Chennai - Ernakulam

by Jason Antony


Coming home

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my first day's experiences among Chennai's EMU trains. That was fun. Let's move on to the evening, just after I got off at Madras Park with dad. Here we go…

We went over to Chennai Central after tea, where I bought another copy of the SR timetable. I still have to come to terms with its revamped look. I also got TAAG - damn, they look the same now! Whatever happened to individuality?

After getting the books, I deposited dad in the waiting area and trotted off to check out the beauties around me - the trains, too. First off on PF #2 was a blue SR-liveried rake, dressed up as the 6089 Yelagiri express. I went over to meet the loco and lo behold, it was WAG-5A #23436! Left me puzzled as to why a goods loco was hauling a passenger train [note: fellow IRFCAites point out that they are commonly used on expresses, though they top out at only 105 km/h.]

My first WAG-5 loco sighting! Out came my crappy camera, and I was happily snapping away when I attracted attention I didn't need - an RPF official. He came over, put on an air of importance and barked at me - what I was taking the pix for? I replied I love trains! He sternly admonished, you are not supposed to take any photos of trains!!! I said, oh really? ok then bye! Gave him an infuriatingly sweet smile and walked away. He appeared deflated. Resisted an impulse to wink. [note: teasing RPF personnel/cops is not recommended! If they haul you off to some dark room and beat the living crap out of you, I'm not responsible!]

I guess they must assume I build working duplicates from the photos and sell them to IR at rock-bottom prices, eventually bankrupting CLW, BHEL, DLW and what have you.

That was my first RPF encounter. Not the most amicable, but then what can one expect from an Indian official in khakis? As I was walking back, the Coromandel express made its majestic entry, on time at 1735 hrs, headed by WAP-4 #22214 in dire need of a bath.

Wow. My first WAP-4 encounter. Instant love! Snapped a couple of pics, and the dumb flash fired on the second, making heads swivel. Luckily the RPF dude was somewhere else. As I watched close by, the WAP-4 parked its panto and the resulting sparks made me jump. But I loved it.

Watched the Yelagiri depart into the distance at 1755 hrs. The punctuality impressed me deeply. Especially the Coromandel's performance, which was spot on.

I snapped AJJ WAM-4D6P #20536 and then hung around dad, catching up with what I missed over the course of four years [those who read my previous post may recall I'd just returned to India after four years. Prudently didn't let him in on everything I did.]

Dad was tired from the day's activities. So we got back to our hotel, he grabbed a spot of rest, then had our first dinner, packed up and returned.

Adrenaline flooded my veins. Here I was, about to commence my first journey after so long. I couldn't wait.

The 6041 express was our ride home [my hometown is Cochin/Ernakulam]. The rake moved in, and it was drab maroon fare. However I was glad - God knows if I'll see many of them. We were in S7, and was pleasantly surprised to see we both got window seats. I wished they were the ones on the side though, cos then I wouldn't have to crouch under the middle berth all night to stare out the window.

Here's where it gets interesting. At 1930 hrs, I switched on my GPS and obtained a position fix. Unfortunately it indicated there weren't enough satellites in the right configuration: that meant I'd eventually lose my position fix.

Now what is this GPS thingy? Essentially it tells you your location, altitude and speed - yes *grins* But it requires a clear view of the sky so it can lock in with the GPS satellites and tell you all this. Also, my GPS gets the correct time from the satellites' atomic clocks - very precise. In short, every railfan should own one.

Got out my recorder, taped the sounds of the station… the porters with the trolleys, the loud announcements in an irritatingly endless loop, the occasional loco horn, the vendors going chai, chai, kaapee, kaapee… and that got me all nostalgic. The smells, the sounds… nothing has changed; it was enough to take me back in time as my eyes went misty.

Luckily no one noticed so I got out of the coach and headed out to the loco. It was AJJ WAM-4.6P #20557. I met the driver who told me the loco would be there till ERS. And he was right.

1945 hrs. came. And went. Nothing happened. Then at 1946 hrs, there was a sudden lurch and then the WAM-4 sounded its melodious horn. We were moving! Yes, yeah, whoohoo and all that :-)

My travelmates were a bunch of Sabarimala devotee guys - you know, the ones who dress in deep orange and throw flowers all around; not unlike the Hare Krishna happy people. They were extraordinarily curious as to what I was carrying. Once they learnt I'd just returned from Australia, all remaining traces of reserve - if any - vanished and they launched into the most banal conversation I've had in months. I tried to signal I was totally tired and would love it if they just left me alone, but they wouldn't hear of it. So I fell silent, looked out the window, played with my GPS, recorded the clackity-clack and they eventually got the message.

Anyway - we meandered our way out of Chennai and nothing could tear my attention away from the window. We built up speed fairly rapidly - the WAM-4 had smooth and linear power delivery and acceleration. I liked it.

About 10 kms outside Chennai, my GPS clocked a max speed record of 83.7 km/h, but the WAM-4 pulled harder; we slowly edged upwards and minutes later hit a high of 91.4 km/h. At 2010 hrs there was an unscheduled halt for a minute, at the lights. We moved on in a minute, after a BG local passed us in the other direction. We rapidly built up speed. I was beginning to like this driver. Fuss-free and to the point. Another point I loved was his signature horn - very long single-note blast, followed by another blast a few pitches higher or lower. Very dramatic and the grin was back on my face.

I was enjoying the sensation of the dark landscape rushing past us, and the light from the bulb floating up and down the ground… mesmerising, that bit.

We maintained a steady average of around 80 km/h, then the accelerator kicked in - 85… 90… 92… and plateau-ed at 94.4 km/h… dropped back to 85-90… then moved on to 91… 93… 95… 97… 98… 99… my heart was pounding: would we make it? Yes, we did! Hit 100km/h, the magic figure. We cruised at this speed for two kilometers, maxing out at 102 km/h before gliding into Arakkonam at 2100 hrs.

