Konkan Railway Trip
by Mani Vijay (AKA Vijay Balasubramanian)
Here is a summarized version of my journey on the Gandhidham-Nagercoil Exp. from Panvel to Nagercoil. Details about loco. numbers/sheds, exact passing times at stations, crossings, rake formations of various trains, etc. will follow once I study the video. First some general observations:
Three distinctive patterns emerge as far as the terrain is concerned. From Veer till Pernem, one goes through a series of tunnels (some of them very long) and viaducts. As Apurva pointed out in an earlier mail, gradients have been kept to a minimum by generous employment of tunnels and bridges so that the train maintains a satisfactory speed.
Between Madgaon and Udupi, one plays hide-n-seek with the Ghats with an occasional tunnel giving way to paddy fields and palm trees. Also, quite a few bridges including the long Annavar/Saravati bridges. After Kanakanadi, one gets treated to coastal Kerala with lush tropical foliage, coconut and banana plantations and the resplendent Arabian sea making its appearance in patches. Kerala's dense population is evident by the fact that there is hardly any 'gap' between stations (at least till Calicut) with civilization existing throughout - similar to the Lonavala-Pune stretch.
Except for Ratnagiri, Madgaon, Roha and Kankanadi (which have three platforms including one island), all stations on KR have two non-island platforms catering to the Up and Dn. lines, respectively. Many of the stations have just these two lines with sufficient gap between them, presumably, to add more lines as the need arises. So, KR does not offer much as far as the complexity of stations and track layouts are concerned. Ratnagiri and Madgaon have cleaning yards as well. South of Kankanadi, only Shoranur and Trivandrum Central emerge as big stations with more than 3 platforms - the former has six (will doublecheck this) and the latter five.
- AC catenary exists till Ernakulam. The entire Shoranur-Ernakulam section is double-tracked and lined with OHE. The sighting of a MUed WAG5 pair at Mulagunnathukavu led me to believe that this section has been energized as well. However, exp./mail trains are still running on diesel powers.
We left for Panvel barely 15 hours after my long plane trip to Mumbai. The jet lag would act in my favor since I had no intentions of sleeping that night. Having found out there are no porters at Panvel, we were somewhat worried since we would have to load nearly 10 pieces of luggage in a 5 minute period onto non-consecutive side-berths. Ghatkopar to Panvel was a 40 mt. ride. I started my video-taping by honoring the assistant station master and other staff. Panvel has three platforms including one island - I was surprised to see DC traction structures since I was led to believe that Diva-Panvel has been electrified with AC OHE. Fortunately for us, the GIM-Nagercoil exp. arrived 40 mts. AHEAD of schedule around 10.20 pm - plenty of time for loading!! An Ernakulam WDM2 with Rajdhani livery was in charge (short hood leading) - few coaches had the dark blue-light blue livery. I could not have asked for a better seat - my side-berth faced west and was the first one from the door. The opposite 'cabin' berths were unoccupied and would remain so till Chiplun. The train left Panvel on time (11.00 pm) and I felt my nerves tingling in anticipation for an exciting trip - I was actually on an IR train after 4 1/2 years, and traveling on a non-AC, sleeper coach.
Made an unscheduled stop at Roha to allow the Holiday special to come in and park next to us at Platform 1. Got down to snap up an empty DMU on the other side of the island platform. Had a prolonged conversation with one of the staff (Mr. Venkatesan) who pointed out some of the long tunnels and bridges. He informed me that the Rajdhani runs at a max. speed of 110/120 kmph. between Ratnagiri and Madgaon - can anyone confirm this? The Rajdhani does have a higher average speed (75 kmph.) in this section when compared to other stretches - however, it seems unlikely that any train will be allowed to run at 120 kmph. on a single track section. Mr. V also informed me that the Konkan Kanya Exp. is a profitable venture for KR and fetches a couple of lakhs per round trip (too far-fetched?). Kolad signalled the start of the KR section. Fortunately, it was a near fullmoon night which meant that I had a moonlit view of the undulations. After Karanjadi, we crawled through the 3.5 km Nakawade tunnel. At Chiplun, a huge group of students entered our coach and filled all the vacant berths - this was a pretty decent crowd with valid reservations. The coordinator told me that they were studying at a college near Chiplun and were on their first ever tour of the South. We crossed the Netravati Exp. in a short while after emerging from another tunnel. After Bhoke, we encountered the longest tunnel in this stretch - the 6.5 km Kharpode tunnel (Mr. V informed me this is the 2nd longest rail tunnel in the world. I am aware that the longest is the Sienken tunnel between Honshu and Hokaidu. How long is the tunnel below the English channel?). We were inside this tunnel for a full 6 mts. which meant that the train was doing around 65 kmph. The cleaning yard signalled the arrival of Ratnagiri - the Dadar-Ratnagiri pass. was parked here along with its Erode WDM2 - I noticed that some of the coaches had the KR livery. A 30 mt. halt and we were off again veering to the South-East with a new crew in charge. We were supposed to pass over the tallest bridge - the 64.8 m Panvel viaduct - however, I missed it or was unable to gauge the height in the darkness. Woke up about an hour and half later to discern a line of trucks parked on flat cars - this must have been one of those Roll on - Roll off (??) services that KR is boasting about. The Mangala Exp. was waiting for us at Kankavali - no special livery. We reached Sawantwadi at dawn. Crossed the 2.5 km Pernem tunnel and entered Goa.
