Diwali is the only longish leave that us slave workers get — one week including travel. So Goa it is, year after year, not that we are complaining!
We (wife Shyama, 6 year-old daughter Aditi and yours truly) were booked on the 2780 NZM - VSG Goa express. The tickets were RLWL (running line waiting list) as usual, however the quota was released in the same morning and we had brilliant confirmed seats with two top and one middle berths.
We arrived at Pune Jn. around 1640 hrs and the 'super' (as the Goa express is referred to by the Hubli division due to the superfast status) was rolling in onto pf 2. This was some 45 minutes before time!
A closer look revealed that the train had only 30% occupancy as this was the Diwali day and not many people travel then. In any case the 2780 runs quite empty on most days between Pune and Vasco. However the 2779 runs packed right from Vasco on all days.
I do not know why people still go to Goa by the crummy bus service when a first-class train is available. Maybe this has something to do fact that most janata like to go to north Goa where a train service is possible only from the north KR side.
But, that too is not true anymore. A passenger train (KR6/8 Up Madgaon - Sawantwadi - Diva passenger) starts soon (0715 hrs) after the arrival of the 'super' at Madgaon (0626 hrs) and leaves you at Karmali (station for Panaji etc.) in about 40 minutes run. Else you get scalped for Rs. 40 for a rickshaw ride to the Kadamba bus stand outside Madgaon city from where you would get a bus for Panaji (Rs. 15). You would get scalped when trying to get from Karmali station to Panaji, but that is another story.
So we choose the S4 coach rather the assigned S2 coach because it gave us an empty bay to ourselves — we got two lower and one middle berth here. The TTE later assigned us yet another empty bay in the S5 coach near Satara.
The train came from Daund behind a Pune WDM2 (could not get the number), and a fresh Pune WDM2 # 18719 which was short hood leading.
Our S4 coach had a stenciled notice that mentioned that these coaches were converted from vacuum to air brakes and hence were not suitable for 24-coach rakes. Does this mean that only new air braked rakes can be used on 24-coach trains? What is the difference between new and reconditioned coaches?
The last three coaches (from Mumbai end) of the 2780 are the NZM - Hubli slip coaches. These are one AC 2 sleeper, one 2nd class sleeper and one SLR. There is yet another SLR between these three coaches and the main rake. The Hubli section is marked as NZM - Hubli while the rest of the train is marked as NZM - Vasco.
The train departed right on time at 1730 hrs and had a sluggish start till the exit of Ghorpadi station, which we passed at a crawling speed.
The train could afford a moderate pace due to the lax timings in the section. A TK load with MUed WDM2s (one was a Jumbo — I suspect that Pune Jumbos are used now only for freight working, especially the lighter vacuum-braked TK rakes due to the advanced age of the powers) waited for us at Saswad Road. The SBC - AII (Ajmer) express waited at Alandi Road while the 7383 Maharashtra Express waited at Salpa. Hence we continued non-stop till now.
Nice evening, deep red sunset, chilly winter air, curvy, twisty semi-ghat section and empty train made for a memorable time. We ran 10 minutes late at Satara. Then we shifted into the S5 coach as required by the TTE. The S5 coach was right next to the pantry car so we were treated to continuous smell of food being cooked.
Being Diwali, the staff wound up the regular meals at around 2130 hrs, performed a Pooja (we could see the candles and hear the arti being sung) and then cooked a feast for themselves!
And what a feast that was — guessed from the olfactory and also by visual confirmation (when I went into the pantry to buy a bottle of water) — genuine basmati rice, paneer mutter, aloo bhaji, paratha and kheer. I know I would make many of you uncomfortable with this description; imagine I was right in the next coach and could only ogle!
However this was for themselves while the passengers got their dull budget meals.
At Karad we were detained for over 20 minutes with a continuous announcement over the PA system for a certain TXR (train inspector) traveling on this train to detrain here as there had been a derailment of a freight train between Shindawane & Ambale and he was required to accompany the MFD rake (a special train with rerailing equipment) to clear the line.
