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What's in a train name?

Pankaj Sekhsaria

Ever wondered how trains get their names? A peek into railway timetables provides some interesting insights.

Recently I was checking the railway timetable for a Pune-Chennai trip. There were three trains to choose from — train no 6011 Mumbai-Chennai Express, 1063 Dadar-Chennai Express and 6009 Mumbai-Chennai Mail, all passing through Pune. Though this was not the first time I was travelling on this route, something about the train names caught my attention. They appeared rather uninspiring, even unexciting — actually these were not names at all! Particularly so, as my other most-recent journey was from Delhi to Pune on the Jhelum Express.

Ever wondered how trains are named? And why? I spent an interesting half-day scanning Trains At a Glance, that Bible of all train travellers in India.

Interesting names popped up, as also categories. Guess which is the category with the most number of trains? Yes, most trains in India are named after the originating station and the destination: so you have `express' trains like the Mumbai-Chennai Express, Dhanbad-Hatia Express and Bangalore-Gorakhpur Express, and `mails' like the Mumbai-Howrah Mail, Howrah-Kalka Mail and Chennai-Trivandrum Mail. Nothing more to these names, except of course the unique train number given to each train.

But while a majority of trains have these rather uninteresting names, there are several exceptions too. Do you know which feature of the Indian landscape most trains are named after? Our rivers, of course. Many Indian rivers — nearly 40 — lend their names to ourtrains. It's probably an apt usage. Trains crisscrossing the landscape, also crisscrossed by the rivers: the Mandovi Express from Mumbai to Madgaon; Sharavati Express from Mumbai to Mysore; the Lucknow-Delhi Gomti Express, Bilaspur-Bhopal Mahanadi Express, and the Faizabad-Ahmedabad Sabarmati Express.

Apart from these inter-state trains, there are others within states too: the Secunderabad-Kurnool Tungabhadra Express, Mumbai-Kolhapur Koyna Express and Pathankot-Amritsar Ravi Express, to name a few.

Interestingly, although there are several train names featuring the Ganga alongside another river name, no train is named Ganga per se. The Dhanbad-Rajendranagar Ganga Damodar Express, Chennai-Varanasi Ganga Kaveri Express; and Surat-Varanasi Tapti Ganga Express, are some examples.

Like the rivers, mountain ranges also find their place of honour in the country's railway network: the Satpuras, Sahyadris, Aravalis, Saptagiris, and Nilgiris... trains have been named after them all them. Though there is no Himalayan Express, we have the Garhwal Express from Delhi to Kotdwara, Kumaun Express between Agra Fort and Lal Kuan, and even a Kanchanjunga Express between Guwahati and Sealdah.

The Indian Railways boasts of several `queens' too: the Nizamuddin-Kalka Himalayan Queen; the Deccan Queen, one of the oldest and most prestigious trains that runs between Pune and Mumbai daily; the Gujarat Queen between Valsad and Ahmedabad, and the Mumbai-Surat Flying Rani. States form another prominent category, though the North East states are largely absent. The only exception is the Arunachal Express that runs from Murkongselek in Arunachal Pradesh to Kamakhya in Assam. Orissa and Rajasthan also do not figure in this group.

With Indian trains chugging in all directions, we have a Dakshin Express (Hyderabad-Nizamuddin), a Poorva Express (Howrah-New Delhi) and also a Paschim Express (Mumbai-Amritsar). No Uttar Express, though; there is however the New Delhi-Guwahati North East Express.

In the other interesting categories, both the islands systems in India have trains named after them. You can travel from Delhi to Ernakulam on the Lakshadweep Express, and then presumably take a ship to the islands. Similarly, the Andaman Express takes you from Jammu to Chennai on the eastern coast, which is the main gateway to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Trains in the country's mineral heartland — all originating in Howrah and terminating at different cities in the Chotanagpur Plateau — have very descriptive names: the Black Diamond Express and Coalfield Express — both in Dhanbad, the Steel City Express in Tatanagar, the Ispat Express in Sambalpur and the Agniveena Express in Asansol.

And in a country that celebrates its famous sons and daughters, Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore each have three trains honouring their memory. There is the Howrah-Mumbai Geetanjali Express, Howrah-Bolpur Shantiniketan Express and the Howrah-Nagercoil Gurudev Express.

The Ahimsa Express (Ahmedabad-Pune), Sewagram Express (Dadar-Nagpur), and Satyagraha Express (Delhi-Raxaul) honour the Father of the Nation. The Sabarmati Express could well fit here too.

But my favourite category is the one that acknowledges the works of great writers: a pair of trains between Mumbai and Howrah are named after two significant books that emerged from those regions. The counterpart to the Geetanjali Express is the Dnyaneshwari Express, named after Sant Dnyaneshwar's Marathi translation of the Bhagavad Gita, the Dnyaneshwari. And there is one more train named after Munshi Premchand's timeless classic Godan— the Mumbai-Gorakhpur Godan Express.

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