Posted on September 13, 2013


It is always added excitement when you plan a trip in the evening – scheduled to depart early next day – within moments, get confirmed tickets soon after and just wait until time ticks for the journey to start. The plan becomes much better when you have no better alternative, away from home on Vinayaka Chaturti.

A brainwave moment – rare for my limited grey cells – ended with a two-day trip to Ahmedabad including a ride on the metre gauge section between the former State capital and Mahesana, 70 kms north.

Ahmedabad Shatabdi
After getting back from work at 1 am, and quick rucksack pack, three hours of sleep was essential given that I was going to be wide awake the entire journey and thereon through the evening. While I left in the morning, some intuition struck. I preferred to take a cab to Mumbai Central rather than the EMU and being the festival it was, the roads at Dadar turned into a parking lot and vehicles had to tread like pedestrians. Twenty-five minutes from the Tilak Bridge till the Indiabulls Finance flyover at six in the morning, the distance not more than 1000 metres. Although there was enough time to reach the station, some nerves were exercised.

Set to leave Mumbai Central

Set to leave Mumbai Central

Clean, pristine, stainless steel Alstom-LHB coaches reflecting the bright platform lights and catering crew loading food into the coaches, as I walked in to the platform. Mechanics were releasing vacuum from the coach belly and checking on the generator cars as I made the walk further up to check on the power, a WAP-5 locomotive: Vadodara‘s 30056, shining in white with two red bands and the shed code (BRC) stencilled.

The journey was my first by the ABB locomotive and also opened my account with Mumbai Central and ironically, Western Railway. It was an on-time departure as we switched to the main line and blink, we are speeding past Dadar and blink once again, Borivali.

To be honest, seeing Dadar station disappear in a moment felt good. Having travelled mostly in the Central Railway line, where almost all the trains stop at the local hub, Western Railway offers you the chance to enjoy that privilege.

Unfortunately, my window was not on action side. (Action side window seat definition: the seat closer to the parallel track to ensure you get to see the crossing trains.) I received a very ridiculous, weird glare from the co-passenger I requested for the seat exchange. “I want to see trains in the opposite direction,” I said when he asked why.

After a sugar-rich jam sandwich and few cups of tea for breakfast, my face was almost glued to the window pane. The terrain was flat bereft of sharp curves with frequent crossings especially freighters and not to forget the rivers.

Narmada, Mahi, Tapi et all, the rivers filled with water, unlike their cousins from the south, made the ride more special. This is due to my special penchant for rivers in the country and the civilisation thriving around it.

When the supply of tea stopped, it was only natural that my eyes closed automatically. Surat had just passed, and a halt invoked sleep for 30 minutes. The power nap was done, but the train had inched only a couple of kilometers ahead. We were 30 minutes late at Vadodara but the speed was made up by the time we crossed Nadiad making an on-time arrival at Ahmedabad.

It was also the first death anniversary of Dr.Verghese Kurien, and the two-minute halt at Anand was more like a tribute of silence to the milkman.

ADI-MHS-ADI Demu-MG Express
Among the surviving meter gauge sections in the country, Ahmedabad has two lines branching out: the short one till Mahesana and the longer one to Udaipur via Himmatnagar. Given the schedule and my lack of time, a to and fro by MG was not possible.

At 3 p.m., the next day, after roaming Gandhinagar and parts of Ahmedabad I reached the station. By 3:15 p.m., I figured the timings out with the help of stall workers. There were no timings on display in the station. I had to take the 3:20 p.m. DEMU to Mahesana and return on the MG line. Time was running out and by the time I got to the ticket counter, it was 3:18 p.m. and by the time I got the stub it was 3:20 p.m. and the DEMU was slowly crawling out.

Ready to be coupled with Himmatnagar Passenger

Ready to be coupled with Himmatnagar Passenger

A quick dash across four platforms, jumping past the small hurdles (since it was meter gauge the platform height is very low) I managed board the unit and settle for the seat by the door.

Then this happened. By the time, I got over the incident. We were half way through.

My power for the MHS-ADI MG Express.

My power for the MHS-ADI MG Express.

On return, I took the Mahesana-Ahmedabad Express with YDM-4 6325 which had sleeper coaches as well. It felt like Thanjavur-Tiruchi all over again, when MG express trains put the BG passenger trains to shame. With no camera in hand, all I had to do was sit by the window seat and enjoy the ride. It took two hours to get there, but could have been done in 90 minutes. We were made to wait 40 minutes at Sabarmati, the home of the YDM-4 locos in this part of the country.

The SL coach, made in 1991

The SL coach, made in 1991

The route may not last for long with a need for doubling the BG line becoming very essential by the day. But the charm of riding on the small toy-like coaches will always be a memory of the railway generation gone past.

Karnavati Express
Staying in the railway retiring room has its benefits, you just have walked down cross a few platforms and board your train. I was very particular on taking Karnavati Express for my return. Mumbai-Ahmedabad is a prime intercity route, and Karnavati is the most prestigious train among the lot connecting these two cities in my opinion.

Luckily for me it was a WAP-5 30068 leading the charge again, the train usually gets a WAP-4 link. A parallel departure with Bikaner-Dadar Superfast meant that my train was made to wait at Vatva until the Superfast overtook and cleared the line.

It was dark until 5:45 a.m. and Vadodara heralded the sunrise. As I happened to notice, three of Indian Railways’ new generation partners – ABB (locomotives), Alstom (rolling stock), Siemens (locomotive parts and signals) – have their plants in close distance to Vadodara. Vibrant Gujarat indeed!

I was lucky enough to get an open emergency window, but non-action side and given the crowd in the train I was not going to request for an exchange. Unreserved passengers trickled into the reserved coaches and stuck around till Surat, Vapi. Personally, I have no problems in unreserved pax in the reserved coaches as long as they don’t act as a hindrance to the bonafide ticket holders.

Cousins meet: Ghaziabad and Vadodara WAP-5

Cousins meet: Ghaziabad and Vadodara WAP-5

The WAP-5 is the fastest locomotive in the Indian Railway stable but not the most powerful though (that prize goes to WAP-7 and WAG-9 in passenger and freight categories). With more than 20 coaches in tow, the train was able to notch up top speeds in moments and given the terrain the consistency was maintained without much trouble. The 16-coach Shatabdi is easy work for WAP-5 when compared to hauling a heavier load. It could have easily been a seven hour journey, but taking into account the halts due to freights and suburban trains clogging the line, the buffer is essential atleast for the non-executive trains (Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto come under the executive category). Mumbai Central arrival was on time and not very later the Double Decker landed in as well.

The worst part of it all was the hangover after the journey and getting back to groove. Karnavati ranks among the best intercity trains in country and easily makes into my favorites list. Given that Vaigai Express is amongst the top in the ranking, Karnavati’s appearance is not a surprise. Like Vaigai, Kovai, Ratnachal, Brindavan, Pinakini, this train too is a darling to its railway zone.