There was some talk that the 2780 power could have been diverted to haul the MFD from Miraj. However that was not the case and the 'Super' started after some time, only to halt at Takari where the MFD whizzed past us. The train emptied even further at Miraj which arrived 45" late. We arrived on pf 1 of Miraj Jn. The overnight express to Hubli & Gadag was waiting on pf 3.
The 'Super' departed almost empty towards Belgaum. Our family turned in. But I slept fitfully, aware of the security risks of being the lone occupants of the sleeper coach. We were detained for a long time at a station (Ghatprabha I think) for crossing with a freighter.
Belgaum came and went — nothing special, getting quite cold by now, but we were well prepared with clothes; however it seems quite silly when you arrive at the humid Madgaon Jn.in the morning to strip layers of sweaters and jackets.
For a holiday in Goa only two tee shirts and two shorts are adequate (and swimwear!) but the travels needs additional heavy clothes/blankets so one additional bag is needed (the family has no problem, the porter is 'on the house' — I am the one who is sore from carrying the load). Can the IR seriously start a rental service for all confirmed ticket holders for beddings for all classes? It would ease the travel so much. I also dread having to take an unnecessary higher class ticket as it gives bedding but no 'education' which is an essential part of the railway journey.
When I woke up next, we were coasting into LD. There was a diesel genset running to power the station lights or to charge the signaling batteries. The genset was also running when we returned to Pune on the 1098 a few days later, so power failure must be common in these parts. Londa has only single island platform with tracks on either side. There are also two through tracks.
The Pune WDM2 that hauled the 'Super' till now was detached from the Hubli end and attached to the three coach rake of the 7306 Londa - Hubli 'express' waiting on the other platform (pf 2).
The 7306 rake had another Gooty WDM2 # 16715 waiting at the Belgaum end. This loco now moved towards BGM with a single 'Londa - Vasco' second class sleeper coach. All the shunting was done in the dark as the coach ends were unlit and the speed of shunting was also uncomfortably fast. It was a striking sight to see the dark coaches being whisked back and forth. The GY # 16715 loco now backed onto the the 'Super' rake with the LD - VSG coach. Next, the three NZM - Hubli coaches were detached from the 'Super' rake and shunted to the LD - UBL express' rear end. Last shunting operation was the LD - VSG coach being attached to the 2780 at the BGM end and then GY # 16715 loco withdrew to the next line. Hence 2780 lost three coaches and gained one coach at LD. Similarly, the 3 coach LD - UBL express gained three coaches. The 7306 departed at the right time (0310 hrs). Normally both the 2780 and the 7306 depart at the same time in opposite directions, but the 2780's multiple unit twin WDM2s were late in coming to LD from Castle Rock.
The MUed Ghat special powers arrived in a few minutes on the open line from CLR and then moved towards BGM to back onto the 2780 rake. The ghat special powers as you all know are equipped with the Auto Emergency (AE) brake system which is an electronic system. This system, when armed, would apply the emergency brakes in case the loco exceeds 25 Kmph. This is needed in the steep Braganza ghats as there are no catch sidings. Actually there is a catch siding but that is at the exit of the Kulem station — this is more like a siding to prevent a runaway escaping onto the main line. The GY MUed pair was 18684 & 16578. The departure was late by about 15 minutes and the LD station went back to sleep.
All trains descending the Braganza ghat are fitted with MUed (2 or 3) AE ghat power between CLR or LD and Vasco. All trains climbing the Braganza ghat are banked by Mued WDM2s (2 or 3) while the lead power may be a single WDM2. Plenty of horse power and brake power is available with large margins of safety in case one of the locos breaks down in the section.
