First Day, First Ride on the New AC Double Decker!

There are some things that cannot be missed. For some people it is the first day first show of a movie, for some, it is the launch event of a new gadget, or a game of their favorite sports teams, a daily TV program and for some, it is the exact log-in time at office. For me one is a music concert and other is the inaugural run of a new or prestigious train. Only the fourth in India of its kind and the first ever in South India, the Chennai - Bangalore - Chennai AC Double Decker Express train started off on her maiden (inaugural) regular service run on Thursday, April 25, 2013. Trains with Non-AC Double Decker coaches have been running on Indian Railways for a few decades now (The Flying Rani, Singahad Express and in the early 1990s the Vanchinad Express in Kerala). But that did prevent first AC Double Decker flagged off between Howrah and Dhanbad from capturing the fancy of the nation. And this was the first one that was running to my city. And this was something I could not miss.

The Great Train Journey Planning

Sadly, I would not be able to make it to Chennai for a full journey of the entire first run of the train, but I HAD to at least do part of it. I decided to catch the train from an intermediate point to Bangalore and Jolarpettai Junction (JTJ) seemed to be a good option. JTJ is 150 km from Bangalore on the way to Chennai and is also the point where the line from Bangalore joins the line from Palakkad to Chennai. To get to Jolarpettai from Bangalore to catch the Double Decker to Bangalore, I had the option of the 12610 Bangalore - Chennai "Superfast" (LOL) Intercity Express. But there was a risk with the tight schedule. The Intercity is scheduled to arrive at JTJ at 1028 and the Double Decker is scheduled to leave JTJ at 1035. And Indian trains are not known for their punctuality as they run according to the Indian Stretchable Time system. But I decided to take the risk and give it a dare. Seat no 96 on coach C8U (C8 coach, Upper Deck) was booked and Rs.270 paid. On April 25 morning I got into the 12610 from KR Puram at 0830 with an unreserved ticket to JTJ (Rs.65). The train made good time by being consistently late by 10 minutes at all stations. I almost lost hope and was crestfallen being sure I would not make it. But life decided to go easy on me for once. The 12610 crawled into Jolarpettai at exactly 1035 and I saw the DD stationed on the opposite platform sounding its horn and about to depart! Heart in mouth, I jumped out of the 12610, dashed across the platform and made it into the DD just as it started moving out! Thank you, life!

AC Double Decker KJM

The Inaugural Run of the MAS-SBC AC Double Decker

Royapuram's brand new 6350 hp monster WAP7 #30332 doing the honors, the 22625 Chennai Central - Bangalore City AC Double Decker Express train left Chennai Central on its inaugural run bang on time at 0725. AC Double Decker coaches are said to be cleared for a speed of 160 kph but we were told that the MPS (Maximum Permissible Speed) for the Chennai - Bangalore train as of now is restricted to just 100 kph. After leaving Jolarpettai at 1035 we snaked through the wilderness between Jolarpettai and Kuppam at around 65 kph. After passing Kuppam we ran fairly consistently at around 90 kph for 30 minutes until we slowed down and stopped at a half-platform station named Varadapur outside of Bangarapet (BWT) as we were before time (BT) by around 10 minutes! We rolled into BWT at 1140 where we were met with a lot of surprised faces. Though I expected an MPS run after leaving BWT because the 12610 had done 110 kph here, the DD stuck to 65-80 kph speeds. Our next stop was Krishnarajapuram and again we were 7 min BT! We left KJM at 1240 and made our way slowly through Bangalore. After a halt at Bangalore Cantt. and two unscheduled halts at Baiyyappanahalli and SBC home, we pulled into platform 7 at Bangalore City Jn at 1315 to a rapacious welcome complete with TV news cameras and Times of India reporters. We went and met the LP and Guard and congratulated them for their fine work on the inaugural run as delighted passengers started boarding the train for the return journey and curious onlookers boarded the train to have a look around, emerging with pleasant faces. I wished the new Double Decker good luck and made my way towards the Bangalore City bus station. I loved every moment of the trip, and was at peace.

