by: S. SHANKAR
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16 Apr. 1853 - 16 Apr. 2002
|Please note that the color of the panels and links box on this page represents the livery worn by the Flying Ranee. This livery is not necessarily the current one, but it certainly was a livery worn by this train at least once during its lifetime.|
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|1. The Flying Ranee on her maiden run, seen here on the Bassein (Vasai) Creek Bridge. She is in charge of a H class 4-6-0 engine. (Picture from a set of commemorative cards by the BB&CI Railway)|
GIP Railway's Deccan Queen which had a Royal lineage right from the
start, the BB & CI Railway's Flying Ranee was made of more humble
stuff. However, she did not lag behind in achieving Royalty status.
Indeed, the Flying Ranee is sometimes referred to as the Queen of the
West Coast. The train is today an immensely popular and heavily
subscribed commuter train, carrying office goers and regular commuters
between Bombay Central and Surat. The Flying Ranee (also referred to as
the Flying Queen) leaves Surat at 0530, arriving Bombay Central at 1000
hrs. On the return journey, she leaves Bombay Central at 1755, reacing
Surat at 2200 hrs,
The Flying Ranee first started off as a Weekend Special in 1906. She stopped running eight years later, on 24 April, 1914, to be exact. The train was re-introduced on 1 May, 1937 as the Flying Ranee (also referred to as the Flying Queen), only to be reigned in again in 1939, due to the World War. A long-ish period of lying dormant, the Flying Ranee resumed duties for the third time on 1 Nov. 1950, and has been running ever since. Now on to details.
Virtually no information about the Flying Ranee is available about her heydays, i.e. the period between 1906 and 1914, when she ran as a weekly excusrion between Bombay and Surat. Lovingly referred to as the 'Weekend Special', this immensely popular version of the Flying Ranee was endowed with a novel mascot, the 'Gutta Pachaar'. Sadly, this phase of glory was short lived, and the Flying Ranee was taken off the rails on 24 April 1914, when World War I broke out.
|2. This interesting picture shows a child dressed up as Gutta Pachaar in the cab of the Flying Ranee's engine, while an amused crowd looks on. (Picture supplied by John Lacey)|
reappeared on 1 May 1937, but this time with a Royalty status. She was
given a regal send off at Surat station. An article in an old issue of a
magazine of the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway, (BB & CIR)
described the event in some detail: (Quote) Mrs. Sethna, wife of the
District Supdt. Bulsar, who has taken a leading part in the inception
and organization of the service, undertook the pleasant duty of naming
the train before a large holiday crowd. Standing on a platform alongside
the gigantic locomotive which was gaily decorated for the occasion Mrs.
Sethna said: "I name you Flying Ranee, Queen of the West Coast. May
all your trips be safe and may all those who travel by you enjoy a happy
and carefree holiday, and a safe and comfortable homeward journey".
This brief address was repeated in Gujarati, after which Mrs. Sethna
unveiled the name plaque on the engine's smokebox door.
As though all this fanfare and reintroduction of the train was not enough indication of the train's popularity, some thrilled businessfolk distributed sarees and dhotis (sarongs) to all the train's passengers. Generous gifts and food packets were also distributed by some passengers on board the train. The train was very popular amongst businessmen as it connected two important commercial centres, Bombay and Surat.
The Flying Ranee carried an observation car at that time, with an on-board telephone service. The telephone was located in the observation car.
In this Royal format, the Flying Ranee's running time between Bombay and Surat had been reduced to a mere four hours in each direction. This was considered at that time an outstanding example of locomotive performance. With nine stops and an average speed of 50 mph, the Flying Ranee was at that time the fastest medium distance express train in the country.
Expectations were very high of the Flying Ranee, especially as she had been introduced at the 'dawning of the Coronation month'. It was hoped that like the Frontier Mail, the Flying Queen (Ranee) too would become of of the Empire's famous express.
