by: S. SHANKAR

     

   

Taj Express

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16 Apr. 1853 - 16 Apr. 2002

Taj Express

H.NIZAMUDDIN - GWALIOR

TAJ EXPRESS

GWALIOR - H.NIZAMUDDIN

previously

NEW DELHI - AGRA CANTT.

TAJ EXPRESS

AGRA CANTT - NEW DELHI

Special thanks to John Lacey for providing most of the information on this page.

Please note that the color of the panels and links box on this page represents the livery worn by the Taj Express. This livery is not necessarily the current one, but it certainly was a livery worn by this train at least once during its lifetime.

 

CLICK THUMBNAILS TO ENLARGE. ALTERNATIVELY, RIGHT CLICK ON THUMBNAIL AND SELECT 'OPEN IN NEW WINDOW' TO CONTINUE READING THIS PAGE UNINTERRUPTED.

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1. An early picture of the Taj Express (circa late 1960s) shows the train behind a handsome WP steam engine. The rake is still relatively new, and the WP shows herself off as the most beautiful locomotive in India.
Much, much after the Deccan Queen captured the hearts of commuters between Bombay and Poona, a similar train appeared in Northern India. This was the Taj Express, between New Delhi and Agra Cantonment. The Taj Express emulated the Deccan Queen to a very large extent, in its decor, navy/cream livery, accommodation, and the standards of comfort. Today, the train still runs, though with changed end points: it now plies between Hazrat Nizamuddin and Gwalior.
2. In initial years, it was almost invariably WP 7003 which was called upon to haul the Taj. The engine is seen here at Agra Cantt. with her fireman raking out the ash from her firebox. 

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The Taj Express was put on line in 1964. Running as it did away from New Delhi in the early morning, rather than towards it, the train was targeted towards capturing the growing tourist market. It aimed to cater to the growing number of foreign tourists who were hoping to make a quick daytime sightseeing trip to Agra and then return to New Delhi the same day. Enjoying in the process an exotic train ride behind steam power. Indeed, due to this, along with Western style breakfasts and tea in pots, tour bus tickets too were sold on board. It was also possible to get information about the Taj and Agra on board the train.

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3. This terrific pic shows the Taj Express on a bridge just outside the Hazrat Nizamuddin station. Note the engine's headlight beam in the early morning cold, and condensation around the smoke from the chimney. (Picture courtesy John Lacey)
Hence, in effect, the tourists could merely hop on board early in the morning, purchase sightseeing and tour tickets on the train en route to Agra, do their sightseeing during the day, then return to Delhi in the evening by the same train. On arrival at Agra, tourist buses of the UP Govt. Tourism would meet the Taj's passengers near Platform # 1 of Agra station. This made transfer to the sightseeing buses very easy indeed. In the evening, the buses would deposit the passengers back near Platform # 1, making it very easy to get the Taj Express back to Delhi. Whats more, passengers of each car of the train used to be allocated a particular tourist bus at Agra. The tourist stayed with the same bus till he returned to Agra station to catch that evening's Taj Express back to Delhi. This make the search for his tourist bus very easy indeed for the tourist.

 Light dinner was served on board on the return leg. To make things still easier for the foreign tourists, the same seat number was usually allocated on the return journey as well. Hence, the travel weary and misty eyed tourist did not face the daunting task of looking for his car and seat in a crowded and chaotic train, at the end of a busy touring day. He simply took his seat where he had left it off earlier that day.

4. An earlier picture showing the Taj Express steaming into Agra Cantt. station. Note crest on smokebox door. A closer view appears elsewhere on this page. Note also the first class air conditioned car. (Picture courtesy Terry Case)

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The fast Taj Express reduced the transit time between New Delhi and Agra to a mere 2 hr. 35 min.from the earlier journey time of an excess of three hours  Fast transit times, comfortable seating, the ambience, breakfast and dinner on board, the prospect of being pulled by a steam engine, the convenience of purchasing tour tickets and obtaining tourist information on board, all these factors made the Taj Express very popular indeed. The train usually ran fully packed in both directions, and was very heavily subscribed, a vast majority of the passengers being foreign tourists. The Taj Express attained an aura and mystique almost on par with the Deccan Queen, and for several decades, was THE way to get to Agra from New Delhi. Indeed, the train attained celebrity status merely on the basis of her exposure abroad, her functionality, and her reliability.

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5. The Taj Express blasts away from a midway halt. Note the engine with her tender matched to the livery of the train. (Picture courtesy Terry Case.)
The Taj Express had a few distinct advantages over other trains of its class. First, it ran in the 100% golden tourist circuit, between the two cities most popular with foreign tourists: Agra and New Delhi. The train soon became one of the best known trains of India, worldwide. Second, the name 'Taj Express' could not have been more appropriate, as it conjured images of the romantic Taj Mahal, and exotic, colorful India. Just a wild guess, but this itself might have led to the train's immense popularity among tourists. Third the timings of the train were very convenient indeed. At one time, it appeared that every vistor to India wanted to travel by the Taj Express to see the grandeur and mystery of the exotic Taj Mahal.
6. A commendably clean WP 7656 in pristine condition in the Agra loco shed. The train has just come in with the Taj Express. The staff are about to remove the crest and prepare the engine for the return journey to New Delhi. (Picture courtesy Terry Case)