The normal ghat power are the Gooty WDM2s in the orange and blue livery, but I did see a ghat special GY WDM2 with plain vanilla colours (this looked like a transfer from Kazipet than a native Gooty denizen). And of course the Rolls Royce of the ghat section (as any other sections) are the GY WDG2s which are now equipped with AE system and run triple headed. I saw at least two such triple headers, there may be more. The WDG2s are new to the section having being introduced only a few months back.
The 2780 stopped for a long time at CLR where the station master arms the AE brakes in both the locos and hands the key of the system to the guard. The departure from CLR is quite rapid and just as suddenly the train goes into emergency brakes as the pre-descent ghat brake test is carried out. If the train stops satisfactorily, the locos start the train only to howl into full dynamics and descend gingerly into the dark claustrophobic forest ahead.
The Braganza ghat descent is dedicated to the memory of our departed friend and fellow IRFCA member Vasu Kamath. I do miss the dear fellow very much.
Vasu and I had planned last year to see the Doodhsagar waterfalls (from the rails, gentlemen) in detail, since a stopping passenger does not run in the section. We had decided to take the 2780 and get off at the DDS station and wait for the sun to come up. Then we would spend some time at the falls, maybe walk to the next station Sonaulim and then patao the passing train driver and get to civilization (Kulem). We had also decided that we would be quite scared in the section but we would not turn back, come what may. However looking at the inky darkness (this was the Diwali night — no moon), our guts might have been lost quite early in the walk.
Any descending train stops at all the stations in the ghats (Castle Rock - Caranzol, Doodhsagar, Sonaulim - Kulem); in case the train does not stop, I guess it would be forced to run into a sand drag or (worst!) derail in the valley. The train takes a slow plodding path downhill with the dynamic brakes working overtime.
The sheer noise of the second class travel + semi conscious state due to forced staying awake meant I was not sure of what exactly was going on. I slept through the Kulem halt where the AE brakes were disarmed. From here the train started picking up speed but still descending the grade.
The gray pre-dawn light in the moss adorned forest section was magical.
We stopped for a minute at Sanvordem, which has been renamed as 'Kudchade' , which must be the local Konkani name.
The train arrived at Madgaon on pf 3 as the sun was looming over the horizon. The TVC - LTT Netravati was just pulling out. I walked forward to phot the Super's GY powers as they left MAO towards Vasco, but they did not make much smoke. The KR6/8 Up Madgaon - Sawantwadi - Diva passenger was waiting with an Erode power on the pf 2. Why does this train have two numbers? As per the KR TT, the train changes from KR6 to KR8 at Sawantwadi. This is not an MEMU type train that has to change the number to get around the distance vs lack-of-toilet criterion.
By this time the two coach KAM 2 Up 'DMU' which runs between Karwar and Madgaon arrived on pf 1. This should have been a 3 coach DEMU, but as this is under heavy repairs (as it was even last year), the loco-hauled rake does the job. The loco with a stupendous 'power-to-rake' weight ratio was a 3100 HP KJM WDM2CA # 14084. This has got a normal short hood and an orange-cream livery like a WDG2. A peek inside the cab revealed plush blue seats for the crew.
Scalping by rickshaw for Rs. 70 for a 5 km trip to Colva etc. was expected. Goa is quite empty during these times due to the crisis with our neighbours, so hotels, restaurants were offering their wares at a discount.
Being foodies, we stuffed ourselves on all meals (heard of three course breakfast?) — we totally pigged ourselves, can't wait to go back!
All meals were eaten in beach shacks or in small restaurants near the beach and all of them serve excellent gourmet meals with great value for money. Specially recommended is the traditional goan sausage. We actually got a large quantity of the sausages back to Pune to eat and distribute to friends. Unlike the regular stuff, this does not have to be intensively refrigerated and hence takes well to being transported.
Few days of sleep, swim, eat and learning to live life without a TV. Being a budget room, the hotel lacked TV, phone etc. However it did have a swimming pool, so after we had a full day at the beach we would dive right into the pool for some yet more swimming. As per Aditi, whose English is still in the formative stage, the word for having a great time at the beach is 'bitching'.
