1012 Up Kolhapur - Mumbai Mahalaxmi Express
by R Venkatesh
Notation: Station Codes are mentioned in square brackets .
I have been on vacation during the period November 17 - November 24, 2003. I had a small thought in mind that I'd have to go to Kolhapur [KOP] for personal work but never ever realized that this would actually materialize all of a sudden on Wednesday, November 19. Since this was totally unplanned, I had to take the night sleeper bus from Dadar [DR] (which I got due to a stroke of luck - all the buses for Kolhapur had already left when the time was 21:55 hrs).
My family was terribly worried because I was taking the night bus which would go over the Mumbai - Pune Expressway, somewhat avoiding the Khandala Ghat but not the subsequent treacherous Khambatki Ghat between Pune and Satara. I promised them that I would return by train. And I never ever realized that I was going to get the icing on the cake of my vacation, by taking the 1012 Kolhapur - Mumbai Mahalaxmi Express.
First, a short note on how I got there. The sleeper bus had two berths, one lower and one upper. I got the upper berth. There were no seats; one had to only sleep off the trip and get down at Kolhapur nine hours later, the following morning. This was an air-conditioned coach and the best part was that it had a REAR engine - the driver's cab was very spacious. The noise was reduced to a mere hum and the berths were palatial. Very different from the narrow berths in our beloved trains, I must admit. There was one important consolation. Had it not been for the air-conditioned coach, I would've been weather-beaten to a pulp and had my eyes burnt, due to all that pollution that prevailed on the National Highway 4. I'd say that a train trip is anytime better for this one prime reason even if its berths were narrower. You don't need to travel in an AC coach in such a lovely mode of transport.
Now the return trip. After spending two full days at Kolhapur to get my work done, I went to Kolhapur Railway Station on Friday (November 21) morning at 07:30 hrs. The first thing I noticed was that the station was renamed to Chattrapati Shahu Maharaj Terminus, just as Bombay V.T was renamed in 1996 to Chattrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus [CSTM]. A 25-minute wait time at the reservation queue and bingo! I got tickets for that very night. The 1012 Mahalaxmi Express was to depart from KOP at 19:05 hrs. The distance involved was 520 Kilometers (KOP - PUNE 328 Km and PUNE - CSTM 192 Km).
The other thing I noticed was that Kolhapur is now under Central Railway, Pune [PUNE] Division. This reminds me to try and pen down some historical facts that I have been encountering since the last 18 years.
I had been to Kolhapur several times in 1985-86 when I lived there during my First Year of Engineering, and was making many trips by the Mahalaxmi Express. Until last year, KOP was under South Central Railway, Hubli [UBL] Division. During that time, 1985, Mahalaxmi Express (Bombay V.T [BBVT] - KOP) had the number 303 and was under SCR, while KOP - BBVT Mahalaxmi Express had the number 304. They used to charge Rupees Fifty Six for each sleeper ticket. The train used to leave BBVT at 20:25 hrs and reach KOP the following morning at 07:30 hrs. The return train used to leave KOP at 21:00 hrs and reach BBVT at 08:20 hrs. Sahyadri Express used to bear the number 311 (BBVT - KOP), used to leave BBVT at 17:50 hrs and reach KOP at 06:45 hrs. The return train used to leave KOP at 22:00 hrs and reach BBVT at around 12:20 hrs. Sahyadri Express also used to be under SCR until last year. I don't quite know its current timings - they are more or less the same.
Then in 1989 when the Railways were computerized and the PRS system came into effect, the Mahalaxmi Express got the number 7311 / 7312 from the earlier 303/304, while the Sahyadri Express got 7303 / 7304 from the earlier 311/312. I remember having read a number of our postings where these numbers used to be similarly interchanged several times earlier, leading to a lot of confusion. But I don't have any idea beyond this.
Then in 1992 - 93, the Mahalaxmi Express was made to travel between DR - KOP instead of BBVT - KOP. And thereafter, back again to BBVT - KOP.
Subsequently, some time in 1997 (I think), I came across the fact that the Mahalaxmi Express' number has become 1011 / 1012 and ever since, is now under CR. At present, I think ALL trains situated in KOP (except the KOP - Bangalore City [SBC] Rani Chennamma Express) are under CR and are bearing CR numberings. (The Rani Chennamma Express belongs to SR). The three-digit KOP - Sangli [SLI] - PUNE passenger trains that were under SCR until July 2003 are now having the numbers 16xx since August 1.