One more observation before I continue on my trip report. Many of the RCF coaches have a "Namaste" + "welcome" sign on the doors. Is this a recent trend? Do the newer ICF coaches have this as well?
The entry into Goa was marked by the appearance of water inlets and islands and an occasional church. Also, patches of red soil suggested iron oxide content. Between Thivim and Karmali we crossed a steel girder bridge, 1.5 km long. I was so engrossed in conversation that I failed to notice the line from Vasco join at Majorda. This line is a parallel track till Madagon. In fact, we overtook the Vasco-Kulem pass. running on this line but I could not capture this on video since it happened so fast. We crossed the Kulem-Vasco pass. at Suravali and then entered Madgaon on Platform 1. A 2-car DMU with KR livery (Blue with Red stripes) was waiting on Platform 2. The Kulem-Vasco pass came behind us on Platform 3 and left before us. I could see the train curving towards the East on a line bound for Kulem. We left for Cancona about 30 mts. behind schedule. The Mandovi Exp. was stabled on the cleaning yard with some coaches sporting the DQ livery, some maroon and others with the dark/light blue livery. The train cruised through Karwar on the Up. line in order to overtake a BCN rake parked on the Dn. line - this was double-headed with a WDG2 and a WDM2A MUed the wrong way (Anand referred to his in an earlier mail) so that the long hood was leading in either direction. At Kumta, I noticed that the lines + platform had been laid by cutting the rock clean with no jarring edges - this suggested that a cutting device had been employed instead of explosives. We met the Mangalore-Madgaon pass. at Murdeshwar - except the brake-vans, all coaches had the KR livery. I noticed that the red stripe below the windows is thicker than the upper stripe. I struck up a conversation with an Ankleswar-based businessman. He was visiting his family at Upudi and informed me that Ankleswar has a sizeable business community comprised of folks from the South. No wonder the Rajkot/GIM - Trivandrum/Nagercoil Exps. halt at Ankleswar and not at Bharuch.
After Kankanadi, we entered SR territory and crossed the mighty Netravati river on a truss bridge. Absence of welded tracks and deterioration in quality resulted in increased swaying, noticeable increase in the clankings (at joints) and a drop in speed. In fact, the train crawled on quite a few stretches. The line is patch-doubled till Kasaragod with work in progress beyond it (for maybe 10-15 kms.). We stopped somewhere between Kankanadi and Kasargod to let the Malabar Exp. cross us. An LPG train was stationed on the through line and I snapped up the passing exp. through a gap between two vehicles - the pantry car had the cream-green GT livery (does the GT still sport this color?). The 2 1/2 hr. late Chennai-Mangalore Mail met us at Kasaragod. The yellow boards were placed just above the toilets and the slots near the roof were all empty - any particular reason?
The Kasaragod-Payyanur section offered excellent coastal views with the shimmering sea at a stone's throw in quite a few places. In fact, one patch had a sustained and clear view of the sea b'coz the banana plantations were fresh and the trees did not obstruct our view - the feeling was that of riding along a beach at 60-70 kmph!! The train was about 40 mts. late and I thought we would miss sighting the Cannanore-Trivandrum Exp. at Cannanore. To my surprise, the train was still waiting on Platform 2 to be 'let go' after our train. Almost all its coaches had the dark/light blue color - finally a uniform liveried train in this color and one of the few IR trains still having a First Class coach. After Telicherry, we crossed the Mangala Exp. waiting at a small station. To my delight, we ignored Badagara, a fairly important halt - the Tiruchi-Mangalore Exp. was stationed on the Dn. line and I stared at the faces peeking from its windows as if to say "take that, you unfortunate souls!!" (cruel, ain't I?). This train was one of the few non-vestibuled ones. Calicut was another 3 platform station with a very noisy and crowded Platform 1.
AC catenary made its appearance at Shoranur Jn. and accompanied us till Ernakulam Town. As I mentioned earlier, Shoranur-Ernakulam is completely double-tracked and so we enjoyed a 2 1/2 hr. no-nonsense 100 kmph. ride with Trichur and Alwaye being the two halts. About 1/2 hr. beyond Ernakulam Town, we halted at a wayside station for a crossing - to my surprise a freight train sped past us. What igonominy; halting for a freight train - neverthless, a single-line crossing is always welcomed. Quilon is an interesting station - it has two island platforms but one of them is fenced rendering it unusable - so, technically, this is a 3-platform station. The Chennai-Quilon Mail was stationed next to the fence and provided my first MG encounter of the trip. We were only 20 mts. late at Trivandrum but waited for nearly an hour to let the Madurai-Quilon pass. arrive next to us on Platform 2. What stupidity!! Two more crossings before Nagercoil - the Kanyakumari-Mumbai Exp. at Neyyattinkara and the Kanyakumari-Bangalore Exp. at Eraniel, regular halts for these two but not for us. Unfortuntaley, we were the first to arrive on both occasions and were forced to stop. All this coupled with an irritating halt at Nagercoil outer, resulting in the train reaching its destination nearly 1 hr. 40 mts. behind schedule. Nagercoil is again a 3-platform station with stabling yards for the trains that terminate here. By the way, one of the Kanyakumari-Mumbai coaches had a brilliant green-cream-blue color. Which IR train boasts this livery? Or is it a thing of the past?