The slightly inebriated receptionist at the hotel counter asked Shyama (who was alone at that time) where her 'father' was. C'mon c'mon, do I really look *that* old?
I was a railway enthusiast on holiday, remember? At the back of my mind was the guilt of having so many plans but the laziness of the moment just brought me to my knees (and to the beach — between meals and sleep). Every morning I could hear the trains thundering past a few kms east of where we were staying.
One morning we did make an effort to get to MAO station to take the VSG - QLM passenger to do the lower Braganza ghat trek but we missed the train. Instead we savoured a triple WDG2-hauled eight wheeler BPTN load ready to take on the Braganza ghat. The rake was enormous, stretching right out of MAO yard and maybe trailing well past the station premises.
The train started without a horn and crept past me, taking the point that would lead it to the QLM branch out of MAO. I had a tape recorder at hand to capture the locos as they started but they opened up well after clearing the station so all I have is the sounds of the creaking rake as it jerked from standstill. Maybe I can use it to count the number of wagons, the load was 3750 t. The guard in the last van supplied this info as the train rolled past. He had ample time to check, on his crawling freighter, to check his logs after I asked him the load. Bought a couple of copies of the single page KR TT to add to my collection.
Later in the morning we went to spend some time at the Surawali halt. This halt is located between MAO and Majorda (MJO) and consists of two through lines, two level platforms, a small station building (with a booking clerk dozing inside), one bench. Had the traffic been heavy in this section, it would make an amazing place to sit and watch. However even after lazing for almost two hours, the only load that came by was three coupled WDM2s traveling light from MAO towards Vasco.
I was told by the gateman at the nearby level crossing that the correct time to come for train spotting was around 0700 hrs. So accordingly I went to the Surawali halt at that time the very next day. I missed both Goa and Netravati express who had passed by then. I photted two small trolleys used for track inspections. One had a small engine with a motorcycle handlebar for the driver to hold onto. The other was a load carrying flat without any engine, one of the axles were insulated from the track by an annular plastic ring.
To get a better view, I climbed a foot overbridge that seems to just link opposite sides of the tracks. There are no approach roads to the ends of the bridge, so I doubt how many people actually use the bridge.
The first to arrive was the KR6/KR8 Up MAO - SWV - DW passenger behind an Erode WDM2. This train came at quite a speed from MAO station a few kms to the east and screeched to a halt at the Surawali halt just ahead. This train was followed by the 361 Down Kulem - Vasco passenger which also speeded till the last possible moment to halt at Surawali. This was hauled by an AE-equipped GY WDM2. It is apparent that the SCR uses only its own locos while the KR uses only the SR & CR locos for their regular trains.
The gateman closed the level crossing just in time to allow the thundering Gandhidham - Nagercoil weekly express towards MAO. This was hauled by an Ernakulam WDM2.
By this time the sun had come up and a family of pigs decided to stop and stare at me. However even they found my activity (waiting for a train) dull and soon went their happy way.
The last train to come in the morning was the 362 Up VSG - QLM passenger which did a nice smoky start from the Surawali halt. The track to MAO is upslope so the effort was evident.
The km marker towards MAO increases, so this must be the distance from Roha (which is Km 0 for the Konkan Railways) — the area around the Sal river bridge between Surwali and MAO is Km 439. The TT shows a different figure (621 Kms between Roha an MAO) as this is the chargeable distance.
After the 362 Up, I moved to a new location near the Sal river bridge which is the outskirts of MAO. The only traffic moving towards MAO here was the KR's strange looking OVPL-made Ganger's trolley. Again waited for about 15 minutes and returned back to Colva as no more trains were expected.
We shifted out of Colva to the nearby Benaulim cottages. This was a classic beach front cottage with no formalities — literally no formalities like registration of the guest etc. Just pay the caretaker and occupy. For swimming, just run across the sand into the sea and for eating visit any of the beach shacks. Ideal for the lazy lot from Pune.
