Riding the Ranchi Shatabdi Express in India - Part 1

Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by jis, Jan 19, 2019.

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  1. Jan 19, 2019 #1

    jis

    jis

    jis

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    I decided to take a day excursion from Kolkata by train, and started looking for possibilities. These days there are many excursions possible to places that are about 7 or so hours away. Some of them can be done as a day excursion as the outbound is in early morning and the return is in the afternoon. Others are oriented in the opposite direction, i.e. the outbound from Kolkata is in the afternoon and the inbound to Kolkata is in the early morning arriving in Kolkata a little after noon. Naturally the latter requires an overnight stay away from Kolkata while the former don't Before the introduction of the Shatabdi Express or equivalent scheduled faster service, all these journeys were overnight journeys.

    Of the many possibilities from Kolkata, I chose the Ranchi Shatabdi, which runs from Howrah Station of Kolkata to state capital of Jharkhand State - Ranchi, up on the Chhota Nagpur Plateau, which involves a scenic ride as the train climbs out of the Gangetic Plains onto the Chhota Nagpur Plateau over twisty turny seemingly single track line crossing several high bridges across rivers that are quiet now, but quite turbulent during the Monsoons. In the past this scenic section was covered by a Narrow Gauge railroad between Muri and Ranchi, but now it is Broad Gauge and electrified. Seemed overall like a good mix of higher speed (by Indian standards) and scenic slow running. Food is included in the fare, so no worries about where to eat. And the turn at the away from Kolkata end is short 30 mins, basically the time it takes to prepare the train for the return journey and be on its way.

    There are two classes of accommodation, both daytime,available on this train: AC Executive Class with 2x2 seating 60 seats to a car, designated by "E" in train charts and AC Chair Car with 2x3 seating with 75 seats per car, designated by "C" in train charts, It has one E class car designated "E1" and 7 C class cars designated "C1" through "C7". I had chosen to travel in E Class.

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    Even though full food service is provided at seat, this train does not have a Pantry Car. Instead each passenger car has a fully equipped Galley for storage and preparation of food for delivery. All food is loaded mostly pre-plated in separate little casserole style Aluminum containers with cardboard cover for each item and kept piping hot in the galley until served. They are served with actual stainless steel flatware!

    You can find some details about this train at:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howrah_Ranchi_Shatabdi_Express

    https://indiarailinfo.com/train/-train-howrah-ranchi-shatabdi-express-12019/1534/1/384

    So bright and early in the morning of the 17th Jan I set out from home in Ballygunge Place to Howrah Station. The Uber guy came within minutes and I was on my way at 5am traveling on relatively empty streets on the traditional route to Howrah via Park Street, Eden Gardens, BBD Bagh (old Dalhousie Square), Strand Road and Howrah Bridge to Howrah station arriving there at around 5:30am. As we approached the station the driver asked me "Old or New Terminal"? My train is Eastern Railway, so it is Old terminal. Most South Eastern Railway trains now use the New terminal which is tracks above 14 upto 23. Old terminal is 1 - 13. The new East-West Metro Line 2 Station is between the two complexes. Here is a photo of two thirds of the frontage of the station. It is missing the original old complex frontage which is to the right of the frame.

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    Yes, it is enormous....

    From the Old Terminal dropoff a short walk gets me into the enormous concourse which is teeming with people even at this early hour waiting for their connection or their initial train. Howrah has an interesting method for displaying trains departures and arrivals. There is one Mother of all huge Boards listing every train departure and arrival with scheduled time and normal platform (track) assignment. And then there are multiple dynamic departure and arrival boards which display only those trains for which the actual time and platform assignment for today has been finalized, and the train is about to arrive at the designated platform. The trains displayed on the dynamic board are continuously announced on the PA system, so you don't even have to really look at the board unless you are in real hurry. A quick glance at the first board I came across showed that my train - 12019 Ranchi Shatabdi - was confirmed for Platform 11, 6:05am departure today. So off I went to Platform 11.

