Rail-fanning Trip: Mandaveli-Park Town-Basin Bridge-Tiruvottiyur-Mandaveli

Note:  I had posted this a few weeks ago as a result of a rail-fanning trip.  For some reason, this post didn’t appear along with the rest of my blog posts and appeared alongside Home and About .  I took recourse to deleting the post and reposting.

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”Appa, I want to go on a ”new line” this time!” declared thirteen-year-old Dhananjay.  “Let’s go to Tambaram.”

“Dhananjay, there’s no point in going to Tambaram during the day!” I replied.  “I’ve told you many times that the best time to go rail-fanning on that line is either early morning or in the evening.”

”I don’t want to go to either Avadi or Villivakam like the usual”, said Dhananjay with his jaw set.

“Arreh babaa, why don’t you go to Tondiarpet then?” asked my wife.

“We’ve already BEEN there!” protested Dhananjay.

So as a compromise, we decided on Tiruvottiyur this time.  Parking my bike at Mandaveli  station (I noted and took some comfort in the fact that one of the attendants from Orissa was still working there), Dhananjay and I bought a return ticket for ourselves to Tiruvottiyur.  The MRTS journey to Park Town was pleasant as always.  On reaching the Moore Market complex, we realized with dismay that the next train on the Gudur line was not due for another hour.

”Dhananjay, what do we do?”

”Let’s wait!” he replied promptly.

”Wait?!” I exclaimed in disbelief.  ”Wait for ONE WHOLE HOUR?  Where will we wait?”

”Here.”

”Here? In this sweltering Moore Market complex?  No way!  Let’s go to on the Villivakam –  Avadi stretch,” I ended up suggesting.

This didn’t find favour with my son at all.  “No Appa, I would rather wait for the Gummidipoondi local”, he said flatly.

”How about buying a platform ticket at Central and going around some of the platforms?” I asked him.

He didn’t seem terribly enthusiastic about that either.  I think the reason for that is that we end up frequently Chennai Central quite a few times a year and hence going there didn’t present him with any novelty as far as he was concerned.

”Allright,” I conceded.  ”Why don’t we take one of the Avadi locals, go to Basin Bridge and spend some time there, till the Gummidipoondi local arrives?”

This seemed to find favour and we proceeded (rather, ran) and managed to get into the last coach of an Avadi-bound EMU as it honked and then started moving.

Alighting from the train on platform 1 at Basin Bridge, Dhananjay suggested we immediately make our way to the platform 4 which is designated for trains bound in the direction of Gudur.

The first train to give us darshanam was the Sri Sai Nagar Shirdi Chennai Express. My first impression (which remained unaltered) was that this train is definitely not one of the popular trains.  Which is obvious as it passes BSB at around 11:00 AM, it therefore would NOT be a preferred train.  (inserted note: the train was running about 90+ minutes late)  With hardly any passengers (quite a few of the sleeper coaches were empty or with just a couple of people in them), I thought the train would be a good contender for being a ghost train.

This brings me to the question – what really is the purpose of such a train?  If for instance I would want to go to Shirdi and if I needed to travel by train, definitely the best way would be to go to Pune or Daund and then take a cab or a bus.  Also, this train departs from Shirdi for Chennai at 8:25 AM, which means that one would be needlessly forced to spend a night at Shirdi for no reason, if the visit to the temple is over during the day.  Does a convoluted route through the precincts of Bangalore help to get more patronage for this train?  A moot point.  A quick look at indiarailinfo.com gives us the information that this train serves Yelahanka and Krishnarajapuram but at slightly unearthly hours of before 4:00 AM.  Does Indian Railways really expect passengers to patronize this train?  Probably – when the passengers are left with no choice.  But in the meanwhile, there definitely can be NO profit generated – I am probably making a sweeping statement here but I can say with emphasis that I for one will think ten times before I decide to travel in this train with such ridiculous and inconvenient timings.