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When introduced in 1964, the standard compositon of the Taj Express was one composite luggage cum brake cum second class unreserved, one 1st class a.c. chair car with 2 + 1 seating arrangement, with beautiful glass panels inside, two non a.c. first class chair cars with 2 + 2 seating, one restaurant car, then several second class chair cars with wooden slats for seats, then another luggage cum brake cum second class unreserved composite. In the mid 1980s, the first class a.c chair car was sometimes replaced with a first class a.c. car with cubicles. Several celebrities could be spotted traveling by the Taj Express. Our own irfca member John Lacey has spotted on board film star Anil Kapoor,and the Gwalior Royal Family matriarch the Rajmata of Gwalior, when he travelled on the Taj in January 1987.

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7. The Taj Express makes a halt at Mathura, where this scene was captured.  (Picture courtesy John Lacey.)
The Taj Express also showcased the best of the magnificent bullet nosed WP class of locomotives, both in terms of appearance and performance. The WPs were worked very hard indeed for consistent time keeping of this coveted and prestigious train. Only the best WPs could be assigned to the Taj, for by nature of the operation, haulage called for prolonged stretches of very high speed running, with very few halts. It is indeed amazing to note that the WPs maintained consistent speeds of 105 kmph and above, for very long stretches. Very creditable indeed, for the beautiful, yet functional WP engines. 
8. A WP puts forth a bright beam from her headlight at Agra as she prepares to leave for New Delhi with the Taj Express. (Picture courtesy John Lacey)

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The hard work and high speed running meant that a lot of coal had to be fired. In fact, the WP engines hauling the Taj Express usually demanded a crew of FOUR: one driver, TWO firemen, and a coal breaker/pusher who used to work in the tender breaking up large lumps of coal, or pushing the coal closer to the cab so that the two firemen could fire away, furiously. Very demanding indeed, yet, the locomotives paid back by displaying their exemplary performance, and gave the Taj Express her halo-ed name, an excellent punctuality record, and an enviable reputation for her speed, punctuality and reliability. 

One of the WP engines used on the Taj Express had a large metal cutout of the Taj Mahal fitted around the firebox door in her cab.

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9. WP 7713 rests easy at Agra, having just brought in the Taj Express from New Delhi. En route, the beast has exhibited very hard working and hard running, maintaining consostently speeds of upto 105 kmph. (Picture courtesy John Lacey.)
The Taj was almost inseparable from the WP locomotives for several years. In fact, the train had been steam hauled right from 1964 till 1982, well into the time when the Indian Railways were dieselizing en masse.

As mentioned earlier, only the best engines in the soundest condition could work the Taj, due to prolonged stretches of non stop running at very high speeds. It is said that on one occasion, the Taj hurtled down the tracks at some 120 kmph behind her WP, in an attempt to make up time, as she was running a few minutes behind schedule. This might have been the exception rather than the rule, but one bunch of passengers might have been very pleased indeed!

This more or less meant that just two or three locomotives were dedicated to haul the Taj. Due to this, the Central Railway tried to have WP locomotives with their tenders matching with the rest of the train, i.e. navy/cream. Notwithstanding, cantankerous beasts that the steam locomotives are, all the more true in this case due to the hard work and consistent high performance demanded of them, it was never really possible to have the same color matched locomotive running in both directions. While a navy/ cream tendered locomotive used to take the train upto Agra, the return journey was quite frequently with a non-matched locomotive with her tender in traditional CR green/back livery. This green/black engine used to return to Agra with the next day's Taj the following morning, while that evening's departure from Agra would be behind the earlier color matched engine which had arrived the previous day, and which had either received attention at Agra, or had run further to Jhansi and and back with another train for more extensive repair there. 

10. Late morning arrival as the Taj Express approaches Agra Cantt. Note engine with matched tender livery. (Picture courtesy John Lacey)

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With the imminent demise of steam, and with dieselization and electrification spreading their tentacles, it was quite obvious that steam couldn't go on forever. More so with the hard working conditions, which were demanding on both man and machine. Economics eventually came down heavily against the faithful WPs. Steam finally succumbed to diesel. The Taj Express came under diesel traction in October 1982, in time of the 9th Asian Games at New Delhi.

Four major changes occured to the Taj Express at this time: first of course, the switch to diesel traction. Second, the exotic Deccan Queen like navy/cream livery was changed to the standard IR drab maroon. Third, diesel traction meant an increase in load: so the number of cars was increased. (exact numbers not available with me at present). Finally, the bum breaking hard wooden slats in the second class gave way to padded seats in the second class, in keeping with the IR policy at that time.

Diesel traction however did not last very long, and by 1986, the train came under electric traction. The livery reverted to the earlier navy/cream sometime during this period. Exact dates are not available with me at present.

