October 1, 1964 was a historic day for the railways, both in India and for the world.
It was on this day that the first intercity express train of the Southern Railways in India chugged out of Madras Central railway station. The 360 km journey of train no. 12639, the green-and-yellow Brindavan Express would take 5 hours, stopping briefly at Katpadi and Jolarpet, enroute to Bangalore City.
Earlier on the same day, in another part of the world, another new train, the first of its kind, had already been unveiled. 5:59 a.m. Tokyo time to be precise. Hikari No. 1, a 12-car train, travelled the 515 km from Tokyo to Osaka, in four hours, achieving a peak speed of 210 km/hr somewhere in between. The world’s first bullet train had arrived!
50 years on, the Tokaido Shinkansen is the world’s busiest high speed rail line. Currently, this line runs 336 16-car trains of varying speeds and stopping patterns – Nozomi, Hikari and Kodama – with an average ridership of 409,000 passengers per day (Source: Central Japan Railway Company Annual Report 2013).
The first Shinkansen trains (the 0 series) that had classic dumpling-nosed fronts, were retired in November 2008. Hikari No. 1 can be seen in the Railway Museum in Omiya. The trains that currently run are the 700 and N700 series, the fastest of which (Nozomi) do the journey in 2 hr 25 min, at a normal-season fare of 14,050 yen (approx. Rs 7,900), while the slowest (Kodama) still take 4 hours, fare 13,750 yen (approx. Rs 7,700). At approximately Rs 15/km, the train may seem expensive and one could fly instead, but riding one of the best high speed trains in the world could be quite a unique experience. Tourists can avail of a Japan Rail (JR) Pass which would work out cheaper. When our family visited Japan in Nov 2012, all our inter-city travel was on bullet trains, and with the JR Pass.
The Brindavan Express, the erstwhile king of the Southern Railways, has been fighting to stay relevant. Its livery was changed, speed was regulated for safety and new stops were introduced for passenger convenience. Currently it takes longer than when it first started – the journey from Chennai (Madras’ present name) to Bangalore is done in just over 6 hours, with 10 stops in between. Of the 24 coaches that it usually ran with, two-three were AC coaches and one was a pantry car. No more though. The train now has only non-AC seats, and the pantry car was given up a couple of months ago. The fare is a modest Rs 150, including Rs 15 towards “superfast” charge. The AC fare used to be about Rs 440.
Madras has not been a frequented destination for me, and I must have travelled on the Brindavan just a few times, but I know there are many who have very fond memories of this train. I found touching accounts from Sridhar and Asha.
See the old 24-coach Brindavan Express in Dheeraj Rao’s youtube video:
With the introduction of the Double Decker on this route in 2013, the Railways seems to be moving the Brindavan Express into oblivion. Apart from the Double Decker and another fast train, the Shatabdi, the Brindavan Express competes with several other trains that operate on this route. There are 24 trains that run Chennai-Bangalore-Chennai, on different days, with an average of 18 trains per day. Despite its old coaches and decreased facilities, tickets at short notice on the Brindavan are hard to come by. Its popularity remains, but for how much longer beyond these 50 years may be determined by the patronage of us, citizens. Time will tell.
No travel joys compare to train travel!
(Maps: Wikipedia Commons)