The day of our return journey dawned. I was quite glad to be traveling in a train once again. We did not get tickets for the 2779 Goa express but instead got confirmed berths (two lower and one middle) in the 1098 ERS - PA Poorna weekly express. The departure of the 1098 is 1520 hrs from MAO on Tuesdays. Accordingly we arrived at the MAO station by 1440 hrs to find the 1098 rake already arrived. The train arrives from the south KR, reverses at MAO and then takes the Braganza ghat towards Londa, reverses and then to Pune. By the time we arrived the loco had already reversed and was attached facing Kulem. Coincidentally the driver who had worked the 2780 Goa from Miraj to Vasco a few days back was also working this train.
There are numerous theories of why the 1097/98 is known as Poorna express. One says that this is an acronym of POOna and eRNAakulam. Another says that this is the fulfillment (Poorna) of the long-standing wishes of the people of PA and ERS. The most colourful one is that this is named after the Poorna river (!) which originates at Purna (on the Manmad - Nanded route) and flows into Ernakulam, Kerala!!!!
The loco was the red and cream ERS shed WDM2B # 16673 which was now coupled short hood leading. The train had plenty of space which is surprising for the time of the year and the two terminating cities.
I was surprised to see that the ERS power continued on this train till Kulem, which is heavy SCR territory. I would have expected the SR's ERS power be replaced by the SCR's GY powers at MAO itself. This meant that the ERS power would have to come light to MAO or wait at the station to pick up the next week's 1097 express.
While on the topic, there is a special area in the Pune shed where the foreign powers working the weekly and non-regular trains are stabled till they are needed to pick up their return link.
I wanted to record the sound of the loco and wanted to get into the first coach. This was a SLR with a chalk mark 'Ladies' sign. The coach itself was empty, even the underguard's station was not manned. I got into the empty coach quite aware that I can be chucked out or even penalized for my action. Had a single woman be in the coach, my getting in that section was quite out of question.
The train departed right on time and made way across the points till it was on the branch towards QLM. Saw the automatic coach-washing machine at the MAO C&W works. This is like an outsized car wash with rotary brushes etc.
The track moves upslope steadily. I had the entire 'ladies' section of the coach to myself could choose from which side to record the sounds.
The track between MAO and QLM rises steadily. There are short sections of extreme gradient while others are gentler. The train works at a moderate pace through the forest, over the flowing streams, by the side of mountain cuttings… a great ride.
After a brief stop at Kudchade (Sanvordem, remember?) the train now climbed a visibly steep gradient towards Kulem. At the side of the tracks are open cast mines that are used to extract iron ore. At Kalem (one station before Kulem) we ran parallel to the freight lines. I would see small black pellets (like goat's droppings) lying everywhere on the ground); this must be the iron ore nodules.
The train soon rolled into pf 1 (the only pf) of Kulem station. Here the ERS power was removed and a GY ghat-qualified power was attached instead. As the long hood leading GY power 16715 (build number I-3389-03-2365, July 1995) was being attached to the front of the train, triple GY banker locos were being attached at the rear end of the train. Problems abound, with stuck couplers for the ERS as well as GY loco.
Once the GY loco was coupled and the brake angle cocks were opened, the brake pipe pressure dropped and would not recover despite desperate efforts by the driver. The asst. went for a walk along the rake to check if any of the brake hoses were loose while the driver tried to raise the engine, apply the brakes, release the brakes etc. in an effort to set the brake pressure right. Even the banker locos were running at a raised speed to pump more air in the system but the brake pipe pressure remained low. I could hear the lead driver talking to banker driver on the walkie talkie. After many tens of minutes the pressure rose slowly and the train was ready to start. The driver asked the banker crew to slowly push the train and not exceed 40 kmph in the section. As we departed QLM, I saw the only catch siding in the ghat at the exit of the station. This is a sand drag rather than the magnificent sidings that we see in the Bhor and Thull ghats.
