Nellai Express

by Mani Vijay (AKA Vijay Balasubramanian)


Some general observations:

  1. Almost all the WDM2s that I spotted had the green-cream Golden Rock livery.
  2. The Madurai-Dindigul and Villupuram-Egmore sections have parallel MG line(s) and offer a rare chance to race with MG trains (maybe not for long :-( )
  3. Our train did a max. of 75 kmph. till VPJ and then went upto 85-90 kmph. (and 100 kmph. in patches), but no sustained 100 kmph. run.

After a brief but eventful stay at Nagercoil, we proceeded to Tirunelveli by road to catch the Nellai Exp. On the way, we passed a huge establishment of windmills (a total of 500 as I found out later) - the largest of its kind in Asia. Reached Tirunelveli around 4.55 pm - plenty of time to spare. A rather quiet station with the main platform (+ 2 more) catering to MG and one island for BG. The Nellai exp. rake was already parked on the Dn. line with an extra AC sleeper coach (normally the train runs with one). However, the reservation charts had not been pasted and we had to wait on the platform for the next 1/2 hr. The 6122 Kanyakumari-Chennai Exp. was supposed to arrive on the other platform and I was looking forward to my first sighting of a WDP2. After finishing shunting duties, WDM2 #18694R (with green-cream livery) was attached to our train, long hood leading. The word DUAL was written next to the buffers - shouldn't it be a WDM2A? Also, I distinctly remember seeing Erode on the long hood - how come? Could this loco have been transfered to GOC shed recently? I poked the driver to see whether I could be allowed a short footplate but was politely denied since I did not have official persmission. No harm trying!!

To my surprise, the Coimbatore-Nagercoil passenger pulled in around 6.00 pm, headed by a WDM2C - what a waste of horsepower! The only available BG platform was now occupied - whatever happended to the 6122 Exp.? I found out that it was held up at Valliyur b'coz of power failure (of the loco., I presumed). Surprise #2 - the first coach of the Nagercoil pass. had the KR livery - how did a KR coach land up in SR territory? Had it been transfered somewhere? I looked at the TTs to see if there was any through service between KR and SR but couldn't find anything. Any explanations?

We were a party of six including my daughter - I took the lower side-berth and the rest got the cabin - since we were traveling by AC sleeper the door was my only hope. My coach was 2nd from the loco. which meant that I could enjoy WDM2 sounds throughout the night. We left at dusk, three minutes behind schedule (at 6.18 pm). The crisp, rhythmic sound of an ALCO engine as our train accelerated out of the station was music to my ears. Met the 723 Tuticorin-Tirunelveli pass. at Vanchi Maniyanchi - its cream-green WDM2 got detached and would be proceeding to the rear for direction reversal. Met the Erode-Tirunelveli pass. at Satur with an Erode WDM2 power. The MG line from Sivakasi (famous for fireworks) signalled the arrival of Virudunagar Jn. We were to its right for a few minutes, but crossed it just before the station to arrive at Platform 2. A 4-mt. halt (8.41 to 8.45 pm) and we were off to Madurai.

About 40 mts. later, the MG line from Bondinayakkanur joined us on the left and we pulled into Madurai (Platform 1) at 9.29. The Vaigai Exp. was parked on Platform 3 and gave me my first and only encounter with the WDP2 (#15504). It had 10 coaches and all coaches except the AC Chair Car had the dark blue/light blue livery. Sadly, this was no match for the green-yellow MG Vaigai with matching YDM4A that I had been fortunate to travel on 15 years back. Madurai has 3 platforms for BG and one island for MG - of course, there could be gauntleted tracks but I couldn't discern this in the night. As predicted, the 6716 MG Rameswaram-Coimbatore Exp. was waiting on Platform 4 with a GOC YDM4A in charge. Since its Madurai-Dindigul run-time is just 5 mts. more than ours (according to the SR timetable), I was looking forward to having its company till Dindigul.

We started at 9.39 pm and a minute later the 6716 took off as well. Crossed the Vaigai river and headed for Sholavandan. The 6716 crept behind us on the left side at Sholavandan with the loco. standing right next to me - the station has 2 MG and 2 BG lines. It took off before us. Throughout the 20 minute ride to Kodaikkanal Rd. I was at the door wishing that we would catch-up with it and ride alongside but that never happended (clear proof that we were not going beyond 75 kmph.). Along the way, we crossed the MG line on an overbridge. Pulled into Kodaikkanal Rd. and met the 6716 again. This station bought back pleasant memories of my honeymoon trip 7 1/2 years ago. We were on the far side of an island platform with the 'fenced' side overlooking the MG tracks. This time we emerged the winners and took off before the 6716. After about 10 minutes, the MG track (which was now to my right) veered off into the darkness and I never saw it till Ambaturai. The 6716 had already arrived and was in motion even as we pulled in - so for a few minutes I had the pleasure of riding alongside this train. Again, no luck till Dindigul. A BCNA rake obstructed my view of the 6716 and I bid goodbye to it as we left for Tiruchi.