    A couple of views of the enormous concourse.

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    Howrah is a terminus station, though it is called Howrah Jn. So you walk onto each platform from the giant concourse which sits between the buffer stops and the taxi ranks and other road traffic. Howrah also has two "cab ways" where a road runs into the station between two Platforms, with some short term parking space for drop off and pickup. The Old Complex Cabway is between Platforms 8 and 9. On my way to Platform 11 I crossed the Old Complex Cabway which had a long line of cars waiting to enter the station. Cars have to pay a toll to use this facility.You can see cars entering the cabway in the second photo above.

    As I walked onto Platform 11 I could see the lights of the shunter, which turned out to be an Eastrern Railway Dark Blue Alco derived unit built at Varanasi Diesel Locomotive Works. It finally pulled in with the consist of 12019. I quickly found Car E1 where I had seat 49, a Window Seat.

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    As I settled down in my seat, which was indeed a window seat, though backward facing for now (the train changes direction mid-journey), it was at least on the right side, which is the railfan side in India, which is left hand running. Soon the car filled up completely, which was impressive considering this was the higher fare class and it was early morning. A lot of people were heading out to places like Durgapur (Steel City) Asansol and Dhanbad in the Coal country, and to Chandrapura (Thermal Power) and Bokaro Steel City. Only about 20 people in the 60 seat car were going all the way to the end of the line.

    About ten minutes before departure, I noticed that the A/C system shut down, though there was no change whatsoever in the lighting. This was followed by a gentle bump as the road power coupled on. Then a minute later A/C came back on again. I realized that we head a Head On Generating (HOG) locomotive and power source was transfered from the diesel End on Generator (EOG) to the HOG.

    The train departed exactly on time at 6:05am. It turns out there are three trains scheduled to depart Howrah at 6:05am, so naturally we had three trains heading out together side by side. Trains from south to north were South Eastern Railway's Dhauli Express to Bhubaneshwar on the East Coast. Eastern Railway's Ranchi Shatabdi which would head down the Howrah Bardhaman Chord Line, and Ganadevata Express (to Shantiniketan mentioned later), which would head up the Main Line. All three were already positioned on the correct, most direct track to their route as we crossed under the graceful Concrete Arch Bridge carrying the famous Grand Trunk Road above us. Unfortunately it is hard to capture the grandeur of three trains departing and four trains arriving simultaneously, a not very unusual occurrence at Howrah Station.

    The three trains were all electric powered, Dhauli with a Shantragacchi Shed WAP-4 Class, our Shatabdi with a Howrah Shed White HOG WAP-7 (Bombardire TRAXX derivative), and Ganadevata Express had a bright Red Howrah WAP-4. Since both Dhauli and we had a very tight schedule, both took off like a bat out of hell as soon as the station yard was cleared. Within minutes we cleared the complex junction with many flyovers between Bally and Dankuni where the main west bank of the river junction of the leads from the two huge Kolkata stations (Howrah on the west bank which we left from and Sealdah, which is on the east bank of the river come together. Past Dankuni we were out of town racing along the green fields and endless water bodies which Bengal is known for.

    The Chord Line which we were on is triple track with two directional tracks and the middle track is reversible. A fourth track is under construction. This being early morning, the middle track was set for the down direction towards Kolkata. The outer down track was being used by the local EMUs and a few freights, and the middle reversible was being used by inbound Mail/Express trains. We were on the outbound up track, and apparently timetable planning was working as intended since we were not getting any caution signals in the automatic blocks. It was green all the way running at 130kph/~81mph. One of the features of fast Expresses in India is the almost constant blowing of the horn all the way.