Design and Structure of the Double Decker Coaches

All coaches are entirely built in India at the Railway Coach Factory (RCF) Kapurthala, Punjab. The coaches are of lightweight LHB design with all-aluminum fabricated shells and painted brightly in cheerful red and yellow which is a refreshing change from the boring blue livery of IR trains, all which in one glance takes away the "hunks of iron" image people associate with Indian Railway coaches. Each fully air-conditioned coach has three levels of seating: Upper Deck (50 seats), Lower Deck (47 sets) and Middle Deck (6 on one end, 17 on the other, total 23) to add up to 120 seats in a coach. This is the highest official seating capacity of any coach type on the Indian Railways. Entry to the seating area of the coach from the door area is by large sliding doors in contrast to the usual narrow doors. Vestibules get sliding doors too. You enter the coach into the Middle Deck like any other coach and after a few seats, the coach splits into upper and lower decks, accessible by stairs which lead up or down to the upper or lower deck. The design philosophy of this train is a complete departure from the usual design philosophy of the Indian Railways which basically means a lot of iron/steel everywhere, small windows, scratched Mica sheets for panels, Aluminum fittings, utilitarian (socialist) padded vinyl seats and of course, that awful color blue. We have none of that here, starting from the main doors which are light aluminum with wide rubber beading and the brilliant red-and-yellow colors of the coaches. All are AC Chair Car coaches, there is no First (Executive) Class AC.

AC Doule Decker vestibuleAC Double Decker SBC

The Interiors, Looks, Feel and Comfort

The best thing about the train is how bright, airy and cheerful it feels inside the coaches, even in the lower deck! This is majorly the result of the use of light colored, lightweight, thinner and more aesthetically pleasing material used for the construction and interiors of the coaches. The windows are large and clear with no sun films and have a pull-down blind which will obscure the sunlight but not the view. All cladding and panel material of the coach inside are of bright white plastic of above-average grade. But what sets everything apart in this train are the individual high-backed seats with foldable hand rests and airline-style tray tables. The seats are arranged 3*3 and 2*2 and are thin, soft cushioned and covered with light aqua colored fabric with designs on them unlike the hard seats stuffed with polyethene/coir and covered in ugly blue/brown vinyl usually seen on Indian trains. The seats are conformable enough though big people might find them a bit cramped. It did fine for me, the seats are the same dimensions as those in the Shatabdis. The aisle is wider too. There are no edges, sharp corners or ugly corners anywhere inside the coach. The overhead luggage racks are imaginatively designed with an extension that can act as a handrail, and the AC vents are a long series of holes in a curving section beneath the luggage racks. There are no fans and a single strip of fluorescent lighting runs the entire length of the coach on all decks.

AC Double Decker Upper Deck

The ride quality inside the AC Double Decker is absolutely superb. You stay well insulated from the elements and specifically the interiors are pin-drop silent. There is absolutely no noise inside, not even the clack-clacking of the wheels. There ride is butter-smooth with no jerks, bumps or swaying whatsoever. All this is thanks to modern bolsterless bogies that carry the wheels, you can take a look at the wheel assembly (which is called a bogie) and notice the difference from the normal assembly seen on other coaches. The toilets are also much better with no aluminum and with health faucets, a big sink, and large mirrors. The view from the Upper Deck is fantastic as its height is more than any train and you will be seeing only the roofs of other trains as they pass by you. You also get a fantastic panoramic view of the landscape as well. The Lower Deck will give you an equally awesome feel because you are close to the ground. The fares are only standard AC Chair Car fare, nothing extra.