Back now to my current trip. I reached the main platform at 18:35 hrs on the dot. After securing my box onto my berth, I went out to see the locomotive. It was a brilliant WDM2 PUNE loco, with a yellow-and-green livery. This loco was to haul the train all the way to Mumbai WITHOUT a loco change at PUNE. I learn from our beloved IRFCA friends that the loco actually operates on the following link.
The 1011 Mahalaxmi Express that arrives at PUNE from CSTM is hauled by a PUNE WDM2 loco which gets changed to another PUNE WDM2 loco. This beast hauls the 1011 for the remaining 328 Km to KOP and reaches there at 07:45 hrs. On the return trip, this loco hauls the train (now 1012) from 19:05 hrs ALL THE WAY to CSTM, reaching there at about 06:25 hrs the following morning. This loco then rests at CSTM until that night, when it takes the Konkan Kanya all the way to Madgaon [MAO], reaching there the following morning. It remains there until that evening when it hauls the Konkan Kanya back to CSTM where it reaches the next morning. The loco rests at CSTM for the whole day until at 20:25 hrs, when it hauls back a 1011 Mahalaxmi up to PUNE, where it gets replaced by another loco and goes back to its home shed for maintenance. The total distance covered by the loco between two successive maintenance breaks at its home shed is therefore around 2212 Kilometres. Quite a powerhorse, I must admit!!
Another trend I have been noticing is that the diesel locos are NO LONGER possessing those two lovely white-lights on its sides as some of them used to have. Those have been restored to yellow-lights like it used to be before. And the same was true of the loco that I was inspecting.
At 19:00 when the train departure was being announced, I got into my coach and the train dragged out on the dot. It passed through some of the most beautiful spots in the city - particularly the Shahu Market Yard housing those goods wagons - before it crossed below the National Highway 4 and went to the next station, Valivade [VV], 6 Km from KOP, where it had a short halt. This train halts at all stations between KOP and Miraj [MRJ] except at Nimsirgaon Tamdalge Halt between Hatkanangale [HTK] and Jaisingpur [JSP]. After VV, the next halts were at Rukadi, HTK, JSP and then MRJ. The total distance was 47 Km from KOP to MRJ.
The other thing between KOP and MRJ that I noticed was that, all signals were the primitive semaphore signals rather than electrically-operated ones. An exception was probably at KOP station itself.
The track between KOP and MRJ has quite a number of zig-zag curves. The curve I particularly remember was the one just after JSP station that turns towards the right (facing the loco). Then just before MRJ, our track takes a mad-crazy LEFT turn (facing the loco), gets under an overbridge, and joins the other line coming from SBC.
In fact, in those days, when the MRJ-UBL-SBC line was metre-gauge, I used to notice while we were leaving MRJ for KOP how we were going away from the metre-gauge line. I first used to think that it was the metre-gauge line that was taking the crazy turn away from us and that we were going straight. Only after studying the map and after repeated trips did I come to understand that OUR line was responsible.
In we came to MRJ and I had some idlis, medu vada and chutney, and special tea. The chutney was simply top-class, though it was a little pungent. It appears that South Indian recipes are quite prevalent there, given that MRJ is near the border of Maharashtra and Karnataka. This reminds me to ask my beloved friends - all of you - a couple of questions.
Which is the last station in Maharashtra between MRJ and Ghatprabha [GPB]? Is it Shedbal, or Ugarkhurd? Chikodi Road is in Karnataka State, I'm sure. In fact, it is near Nipani. I remember a friend having told me sometime in February 1993 (once again, just hours after a memorable Mahalaxmi Trip) that he did his - I think - B.Com (Bachelor's Degree of Commerce) from a College in Chikodi Road where he hails from. One part of the college campus is situated in Maharashtra State and is affiliated to Shivaji University, Kolhapur. The other part is situated in Karnataka State and I think he mentioned it being affiliated to Dharwad University or something like that. Can someone throw some light of this interesting place?
Another thing I noticed at MRJ was on the opposite track. A train - the MRJ - UBL - MRJ passenger had the CENTRAL Railway marking on it. Not SC as it mostly used to be. The paint was clearly removed from the brown livery and CR was repainted on it.