The second train we saw was the good old Coromandel, unsurprisingly packed to capacity and beyond.  The unreserved and (to a lesser extent) the sleeper coaches in this train never fail to make me shudder.  In my opinion these coaches of the Coromandel and for that matter any of the trains bound for the eastern part of the country from Chennai, definitely give us a glimpse into what the Lahore-Amritsar trains must have looked like during the partition.  Departing from MAS at 11:15 it was a full two and a half hours behind schedule, due to the signalling system at Chennai Central developing a snag, which subsequently took a good number of hours to rectify I believe.  I came to know this the next day from the newspapers.

After the Corro had glided away slowly but surely due north, it was the turn of the Santragachi – Chennai Express to stop at BSB.  By this time, I noted that the Shirdi Chennai ghost train was trudging out towards its final destination.

The next one to stop at BSB and this time for a good thirty minutes (or even more) was the Trivandrum Chennai Superfast.  And to me it seemed as if Basin Bridge was this unfortunate train’s final destination – it showed no signs of moving!

As Dhananjay and I waited for the local to Gummidipoondi that was due at 11:44, I saw several passengers alighting from the Trivandrum Superfast and making their way towards the exit of Basin Bridge, some even stopping and asking me for directions as to where the exit was, where could one get an auto, and so on.  I didn’t blame them – to me perhaps the MOST annoying thing is for the train to stop indefinitely at BSB just before reaching MAS.  On a couple of occasions (a decade or so ago) I’ve even got down at Perambur and taken a bus home to Mylapore just to avoid getting imprisoned after Vyasarpadi and at BSB.

The Gummidipoondi local finally arrived.  We got into the vendors’ coach and seated ourselves comfortably after albeit firmly prodding a couple of supine and ostensibly asleep male passengers to sit up and make space for us.  We passed the lowly regarded Lucknow-Chennai Express standing morosely at Korukkupet.  Alighting at Tiruvottiyur, we made our way to platform 1, and settled down to wait for the return local – which was due only after about forty minutes or so.  Dhananjay wasn’t bored of course – he was given the darshanam of two goods trains (one in each direction) plus the passing through of a lone WAP7 loco on its way to the BSB yard presumably.  For my part, I settled with my notebook to write down some music notation for an upcoming recording with All India Radio on Friday.  So I wasn’t bored either – I seldom am for that matter!  Also Tiruvottiyur station I realized was much better in terms of some basic infrastructure – the station had a good supply of fans that were actually working and served up a cool breeze which was balm in the not-so-hot but extremely sultry and humid weather.  Basin Bridge on the other hand is pretty bare – no fans or anything and the weather that day was oppressive.  This is probably because BSB is just an ‘’interim’’ kind of a station I guess.

A word about the WAP7 loco which stopped at Platform 1 at Tiruvottiyur for a red signal.  I saw not without some envy a couple of people boarding the loco-pilot’s cabin and the loco resuming its journey after getting the green signal.  How did they manage to get on to the loco, I wondered?  Is it as easy to get into a loco (that too a WAP7) like that? Dhananjay’s comment later that people did ‘’foot-plating’’ made me think and I continue to think….

The return local which was announced initially to the time of 12:25 PM was rescheduled to 12:50 PM.  I don’t know if the 12:25 one was cancelled or merely rescheduled.  The train, without any surprises was packed and Dhananjay got the taste of what the Mumbai locals would be during peak hours.  Of course, there was no pushing or jostling but this was his first time in such crowded conditions.

He didn’t complain however, and even in those packed conditions, he tried his best to bend down and look out of the windows as best as he could.  The crowd obviously didn’t lessen till we alighted at the Moore Market complex and rapidly made our way back to Park Town.  As soon as we were on the platform, hurrah, the EMU for Velachery was sighted.

Travelling by the less crowded MRTS is always a pleasure and so it was a fitting final lap of a journey!

A couple of points – after the Beach-Tambaram section, the section of MAS – Avadi has a fairly good frequency of local trains.   The Chennai – Gummidpoondi section is woefully neglected by comparison.  Even the MRTS has better frequency.

Rail-fanning in the forenoon is perhaps not the best of times but it was nevertheless an enriching experience as always!

To the next rail-fanning!

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About Mohan Santhanam

Carnatic vocalist, based in Chennai. Disciple of Late Shri T.R.Subramanyam (TRS).
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