    There were a couple of TSR slowdowns, but in spite of that we made it past the flying junction with the Main Line at Shaktigarh (now 4 track ROW) and non stop through Bardhaman (95km) in about an hour, After Bardhaman we soon zoomed by Khana Jn. where the line to North Bengal and Assam (known as the Sahibgunj Loop) veered off to the right at a flying junction. This was the first main line to Delhi before the shorter lines were built on more difficult geographic terrain.  Our first stop Durgapur came about 5 minutes late, but the stop was precisely two minutes as in the timetable. The next stop at Ranigunj is close by and we continued to be a little late, and this was a one minute stop. Next was Asansol, the second biggest city after Kolkata in West Bengal and the stop was two minutes. About  quarter of the passengers had left by now. Most seemed to be on some sort of business, but a few were on family visit and such. This was a Thursday.

    After Asansol, we soon blasted through Sitarampur Jn where the Main Line to Delhi veered off to the right. We were now on the so called Grand Chord Line, the shortest route to Delhi, followed by most of the fast trains to Delhi. Next landmark was crossing of the Barakar River over a high bridge, which marks the border between West Bengal and Jharkhand state, followed soon by our next 5 minute stop at Dhanbad, still running a few minutes late. The schedule is relatively tight with little slack time allowed for catching up.

    Next stop is Gomoh, a complex junction between now East Central and South Eastern Railway. Upon departing Asansol, we had transitioned from Eastern Railway to East Central Railway. The Eastern Railway OBS Staff runs the entire trip to and fro in a single day. The T&E staff changes at Gomoh. At Gomoh the layout of the junction is such that the train has to reverse for its onward journey. The time allowed for this operation is 20 mins. The operation involves uncoupling the engine from one end and coupling it at the other end. In order to do so first HOG is disconnected and transferred to EOG. Then the engine is uncoupled and passes by the train on a loop to the other end, and coupled on. Finally EOG is transferred to HOG, and we were ready to go on time.

    Here onward it is mostly single track with relatively frequent passing sidings. At each junction on the way we tended to get held up for something else that was passing ahead of us on a different route. We proceeded through Chandrapura and Bokaro to Muri progressively losing time, arriving in Muri almost 15 mins late. Turns out that there is a lot of slack time between Muri and Ranchi, since we got into Ranchi right on time at 1:15pm. Also the fact that Muri to Ranchi is double track, though each track is on a vastly different alignment, helped. This is the most scenic part of the trip. This is where the route climbs from the Gangetic Plains to the Chhota Nagpur Plateau over some very scenic twisty turny trackage. This is the section that was originally Narrow Gauge, single track now converted to Broad Gauge electrified double track.

    This route also crosses two of the large rivers that arise in that part of the Plateau and flow into the Bay of Bengal. From east to west, the first is the Damodar, which is crossed on a tall viaduct. It was known as the Sorrow of Bengal until it was dammed and tamed by the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), modeled after the Tennessee Valley Corporation. The viaduct across the Damodar had a PSR of 30kph. The second is the Subarnarekha (Stream of Beautiful Color) crossed over another tall viaduct. After a relatively slow jaunt through this beautiful scenery we finally arrived at Ranchi right on time. Here is a photo of the Damodar crossing...

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    On the way we were served Morning Tea with Cookies immediately after departure from Howrah. Just past Bardhaman we were served a rather large Breakfast with Corn Flakes with Hot Milk, an Omelette with sauteed Carrots and Peas and fried Potato Strips, two slices of Bread and a soft drink.

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    After departing Bokaro we were served an even more massive lunch, so massive that after consuming it I basically had to opt out of Dinner on the way back. It consisted of a Vegetable Curry, a Daal, cup and a half of Rice and a Chicken Curry, together with two Paranthas (fried flat bread), a cup of Yogurt, followed by a small helping of Ice Cream and an Apple.

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    Food is included in the ticket and food service is provided by a private contractor named Meals on Wheels. The prices, menus and quantity of items is set by contract by IRCTC (Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation), and the actual on board service is provided by the vendor.

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    After arriving at Ranchi, the train is turned to become 12020 Ranchi Howrah Shatabdi, which involves the transfer of hotel power to EOG, and then moving the locomotive to the other and, hooking it up, transferring back to HOG and then hoofing it out to Howrah. The total time for this rigmarole is 30 mins.

