Saturday, June 16, 2018

Coimbatore Podanur Junction

The Story of how the Coimbatore - Palani - Dindigul Broad Gauge Rail Route has gone completely Unutilised in the 1st year of launch

Podanur Junction, Just 6kms South of Coimbatore  Junction, has potential to become an important terminal - 5 Platforms, huge two wheeler and car parking space, entry point from Kerala and Pollachi and direct road to airport
It has now been well over a year since the Coimbatore – Palani- Dindigul broad gauge line became fully operational (Sorry -  became fully ready to be operated like the decades gone by). However the operational schedule on that route leaves one completely shocked wondering as to how the bus and the political lobby can still hold sway in Tamil Nadu, especially in this digital information world.

Historical Facts till 2000
Till the meter gauge section from Dindigul to Coimbatore via Palani  was closed a decade ago (i.,e till around 2000 for 30-40 years from 1960s/1970s),  there was a daily night express train from Coimbatore to Rameswaram via Pollachi, Udumalpet, Palani, Dindigul, Madurai starting at Coimbatore at 10 pm. A similar express train operated in reverse direction to reach Coimbatore at 5am. This train used to run full on all days.

Also, there were 5 daily passenger trains between Coimbatore and Dindigul via Pollachi and Palani – both ways that served both as connecting trains to express trains at Dindigul and Coimbatore as well as helped passengers travel to temple destination such as Palani. These trains always ran to full capacity in those decades.

There was a daily connecting passenger train for Nilagiri Express from Dindigul/Palani to Coimbatore. The train had halted at Palani (approx 530pm), Udumalpet (615pm), Pollachi (7pm) and used to reach Coimbatore at 745pm. Nilagiri Express used to depart in those days at around 830pm. So there used to be several 100s of passengers who travelled from Palani in this passenger train to catch the Nilagiri Express to Madras. 

Similarly there was a connecting train in the morning to Nilagiri Express from Coimbatore that left Coimbatore at 6am or so to Palani / Dindigul stopping at Pollachi and Udumalpet. Thus, several hundreds headed for Pollachi/ Udumalpet/Palani boarded this passenger train after alighting from the Nilagiri express in morning at Coimbatore.

Coimbatore - Dindigul : Current Scenario
The newly built broad gauge line of 167 kms from Coimbatore to Dindigul via Pollachi- Palani has remained completely unutilized for over a year now, though even now all the buses from Coimbatore to Palani and Dindigul run full from morning till night. Each bus carries around 50-75 passengers where as a single passenger train could carry 750 to 1000 passengers. 
There are multiple flyovers being constructed on the Coimbatore Pollachi National Highway (at Kinathukadavu / Eechanari ...) leaving the road very congested at multiple points along the highway. It now takes almost two hours at peak traffic for the buses to cover a 40 km trip between Coimbatore and Pollachi.

A ‘Special’ passenger train (Yes, that’s how the Southern Railway has named it!!!) leaves Coimbatore Junction for Pollachi every morning at 545 am. Nilagiri Express arrives at Coimbatore Junction at 5 am and Cheran Express arrives at 6.10 am. This passenger train has been shockingly timed so that neither the passengers of Nilagiri Express (one will not wait 45 minutes to board a passenger train to reach a destination 40 kms away- the train actually  reaches CBE much earlier) nor those of Cheran Express will be able to board the train to Pollachi, indicating a clear motive to help the buses run full.

The Big Questions
Why is there no express train or passenger trains running on the Coimbatore- Pollachi-Udumalpettai-Palani- Dindigul rail route (there is one weekly night express train to Tirunelveli on this route that leaves Cbe at 11.50pm!!!) a full one year after the 167 km broad gauge line became operational.

Why is the (Weekly) Coimbatore Rameswaram Express, the (Daily) Coimbatore-Tuticorin Express and the (Daily) Coimbatore Nagercoil Express running via Tirupur and Erode and not via Pollachi and Palani  (Coimbatore-Tirupur-Erode-Dindigul is 240kms).

When a 167 kms is fully unutilized, the Southern Railway is using the already congested Tirupur –Erode route to travel 240 kms to cover the same distance.

Why is there not a single daily passenger or express train in the morning or night in the Coimbatore to Palani/Dindigul route.

