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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Late running of Train 4295 in France - What is your travel experience ??

Travelling in a train is a pleasant experience.  In olden days, the count down would start sooner with the scent of holidays and some festivities.  The family would plan and pack things as if shifting the residence to a new place. Those with experience would narrate tales of each place, as the train would pass by or chug in a small station.  In days of yore, the two most important advices used to be :

-          don’t forget to take your ticket and keep it in a safe place (no e booking and copy of print outs but a single solitary copy issued by Railways)
-          don’t sit near the window as coal particles would fall in eye (those days trains were powered by steam engines)

Parts of North India are reeling under cold waves and heavy fog.  Fog has disrupted train schedules  - some have been rescheduled, many  delayed and some cancelled even.  There has been poor visibility and there are reports of trains entering the Station with  powerful headlights on even in noon. 

The Western part of the World is always touted as the best in technology and more organized schedules.  But those leaving Strasbourg on the German border at 2130 (2030 GMT) on 2/1/11  and scheduled to arrive in Portbou on the border with Spain at 0830 on 3/01/11 had a different experience, one that they would like to forget, describing it as  'hell on wheels' journey.

There have been reports in all news channels of the late running of a night train on France's famed SNCF rail network, known for its smooth running.    The train 4295 with 600 passengers was delayed and arrived late by 24 hours due to bad weather, a late driver, a bad engine, a blockage on the line and disruptive drunks. 

It is reported that after running 120 km, it was decided to replace the driver on health and safety grounds, as the individual had been working for three days.  The replacement could not arrive in time and the passengers were disrupted by some drunk passengers.  Later the engine failed and it took three more hours for replacement.  Some were transferred to another train whilst those destined for the final place remained on board.  Those travelling across the border to the Spanish village of Portbou were given taxis, according to Le Monde newspaper.  The SNFC regretted the "serious but isolated" incident involving its night train and offered travellers both a refund of their fares and a free return ticket.

In Europe there are trains running across Nations.  Eurostar, a hi speed rail service between England and France connecting  London with Brussels and Paris directly crossing the English Channel through a 50.5 kms (31.4 miles) long Channel Tunnel under the sea with its two linking corners is a famous one running up 300 kmph.   Eurostar was initially owned by SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer français, which is French National Railway Corporation).

There are also  TGVs or 'Trains à Grande Vitesse' run at up to 186mph (300 km/h) on long distance routes covering most of France.  In fact, they run at up to 198mph (320 km/h) on the new TGV-Est route from Paris to Reims.    This is currently operated by SNCF Voyages, the long-distance rail branch of SNCF, the French national rail operator.

In India, it is the state owned Indian Railways which owns and operates the country’s  rail transport.  IR has more than 64000 kms of track and close to 7000 stations.  The railways traverse the length and breadth of the country through different terrains, culture, time and weather zones.  It has a two lettered station Ib in SE Railway and  Sri Venkatanarasimharajuvariapeta after Tiruttani on way to Renigunta.

Understand that during the British rule, there used to be a Mangalore – Peshawar train which took about 104 hours but now the longest run is Himsagar Express between Jammu Tawi and Kanyakumari.  Next comes Guwahati – Trivandrum Express no. 12516  which runs  65 hours.   It runs through Kamakhya, Bongaigaon, Cooch Behar, Jalpaiguri, Malda,  Howraj, Kharagpur, Balasore, Cuttack, Bhubaneswar,  Khurda road,  Palasa, Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Vizag, Rajahmundry, Vijayawada, Central, Katpadi, Salem,  Erode,  Thrissur, Ernakulam,  Chengannur, Kollam and reach Trivandrum.

This train was scheduled to arrive at 1853 hrs at Rajahmundry in Andhra on Thursdays (2140 hrs at Vijayawada) and reach Chennai around 0415 on Fridays.   On more than couple of occasions have boarded this train at Vijayawada on Friday nights which meant that this train was running more than 24 hours late. 

I have another experience of living on a train.  For long Grand Trunk Express and then Tamilnadu Express were touted as fast trains.  It would normally take around 33 hours for the journey from Delhi to Chennai with halts at Agra, Gwalior, Jhansi, Bhopal, Itarsi, Nagpur (famous for oranges), Ballarshah, Warangal and Vijayawada.

Way back on 1st Sept 2000, I had planned to return from Delhi to Chennai by Tamilnadu Express scheduled to leave New Delhi by 22.30 hrs.  Due to breaches in South Central Railway between Kazipet, Ballarshah, this train was rescheduled  to leave New Delhi at 17.30 hrs on 2nd Sept 2000.
At New Delhi Railway station, it was  heads of people everywhere as many trains had been rescheduled and thousands were stranded and were at the station itself.  None could give any picture of the running route of the train and the possible time it could take.
The train eventually left at 17.30 hrs on 2nd Sept 2000 – very sparsely occupied as many had cancelled their journey.  The train traversed a circuitous route : via Mathura, Agra, Gwalior, Jhansi, Bina, Guna, Bhopal, Itarsi, Bhusawal and on the morning of 3/9 around 0815 am we were at Jalgaon, thence Manmad, Bhelapur, Nanded, Daund, Solapur, Wadi, Guntakkal, Gooty, Cuddappah, Renigunta, Arakkonam, Thiruvallur and reached Chennai Central around 20 hrs on 04th Sept. 2000. 
More than 50 hours in the train. It was akin to travelling Delhi to Pune and thence to Chennai.  At most places the train stopped in the outer as it was not its regular route and would wait for other regular trains to pass by – humility to TN Express humiliated by its lesser cousins – more importantly, as it was outside the station, no food supply would reach and those in the train would literally fling at whatever they vendors could offer them.  

A different experience indeed.

Regards – Sampathkumar S


  1. nice article-sampath ji. once i went by TN express from chennai to delhi to attend an office meeting. The run till bhopal was excellent which induced a deep sleep. on waking up came to know that the train was stranded due to a good train derailment; our train took a different route and reached delhi 24 hours late. attended the meeting and left Delhi the same night for chennai. had to spent 5 nights and 3 days in train for a few hours meeting. -kannan

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