My First Train Journey Since COVID19

And…….finally….there it is!! A train journey after a long, long wait of a year and 8 months; thanks to the accursed pandemic!! Firstly, I must give you fair warning: this is not a usual trip report – it includes mainly railfanning observations at the source station; since it was a purely overnight journey. But it will have plenty of pictures to compensate for that 😀 . Secondly, as always; you can refer to the legend right at the bottom for technical terms and station codes. Finally, as a teaser; I would recommend you to first read this blog of my missing train travel since COVID19: https://ashwinkumar1989.in/2021/08/03/reminiscing-train-travel-before-the-pandemic/ .

Incidentally, this trip was planned at the eleventh hour; unlike most of my train trips. To provide some context, I had come to Chennai with my parents in the middle of September and planned to stay till the first week of October. However, my maternal grandmother’s untimely demise changed everything. She was practically the head of the family in Chennai; which included my grandparents, sister and uncle. In the wake of her death; we planned to take my grandfather back to Mumbai with us and make alternate arrangements for my sister and uncle. Besides, a sudden death in a family can lead to a chain of events. In this case, my grandmother’s last rites functions were delayed by a few weeks due to my grandfather and 8-9 relatives getting infected with COVID barely a week after my grandma passed away. They all eventually recovered; but the delay in the last rites meant our stay in Chennai getting extended further.

To stop beating around the bush and come to the purpose of my trip; I had to attend the wedding of the brother of my close family friend on Wednesday November 10th – which would happen in Devakottai, a village in south Tamilnadu. Originally the plan was to take a flight from Mumbai to Madurai – which is just 2 hours away from Devakottai. Our extended stay in Chennai meant I could just take an overnight train to Devakottai or Karaikkudi; a major junction nearby. Unfortunately though, when I checked the train availability just two days after my grandma’s demise; it showed waitlists in both directions for most trains. Hence I had to book an AC Sleeper bus both ways instead. However, Mother Nature then decided to show her hand with perfect timing, as always! You must be aware of the recent Tamilnadu floods and the havoc they have wreaked; though it was on a much smaller scale than the infamous Chennai floods of December 2015.

On 8th Nov evening, I checked with the bus operator and confirmed that the onward journey to Devakottai (on the next day) would proceed without a hitch. However, the return journey was supposed to be trickier; since a red alert had been sounded for most districts of TN on 10th and 11th. Hence, based on my father’s suggestion; I booked a Tatkal train ticket on the morning of 9th – for the return journey by 02206 RMM-MS ‘Sethu express’ special. The reasoning was that (at least as far as Indian Railways is concerned), a train is more reliable in such situations than a bus – especially considering that IR is a central government entity and the buses are run by private operators. Besides, as my father said “it is better to keep all options open” . The onward bus journey went off smoothly and I duly attended the marriage. Towards the end of the function, I decided to take the train option and cancelled the return bus ticket; firstly because I feel more comfortable sleeping in a train due to its smooth movements (as opposed to road vehicles) and secondly of course because I am a railfan; that too a railfan deprived of train travel for more than 1.5 years! 😛

02206 departs from KKDI at a very convenient time of 23 30. Even then, I checked out of my lodge in Devakottai early around 7 pm; because I wanted to keep sufficient slack for dinner. Took a quite crowded bus (in which I was lucky to get a seat adjacent to the driver!) to the new bus stand in Karaikkudi; from where I took an auto to reach KKDI by around 8 pm. The entrance was quite simple and neat.

At the refreshment stall on Platform 1, only chapatis and idlis were available for dinner. So I decided to have a parcel of two chapattis – the packet included a potato gravy. Overall it was strictly ok and the packaging made things difficult; besides it didn’t help that two dogs were hungrily eyeing the meal! 😛

PF1

PF 2/3 was totally deserted!

PF2 was occupied by a DEMU to TPJ.

By the way, sad news for us diesel fans; poles have come up at this station, though there is no wiring yet. There was a board in the waiting room just before PF1; showing the coach positions for various trains.

The huge digital display at the top didn’t have any information about the arrivals, departures or platform numbers of any trains; instead there was just a message about the world’s largest free vaccination programme in India! 😦 However, the train announcements in Tamil, English and Hindi were loud and clear. Then came the first RF action of the night; as 06852 RMM-MS ‘Boat Mail’ spl entered PF1 with a chugging and honking GOC WDG3A 13458 at 20 59, 14 minutes late.

It departed after a halt of 2 mins with a long and shrill HT horn, followed by a short shrill note ending in the traditional ALCO horn ‘baaam’ – sheer music to the ears! 🙂 This was followed by heavy chugging. To add to my delight, the honking and chugging could be heard even after the train had totally disappeared from the station! There was also a bit of comedy in the waiting room, as the digital display showed 06852 as arriving well after the train had departed! 😛 Then there was a lull in the RF action; in the meantime I followed the T20 World Cup semifinal between England and New Zealand through the Google search on my phone and also played ‘Choices’; a very addictive mobile roleplay/simulation game. I then took a selfie which covered the station board.