Extension of Cheran Express to Pollachi
Cheran Express arriving at 6.10 am at Coimbatore Junction can easily be extended to Pollachi to reach there at 7 am. In the evening, Cheran Express can start from Pollachi at 930 pm and reach Coimbatore at 10.15 pm and it can leave Coimbatore at the current departure time of 10.40 pm (after a stoppage of 25 minutes). This way Pollachi will have an originating train as well.
Making Podanur Junction a big terminal
There are five platforms lying unutilized at the Podanur (PTJ) Junction (6kms South of Coimbatore Junction). Podanur is probably the only Junction in the Southern Railway that boasts of Five Platforms and is still so completely unutilised (except for passing trains between Trivanduram and Chennai Central). This station can be renamed as Coimbatore South Junction. So there can then be Coimbatore North, Coimbatore Junction and Coimbatore South Junction, two of these can be terminals.

Since there are five platforms at Podanur Junction, many trains can start from Podanur (Coimbatore South) Junction  and run both towards Palani and Dindigul as well as towards Palakkad and Shoranur.
Does the Central Railway Ministry know that there are 300 car parking available and 2000 two wheeler parking available at the Podanur Station as against a cramped and Congested Coimbatore Junction with very minimal parking.

Podanur is an entry point from Kerala (Palakkad) into Coimbatore, it is also an entry point from Pollachi, Udumalpet and Palani. Podanur is also easily accessible from the Peelamedu (Coimbatore) airport via Ramanathapuram and Singanallur road route. 

Podanur is only 20-30 minutes away from Coimbatore Junction by road. There are bus facilities available right outside the station. It is a bus terminal. Bus No. 4 runs from Podanur (South Coimbatore) to Thudiyalur (North Coimbatore) – it is one of the oldest bus routes in Coimbatore.

Making PTJ a terminal is a very viable option which ever one sees. It will help generate lot more revenue for the railways at very little additional investment (i.e only passenger amenities need to be upgraded at Podanur Junction).

The Southern Railway can also look at daily passenger trains to run from Podanur (Coimbatore South) to Palani and to Mettupalayam. This way all the five platforms will be well utilised while at the same time easing Coimbatore Junction of platform congestion. At the moment, there are many trains that lay on platforms for 12 hours at a stretch after its arrival thus consuming a line for a long period of time.

Tourist Destination to Temple Destination - A Train?
Southern Railway can also introduce daily night passenger train from Palani (Temple Destination) to Mettupalayam (Tourist Destination base to Ooty). This train can start from Palani at 1030pm and reach Mettupalayam at 430am/5am via Udumalpet, Pollachi, Podanur and Coimbatore. On the return route, a passenger can start from Mettupalayam at 10pm or so (after tourists have finished visiting Ooty) and reach Palani at 430am (for morning darshan)

Coimbatore to Madurai via Palani and Dindigul is only 220 kms. A daily express train can leave Mettupalayam /Coimbatore / Podanur at 10pm or so and reach Madurai at 4am/5am. Similarly a train can leave Madurai at 11am and reach Coimbatore / Podanur / Mettupalayam at 5am/6am. Even at an average slow speed of 40kms (which is below express speed), this distance can be covered in less than 6kms.

Since Podanur has 5 platforms, without congestion, 2 to 3 new trains can be easily accommodated there as an originating station. It will also free Coimbatore Junction of a lot of space as Palani and Dindigul bound trains can start from Podanur. A few food stalls and a lift to each of the platforms will help passengers access each of the platforms easily. This Junction has the potential to become a big terminal.

MEMU/ DEMU trains in the Coimbatore Zone
The Southern Railway can operate the popular MEMU/DEMU trains for short distances – Mettupalayam to Palani can be MEMU or DEMU, Coimbatore/Podanur to Palani can be MEMU/DEMU (only 100 kms) like how they operate from Chennai Egmore to Melmaruvathur every morning - Only sitting without sleeper berth or AC coaches

Suggestions to Southern Railway
Here are a few suggestions that the Southern Railway can consider:

1. Mettupalayam – Palani Daily Passenger (both ways)
2. Podanur- Dindigul/Madurai Night Express (1030pm dep / 430am arrival)
3. Connecting Passenger in the morning for Nilagiri Express to Pollachi/Udumalpet/Palani at 5am or so
4. Connecting Passenger in the night for Nilagiri Express from Palani/Udumalpet/Pollachi to reach CBE at 20.00hours
5. Extending Cheran Express to Pollachi to give Pollachi an originating express
5. Podanur –Rameswaram Express Day or Night Express
6. Podanur – Tirunelveli Express Day or Night Express
7. A Day Express on CBE- MDU route like Pallavan or Vaigai (From Coimbatore to Dindigul/Madurai)- Departing from Podanur at 645am and reaching Madurai at 12.45pm. In the reverse direction, the train can leave Madurai at 2pm and arrive at Coimbatore Junction at 8pm (since this section is almost fully free, an express train can easily cover the 220 kms distance in 5 hours running at 45kmph).

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