Metre Gauge Journeys Part II: Vaigai Express
by Hariharan Subrahmanyan
My earlier post on this subject received a fairly enthusiastic response with at least two members requesting further posts with that theme.
In this post I would like to share some memories of Vaigai Express a train, that is much loved by travellers in Southern Railway. This train I remember was introducted-veterans please keep me straight if I have misstated anything - during the Janatha Regime probably 1977.
The train number used to be 135 and 136 today it is some four digit number probably 2635 and 2636. Pandyan used to to be 117 and 118.
I remember that it used to leave around 6 am from Madurai and had 8 coaches. I dont recall if there was an AC Chair car at that time. I recall the clean coaches, the water containers in each coach, the paintings of famous temples on the wall . I also recall the caption "fit to run at 110 km" on each bogie somewhere.
There even used to be a lending library with some comics and magazines and some books too. It was a thrill to stand on the vestibule connecting the coaches a few seconds when the train was going full blast. We used to walk the entire length of the train taking in the sights. Invariably one could spot a friend, a distant relative.
This train used to do an even 2½ years for each of the 3 major sections, MDU - Trichy, Trichy - Villupuram and Villupuram - Egmore.
The seats themselves were not very comfortable - they are not today either with no recline. But all said and done it was a very fast way of getting to Madras.
In mid eighties this train was double-headed with upto 16 coaches. We used to walk over to the tracks from our school (near MDU Junction) watch the train go by at the Madura Coats Level crossing.
The train's glamour waned over the years gradually. Pallavan came about later. And even today I think, the Pallavan from Trichy, returns to Madurai as the Vaigai in the afternoon.
In later years after I started working in the North - (yes for folks like me who have lived in Madurai since their childhood) anything north of Madras was "THE NORTH" — another world filled with promise and riches) I travelled on the old favorite Vaigai on a few occasions.
For example one could leave NewDelhi by TN on Wednesday night and reach Chennai on Friday morning.Immediately take an auto to Egmore station and wait at the platform. For those that did not have a reservation in Vaigai, there were two options.
A queue forms in one end of the platform in Egmore regulated by an RPF (or state police??) constable. One could get a seat in the unreserved coach .
Boarding the Vaigai still remained the fastest way to get southern districts the same night. Those journeys were not very comfortable. The journey can become exhausting in summer and meter guage used to generate too much sideways jolt. One could feel the dirt sticking to the face when we got out of the train.
Around 5.40 pm the train would reach Trichy . Time for coffee and a respite from the heat. Then there is the stretch upto Dindigul when the train would really pick up speed. In Kodai Road or Vellode, one can see Pandyan cross and just before 8:30 pm one would pull into Madurai junction, Home sweet home.
I remember, we had to book a "through" ticket from NewDelhi to Madurai to take advantage of telescopic fares but we had to go to another terminal to get the Madras-Madurai leg confirmed. This was before the days of the centralised PRS.
It was a great feeling travelling in the A/C Chair Car.On at least two occasions I have relaxed with a novel and a bottle of water and just enjoy the scenery outside every now and then.
This train also offered some other unexpected attractions.If Vaigai was held up for a crossing, one could watch a "token exchange" a thrill for me at any age. On at least two occasions I have seen this in Vellode, near Dindigul. I even remember once seeing worker(is it a pointsman-what is the name of this worker - ??) hold a torch at night to pass the "token".
Some other pleasant memories I carry from my journeys on the Vaigai Express is the interaction with Army Personnel going home on leave. They hail from rural areas such as Rajapalayam, Theni and typically in their mid-30s. They would have joined the army in their teens and already put in 15 years of service.
I had occasion to have extended chat with people returning from the Pakistan border, the Siachen Glacier, Kashmir and so on. They were infantrymen, drivers and people from different spectra of the Indian military. I have spent many an hour chatting with them, getting a sense of the hardships they face and left with deep admiration of our armed forces.
On any given day, one could see defence personnel boarding the Vaigai in Egmore. I am sure that Pandyan does not see as may servicemen travelling on any given day.
These are some random impressions I carry from journeys on the Vaigai Express.
As stated earlier, I hope that this still this still holds the interest of railfans in this forum, I would like to continue writing along these lines for a few more instalments.
The motivation for this is from a website called Flyertalk, where frequent travellers contribute tips and share their travel experiences . They are mostly related to air travel and hotels.
My next trip report will be on the popular Shaan-E-Punjab NewDelhi Amritsar journey that a friend and I took back in late 1996.
Happy rail fanning.