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11. At the time of the Asian Games in 1982, the Taj Express was put under diesel traction. The train's livery too was changed to drab maroon. However, diesel traction was short lived, and by 1986, the train was under electric power. Seen here is the diesel hauled Taj in maroon livery on 24/12/1982.  (Picture courtesy John Lacey.)
Over the years, the Taj Express has unfortunately succumbed to politics, as is the sordid tale with so many important trains in India. The number of halts have been  increased.

At that time, the then high flying and computer age Railway Minister, the Late Madhav Rao Scindia, decided to extend the Taj Express upto Gwalior, which was his home town and election constituency. The extension to Gwalior was initially worked by diesel from Agra, later, the haulage became electric throughout, after the Agra - Gwalior section was energised. The Gwalior extension was initially only on certain days of the week, but is now a daily operation. The destination of the Taj Express thus changed from New Delhi - Agra to  New Delhi - Gwalior. Later, in the early 1990s, the train began to originate and terminate at Hazrat Nizamuddin, instead of New Delhi main. Hence, the New Delhi-Agra Cantt. Taj Express has now become the Hazrat Nizamuddin - Gwalior Taj Express.

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12 - 13.The Taj Express was one of the rare trains to still retain the restaurant car, the only other train being the Deccan Queen. The pic on the left is a model of the Taj's restaurant car, preserved at the National Rail Museum, New Delhi. A view of the car interior is on the right.  (Picture of car interior courtesy John Lacey.)

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The New Delhi-Agra-Gwalior-Jhansi- Bombay trunk route has been subject to constant improvement, upgradation and enhancement to enable high speed running. But rather than prove an advantage to the dear old Taj Express, this seems to have spelt her doom. Well, almost.

Since 1988, there is a superfast Shatabdi Express between New Delhi and Bhopal, via Agra, which with a top speed of 145 kmph has cut down the journey time between New Delhi and Agra to a mere 1 hr. 55 min. This is radically faster than the Taj's 2 hr. 35 min. The upmarket Shatabdi further originates/terminates at New Delhi main, rather than the far away terminus of Hazrat Nizamuddin, to get to which is a problem for passengers at that early hour. The tourists now prefer to take the faster and more comfortable and modern Shatabdi at New Delhi, rather than brave unscrupulous and fleecing cab drivers and the early morning chill during winters to get to Nizamiddin to catch the Taj Express.

Another factor, though not directly connected with the train, is the army of greedy, unscrupulous and irritatingly persistent and at times dangerously aggresive touts and middlemen, who literally swoop upon the unwary tourists as soon as the Taj Express arrives at Agra. These crooks and other related scum are quite intimidating and unnerving, and this kills the joy of travel by this train. Of course, this may well apply to the Shatabdi as well, but this is a factor worth mentioning nonetheless.

All this has meant that the poor Taj Express, which was once the most exotic and classy way to get to Agra from New Delhi, has now been reduced to the state of 'just another train' on the New Delhi- Agra route. By 1999, the deterioration of the halo-ed Taj Express was almost complete. One passenger found much to his horror that the train had no pantry car. Breakfast was not available, due to which he had to hastily stock up on bananas when the train halted at Mathura. The passenger also found occupancy levels on the Taj Express to be quite dismal, despite it being the 'high season' for tourists. The more prestigious Shatabdi was however running jam packed!

Still, the Taj Express holds her own, and some of her most dedicated fans wouldn't think of traveling by any other train. At any rate, the Shatabdi is rather pricey, so the Taj still caters to the general traveling public with more modest budgets, her supplementary fare notwithstanding.

Accommodation is more or less unchanged, except that the 1st a.c. and the non a.c. first class cars have all been replaced with a.c. chair cars. The rake is now air braked. The Taj Express still has her own tribe of followers, and remains a well loved entity on the line to Agra from Delhi.

 

THEY SAID IT!

Here is a fascinating account of the status of the Taj Express over a 33 year time scale from delighted railfan Shirish Paranjpe:

Hello Shankar,

 I am Shirish, a rail-fan. Read the contents of your above mentioned site with great interest. Could not agree more! 

Just some info., which you might already know: 

A. Taj Express: I travelled in this train in 1966 in the years of her glory. In addition to what is written, the UP Govt. tourist buses would be standing adjacent to PF no.1, making the changeover from Taj Express to the sightseeing buses easy. What's more, passengers of one coach in the train would travel by the same bus(es). So the search for your bus was very easy. Come evening the buses would leave you back near PF 1. 

I travelled again in 1999. 

Shock 1: There was no pantry car! I had not taken anything with me to eat. 

Shock 2: It was "season". The morning Shatabdi was 100% full. Taj was horrowingly empty - hardly 5-10 people in each compartment (2nd class that is). It was scary! Had to buy some bananas at Mathura to fill our stomachs. Got the whacking from my family for not keeping track of the "downfall of Taj", and for making them suffer the above.

More later. I get carried away while writing about railways! 

Regards 

Shirish Paranjape

(slightly edited to ensure continuity.)

 

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14. The modern day Taj Express, seen here leaving Hazrat Nizamuddin behind a WAP/1 FMII (later WAP/3) engine # 22008. Today, the train is normally hauled by a WAP/4, or even a WAM/4.  

Please inform any corrections/changes/additional information to frontier_mail@yahoo.com

     

   

Taj Express

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