Extinct Train — The Coimbatore Shatabdi
by Jimmy Jose
I have traveled in several extinct trains and thought I shall share with you memories of traveling in them, since travel on them can no more be done. Some trains, like Coimbatore-Chennai Shatabdi, Bangalore-Hubli Shatabdi etc got converted to intercities due to poor patronage. Some others, like Madras-Quilon Mail disappeared due to the snares of gauge conversion. Some, like Nizammuddin-Ernakulam Jayanti Janata got amalgamated with Kerala express and disappeared, only to resurface as Mangla express years later. Still others, like the Chennai-Madurai Janata exp and Chennai-Kanniyakumari exp via Erode, Karur just disappeared. I have traveled in all the trains mentioned and shall share with you my experiences.
In my first report, I shall mention about my journey in the Chennai-Coimbatore Shatabdi exp. This train ran for a brief period from 1995 to 1997 and subsequently, due to poor patronage, it was converted into an intercity, the present day Coimbatore Intercity. If railways can afford to run the Pune-Maumbai Shatabi with such low occupancy, they could have definitely continued this one too.
I was studying in Chennai and during December 1995, I had to come home to Ernakulam urgently. Since it was Sabrimalai season, I could not get reservation in any train and so I tried out the newly introduced Shatabdi. It used to leave at 15.10 from Chennai and reach Coimbatore at around 21.00.
I reached station before 12 in the afternoon and tried the current reservation. They said the train is empty and I can get a reservation at Central after buying the platform ticket. So, as told, I bought the platform ticket and had a reservation in Cocach S1. It was a window seat.
Had my lunch from Hotel Vasantha Bhavan and when I came back, the train from Coimbatore had just arrived and cleaning was going on. Had a look around the rake and what I found was that most of the compartments of the 8 coach train was old. Luckily my coach was quite new, borrowed from the Mysore Shatabdi. The other coahes were brought from some Shatabdi in the north and were very old, atleast 10 to 15 years. Some toilets had water heaters. The toilets were very dirty though. Some seats had old rough upholstery, with head rests torn and sponges were choked with hair oil. The loco was a WAP 1 of AJJ shed, with matching livery. By this time, most of the crack trains of SR were behind WAP 1s. Brindavan, Lalbagh, Kovai, GT, TN, Cheran etc. AJJ had most of the WAP 1s and some were from other railways.
I had the worst of neighbours. Two very old and ailing grandparents. My seat was with three seats. The old uncle started sleeping as soon as he boarded the coach and started falling on me. Later, the aunt took care of him and made him sleep on her lap. My coach was mostly full. So, the train started chugging and immediately, coffee and biscuits were served. TT came and I asked him for a change of seat. He said that if I move to other coaches, there were no people at all. So, my next home had, maybe 3 or four people in the whole old dirty coach.
Catering was by IR, but supported by Jenny's, Coimbatore. The chief of catering was from near my home and made friends with him. The train was simply blasting and did not even slow down at Arakkonam or Katpadi.
Though I did not want to sleep, I soon fell asleep and sometime before Salem, evening tiffin was served, consisting of samosa etc etc. Suddenly, an announcement was given that our train was running 20 minutes late eventhough we did not stop anywhere. Soon, we reached Salem and the stop was very brief, say 2 minutes. Many people got down, and no one boarded the train.
Soon, it was Erode and it was time for the much awaited loco change. The shatabdi liveried WAP 1 entrusted the train to a similar Shatabdi liveried ED WDM 2. At that time, WDM2Cs were not invented. The shatabdi liveried WDM2s were really handsome and ED had quite a few of them. Sad that ED has no more of these liveries.
Dinner was served. Since I did not make a prior reservation, I had to be satisfied with veg. First, it was soup. But, since the chief of catering became my friend, he gave me an extra portion of Chicken. So, I could taste both chicken and its equivalent Veg dish.
The train next halted at Tiruppur and by 9.30 pm, we were in Coimbatore. Since it was early winter, it was quite chilly in Coimbatore. I tried for a reservation in Tea Garden, but it was full. So, I took the Conti travels from Coimbatore, leaving at 11.00 pm. I should say that Conti travels were the pioneer private bus service from Coimbatore to Cochin, but soon disappeared like Shatabdi. Now, atleast 30 private services ply in the route along with the too good looking KSRTC superfasts, which are driving the private ones out of business. I reached home by early next morning, by around 3 am and had a good sleep.
I really miss traveling in this shatabdi. Now, intercity plies with almost similar slightly longer timings. I really have fond memories of the train.