We pulled into Tiruchi (Platform 1) around 12.55 am, 5 minutes BEFORE time. Two tracks away, on Platform 2, was some special train - many of the occupants had saffron robes - pilgrims, perhaps? A WDM2 was still attached at the front while another was closing in on the rear suggested that this train would be reversing at this station. We waiting for 1/2 hour for the Egmore-Kanyakumari exp. to arrive at Platform 3 - I had to snap this up through the gap between two coaches. Surprisingly, the loco. in charge was a regular GOC WDM2, so no WDP2. How come? Left Tiruchi at 1.24 am, 14 mts. behind schedule. I observed that Tiruchi has 5 platforms - 3 for BG and an island for MG. Again, there could be gauntleted tracks, I'm not sure. Negotiated a sharp curve to the right (a photo at this very spot appears in my Vaigai Exp. page) as we pulled away from the station with the MG lines giving us company till Ponmalai. At Ponmalai, we halted for the Pearl City exp. to cross us - one of its coaches had the Swarnajayanti tricolor. Ponmalai has two islands, one for BG and the other for MG.

Our next halt for a crossing was at Srirangam - we arrived at 1.59 am - a memorable wait. We were on the Up line next to the island platform. 13 minutes later, the 6122 Kanyakumari-Chennai Exp., which had been following us right from Tirunelveli, pulled in on a loop line next to the Dn. track (on the other side of the platform). It was hauled by a Jumbo WDM2 (still no WDP2) which came and stood right in front of my coach. Now, there were two Chennai-bound trains waiting for a crossing at Srirangam. In a few minutes, the 6119 Tirunelveli-bound Nellai Exp. cruised past us at a speed of around 40 kmph. Around 2.20 am, the 6122 was given the green signal and was off to Chennai, thus, restoring the arrival order at Chennai. As a result, we waited for nearly 35 mts. at Srirangam for a crossing + overtake.

Sleep got the better of me and I dozed off only to wake-up, instinctively, at Villupuram outer. Found an MG train right next to us traveling in the same direction and almost at the same speed. We pulled into Villupuram station at the same time and my tape finished just as I snapped up the YDM4A in charge. I could not discern the destination boards in the darkness. It most likely was the Pondicherry-Chennai Fast pass. 20 mts. ahead of schedule or the Sethu Exp., about 35 mts. late - I hoped it was the former. Witnessed a YAM1 reverse into Platform 3, attach itself to the MG train, and switch its pantos - caught all this on tape right from my door. We departed for Tindivanam at 5.48 am, 23 mts. behind schedule. Passed the loco. shed with its fleet of YAM1s. The electrified MG track crossed us and appeared on the left side where it would keep us company all the way till Egmore. An ideal section for MG + AC catenary lovers such as Yours Truly. I observed one important difference between MG and BG catenary for AC traction. In BG, one needs four masts to exchange the wires - the first and the last serve as termination points and have the pulley for counterbalancing, the middle two perform the actual exchange. In MG, this is accomplished in just three masts - the new wires emerge from mast 1 and are placed next to the existing wires at mast 2. Then, the old ones are pulled out to be terminated at mast 3 - the new ones take over. Our train was doing atleast 85 kmph. with the horn being sounded quite frequently. A pleasing sound, very similar to that of a YAM1.

I was looking forward to overtaking the Sethu Exp. near Chengalpattu, assuming the latter was on time. My first encounter with an MG train was right after Tindivanam - the Tindivanam-Villupuram pass. was reversing onto the station pushed by a YAM1. We made a brief halt at Melmaruvathur - a new station - famous for its temple & festival - can't recall the name at the moment. The station building was under construction. Reached Chengalpattu at 7.43 am and was greeted by the Chengalpattu-Villupuram pass. I observed that some of the MG tracks have been ripped apart in order to make way for a BG island. I expected to catch the Sethu Exp., instead I saw some Chennai-bound MG pass. train on Platform 1. A brief 4 minute halt and we were off to Tambaram. Now, I had the pleasure of riding next to two electrified MG tracks. Plenty of MG EMUs after this point. We overtook another Chennai-bound MG pass. , crossed one more, and then pulled into Tambaram. After this, three electrified MG tracks and our BG track was electrified as well. Passed the Tambaram EMU car shed on the left. Crossed the Cholan Exp. - no special livery. Pretty soon we were cruising next to a Chennai-bound EMU on the track farthest from us at almost the same speed. A few minutes later, a fast EMU crept up and overtook both of us - so for sometime there were three trains traveling next to each other in the same direction - cool, eh?! We overtook the first one in motion, and then the 2nd one at a station - take that, you too!! Alas, an irritating halt beyond Mambalam saw both these locals overtake us never to be seen again!!! At Chetput, we were flanked by cleaning yards on both the sides - I was particularly interested in the MG yard on the left side. We passed the Rockfort Exp. with three of its coaches having the Cream-Green livery (original livery for the MG Pandyan and Tippu Exp.). The Chennai-Nagore Kamban Exp. was reversing into the yard. We finally pulled into Egmore station at 9.18 am, 13 minutes late. I suddenly realized that we never met the Sethu Exp. - unfortunately for me, it must have got delayed - in fact, it very well could have been the train I met at Villupuram, itself. We walked off the platform and I bid goodbye to MG with a heavy heart realizing that I may never see or hear these quaint YAM1s ever again.

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