After a 10-minute halt at MRJ, the train dragged out towards SLI. One thing I've sorely missed during this journey was the musical sound made by the train on the tracks, particularly in THIS segment as it picked up great speed. With new technology - pre-stressed concrete sleepers and spot-welded tracks (am I getting the technical terminology right?) - all that lovely sound has started disappearing from most major railway lines in the country. (It is still there between KOP and VV and up to MRJ and I hope that doesn't go away). This is an eight-kilometer segment after which SLI arrives. Usually, the train takes 11 minutes to cover this segment. I believe that they call SLI and MRJ the Twin Cities, like Hyderabad [HYB] and Secunderabad [SC].
On this segment, as I was watching the Railway markings on the goods train wagons while we were going past, I noticed the SEC on the markings. Is it the South East Central Railway of the now-fragmented Zonal Railways?
It was around 21:10 hrs. The train dragged out of SLI to proceed towards Karad [KRD]. I decided to retire for the night after we crossed KRD when it would have been around 22:20 hrs. But as I was watching from my favourite window seat, security personnel came by and urged all of us to pull our shutters down. I was astonished at why I had to do that HERE. It is customary for this to happen on the Daund [DD] - Kurduvadi [KWV] line on trains going from CSTM to HYB, Chennai [MAS], etc; miscreants used to throw stones on those trains in that segment and quite a few dacoities were reported. But it never happened here, I thought. I wondered why we were asked to do that. But I had to obey, and I closed the window, trying to pore through the narrow slits or have a small opening where possible.
Then came the next halt, at Kirloskarwadi [KOV]. This was a short halt. And the train dragged out and I had to pull down my shutter again. I was getting very bored at this empty journey, and subsequently fell asleep. Then something went wrong.
We came to a halt on a section that had a steep curve to the right (facing the loco). I could see most of the train. I was working hard to find out what station that was, but could not even get an idea. And I would not dare open the door after those instructions. Was it Bhavani Nagar? Or Shenoli [SNE]? It was a pretty long halt - must've been around 10 - 15 minutes. Then I heard the sound of a drone approaching us from afar and opened the window fully. And as the beast was crossing us slowly with a train behind it, I understood what train that was.
It was the 2780 Hazrat Nizamuddin [NZM] - Vasco da gama [VSG] Goa Express. The railway markings on this train indicated SWR (South Western Railway) instead of SC (South Central Railway) that it used to be. Another footprint made by the fragmentation.
As that train crossed us, we were allowed to proceed towards KRD, which arrived in the next few minutes. I understood that the long halt was at SNE. After we dragged out of KRD, I once again closed the shutter and retired for the night.
Around 00:10 hrs, I woke up to the rattling sound made on the tracks and figured out at once that we were already past Satara [STR] and were negotiating around the famous horseshoe curve after Adarki [AKI] and beyond. While writing this, I remember very well an earlier IRFCA get-together we had on December 22,2000, where our beloved friends John Lacey, Viraaf Mulla, Apurva Bahadur, Dr.Shirish Yande, (Late) Vasudev Kamath and I made an afternoon trip on the horseshoe curve. We footplated on the then 7384 Nagpur [NGP] - Kolhapur [KOP] Maharashtra Express from Ghorpuri [GPI] (one station after PUNE) up to Jarandeswar [JSV] (one station before STR). Then we took the opposite passenger train from JSV backwards to AKI where we alighted, except for Vasu who was heading back to Pune in that train. I was hungry and remember having had some fig on that part of the journey, offered by one of you. As we alighted at AKI and went to the main platform, we were waiting for the passenger train to return far away from us on the horseshoe curve. It made a complete turn, with Vasu inside it, perched on the doorway, and our cameras were out to photograph him in the train far away, going in the opposite direction after the turn, towards PUNE.
When I woke up next, I found the sound of electric locomotives going past us and figured out that we were at PUNE. The rest of the journey, I felt, was rather boring. Nothing special happened.
Finally, at 06:00 hrs, DR arrived and I had to alight. I bade a friendly farewell to this train for having done an excellent job in reaching on time, as it proceeded for the remaining 9 Kilometers to reach CSTM at 06:25 hrs.
All in all, a pleasant and memorable journey. Thanks very much for the patient reading.
Next week, I am planning a trip to Chennai from Mumbai, followed by a trip from Chennai to Kolkata and then, back to Mumbai. I have personal work at these two places. I will post the itinerary once the tickets get finalized.