Our Goa Trip by KR
by Dr. Shirish Yande
Goa Excursion of the Model Railway society
The Goa trip of the Model railway society had been on the cards for a long time. The route was finalized only two months earlier as under:
Take Chennai Mumbai mail to Mumbai on a Friday night; Catch the Mumbai Madgaon Mandovi express and enjoy the full day on the Konkan Railway, take a break at Goa and then take the return route by Nizamuddin Express via Londa and Belgaum to Pune.
The enthusiasm was at its best when we assembled at the Pune station at 22.30 hrs. The 6010 Chennai Mumbai express was right on time. The journey was to begin in the three-tier sleeper which was reserved in advance. When the train departed at 23.25 hrs the coach was virtually empty. The rake quality left a lot to be desired. But it was a comfortable ride to Mumbai CSTM.
The most exciting part was to follow later. We visited the "Control Room" at CSTM at 4.30 hours. It was fascinating to watch one person controlling the entire Pune Kalyan section almost single handedly. He sat on a small chair with a chart of the size of a drawing board on his table. He had a few telephone receivers in front and he spoke into a microphone fitted on his table. He was very busy indeed. It seemed all stations wanted to speak to him at the same time. He kept receiving the information of the positions of around dozen trains and he instructed them incessantly. He drew lines on the Time and Distance charts (in front of him) that gave him the precise position of individual trains and updated it every two minutes. He literally controlled the movements of all vehicles in that section including the movements of bankers traveling light. (The only exclusion was of local shunting at stations). He was amazingly busy but remarked to me that he had a relatively relaxed time between 12 midnight and 5 in the morning. The drawing on his paper told us precisely where each train was. He even instructed as to which train would run on the third line in the ghats. This was a thrilling experience.
We boarded the Mandovi express at 5.00 hrs. half asleep. The Mandovi rake did not share the reputation of KR. Except for the distinct pale and deep blue livery; the coaches had nothing special to offer. We travelled in the second class where seats were cushioned but offerred only a modest comfort. The ride of the train after Roha was distinctly different. It was exceptionally smooth and noiseless (which is rather uninspiring for the enthusiast) and indeed very pleasing. The lateral swaying and lurching is characteristically low and the vertical harmonics is minimal. There is an exception though! The track south of Juary River does not comply with the KR standards. It has a few vertical humps over which the train rocks up and down and runs at a speed of 40 kms only. The welding of this section is certainly inferior, making an appreciable sound. This section perhaps did not get the gas pressure welding process, being the last of the lot. This section around Goa is perhaps a blemish to KR. which otherwise boasts the cleanest and the most modern track design on Indian Railways.
The journey on the KR confirmed my earlier belief that KR as a Railway is more beautiful to look at from outside the train than from inside. The Mandovi Express travels at an average speed of 53 kms an hour. This is a pity since it is capable of doing 110 kms on most sections. The speed is seriously limited by the train crossings, which may take upto 30 minutes per operation. Panel Interlocking only at stations means large block sections and hence a longer time to clear signals. This is further worsened by the fact that many stations have only a single platform and the public would not like to alight on the other side in case two trains arrive on the station having only one platform. On the whole these appeared to be serious obstacles in maintaining the average speeds.
The crew of the KR is well dressed and uniformed. Although they are not paid by the same scale as the IR, they appeared sharp and friendly. I particularly enjoyed watching the Station Master's panel on the KR. It is very easy to read and learn. All movements are entered on a computer terminal and hence they do not have to maintain a register. All trains are controlled by the controller at Belapur (where the HQ of KR is located). I need not mention about the tunnels and viaducts, which get mentioned so often. The features I noted were that the boulders were fenced with net to stop them from falling. This becomes apparent when you travel through deep cuttings. While travelling through tunnels, you hear a sharp brisk noise of the passing shaft.
The Mandovi was running 45 min. behind schedule at Sindhu Durg but made it 5 min. before time at Madgaon. There is plenty of spare time to make up. The pantry car gives you more than you need and you always end up overeating.
Our return journey from Vasco too was exciting. The Goa Nizamuddin departed 55 minutes late from Vasco, chiefly because it had to use the same rake which arrived at Vasco in the morning. The rake which had arrived on the previous day had been used as the Kolhapur Delhi Kissan Special for a political rally. This rake was better appointed than the Mondovi one (no wonder since the Goa Niz travels as a superfast train). The power was WDM 2B, which implies that it has a provision for Automatic Emergency Brakes. If the train runs faster than 25 km/hr.(on the down gradient) the brakes are automatically applied. The device is a silly looking box housed on the main driver's console. In the event of emergency brakes, the train comes to a complete halt. The box then has to be reset, before the train can start again. This arrangement is only provided on the locos which run on the Briganza ghat section. (Apu has more info on this issue).
Briganza Ghat is a real marvel. It boasts a respectable gradient of 1:37 max., 16 tunnels and many catch sidings (I thought). Two coupled bankers are attached at the rear at Kulem station. Before the days of cordless phones, the brake pressure meter was the only way of communication between the drivers. The ghat line is wonderfully scenic. The evergreen Doodhsagar falls offers an additional appeal. After an enchanting journey for 45 minutes we arrived at the tiny but charming Castlerock station. Rest of the journey was relatively conventional through Londa, Belgaum, Miraj Jn. and Satara.
Out of 53 hours of our trip to Goa, we spent 28 hours in actual railway journey. I spent countless hours standing at the door, relishing the unending pleasures. Besides all these, I must admit the moments that I enjoy most at the door is when a train slows down at large station, particularly after a long and fast haul. I love it scrambling slowly over a spaghetti of crossings before it comes to a halt. I also find it very exciting when the train leaves a large station for similar reasons. They are the moments, that gave us timeless and immense pleasure in life and indeed have changed our lives in some undefinable way.