We left Arakkonam 3 minutes behind schedule, at 2103 hrs. By now I was all worked up and real enamoured with the guy at the helm. Every driver has a personal style you soon recognise and distinguish. In addition to the horn thingy I mentioned before, his acceleration, braking, signalling the guard, all had his personal touch.

We rocketed on to Katpadi and this was where he did just great. It was between these points that my GPS recorded a peak of 103 km/h in a fifteen-minute sustained 100+ km/h run. Words are inadequate to describe the feeling. It was at this moment that another express came screaming out of the night, like a mad demon off to meet its lover, barely able to hold back its, um, passion *grins* I love that Doppler effect and how it makes your heart jump. Pity I wasn't sitting on the right side where it would've been more intense.

We made good time here, covering the 61 kms in 48 minutes and gaining 7 minutes. That's over 76 km/h average.

Ate dinner. Departed Katpadi at 2200 hrs sharp. To the second. Once again, I could see why SR has gained a reputation for precision and punctuality. Anyway we rolled on to the next biggie, Jolarpettai, 84 kms. away. Again, the overall feeling was of a rickety rocket as we swayed and rolled, the wind blasting in thru the windows, drying my teeth which were exposed in an un-wipeable grin.

We flew through the 84 kms. in a mere 75 minutes, arriving at Jolarpettai 15 minutes ahead of schedule at 2315 hrs. Left on time again, at 2335 hrs.

This is the point when my report gets really sparse, and with good reason. I fell asleep. Yes, I tried my best to hang on but I had only seven hours' sleep in the last 40 hours, and with everyone else having retired by now, I had to lie on the lower berth. It was too seductive. Pretty soon, I drifted off.

But not for too long.

When I got up, we'd reached Ottapalam. It was around 0539 hrs and we'd covered 370 kms in just over 6 hours, 15 minutes ahead of schedule. We were in Kerala at last. Grinning, I went over to the door and hung out while we moved to our next stop, Wadakancheri.

I used to say [with just a hint of pride] that the Kerala - TN border was just perfect, so startling was the difference. Lush greenery on one side, red soil on the other. This is no longer true, as I noticed again on another trip. In fact, TN seems more green than Kerala these days.

We left Wadakancheri 12 minutes early. I had just jumped out to meet the driver, assuming that they'd wait to sync back to schedule. But they didn't. Loved the "run & jump" back onto my coach.

The next stop was Punkunnam, and this was when it unraveled. Arrived two minutes early, but 0656 hrs came without a toot to hear. Waited, waited and waited. Then noticed the signal was still red. I heard some people mutter about "faulty signals" but in any case we were there till 0726 hrs. Interminable.

We were seriously behind schedule for the first time. Now I actually like that, so I can experience the thrill of catching up (one such unforgettable jouney was on the Venad express from TVC in 1996 - we were 35 minutes late but arrived at ERS 8 minutes early, IIRC.) But it remained to be seen whether we could.

Trichur glided in at 0737 hrs. Unloading luggage took its time and we left at 0746 hrs, 41 minutes late. From there it was a series of permanent way works, lousy signal lights… absolutely banal reasons for slowing down. The low points were at Angamali and Ernakulam Town, both 64 minutes behind schedule. I just made the most of the extra time to savour the scenery on route - anyone who's been to Kerala will know what I'm talking about.

Saw quite a few trains on the opposite track, all hauled by WDM-2s, WDM-2Cs and WAM-4s. The last leg was from Ernakulam Town to ERS. We were given 15 minutes to cover the two kilometres, but made it in an astounding 9.

That was it for the trip. As we coasted into ERS at 0958 hrs, 58 minutes late, I saw three locos haphazardly lined up - a WAG-5, a WAP-4 and a green WDS-6. Discordant, yet beautiful in the way only IR can be.

Mom was waiting on the platform, had a nice reunion of sorts (though no one got overly sentimental, thank goodness for that.)

To top it off, I went over to the driver, said hi, took a snap of the WAM-4 and went home mildly exhausted but very content.

I was home at last.

Running times

I managed to keep a log of arrival and departure times for most of the trip. Here it is for your pleasure. Note the following:

  • All times are rounded to within ±30 seconds of IST (UTC+05:30.)
  • Times between Salem and Ottapalam were not recorded as I fell asleep [what a shame!] But we averaged over 60 km/h over the section.
Loco: AJJ WAM-4.6P #20557 between MAS - ERS
Km. Station Arrival Departure Deviation Average Speed
0 Chennai Central - 1946 -1 -
69 Arakkonam Jn. 2100 2103 -3 49.28
130 Katpadi Jn. 2151 2200 0 76.25
214 Jolarpettai Jn. 2315 2335 0 67.20
335 Salem Jn. - - - -
398 Erode Jn. - - - -
448 Tiruppur - - - -
503 Podanur Jn. - - - -
552 Palghat Jn. - - - -
584 Ottapalam - 0540 +15 -
612 Wadakancheri 0626 0628 +12 36.52
626 Punkunnam 0653 0726 -30 33.60
628 Trichur 0737 0746 -41 65.45
652 Irinjalakuda 0823 0824 -53 38.92
658 Chalakudi 0831 0836 -55 51.43
674 Angamali (for Kaladi) 0902 0904 -64 36.92
683 Alwaye 0916 0918 -63 45.00
700 Ernakulam Town 0944 0949 -64 39.23
702 Ernakulam Jn. 0958 - -58 13.33
Average speed between MAS - ERS 49.44 km/h
Excite-o-meter rating 6.5/10

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