Mumbai: Decades before the country`s first expressway connected Mumbai and Pune, a prestigious train, Deccan Queen, was the prime link to the two cities - India`s commercial capital and the educational capital of what was then Bombay state.
On Sunday, the venerable Deccan Queen turned a healthy 85 and is still going strong - despite stiff competition from the Mumbai-Pune Expressway since 2002 and certain other trains on this crucial sector of Central Railway.
Started in June 1930 by the Great Indian Peninsular Railway (GIPR), the forerunner to Central Railway, the Deccan Queen was the first luxury train that contributed immensely to the trade, commerce, business, academia, culture, tourism and social ties between the two cities separated by the awesome Western Ghats.
Started modestly with two rakes (trains) of seven coaches, each painted silver with scarlet mouldings and royal blue with gold lines, the original model was built in England while the coach bodies were constructed at the Matunga Workshop of GIPR.
Keeping in mind the travellers, it had only first and second class configuration till 1948.
In Jan 1949, the first class was abolished and the second class was redesigned as first class. This continued up to June 1955.
Later, a third class was introduced (June 1955) and this was redesignated as second class in April 1974.
The Deccan Queen also underwent other changes over the years. In 1966, the original British-built rakes were replaced by anti-telescopic steel-bodied coaches built by the Integral Coach Factory, Perambur.
"These coaches incorporated improved design of bogies for better riding comfort and also improvements in the interior furnishings and fittings. The number of coaches in the rake was also increased to 12 from the original seven, providing additional accommodation, and today there are 17 coaches," said a Central Railway spokesperson.
For the first time in India, coaches with roller-bearings, replacement of end on generation coaches with self-generating coaches with 110 volts system and introduction of first and second class chair cars were some of the measures to provide the highest level of comfort for passengers, who comprise both commoners and celebs.
In fact, till the Y.B.Chavan Mumbai-Pune Expressway was built, the train was patronized by top Bollywood and Marathi film stars, industrialists, international celebs and political leaders who could be seen stepping out of their swank cars to board it from either Victoria Terminus (now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) or Dadar.
Again in 1995, the rakes were totally replaced and the existing distinctive colour scheme of cream and oxford blue with a red band above the window level was adopted for the train to satisfy growing aspirations of the travelling public.
The new coaches have air brakes. The five first class chair car coaches have been replaced by air-conditioned coaches with additional seating capacity and the nine second class chair car coaches have seating for 120. Altogether, this provides for a total seating of 1,417 against 1,232 in the old rakes - an increase of 15 percent.
Despite the short running time - average around three hrs.15 minutes - the Deccan Queen is among the few trains which offers a dining car with table service for 32 passengers at a time.
Given its virtually unchallenged record of on-time performance, the Deccan Queen perhaps resulted in "inter-city commuters" for the first time in India.
There are thousands of office-goers who live in Pune but commute daily by the train to work in Mumbai and vice-versa, binding the two cities with the loyal band of commuters and travellers.
The train`s management systems were assessed by International Services Ltd and it was awarded the ISO 9001-2000 in Nov 2003 under a Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand.