Hey there friends! 😀
I am back with yet another series of blogging, and this time; it will be all about one particular favorite train of mine
“Your Attention Please, 2841 UP Howrah Chennai Coromandel Express, will leave from Platform Number 14 at 13.15 hours”
This was the announcement made at Howrah station, from the late 90’s to the middle of 00’s. This was a regular announcement that I have heard all these years. Coromandel Express is one of the important Metro-to-Metro-connecting Superfast Express trains and its popularity has soared high over the years to what it is today.
If I look back in the way I have been seeing this train, this is the first train, which I have ever boarded in my life, just few months after my birth in Chennai and came all the way to Kolkata (the city, where I live) . From the early 90’s to the present date, Coromandel Express is still a super fast train to the commoners and for me, it is sure to flood me with a lot of Nostalgia. On numerous occasions, this has been my go-to option while planning my trips to Chennai. So, today in this blog, I will be sharing one of my recent train journey stories while also talking of the times, when railfanning meant pure train spotting and acknowledging about what I have seen to those days, where I have appreciated trains, on knowing many striking facts about them.
2014: South India Tour: Part 1 Howrah to Visakhapatnam
2014 was definitely one of my best years, when it came to touring. Tours, big and small happened once a month, call it circumstantial or just as a break, 2014 gave me all. One such important tours of the year was the tour to South India. I will share the journey by Coromandel Express in this blog, and all the other details regarding the rest of the tour and gradual happenings would follow in due course.
It was 19th of August, the date I fixed for the journey to commence as I had to attend a function in my uncle’s place with my family on 22nd of August. Thanks to the late planning, we missed out our chances of getting the AC coaches. Though there was a faint possibility of the tickets getting confirmed in the last minute, but since I was traveling with my family, I dropped the idea of going for the AC tickets. Thus, we settled for sleeper class journey in a train that was widely famous for its overcrowded sleeper class coaches. But we just had the seats in the sleeper class for our journey, so there we were.
We took a cab to Howrah at around 12.40pm, and reached Howrah at about 13.20pm. We got down near the New complex and heard some of the familiar announcements for Tamralipta Express, Gitanjali Express, and Saraighat Express as well. Slowly, we walked along the new complex cab way towards the middle portion of platform number 22 and finally around 14.15pm, the grand announcement of 12841 HWH-Chennai Coromandel Express was made to our delight. In about 5 minutes, I saw a KGP Alco, curving with a rake, under the Chandmari Bridge and finally entered the platform with the train, which is one of the reasons why I started loving railways. The coaches which were once, brilliantly elegant back those days now looked extremely shambolic from outside. When we entered the coach, (it was a 2007 made CBC coupled coach) ill -maintained smelly interiors, wet floor because of rain waters, dusty berths, and the coach in sorry condition welcomed us. This was the same train, which at one point was one of well-maintained trains with neat and clean coaches, and supplied decent food. Today, thanks to the attention paid by SRC CDO, the case is completely the contradictory. Meanwhile Puri Shatabdi arrived in platform number 23, just 5 minutes prior to Coro, got it’s WAP-4 from Santragachi shed for its return leg journey.
We got S-10 coach and out of which, I got a side lower, my dad got a middle berth and mom chose to settle down for lower berth. My point of having to opt for the side lower berth is to ensure that I get to enjoy the track side actions in both the directions, as the train will undergo a loco reversal from the midway point at Visakhapatnam. Our co-passengers were 2 couples and a middle-aged man. One of the two couples seemed calm and composed, while the other couple, had with them a baby (and were causing trouble all through the journey). I went to check the loco and saw the link as to be SRC WAP-4 #22865, which will lead the 24-coached rakes until Visakhapatnam.
Howrah station’s charisma is its view of Howrah Bridge in the backdrop. The hustle and bustle of the EMU’s and constant shunting on and off, gives Howrah an enigmatic feel. Meanwhile, the two general coaches at front were stuffed with passengers and the crowd seemed to be overflowing out of the coaches. One could see innumerable Waitlist passengers boarding reserved coaches and as it goes, a coach of 72 passengers were well about to have over 90 passengers in every Sleeper coach. Such is the popularity of this train, which is popular among East Indian citizens, as this is one of the main trains from the 90’s for those visiting Madras. Coromandel Express is more than just a train to me; it is a complete bliss no matter how poor maintained its coaches were, a trip in this train gives my journey a great kick-start.
I came back to my coach, waited outside for the starter, as the time ticked on 14.50pm, still we saw no sign of departure. Meanwhile, Puri Shatabdi departed at 14.50pm and we were set to wait and possibly trail this Shatabdi, all the way until Bhubaneshwar. Finally, at 15.00pm, I heard a honk and slowly, the train started moving. I hopped in quickly and officially, the trip down to South began.
