Shatabdi to Ludhiana
by Mohan Bhuyan
At 7 am on Monday, March 31, I joined my two partners at NDLS for a day trip to Ludhiana on the 2031 Amritsar Shatabdi. As I entered PF 12 on the Ajmeri Gate side I saw a prominently displayed sign indicating that the eastern end of the platform was occupied by the Dehradoon Shatabdi while ours was on the western end. Located my partners in C1, second from the loco, turfed out one of them from my window seat despite his protestations of "first come, first served", and proceeded to check out the power.
The twin cabbed WDP 3A 15543 "Pushpak" from TKD was doing the honours. I peeped inside and was pleased to see that no permanent speed restriction was stencilled on the bulkhead. Between the loco and our coach was a Raj liveried generator car - I'm beginning to believe that this livery mismatch is deliberate, IR's way of slipping in a googly to relieve the design monotony!
We were off at 7.20 and proceeded sedately through the yard till the Subzi Mandi turnout for the UMB main line. The speed increased somewhat after SBZM but it was only after Badli that 2031 came into its own. Using the stopwatch on my cellphone and the trackside milestones, I clocked 30.48 seconds for one km - 118 kmph. Satisfied, I sat back to watch the drama that was unfolding near us.
The conductor had come to check the tickets and the very first person on his round turned out to be one those poor sods who have the right ticket but get into the wrong train! This middleaged gent from Baroda was actually supposed to be sitting with a similar air of unconcern on the Dehradoon Shatabdi, but in a few seconds he was rudely shaken out of his comfort zone. My partner was feeling sorry for him, while I vacillated between pity and contempt. My sympathetic partner gave him a cellphone with which to contact his folks at D'Doon, after which I gave in to my good side and assured him that he wasn't too far off-course. There would be plenty of buses and the odd train from UMB to Saharanpur and Doon.
Initially all the trains we crossed were EMU's heading into Delhi chock-a-block with commuters. Then near Panipat an air braked express whipped by followed by the Kalka Shatabdi. We were served breakfast, the same greasy omlette and french fries that one finds everywhere on IR. I emptied the pepper sachet onto the omlette to add some zing, as well as dollops of ketchup for good measure (something I rarely do). Wonder when they'll get around to including some chopped onions and tomatos in their omlettes!
After breakfast I continued trying to monitor the speed. It wasn't so easy because the signs on the catenary were facing the opposite direction. I was forced to use the KM markers. More frustration as I'd invariably miss a marker if another train came by or when we crossed stations. But we were doing fine...I clocked 117 kmph at this point. At about KM 160 the morning Shatabdi from Amritsar sped past, also with a Raj liveried generator car.
Till much beyond Karnal, we had enjoyed a more or less uninterrupted high speed run. Just as I was wondering about the lack of working gangs & speed restrictions, we slowed down drastically at Dhirpur. From here to Shahbad Markanda, 2031 travelled at what can best be described as a fast crawl.
From Shahbad to Ambala Cantt the twin carriageway NH 1 runs alongside. Much to my annoyance we didnt speed up much so a few of the fast cars were overtaking us. I took comfort in the fact that they would have had to leave Delhi much before we did, so theirs was a hollow victory, at best!
We reached UMB at 9.42, about ten minutes early, so the halt was lengthy enough for a cigarette on the platform. We were on PF 6, and I made a note that UMB has 7 platforms. But when I returned to my seat I saw that the adjacent platforms were numbered 3 & 4. Though I craned my neck up and down, I couldn't discover the fate of PF 5. So here's a suitable mystery for those of us who are platform fiends!
As we left UMB at 9.55, the Bhatinda-Delhi Express came in behind a Baldie. Over in the yard I saw a spiffy looking AC coach with lovely wide windows belonging to RDSO Lucknow and bearing the legend "Network of Electrification Testing and Recording Coach". There was nothing on the rooftop to suggest that it could have been anything more than a crew accommodation car. Or maybe there was a lab inside?Just before Ambala City we crossed a WAP 4 hauling an air braked South Central rake, I couldn't make out the name, could have been the Amritsar-Nanded Sachkand Express.
We braked sharply for the Ghaggar River bridge and continued slowly till just before Rajpura. In this period two more expresses crossed us hauled by a WAP 4 and a WAM 4 but since there was no speed restriction on the down line, they passed too quickly for me to see their names or destinations. We picked up the pace just before Rajpura Jn and clipped right through, overtaking an express in the process (possibly the Katihar - Amritsar). But the sprint through Rajpura was merely to impress bystanders, we slowed down to a crawl for a working party, once we were out of sight from the station!
The next train to pass us presented a rare sight - a WAM 4 pulling empty flat cars sans a guards van/caboose. Possibly an exercise to collect empty cars from various stations. From Sirhind Jn to Ludhiana we continued in fits and starts due to working gangs. I was not terribly impressed with the acceleration of the WDP 3A, considering that the load it was hauling wasn't enormous. My previous Shatabdi experiences in these parts have been behind a WAP 5, which is something else! But the WDP 3A did impress when it came to high speed cruising - after Mandi Gobindgarh I clocked 115 kmph.
Though the approach through the Ludhiana suburbs was carried out in a high speed frenzy, I knew we would be a few minutes late. Still it was pleasing to see that the speed made everybody in the trackside houses look up and take note. At Dhandari Kalan a spur emerged from our line turning sharply eastwards (Samit please note.)
By the time we descended from the foot overbridge at LDH, 2031 had begun its departure for Beas & Amritsar. At the exit, a ticket checker was stopping everybody. My partners jerked their thumbs in my direction, passed through and continued on. I looked into my shirt pocket - nothing! Next I rummaged through my trouser pockets - still nothing! Let me use Milan's inimitable style for what happened next -
Ticket Checker - Found your ticket?
Myself (sheepishly rummaging through my bag) - Not yet.
Ticket Checker - Still can't find it?
Myself (smiling obsequiously) - I'm sorry, I seem to have dropped it. I can show you my return ticket if you like.
Ticket Checker (Brusquely) - If you can't produce your ticket, pay the fare again before leaving.
Myself (quickly switching to indignant bravado) - What?! Do I look like someone who would travel ticketless from Delhi, that too on the Shatabdi?
Ticket Checker (matching my indignation) - I don't know about that, my job is to check tickets here.
Before I could think of a suitable reply my partners returned so I had to explain to them as well, from the beginning.
Ticket Checker (deciding he had had enough of us) - OK, give me your seat nos and go.
Myself - Seat nos - 6,7 & 8. Coach No - C1 (adding sarcastically) - and the train number is 2031!
Later sitting in the car that had come to collect us, I silently berated myself for this pathetic performance and the uncalled for sarcasm. The guy was doing his job after all. Just deserts for being contemptuous earlier of the man in the wrong train, I thought!
The return journey was boring and uneventful and 2032 was nearly 20 mins late at LDH. Our coach was full of families with young children who naturally became restive as the evening wore on. So two of us resorted to furtive gulps of Royal Challenge using the paper cups & bottled water conveniently handed out upon entraining. The highlight of the evening meal was a delightfully spicy chicken curry (saving me blushes - I had told my partners that according to the all knowing IRFCA, the Amritsar Shatabdi served the best food in IR!). 2032 went flat out all the way to Delhi and we reached on time in three and a half hours - most impressive. Thank God we hadn't taken my car, as previously planned!