AC Double Decker Interiors

(Click here for more pictures of the Chennai-Bangalore AC Double Decker)

The Chennai - Bangalore AC Double Decker: Review Verdict

The AC Double Decker is unlike anything recently seen on the Indian Railways. The train gives a fresh, diffent "foren" like feel and is a sea change from the usually depressing trains that we see everyday. You will be hard pressed to believe that you are sitting inside a train running on the Indian Railways, made by the Indian Railways entirely in India! Of course, we don't have a TGV or a Shinkansen here. Maybe even local trains running in Europe look and seat better. Maybe Double Decker trains are used as commuter trains in many advanced countries. But let us not do comparison studies here. Let us be happy that our Railways are also waking up to providing good infra and facilities to traveling public. Despite the glitches like the bad finishing of the exteriors (which is horrible) and the odd faucet not working, the train is definitely a step in the right direction for the much needed "modernization" of Indian Railways.

I vote this train for the airy, bright and comfortable interiors and the smooth ride, in contrast to the claustrophobic interiors and bumpy ride of the usual Indian train. The only downside I could think of was the catering and the speed. I hope they will sort these out soon.

They should increase the speed and reduce running time in the next timetable update. The AC DD did the inaugural Chennai - Bangalore run in 5 hours 40 minutes, though the scheduled running time is 6 hours 5 minutes. It can easily do the MAS - SBC run in 5 hours 35 minutes. Two things now, I hope this train will get good patronage and will not be a flop show like the Howrah Dhanbad AC DD which runs empty, and two, that passengers will be responsible to use the facilities in this train properly. Rest assured, everything will be fine!

PS: Thanks to fellow railfans @Chennai_Central, @agashwin, @wdp4d_20059 and Vivek for the great company during the journey!

UPDATE: Four years on, the DD has been speeded up by 20 minutes, but sadly, like the other double-deckers, continues to be not-so-popular among travelers, with complaints abound of the uncomfortable seating. But still, the Bangalore-Chennai double decker is among the better patronized, unlike the Howrah-Dhanbad and Indore-Bhopal which were discontinued. The trains a popular walk-in train as seats are always confirmed available, but it usually is waitlisted on weekends. Indian Railways have meanwhile announced a new class of double decker named Uday.

AC Double DeckerSeating

22625/22626 Chennai Central - Bangalore - Chennai AC Double Decker (SR)

Type: AC DD | Fare: Superfast | Time: 06 hrs | Distance: 352 km | Speed: 60 kph

  • 22625 AC Double Decker runs from Chennai Central MAS to Bangalore City SBC on all days. Timetable: Departs MAS: 0715, AJJ: 0820, KPD: 0905, AB: 0950, VN: 1005, JTJ: 1035, KPN: 1100, BWT: 1135, KJM: 1220, BNC: 1235, arrives SBC: 1310.
  • 22626 AC Double Decker runs from Bangalore City SBC to Chennai Central MAS on all days. Timetable: Departs SBC: 1430, BNC: 1442, KJM: 1453, BWT: 1535, KPN: 1600, JTJ: 1645, VN: 1700, AB: 1715, KPD: 1800, AJJ: 1855, arrives MAS: 2030.

Routes and Stoppages: Arakkonam, Ambur, Vaniyambadi, Katpadi, Jolarpettai, Kuppam, Bangarapet, Krishnarajapuram, Bangalore Cantonment.

Composition: 08 AC Double Decker Chair Car Coaches, 02 SLRs (10 coaches LHB).

Fare: Usual AC Chair Car (CC) fares: MAS - SBC Rs 470. Fully reserved. No general or Non-AC.

Link (locomotive): 6350 hp WAP7 from the Royapuram (RPM) shed of Southern Railway.

Here are photos of the AC DD I have taken over the years

double-decker-express-southern-railway-bangalore

AC-double-decker-bangalore-chennai-indian-railways

wap-7-double-decker-train-india

wap4-double-decker-express-train-india-bangalore

AC Double Decker SBC

(Click here for more pictures of the Chennai-Bangalore AC Double Decker)

Happy Journey!

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