Eyes Wide Open (MAS-SBC-MAS in 23 hrs)

by Sridhar Joshi


Sleep is precious, so I kept my eyes wide open during a short, but memorable trip to SBC and back.

"Official" permission not granted by my daughters, that is, who insist to see their names on the charts or else I am not allowed to travel! Numerous peladings and appeals were of no avail, and I had to resort to "cheating", read, run away like a fugitive from my own house, of course, duly informing my wife and parents - else I would have to incur one wrath too many.

I set out by the Shatabdi Exp to Bangalore, and planned to return the same day by any night train, to put my body and mind to the stiffest test so far - resolved to stay wide awake during the return trip also, catching some sleep during the brief stay at SBC.

As our local pulled to a stop at the home signal at MMC (Moore Market Complex), now coded as MST (Madras Suburban Terminal), I could see the incoming SBC MAS Mail slowly making its way past the numerous points and crossings at the yard of MAS and into the platforms. The train was held at the home of MAS for about 30 minutes to let two rakes to pass - the outgoing Rajdhani and the Shatabdi, which is surprising. Both these trains are normally berthed at about 4.30 hrs or so, before the first arrival into MAS. As I got out of the local and headed to the Shatabdi, the awesome reality struck me - would I be able to hold off sleep for the night ahead? Here were hordes of travellers - all, well almost all, with a fairly good night's sleep, and were looking very haggardly and disoriented. Would I be able to pull it off?

Casting all doubts aside, I settled into my seat - which is actually a misnomer, as I only marked my attendance and parked myself near the door - the first refuge of scoundrels (!) called railfans. There was no sign of the starter being cleared at 6.00 hrs - the Alleppey Exp was pulling into the adjacent platform. What an irony! This train has been speeded up by 80 minutes, converted into a superfast, and it pulls in exactly seven eighths of the time speeded up! As our loco belted out the first tune of the day, a wonderful morning raga from the ED 22268, a WAP4, we were on our way.

As we negotiated the points and took the better part of about 7 mts to pass BBQ, we had to slow down to 30 to get to the main line at Vysarpadi. As I looked out, I said a silent sorry to my kids, as we passed my apartment complex at 6.13, doing 80 kmph. The speed constantly increased and soon we were hitting 105, often 110, as we passed into another caution, for a cross over into the two lines from the four at Tiruvallur. We still hit the TRL starter at about 100, and passed AJJ about 7.10, about 8 mts late, the cautions taking a toll.

I swung from door to door, keeping an eye out for the track that comes in from Chengalpattu and the track that goes out to RU. Both passed in a flash, and we were on our way again, at full throttle. I could see the oscillation of the loco at the curves, and how I wished I would be there in it! That has to wait for another day, hopefully!

Breakfast was served, as I could make out from the catering staff running around in lines, not in circles, for a change. The breakfast could at best be described as frugal - and I am being charitable here. Two idlis and a vada, chutney that needed at least another hour in the grinder, and a couple of slices of bread with butter and jam. The bread was not the softest in Chennai at that time, and the coffee / tea from the machines had more froth than taste! Oops, am I doing a food review?

Katpadi was crossed late by 12 mts, courtesy the HWH TVC Exp which held us up. The culprit was detained and we passed thru KPD at 75 kmph on the main line, my first on the main line at KPD in my life. Then I really didn't know what hit us - the train was blazing a trail of dust and noise - to many, music to us railfans. We were swayed from one side to another as we hit the points and left the loop lines wondering what passed them, then a period of virtually smooth run on the LWRs and concrete sleepers. Then a brief few seconds of cacophony over the points and the smooth run, the sequence was repeated as many times as there were block stations en route, and when we finally slowed down to enter the JTJ yard, this time on one of the numerous loop lines, Road 6, to be precise, and exited at the same speed - 15 kmph.

Slowly picking up speed, we entered what should be my favourite curve - the line branching off to Somanayakanpatti towards SBC (can we have a snap poll on how many of you remember my earlier postin of July 2004 "Curves and straights")! The beast went berserk thereafter, but only too briefly. Somanayakanpatti was passed and as was Pachur, the former well above 100, and the latter about 80 kmph, as we entered the "mini" ghat upto Mulanur, the next block station. The train snaked its way through the ghats at a speed higher than I am used to in this section, and I was later informed that the MPS for the section had recently been increased by 15 kmph, from the earlier 65 to 80.

