The train had its maiden run from Bengaluru to Chennai on July 2, 1992
Nearly 50 people, including current and retired loco pilots and ‘railfans’, gathered at Platform 1 of the KSR Bengaluru City Junction on Saturday to celebrate the 25th year of Lalbagh Express.
Among those gathered was R. Subramani, the loco pilot for the train’s maiden run from Bengaluru to Chennai in July 2, 1992. The train was inaugurated on July 1 to travel from Chennai to Bangalore City Railway Station. “At that time, it was the fastest train between Bengaluru and Chennai. The only ‘Superfast train’ on the route, it instilled a special sense of pride not just in the rail division but in us too,” he said. The celebrations went on till the train left the platform, and continued on its journey as a key lifeline between the two State capitals.
Back then, Lalbagh chugged between the two cities stopping only at Katpadi. The electric loco covered the distance in 5 hours and 15 minutes. This is nearly the same time as the Shatabdi — the fastest train on the route. However, as time went by, more stops were added. Currently, it makes 11 stops before reaching Chennai. Consequently, the time taken has been increased by 30 minutes. With so many trains on the route, some with far superior amenities, does the Lalbagh Express still retain its importance?
The answer, at least from those gathered at the platform, seems to be resoundingly in the affirmative. “The Lalbagh Express is just 30 minutes slower than the non-stop Shatabdi, but is priced much lower. In some ways, it is the common man’s Shatabdi,” Arun Pandian, a railfan and one of the organisers of the celebration, said.
The Indian Railways Fan Club’s archive of members’ discussions a few days after the 1992 launch, is an indicator of the excitement that surrounded the new train then. A member praised the punctuality, ‘more comfortable’ seating than Brindavan Express, and even ‘the delicious food’ available on the ‘new train’.
Reminiscing about the launch, loco pilots share a laugh discussing the role of Katpadi – the only halt on the original route of Lalbagh ‘Superfast’ Express. “The rumour was that a Union Minister’s daughter studied at Katpadi. And so, the train was timed to the college timings,” laughed Sunish C., a former Railways employee.
A passenger on the train in 1992 described the arrival time in Bengaluru as a ‘problem’ as the auto fare in the city (which would close down then by 9.30) as being more expensive than the train ride itself.