Those Thrilling Rides On Trains

Those Thrilling Rides On Trains
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Highlights

A train passing through a tunnel is a great feeling. As the train rounds the last bend, and approaches the exit, a glimmer of light first appears in the distance, gradually growing larger until, suddenly, the train is out of the tunnel and all is light again! That is why, probably, why a bad situation suddenly showing signs of improvement is compared to seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Incidentally, Konkan Railway has the largest number of tunnels among the railway divisions of the country

Travelling in trains can be an exciting and rewarding experience, especially in childhood. As a six-year-old, I traveled with my mother, by train, overnight, from Madras(now Chennai) to Coimbatore tofulfil a film shooting commitment. I recall how tightened I was that night, as, only days earlier, extremists had derailed another train on the same route. Another scary experience was when, during on Bharath Darshan, a part of training at the National Academy of Administration at Mussoorie. One morning, as our group arrived at Kohima railway station we learned that extremists had blown up the bridge at Dimapur, which our train had crossed the previous night.

A train passing through a tunnel is a great feeling. As the train rounds the last bend, and approaches the exit, a glimmer of light first appears in the distance, gradually growing larger until, suddenly, the train is out of the tunnel and all is light again! That is why, probably, why a bad situation suddenly showing signs of improvement is compared to seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Incidentally, Konkan Railway has the largest number of tunnels among the railway divisions of the country. China has the largest number of railway tunnels in the world, while the Gotthard Base Tunnel, 57 km in length, in Switzerland, is the longest in the world.

Another memorable journey which I recall with pleasure was by the Shinkansen or the �??Bullet Train�?? while accompanying Justice Hidayatullah, the Vice President of India, an a visit to Japan. Asthe train sped towards Kyoto, our next destination, the snowcapped Mount Fuji Yama appeared on the right side, as we approached Shin-Fuji Station, about 40-45 minutes into the journey.

Travelling by saloons attached to trains is an unforgettable experience. In 1977,Sharda Mukherjee, the Governor of Andhra Pradesh, had requisitioned a saloon to be attached to the train in which she traveled to Dharmavaram town in Anantapur district of the state. I, as the Secretary to the Governor, accompanied her, along with my wife Usha and our children. The saloon was the last word in comfort, with bedrooms, attached baths,and a drawing�??cum�??dining room. Once again, in 1990, when N Janardhana Reddy, the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, traveled to Tirupati, a saloon had been attached to the train. I had accompanied the Chief Minister in my capacity as a Special Secretary in his office.The courtesies extended, and the delicious fare provided, by the staff of the Railways, were indeed par excellence.

Though somewhat unusual nowadays, it was common in the early days of my service for Very Very Important Persons (VVIPs) to travel by special compartments attached to trains, and, even by special trains. One rather sheepish recollection I have, in that context, is from my Sub Collector�??s days. I was formally dressed in �??galabund�??, and with headgear to boot, ceremonially to receive, and send off, a special train in which the then President of India, V V Giri was travelling, from New Delhi to Madras (now Chennai). Chinnaganjam, a wayside watering station, in my jurisdiction, fell along the route of that train. And the time was 1.00 a.m.!

That was also the time when an agitation was going on demanding a separate state for the Telugu speaking people of the Coastal and Rayalaseema regions of the Andhra Pradesh state.Trains and buses were popular targets for the agitating groups. One night, some students, who were the most visible face of that agitation, had held up a NewDelhi-bound train, from Chennai, carrying Union Minister K L Rao, just outside the Chirala railway station in my jurisdiction. Sensing a great opportunity, they cleverly stopped the train just beyond the outer signal. It was late at night, and pitch dark. With heaps of crushed stone lying close by as potential weapons, it was an explosive situation, I was fortunately campaigning at Chirala, and rushed to the spot to commence an exercise of parley and dialogue. Finally, I succeeded in persuading the Minister to say a few reassuring words to the angered students, and in making the student leaders understand the limited role the Minister had to play in the matter, as well as the travails of the passengers of the train.Eventually, the Minister, as well as the students, relented and the face-off came to end.

India is a popular tourist destination. Depending on the inclination of travelers, it offers a fascinating variety of experiences, from mountaineering, river rafting and travelling on horseback, camel back or elephant back, to quick and fast travel, by road, rail and air. From the house boat in Srinagar, to the ultimate in five star comfort in some of the most luxurious hotels of the world, the country also offers a wide variety of places to stay.

The source of power, hauling bogies of trains, has undergone a spectacular transformation over the ages. Locomotives were originally steam powered, with the East Indian Railway the �??Fairy Queen�??, being the oldest working stream engine in the world, built in 1855. The next significant step up, in the power source, came with the shift to diesel. Although not a great success, commercially, the world�??s first diesel power locomotive was operated, in the summer of 1912 on the Winterthur-Romanshorn Railway in Switzerland. Then came the electrically powered locomotive engines, with the first known one built in 1837, with a larger version exhibited at the Royal Scottish Society of Arts Exhibition, in 1841.

The �??Ghan�??, which carries tourists across 2,960 km between Adelaide and Darwin in Australia, is the longest train. The Vivek Express, Dibrugarh to Kanyakumari, covering 4,189 km and travelling across nine of the Indian states, is India�??s longest. At the other end of the spectrum is Angel�??s Flight, a prominent landmark and tourist attraction in Los Angeles, a 762 mm, narrow gauge funicular railway, which covers a distance of 91 meters.

A railway network is a complex business involving junctions, branch lines, sidings and signaling systems etc.In the hilarious book �??Yes Prime Minister�??, the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Appleby, compares the Prime Minister�??s official residence, at 10 Downing Street, to a railway junction, with appropriate sidings, in terms of its complexity and the need for expert management.

Many English, Hindi and Telugu movies have been shot with trains as the background of their plot. There are many such films, such as �??The Great Train Robbery�??, a 1903, American silent film about a gang of outlaws who hold up and rob a steam locomotive. The following,however, are some of my personal favourites. �??StrangersonaTrain�??, the1951 suspense thriller by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock, sows its suspense seeds early, aboard a train. Ace tennis star Guy Haines and charming psychopath, Bruno Anthony, meet on a train and strike up a conversation which unwittingly set in motion and deadly chain of events building up to a typical Hitchcock climax. Another runaway blockbuster is the 2013 Bollywood movie, �??Chennai Express�??. The inimitable Shah Rukh Khanp lays the role of Rahul Mithaiwala, a rich man who is entrusted with the task of carrying out the last wish of his late grandfather to immerse his ashes at Rameswaram. Rahul accidentally boards the wrong train where a chance meeting with a young woman from South India, Meenamma, daughter of a local Don, turns into an unexpected adventure.

The Telugu movie, �??Circar Express�??, of 1968 vintage, was another such movie. In 1975, our family traveled from Kurnool to Guntur, by a train running on what, in those days, was a meter gauge track. The tourney, indeed, was unforgettable. There was so much of sideways movement of the compartment, from one side to another, that we joked to each other that by the time we reached the destination, the train would have covered more distance, sideways, than in the intended direction!

(The writer was formerly Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)

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