At Howrah outer, after crossing Chandmari Bridge, I saw the rakes of Saraighat Express being shunted with the loco attached. The loco link was 20014 from SGUJ Shed. Meanwhile, our train turned towards SER side towards Tikiapara EMU Shed and slowly accelerated. The coach looked as if it was carrying close to 100 passengers, hustling here and there and taking their seats while some were desperately fighting to get in. The pantry car people, meanwhile had started their chores of selling different afternoon snacks. The train neared Santragachi, one of the most important stations of South Eastern Railways, around 7 km away from Howrah station and from this point, we could see the rakes of different SER trains and Santragachi Electric Loco Shed. We crossed Santragachi at a speed of 30kmph and thereby, we crossed the famous bottleneck of Howrah-Santragachi, and thereafter, started to accelerate to its route MPS of 110kmph. We were on the main UP track and the train was cruising close to MPS, before we slowed down at Andul outer. This time, we were transferred to the bi-directional reversible tracks and were set to run in the same tracks until Kharagpur Jn.
Coromandel Express once used to run with twin diesels from Kharagpur to Vishakapatnam, between the late 90’s and early 00’s. A time, when VSKP WDM-2 twins, dedicated to haul the same train and Coromandel used to be one of the top prioritized and popular name in the East Coast of the country. A time, when I enjoyed Coromandel journey the most.
Before we started the journey, I heard certain news of the crossing of YPR-HWH Duronto Express with and offlink Kanpur WAP-4 on that very day. I did track the running status of the train and ensured to doorplate until I manage spot and record the video of YPR-HWH Duronto with CNB WAP-4. After a brief wait, the train slowed down at Uluberia, observing a speed restriction of 50kmph, crossed CNB WAP-4 #22684 hauled YPR-HWH Duronto Express.
Happy after spotting and offlink with a premier train, I came back and sat down, while we cruised Kolaghat bridge over Rupnarayan River. While crossing a late running East Coast Express, we once again slowed down near Mecheda outer, observing one of the innumerable speed restrictions in the route between Howrah and Kharagpur. After cruising along the EMU trip shed of Mecheda, Coromandel accelerated once again and quickly, we reached MPS.
Run wise, Coromandel was one of the aggressive trains of those days, thanks to some political agitations and demands of regional zones, today Coromandel has around 13 intermediate halts. It used to have 4-5 stops back then during its merry days. So much is the nostalgia of the train and me that I have traveled over countless times and not yet bored by its run even today.
After crossing Khirai, suddenly we saw the dark clouds forming thick and fast and by the time we crossed Haur, it started raining cats and dogs. Adding to the woes, we needed to close the windows and the couple carrying a baby were becoming a greater menace. The frequent cry of the baby was unavoidable, but the parent’s aversion for cleanliness was even more striking. From spilling onion peels to a bowl of water, our coupe seemed to be in a sorry condition. The other young couple were so calm and composed, created no such menace, and seemed to be contained and co-operative. The walking bay of the coach was filled with unreserved passengers and wait listed passengers. One sole good thing about the coach was the OBHS people. They cleaned the coach at regular intervals and seemed co-operative while trying their level best. I felt sorry towards their efforts in cleaning, as it seemed too problematic. The un-registered vendors, beggars, and eunuchs crossed the coach and the situation was worsening.
We finally reached Kharagpur at about 16.45pm, 15 minutes behind the schedule. At Kharagpur, I bought myself a small plate of Alur Dom, a popular dish of this station. We left Kharagpur at 16.50pm and slowly, we left one of the most important railway junctions of East India, a junction point of two trunk routes.
Kharagpur is a four- directional junction. One main line comes from Howrah and three routes diverge, viz. Kharagpur-Tata, Kharagpur-Balasore, Kharagpur-Adra routes. The other specialty of the station is the large marshaling yard. SER’s main workshop, has a diesel loco shed and of course, a divisional Head Quarter- so much is the importance of this station. Thus, when Coromandel left platform number 3 (once the longest platform of the world), we crossed the large and criss- cross alignment of the Workshop and the bypass lines to enter the route towards Balasore and the first station called Hijli.
Hijli is a popular station, which numerous express trains and freights use to bypass Kharagpur (to avoid reversal) and enter the other two routes. Additionally, Hijli is the nearest railhead to India’s oldest IIT, the IIT Kharagpur.
The stretch of Kharagpur-Balasore can be considered as a speed heaven in South Eastern Railway. The constant MPS run of 110kmph in the 116km stretch is the striking feature of the route. The sunset can be seen from a distance and the parallel run with the Kolkata-Chennai highway is a great view to enjoy.
We crossed Bengal – Orissa border at Lakshannath Road at about 17.40pm and the run was expectedly superb. We crossed numerous trains like Dhauli, Neelachal and plenty of freights in the meantime. Slowly, darkness set in by 6pm and once again the rain started pouring heavily. We reached Balasore at 18.20pm and shortly we saw the crossing of Tirupati Santragachi Express, at the outer of the station.