At Sonaulim, the station master waved the train to a slow walking pace so some passengers could get aboard. At Dudhsagar (DDS) station (150 meters uphill of the water falls), we were put into the loop line to clear the main line so that triple-coupled AE-equipped GY shed WDG2s could descend the grade on dynamic brakes. I have noticed that the downhill traffic always gets priority in the section. I saw the remains of a steel lookout tower that must have been popular when the stopping MG passenger trains were running and DDS was a regular tourist attraction. The 1098 rake was overpowered and I observed the driver often starting slowly even before the bankers started pushing. The driver had a malfunctioning walkie talkie and had no method to inform the rear crew, so the tug on the rake would prompt the bankers to start pushing.
The operation in the Bhor and Thull ghats is much more strict, the lead driver does not open up till the bankers push the train from the platform to the main line. As the walkie talkie was not operational, the driver had no method of asking the bankers to ease the speed, so he would go into dynamics, but the powerful triple bankers would continue to push the trains at the same speed unaware of the need to scrub off speed. Once the banker driver understood the request, the speed dropped within no time. These are not overtly dangerous procedures, maybe I was observing too closely.
At the Caranzol station we were again sidelined. Minutes passed by without any activity then on the patchy walkie talkie the driver was informed that the biweekly 7227 BZA - VSG Amravati Express would be crossing us. After a delay of almost 50 minutes, the Amravati arrived behind triple WDM2 ghat powers. Much happy arm-waving and choicest abuse-exchanging (BC and MC etc) between the crew (there were multiple crews in each of the three descending locos). The crew had long-lasting smiles as the starter signal went yellow and the Poorna express started once more. It was getting quite dark by now and the weak headlamp of the loco was evident. The delay at Caranzol was due to the fact that 2779 Goa must have crossed the 7227 Amravati at Castle Rock. The single power that must have hauled the 7227 would be detached at CLR and the triple bankers of the 2779 now attached as the lead power of the train.
All this while the 1098 was waiting in the steeply graded Caranzol loop line.
We were running almost one hour late by the time we arrived at CLR. I shifted from the still-empty 'ladies' coach to my S2 sleeper. The train started soon to arrive at Londa at 1945 which was still one hour late. The MRJ - SBC Rani Chennama Express was waiting at pf 2 of LD Jn. This air-braked train has an open first class coach.
The GY power of our train was detached and a Pune power (I was too far to check the number) was attached at the Miraj end. Double-headed WDG2s hauled in a strong smelling BPTN rake from the Hubli end on the through line and departed soon after arrival. I noticed that the rake did not have any tail lamp.
Our train departed LD at 2015. Dinner was served, one of the most properly packaged railway food I have ever seen. Neat stiff casserole with the rice and poori while the plastic containers carried the bhaji, daal and dahi.
One of the berths (middle) allotted to us had one chain longer than the other. This meant that the berth was secured only with one chain. This can be dangerous for the person on the middle berth as well as the person on the lower berth who would be crushed if the single chain were to give away. Fortunately my daughter is quite light and did not load the berth too much. I intend to send the Pune DRM a mail about the berth whose number is noted.
We turned in early considering the 0500 hrs arrival of this train at Pune. Belgaum, Miraj etc were slept through. By the time I woke up, we were descending into Pune on the viaducts of the ghat section. We were received almost on time on pf 1.
Recently our gentle and safe Pune was threatened by a balaclava-wearing rickshaw driver who used to rob dawn arrivals (the 0500 hrs arrival of 1095 Ahimsa express was his favourite, not too early please!). Apparently the 'dawn slayer' or 'dawn slugger' was arrested by the police a few days back, but the heavy police action on the other rickshaw drivers meant that there were none in the station at that time.
This is an unfortunate time to arrive at Pune after such a superb trip and holiday.
However we did manage to get a rickshaw after much wait and arrived back home as the sun was rising over the horizon for a breakfast of fried Goan sausages.