The First Train from Mumbai to Madgaon - January 26th, 1998
Sawantwadi to Pernem - the missing link on the Konkan Railway finally opens

This was one thing I wanted to achieve - to travel on a inaugural train of a line of significance. And nothing more fitting than to have made that journey on the  Konkan Railway. The Konkan Railway is one of the most amazing engineering feats in modern rail history. More than that, it an model of what the Indian Railways must move towards in terms of project management, administration and running a train network. Herein lies the reason for my extraordinary curiosity of the project.

In reality, on January 3rd, 1998, I made my first journey on the Konkan Railway, from Mangalore to Madgaon by the 0021 Mangalore-Madgaon Express (which was discontinued later that year). The journey was through the scenic Coastal Karnataka route. The journey took me through long tunnels and numerous bridges, the most spectacular being the one over the river Sharavati which was done at dusk. Arrived into Goa (my first ever visit here) by 9 pm and spent the night there. The next days train from Sawantwadi to Mumbai was fully booked and so I had to settle for a bus journey.

January, 25th - I made my way to Mumbai CST and departed by the 0111dn Mumbai-Madgaon express. Retired to my berth and slept. Woke up late the next morning, January 26th, to find that at almost 7 am the train was at Ratnagiri. The train was quite delayed at certain points during the night (there was a unconfirmed report that the engine broke down and a relief had to be arranged near Sangmeshwar). This gave me time to observe the line between Ratnagiri and Sawantwadi, which was characterised by numerous bridges, viaducts, tunnels and cuttings. The line, which was rough and hilly, in Ratnagiri, began to smoothen out after Vaibhavwadi. At Kudal, we crossed the Karwar-Ratnagiri DMU Passenger, the first ever train to cross from Goa to Maharashtra on the Konkan Railway, which was decked up for the occasion. Arrived into Sawantwadi about 10:30. There was a 20 minute wait, since the train had completed its normal run, and the extension of the service to Madgaon was the event all were awaiting. 

 

The Asian Age: Konkan Rail Completed.
(Click to view larger image)
Awaiting the departure from Sawantwadi on its maiden run into Goa - Picture of the train on Sawantwadi platform. Given the signal to move ahead, our train crawls into the Pernem tunnel
(after taking a halt for a puja)

The engine was decked up, as the whos-who of the area and the KRCL all tried to fit into the WDM2 engine that was drawing the train. Many local people and large numbers of KRCL staff and engineers with their families all boarded the train to partake of the maiden run. I found myself seated opposite one of the station masters of Kudal Station. There was a tremendous sense of achievement and pride among the KR people, being the frontline in the completion of the project. Almost 11am, our train left Sawantwadi bound for Pernem, the last 21 km of the Konkan Railway project. The train moved slowly, with quite a few stops, greeted by the locals and enthusiasts who did numerous "pujas" (prayer rituals) to ensure the well being and prosperity of the venture. Sawantwadi was the last station (now that place is held by Madure) in the state of Maharashtra and Pernem the first station in Goa. The train entered into Goa by crossing the Terekhol river, a natural boundary between the two states.

The train halted just outside the Pernem tunnel, where one more Puja was performed. The Pernem tunnel was the reason for the delay in the commissioning of the entire line. Building the 1.5 km tunnel would be described as one of the most arduous and challenging assignments spreading over more than six years. Numerous geotechnical problems like soft soil, water seepages, frequent collapses affected the progress of construction. The remainder of the line was commissioned by End August 1997, but the missing link - the extremely slow progress in completion of the Pernem Tunnel was the sole reason for the delay. The tunnel was dug through by mid December 97. The signal was given - yellow - and the train went into motion. The tunnel delicate, and some internal work still being finished, the train crawled into the tunnel at a estimated speed of 10-15 kmph.

The train moved through the tunnel, but there were some reservations since the tunnel appeared to be weak. The train even had a halt in between for a few minutes. Definitely moment of suspense for all aboard that train. Finally the train pulled out of the Pernem Tunnel and into Pernem Station. Well, the engine just managed to reach halfway down the platform when a local agitation took place in form of a Rail Roko (blockage of movement of the train), and the tailing coaches stuck in the tunnel. We were stuck in that position for and hour and a half till some political bigwigs landed on the spots and some assurances given, the train allowed to proceed. The incident put a damper on the whole day. 

The ad in the Mumbai Times of India on 25th January 1998 announcing the new train.
(Click to view larger image)
Cautiously the train crawls into Pernem Station to be confronted by a rail blockade. The train was in this position for an hour and a half. The "tail" of the train stuck in the Pernem Tunnel

The train passed Thivim, ran over the Mandovi River Bridges, through the Old Goa Tunnel, a brief halt at Karmali (Old Goa) stations, onward over the massive bridge over the Zuari River and proceeded cautiously over the Sancoale and Cortalim Creek bridges. The train picked up speed to zoom past Verna and reach Majorda Junction with the newly converted BG line of the South Central Railway coming from Vasco. We took a halt at Majorda, which was the crossing point for SCR and KR trains. At that time, with two tracks bound for Madgaon, one had a goods train and the other had the Mumbai Madgaon Express running parallel towards Madgaon. Our train - the first direct train from Maharashtra (Mumbai) arrived into Madgaon  (Platform 1) at around 2:45 pm that day, bridging the missing gap on the west coast. The Mangalore bound passenger departed just 10 minutes later from Platform 2 (for those who had the courage to complete the entire stretch on the same day). 

Did a bit of sightseeing of Madgaon. The new BG station has been set up by the Konkan Railway and is about 500 m away from the old MG station, which was now a part of history - a mute spectator to history overtaking it. 

On the evening of Republic Day, Madgaon Station was decorated as the first Madgaon - Mumbai Express was scheduled to depart at 1830. The platform was flooded with people which led me to think that the train was already so popular. Actually many of the enthusiastic local residents came to witness this new milestone in their local history. The engine was nowhere to be seen at 1825. The train was finally flagged off just before 7 pm on its inaugural run to Mumbai.   

The most fitting achievement in the fiftieth year of Indian Independence 

Rajan R. Mathew

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