Slowly, we were closing to Bhadrak, a station which marks the beginning of India’s greatest freight -dominated zone, East Coast Railways. A zone, which is remarkable in terms of freight controlling and their efficiency is unmatched. However, their express train controlling in one particular division, called as Khurda Road division is absolute misery. They prioritize freights so much; that they alone contribute to some percentage of loading in the entire country’s loading share.
There is not a single express train, which this division spares on any given day. Coromandel is a usual victim of these delays. We entered Bhadrak at 19.08pm and left 2 minutes later. We reached the infamous Coromandel’s accident spot of Jajpur Keonjhar Road at 19.40pm and just after we left Jajpur Keonjhar road, we were stalled in an intermediate station.
We were wondering as to what had happened. The delay extended to as much as 40 minutes, before we finally left the dark station at 20.25pm. Meanwhile, we had our dinner, as my mom had made my favorite Tamarind rice before we left our home.
We were running late almost close to an hour as our train was crawling for quite a distance. We crossed the magnficant Mahanadi Bridge, off Cuttack city, to finally reach the station at 21.30 pm. In the meantime, we saw the crossing of 12840 Chennai Howrah Mail with SRC WAP-4. After a brief 5 minutes halt, we left Cuttack, towards the capital city of the state of Orissa, Bhubaneshwar.
After crossing few tributaries of Mahanadi, namely Kathajodi and Kuakhali, we entered Khurda district and Bhubaneshwar city outskirts. We stormed in this 28km stretch and skipped stations like Patia, New Bhubaneshwar. When we skipped Mancheshwar, I saw the empty rake of SC-BBS Visakha Express, resting in the station loop. Finally, we crossed the coach depot of Bhubaneshwar and entered platform number 3 at 22.12pm. In the adjoining platform, I saw the electronic display board flashing 22882 Bhubaneshwar –Pune Express at 22.10pm. This meant, we will be trailing this train all the way until Vizianagaram, a station where the weekly train halts and Coromandel does not, so as Coromandel will have the chance to overtake. Until Vizianagaram, which was about 380km away from Bhubaneshwar, we were subjected to trail. In the meantime, saw the electronic boards showing the possible arrivals of various trains. We finally left Bhubaneshwar at 22.20pm and proceeded towards the divisional headquarters station of Khurda Road, which was around 20kms away. We reached Khurda Road at 22.50pm. In the meantime, I heard an EOG’s humming and saw the crossing of the popular LHBfied Purushottam Express towards New Delhi. By this time, the lights were off, and I went and lied down in my berth. We left Khurda road at around 23.10pm, and thus, we cleared yet another bottleneck of the zone to enter the speed stretch of the division. The 147km stretch of Khurda Road-Brahmapur is where the trains possibly do the best possible run. Had it been daytime, we would have got the continuous view of the country’s largest backwater lake near the track side which is a joy to watch. The view of sea from Chilka Lake is although minimum while traveling in trains. Still, we can get the clear coastal stretch view.
The other significant feature is the highway running parallel and the hills near Chilka backwaters in the backdrop are the eye-catching stuffs. But at dead night, they mean much lesser than what they are during daytime.
At this point, Coromandel was cruising, minute after minute, nostalgic feel of twin alcos thundering in this stretch was an imminent dream. But this time, the case was more than a little different. Thanks to some caution orders and speed restrictions, we reached BAM at 01.05am. We were running late, close to about an hour. Thanks to the slack, we hoped to reach VSKP by 4.30-4.40 am. But this night, did not belong to us. I slept as we left Brahmapur, and shortly woke up when we skipped Icchapuram and entered Andhra Pradesh. The run was not the typical Coromandel run on this stretch and was suffering from numerous slowdowns and it looked to trail a train all the way from Bhubaneshwar.
It was a stellar performance by BBS-Pune Express, kept a check on Coromandel’s run all the way until Visakhapatnam. Yes, this weekly train’s great track clearance meant a wonderful run on its part and a woeful run for already troubled Coromandel Express.
I woke up when we closing on Nellimarala, the penultimate stop before Vizianagaram Jn. I thought this will be the time to overtake, but was proved wrong, as the weekly train has already departed Vizianagaram, about 5 minutes before we entered. The time was 4.30 am and we were now running late close to an hour and more. We halted at Vizianagaram for 2 minutes, until we got the starter and stormed towards Visakhapatnam. This stretch between Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam is 60km and is a ripper in sense of speed. We closed in Visakhapatnam at 5.25 am, and entered platform number 1 for the halt and reversal of the next 20 minutes.
End of Part 1 of 2014: South India Tour: Journey in Coromandel Express
Stay tuned for the second part of the second half of the journey from Visakhapatnam to Chennai.