Sadly, that was not to be. With the outbreak of World War 2, the Flying Ranee was relegated to the storage yards again.
|1. The Flying Ranee seen here in the 1960s behind a WP locomotive. One particular WP was especially beautiful, as she wore an unusual navy/silver livery. (Picture by Terry Case: this pic is a clone, due to lack of availability of an actual pic of the Ranee behind a WP)|
|There was an
unusually long gap before the Flying Queen (Flying Ranee) hit the tracks
again. This time, the train was flagged off on 1 Nov. 1950. Its eight
cars were packed to capacity with 600 odd passengers on this inaugural
run. The train was adorned with flambuoyant buntings and garlands of
flags. The station master there, Mr. Khadubhai, threw a tea party on the
platform, from which the train pulled out at 0600 hr. sharp.
The then District Magistrate, Mr.Deshpande, broke the auspicious coconut and spread the coconut water on the engine, then garlanding her. Finally, he broke the flower cord to mark the inauguration (the third one now) for the Flying Ranee. It appeared that everybody who was somebody in Surat's bureaucracy turned up on the occasion.
The reborn Flying Queen carried second and third class cars, with separate dining facilities for vegetarians and non vegetarians. Reservations for the third class could be made one day in advance.
At a special press conference held immediately after the inauguration, the General Manager at Surat, Mr. K.P. Mushran, announced that it was proposed to introduce a radiogram on the Flying Ranee, just like on the Frontier Mail. In all probability, this radiogram would be located in the train's dining car, he said. He also promised that the dining car would be stocked with sufficient reading material to relieve passengers of their boredom during the course of their four hour journey.
In the 1950s, as was the earlier practice in the 1930s, the Flying Ranee ran daily, except on Sundays, leaving Bombay Central on Saturdays and Surat on Mondays. Despite its being a fast train, additional halts had been provided at Borivly, Palgarh, Dahanu Road, Daman, Udwada, Valsad, Billimoria and Navsari. Still more halts were introduced later at Gholwad, Umbergaon Road and Sanjan.
|2. The modern day Flying Ranee pictured here in 2000 in the neutral zone at Virar near Bombay. Note the double decker cars. (Picture by Viraf Mulla)|
|In 1965, the
Flying Ranee achieved another milestone when she was declared the
fastest medium distance train in the country. It was time for a livery
change, and the train was painted dark blue/light blue. The train was
then hauled by a WP locomotive which was color matched. The WP was so
modified that she did not need to take on water en route. Certain
modifications to the engine were also said to have made, in order to
enable her to maintain her optimum speed.
The livery was changed again in November 1976 to dark green/light green (represented by the panels on this page, and the text color). The WP gave way to a WCAM/1 electric engine in June 1977. Today, the Flying Ranee is hauled by either a WCAM/1 or WCAM/2P. With conversion of the dc lines out of Bombay Central to ac, and with work scheduled to finish by end 2002, it may not be long before the Ranee is hauled by a WAP/4.
|1. Another view of the Flying Ranee in the Neutral Zone with a WCAM/1 locomotive in charge.(Picture by Apurva Bahadur)|
landmark: 18 December 1979, and the Flying Ranee became the second train
in recent times to get double decker cars. (the first being the
Bombay-Poona Sinhagad Express in April 1978). If course, with increase
in economic activity, the crowds began to increase so much on this train
that the double deck cars were more of a necessity than a fancy feature.
Ten double deck cars with a capacity of 148 passengers each are attached
to the present 18 car rake (consist). Although not exactly the utlimate
in comfort, the double deck cars pack in almost double the number of
passengers of a conventional single deck car.
Today, although the Flying Ranee is still considered a time honored classic, she has shed much of here Royalty, or so it would seem. She is more utilitarian by nature,and is used by thousands of office goers who commute the 263 km everyday between Surat and Bombay Central and back. Today's loading is eighteen cars, of which ten are double decker. In addition is an a.c. chair cars, a first class chair car (sometimes replaced with an ordinary cubicle style first class car) and a pantry car which serves light meals and snacks.
Despite the availability of scores of other trains at Surat, given its location on the Bombay Central-New Delhi trunk line, most of the Flying Ranee's regular commuters wouldn't dream of traveling by any other train. They count on the Ranee to get them to and from work safely. The commuters count on her consistency and reliability. As a newspaper article put it, the rest trains merely graze Surat: the Flying Ranee brings home its soul.
|1. A view of the overcrowding on the Flying Ranee in the Neutral Zone at Virar near Bombay. Thousands of commuters head for the Big Bad City to earn their daily bread. They will return home to Surat in similar conditions later in the day. (Picture by Apurva Bahadur)|
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