Out of the ghats, we passed two stations Gudupulli and Kamasamudram, which till recently had SMs manning them, but were now C in C stations (Clerk in charge). Kuppam of Chandrababu Naidu fame was another stopper, with a caution of 20 kmph due to DS (Deep Screeing, as the caution order describes it) work. Bisanattam was out in a flash and we could see Bangarpet nearing, and which we passed at a fair clip. We were nor briefly alongside a beautiful hill, or a mountain, full of carefully balanced boulders and rocks, and with inscriptions that are the trademark of India. Pepsi, screamed some, one had a tutorial class and some religious ones. Surprisingly, Juliet Bra, which seems to the favourite of Mumbaikars on the tracksides, was conspicuous by its absence!

We would later move past Tyakal, Devangonthi, Malur etc, and slow down at Whitefield for another caution, pick up speed and pass KJM under the wonderful rope stayed Road Over Bridge. We passed BNC at 15 kmph, which is the way it remained till we were received at 10.35, 10 mts before time on Platform 6.

I signed off saying a bye to the Shat and reached out to a relative's place, where a quick lunch later, I hit the bed like a log and took in a good four hours' sleep. I had, after all resolved to stay awake the whole night for the return, hadn't I?

Waking up at 16.30 hrs, I was surprised to see a long lost friend who now is a TTE, and was working the 2658 Mail that very night. Now, more than meeting the friend and living out the nostalgia, I should say I am ashamed to be relieved about my waiting list, my friend - the TTE would take care!

The return - 2658 - 8 mail as it is popularly called, left on the dot at 22.45, and after a brief halt at BNC, picked up speed, and slowed down at Whitefield for a caution of 20 kmph for TRR. Notching up right after the caution, we easily reached Bangarpet on time, and the night landscape of the previously mentioned rocks was wonderful. This train does not stop at many stations, unlike its other counterpart, the Brindavan Superfast Passenger. After BWT, we passed Kuppam, and the previously mentions stations at a very fast pace. The ghats beckoned us, the this track has more curves than the one towards SBC. As we weaved our way, I could only visualise a David Beckham at practice weaving his way around, or a slalom skiier. Once we crossed Pachur, we hit top speed again and in no time we came to a grinding halt at about 01.05 hrs at the home signal of JTJ. The famously speeded up Alleppey Exp, now on time was waiting for clearance on the adjacent track. Both trains entered the PFs together, and we left earlier, only to keep up the arrival in MAS.

Ahead of us, which I did not know then, was another new bragger, the Yercaud Super Fast, and following the Yercaud, was the Kerala Exp. Now, Yercaud has a lot many stops and Kerala, 8 Mail and Alleppey have no stops between JTJ and KPD. We got signal clearance at many home signals very late, resulting in slow-speed-slow delays, and we came to a grinding halt at Latteri, for about 10 mts. We finally got into KPD at 02.50 and left at 02.55.

We saw at KPD on the track towards TPTY, the 1082 Cape Exp to Mumbai. It has a halt of, would you believe it - of almost 100 mts at KPD. When the Jayanti was speeded up by more than 3 hrs last time table in 2004, SR gave in to the protests of the locals and reverted to the earlier start, as against the 2 hour delay envisaged in the TT. The Jayanti now follows the new TT of 2004 from KPD onwards, we heard. Now comes the dream of every railfan, at least mine. The wait of 10 mts at LTI, the halt at KPD had cumulatively made the tracks free for quite a distance for us to waltz our way to Chennai, and waltz we did. Boy, we did the distance of about 62 kms to AJJ very fast, and it took all of 38 mts before we came to a dead halt at the scheduled halt at AJJ.

The remaining run was like the curator's egg, good in parts until the curator, here the controller decided to play the spoiler and magically inserted a goods between the Yercaud and us. We had to play tango to the goods, and what seemed a scheduled 4.40 arrival at MAS, as per the 2005 TT, turned out to be a 4.40 arrival at PER, where I got off, satisfied at my ability to keep awake.

Body clocks amaze me the most. These crew who work nights, apparently have Swiss clocks fixed on them, whereas we, mere mortals, should be satisfied with HMT or so it seems. The ability of these guys to switch on, off at will, and adjust their body clocks is simply unimginable for me. Guys, can you please give me dose of melatonin, or is it serotonin, that controls the body clock?

I had very much wanted to post this report in two parts. Lest sleep get the better of me later in the day, and given to procrastination, I thought to make it one. Bigger the better.

Thanks and apologies for the length.

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