This was followed by the second RF action of the night; as 02605 MS-KKDI ‘Pallavan exp’ spl entered PF1 behind a humming and continuously honking (the horn was powerful and melodious 🙂 ) GOC WDP4D 40461 at 22 30; 25 mins before time! 🙂

Then came an announcement for 06617 RMM-CBE exp spl to arrive on PF3. By the way, based on my father’s suggestion (yet again! 😉 ), I asked the guy at the refreshment stall as to where 02206 would arrive and he told me that it would arrive on PF3. This tallied with my earlier experience of boarding the same train on PF3 back in March 2019. Additionally, PF1 was going to be blocked by Pallavan and PF2 by the DEMU till the morning; so it only made sense that my train would arrive on PF3. Hence I decided to head there. On the way I took two photos of the aerial view of the station from the FOB.

The red signals gave an eerie effect!

I then snapped a side view of the DEMU as well as that of PF3; where some people were waiting along with me for 02206.

07685 SC-RMM spl then arrived on PF4 at 23 42 (25 mins late) hauled by a chugging and honking (a unique double tone horn) GOC WDM3A 16499.

02206 then arrived on PF3 with Tricolour-liveried and APU-fitted GOC WDG3A 13501 at 23 49, 21 mins late. Wow, seems like a clear domination of GOC links in this route! 😀 What ever happened to the TNP and ED links? :O Anyway, I boarded my AC 2 Tier coach A1 and we departed after a stop of 2 mins with a long and mellow horn. Picked up speed soon since we were on the mainline. I retired to my Upper berth. The gentle swaying motion of the train, accompanied by the honking and fierce chugging of our ALCO; was like a perfect lullaby for me 🙂 . I woke up a few times in the middle of the night (mostly to answer the call of nature 😛 ) and could hear melodious twin tones – an electric loco (most likely a WAP1/4; going by the horns) would have obviously taken over at TPJ. When I finally got down from my berth, we were at MBM and it was raining. I brushed my teeth and got my luggage ready as we pulled into PF9 of MS at 07 05, 10 mins before time! 🙂

Of course, the train has some slack built in its schedule; but to arrive at the destination a clear 10 mins ahead of schedule in this flood situation; that too after departing from KKDI more than 20 mins late, is a commendable performance by the crew – hats off to the efficiency of IR. Of course, there is a flipside – they have stopped providing pillows and bedsheets due to following COVID protocols. I had to carry my own bedsheet and couldn’t carry a pillow due to the lack of space in my trolley bag; which was packed with a lot of other things (mainly dresses) . The lack of a pillow meant that it took a longer time for me to fall asleep than usual. Anyway, coming back to the present situation; I saw our loco from the FOB – it was red and most likely a WAP4 going by the pink band in between. I also spotted ED WAP4 22388 which had arrived with a train on PF4. However, I had no time to do RF since I had to reach home quickly in this messy rain situation and then get back to work (I have been working from home mostly since the pandemic; whether it be Mumbai or Chennai!) ; since I had taken a leave in the middle of this busy week – in the previous week only two days were working due to the Diwali holidays; thus significantly increasing the workload for the week that followed.

Getting back home turned out to be far from easy. The roads outside the station were waterlogged and it was raining as well. People were scurrying here and there to board buses; which stopped some distance away from the bus stop due to the flooding. I tried Ola and Uber and they flopped big time – two Ola drivers cancelled after agreeing to come and as for Uber I couldn’t even book a ride! :O Eventually I had to take a regular auto and pay a sum of Rs. 500 to reach my home in Alwarpet by 8 am. On the way there was a lot of waterlogging; including on the main road near my home – where people threw caution to the winds and drove their vehicles into a no-entry road! I was quite relieved to reach home in one piece without getting too much wet. Thus ended my first train journey since the pandemic; hope you enjoyed my account of it!

LEGEND

Technical Abbreviations

  • DEMU – Diesel Electric Multiple Unit (or diesel local train 😉 )
  • HT – High Tone
  • ALCO – American Locomotive Company (and an old class of diesel engines of the 1960s)
  • FOB – Foot Overbridge
  • APU – Auxiliary Power Unit (specifically for charging the loco batteries when it is idle)

Station Codes

  • RMM – Rameswaram
  • MS – Chennai Egmore
  • KKDI – Karaikkudi Junction
  • TPJ – Trichy Junction
  • GOC – Golden Rock (Ponmalai)
  • CBE – Coimbatore Junction
  • SC – Secunderabad
  • TNP – Tondiarpet
  • ED – Erode
  • MBM – Mambalam

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