Shatabdi being reversed into platform no. 12. Platform no. 12 at New Delhi railway station is quite interesting at this time. Both the Dehradun and the Amritsar Shatabdis leave from the same platform. Both the rakes are stationed at the same time on the platform but facing away from each other. There used to be a lot of confusion amongst passengers of the two Shatabdis as to which train to board. The railway authorities have come up with a smart idea to overcome this. They now place boards with the name and the number of the train with arrows pointing towards the rake positions. It looks something like this:
<----- 2017 Dehradun Shatabdi 2029 Amritsar Swarna Shatabdi -----
This was my first time traveling on the IRY/IR-20 coaches of the Amritsar Swarna Shatabdi. We were booked into coach no. C1, which was a '97 built coach.
After finding our seats, I decided to check out the rake and the loco. The ASR Swarna Shatabdi rake consists of mainly '97 and '00 built stock. The exterior of the coaches look nice with the fluted metal sides although the finish is not as good as the LHB coaches on the LKO Shatabdi. Here are some pictures of the exteriors of the IR-20 rake.
The loco was WAP-1 #22032 from GZB.
After checking out the rake from outside, I now decided to explore the interiors. The AC-Chair car coaches have 2X3 seating whereas the AC Executive Chair Car has 2X2 seating. The interiors look neat with huge windows and paneling. The seats are similar to what can be seen in conventional IR AC-Chair car coaches.
At 07:15, I decided I had enough and settled down in my seat. We departed right time at 07:20. We were given newspapers and a bottle of water. The train slowly made its way through the crowded and congested northern suburbs of Delhi and then picked up speed. It was quite hazy at that time and the driver regularly sounded the horn, which could be heard even in the air-conditioned coach. We were soon served tea/coffee and a couple of biscuits.
The ride quality was superb with no jerks and vibrations at all. NR has fitted LED speed indicators in the coaches, but unfortunately these were not working. I calculated the speed to be roughly 110kmph. Before I could realize, we were crossing Panipat Jn at 08:26. Breakfast was served then. The non-vegetarian breakfast consisted as usual of bread, omlette, butter and jam.
The food quality was pretty good and so was the presentation. The catering on the Shatabdi is handled by Doon Caterers. We crossed the 1078 Jhelum Express at 08:55 at Bazida Jattan. Karnal was passed at 09:04. The 2006 Kalka Shatabdi, headed by a WAP-7 shot past us at 09:10. All this while, we were doing a constant 100-110kmph. Kurukshetra was passed slowly at 09:28. The 2014 Amritsar-New Delhi Shatabdi, headed by a WAP-1 crossed us at 09:40. Bored of sitting in the chair, I decided to explore the rake again. The build and finishing of the IR-20 coaches was clearly superior to the conventional IR coaches. Even the vestibules are carpeted!!
The catering crew was very friendly. They told me that there was a time when the ASR Swarna Shatabdi was the no. 1 Shatabdi on NR. This slot now belongs to the LKO Swarna Shatabdi. NR has introduced a unique concept of "rail hostess" for the AC Executive Chair Car coaches. I saw her in action serving food to the passengers in the EX2 coach :-) The crew told me that we were running nearly 20 minutes late. Anyway, we reached the outskirts of Ambala and slowed down.
We finally reached Ambala Cantt at 10:15, 25 minutes late. Overall, the journey on the IR-20 coaches of the ASR Swarna Shatabdi was pretty good and I would give a score of 8 out of 10 for the IR-20 coaches.