Thursday, October 3, 2019

Pandian Express, named after the popular dynasty that ruled from Madurai, was first flagged off on October 1, 1969.
Megha Kaveri Tuesday, October 01, 2019 

Among hundreds of trains that cover the vast expanse of the country, some trains are truly special. For the people in Tamil Nadu, especially those from the southern part of the state, Pandian Express is much more than a train. It is a lifeline that connects them with a better future in cities like Chennai and Trichy. Tuesday marks 50 years since Pandian Express was first flagged off from Madurai. 

Named after the famed dynasty that ruled from Madurai, Pandian Express started its journey on October 1, 1969, a cold Wednesday. The iconic train, connecting Madurai and Chennai (then Madras), was 18-coaches long, hauled by two steam engines. Today, it’s a 23-coach train with hi-tech electrical locomotive. 

However, a few things about the train remain unchanged even after five decades.

A fireman’s memories

Paul David Sam was the second Fireman in the second steam locomotive that hauled the long train from Madurai on October 1, 1969.

“Two YP steam locomotives were needed to pull the 18-car long train,” begins the 87-year-old loco-pilot, who retired from service in 1990. He still remembers the time the railways chose to do away with steam engines and brought a shiny-new diesel locomotive to pull the train in 1979. His job in the steam locomotives involved dumping coal into the boilers of the engine.

“Our duty length was from Madurai to Tiruchirapalli (Trichy) where we handed over to another set of staff who will haul it till Villupuram or Madras. The duration used to take us almost four hours,” he recollects. Now it takes around 2.5 hours for the train to cover the same distance. He adds that Pandian Express was perhaps one of the longest trains of that time, with 18 coaches.

“Even back then, Pandian Express used to be a train preferred by VIPs. MPs and MLAs from south Tamil Nadu chose Pandian Express since it was a night train and they will be well-rested by the time they reach Chennai,” he reminisces.

A ‘model’ train

N Balasubramanian, who started as an Assistant Loco pilot in Pandian Express in 1976 and served for nearly 10 years in the train, recollects the shift from a metre-gauge diesel engine to a broad-gauge diesel engine.

“Pandian Express and Vaigai express used to get priority signals those days since these were important trains that connected the two big cities in Tamil Nadu,” he says.

Not just with signals along the 500-kilometre long route, Pandian Express also scored when it came to getting the latest upgradations and newest technologies that Railways introduced. “Be it electro-motive diesel locomotives or Linke Hofmann Busch (LHB) coaches, Pandian Express gets to lay its hands on it first. Only after this will the new technology go to any other train in the state. This train is that important,” says Arun Pandian, 31, a rail fan.

Adding that there are two specialties in connection with Pandian Express, Arun says, “One – it is rarely late. There was a time when people used to set their watches based on when Pandian Express reached Madurai junction. Even today, it predominantly runs on time. Second thing is that Pandian express also used to be known as the ‘Honeymoon Express’ since it was the only train which had the exclusive First-Class compartment, which couples would use.”

Pride of Madurai Division

For Krishnakumar, Pandian Express was and is the Pride of Madurai Division.

“Pandian Express is one of the trains whose punctuality was monitored by the Railway Board itself. For Southern Railway, the cash-cow is the Chennai-Nagercoil line and Pandian Express is one of the most prestigious trains ever operated on the line. It was painted in Green and Yellow livery when it ran on metre-gauge railway tracks, which is an indication of its importance,” he points out.

Narrating the ways in which the staff of Madurai Division showed their love and affection for the train, Krishnakumar says, “They had painted the symbols representing Madurai Division on the coaches. The Division was so proud to operate and maintain this train.”

Commending the Southern Railway for bringing down the travel time between Chennai and Madurai by almost four hours in the five decades of Pandian Express, Arun says, “The celebration of such landmarks in a train’s history is actually a gesture of saying thanks to all those who were and are behind the successful run of the train. It takes the efforts of hundreds to run each train and we just want to thank them for their work.”


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