    Here the engine has been disconnected and uncoupled waiting for the shunting signal to move to the other end. For rail equipment aficionados, the coupler is worthy of note. It is a hybrid coupler which can couple onto either an AAR coupler equipped train or a screw coupler equipped train. The HOG sockets can be found just above the buffers slightly in wards of them.

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    After the engine has moved away the various connectors are being stowed away in what now will be the so called "Last Van" depicted by the "LV" board hung on it

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  2. Jan 19, 2019 #2

    caravanman

    caravanman

    caravanman

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    Just returned from my train free visit to Spain, and the first Amtrak item I see is this post about India. :D

    Very interesting to read, I was travelling along with you, and imagining the tasty "Meals on Wheels" food!

    Looking forward to part 2, and the photo's too, of course.

    Thanks for posting!

    Ed. 
     
    Train-o-Phile likes this.
  3. Feb 2, 2019 #3

    jis

    jis

    jis

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    I have updated the travelogue with several photos and some additional text.

    Part 2 still in the works.
     
  4. Feb 2, 2019 #4

    caravanman

    caravanman

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    Thanks for updating with your photos, pictures add so much to a travel report. I smiled when I read "I had chosen to travel in E class...", thinking "Yep, that is the Jis style indeed".  :D

    Although I can look in my "Indian Railway Atlas" to see places that could be reached in a day trip from Kolkata, I don't know if the routes are scenic, or the destinations interesting.

    Do you have any thoughts on other places reachable there and back by train in a day that you could recommend?

    Ed.
     
  5. Feb 2, 2019 #5

    Railroad Bill

    Railroad Bill

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    A truly fascinating train trip Jishnu.  I am sure we will never get a chance to ride the rails in India, but your reports and photos are truly a great travel guide for us.  Stay safe. and look forward to future reports. 
     
  6. Feb 3, 2019 #6

    jis

    jis

    jis

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    Actually, the bigger challenge, after you have figured out potential day trip routes, is to figure out if there is a suitable pair of trains that actually allows you to do the day trip. You can always get a sumamry of all available trains between any two point s on Indian Railways through this web site: https://indiarailinfo.com/search/441/0/1

    Going clockwise from south to north and west to east, here are the possibilities and what makes each interesting...

    1. Howrah - Digha - Howrah AC Express about three hour ride each way to the premier beach resort for Kolkata. There are three other trains but they start from Shalimar, and can either be boarded there or can be boarded at Shantragachhi, a short EMU ride from Howrah. On the way you will cross two large bridges across Rupnarayan and Damodar (the same one as crossed further upstream on the Ranchi Shatabdi)

    2. Howrah - Bhubaneshwar - Howrah by Dhauli Express (the one that leaves Howrah at exactly the same itme as the Ranchi Shatabdi). Bhubaneshwar is the capital of the state of Odisha. Nice ride along the east coast. Crosses several major rivers on impressive bridges. In addition to Rupnarayan and Damodar, it also crosses the Subranarekha and the massive Mahanadi at Cuttack. In addition there are numerous other bridges across various branches of these rivers as the approach the Bay of Bengal. The route runs perpendicular to the general flow of rivers towards the sea. From a railroad enthusiast's perspective you will pass through Kharagpur, a huge railway colony and Division HQ of the Division of SER that serves Kolkata. This is where one of the massive N Class Garratt engines of the erstwhile BNR has been brought back to life.

    3. Howrah - Barabil - Howrah by Janashatabdi Express. Gives you a mix of coastal running and then up onto the plateau through Coal and Steel country. You will pass through Tatanagar the site of the first major modern Steel Plant (steel operational) in India built by the industrialist Jamshedji Tata. You will also cross the same rivers as on the trip to Bhubaneshwar, but further upstream on the plateau over high viaducts. Form a rail enthusiast's perspective, you will cross the segment where the first 25kV AC electrification was put into use in India.

    4. Howrah - Ranchi - Howrah by Shatabdi Express - you have read all about it above.

    5. Sealdah - Malda Town - Howrah out by Kanchanjungha Express from Sealdah back to Howrah by three different trains on three different days (M, W, F) Highlight is crossing the remarkably wide Ganga across the Farakka Barrage. Malda also known as English Bazar is close to Gaur, which was the seat of the Bengal Kingdom of the Sena Dynasty, a historical site that spans the border today between India and Bangladesh, and one can apparently step inside Bangladesh at this heritage site without any travel documents, though I have never tried it! You will also pass Shantiniketan where the Nobel Laureate Poet Rabindranath Tagore established the Vishwabharati University. Incidentally a day trip is also possible to Shantiniketan itself naturally, but for that Shantiniketan Express (Howrah - Shantiniketan - Howrah) is an ideal train to and fro.

    6. Sealdah - Gede - Sealdah by EMU Suburban Train (sometimes exceedingly crowded, but usually late morning through mid afternoon, not so bad). Gede is the last station in India on the route to Dhaka in Bangladesh. It is tucked away in an Indian salient into Bangladesh, so you are surrounded by Bangladesh on three sides at Gede station. If you time it right on a day that the Dhaka - Kolkata Maitryee Express service operates, you can see the train come in from Bangladesh around 2pm and pass through Gede with a brief stop there. A great way to experience Sealdah North section Suburban train.

    7. Sealdah (South) - Namkhana - Sealdah (South) by EMU Suburban Train to as close to the Bay of Bengal and the Sundarbans as you can get by train today, and experience the remoter parts of the Delta. It is amazing ho remote an area so close to Kolkata can feel. It is recommended that the entire journey be completed during daylight hours. There is a plan to extend this line all the way to Sagar Island at the extreme end of Hoogly River (the branch of the Ganga that runs through Kolkata) where it runs into the Bay of Bengal. Naturally it will be a more interesting ride then.

    There are many others possible including a few interesting daytime circle trips, and many involving rides on EMU subsurban service and MEMU/DEMU Regional Service. Kolkata has a very spread out and dense suburban EMU network.
     
  7. Feb 4, 2019 #7

    Metra Electric Rider

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    Metra Electric Rider

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    Oh, great, thanks! You got Indian into my mind and I may have just committed to a hiking trip to India or Sri Lanka! *grin*

    Any recommendations?

    And I enjoyed your trip report too, of course!
     
  8. Feb 4, 2019 #8

    jis

    jis

    jis

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    Don't know much about Sri Lanka.

    In India of course the most sought after hikes are up in the Himalayas. During my younger days I did quite a bit of it in Kulu and Kangra Valleys in Himachal Pradesh. There are now numerous other possibilities up in Lahoul and Spiti, as well as in Ladakh and Zanskar in Jammu and Kashmir - the part of it that is safe for foreigners. In general US State Department discourages Americans from spending too much time in the so called Kshmir Valley adjacent to Pak occupied Kashmir in western J&K. Ladakh and Zanskar in the east is considered safe. It is separated from Kashmir Valley by the main spine of the Himalayas.

    Best is to find some trek organizers and work through them since arranging logistics in India is often a nightmare.
     
  9. Feb 5, 2019 #9

    caravanman

    caravanman

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    Thanks Jis for the detailed response to my question about the "day trips", lots of food for thought...

    While I would not want to drag anyone away from this A.U. forum, there is a forum called "indiamike.com" which I also use. I notice there are often good question and answer discussions by experienced hikers and climbers on that forum...

    Ed.
     
  10. Feb 9, 2019 #10

    Metra Electric Rider

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    Metra Electric Rider

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    Thanks for the tip!
     
  11. Feb 9, 2019 #11

    Steve4031

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    Excellent trip report Jishnu.  It was almost like I was there.  
     

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