You see, I practically grew up on trains! When I was in primary school, my uncle Sri Gurunath introduced me to the joys of train travel. 

Frequently, on Saturdays, we would take the morning Madras Express (“number 24 up”) train bound from Bangalore for Chennai (Chennai was called Madras in those days). We would get our tickets, board the train in the un-reserved compartment, and travel up to Jolarapettai Junction. (“Junction” is where trains from different routes meet.)

It was amusing that this train was called the 24 “up” train! Geographically, the journey from Bangalore to Chennai was (and still is) a down journey; it is downhill. Bangalore is about 897 metres above sea level. Chennai Central Station is just 9 metres above MSL (MSL = mean sea level). Look! If you go here, you can find out! (Note: all links in the blog open in a new tab/window)

But back to the original story…

At Jolarapettai, we would get off the train, eat idli and vaday at the railways’ restaurant, and sit on one of the benches watching the goings on around us.

Soon, we would go buy tickets to Bangalore.  We would wait for the “39 Down” Brindavan Express from Madras Central to Bangalore City.  And yes, the train was coming UP from Chennai to Bangalore! We would ride back in this train, reaching Bangalore City station at about 1:00pm. But this journey was in the engine! A diesel locomotive driven by Sri Lionel Pacheco (“Uncle Lionel”) and his assistant Sri Bose.

This used to happen usually two weekends a month, approximately.

So, I practically grew up on trains and still find train travel very enjoyable. Also, as a geographer, I find it even more fascinating!


Fast forward to 2013, on 18 February, I travelled from Bengaluru City (also still known as Bangalore) to Chamarajanagara, the headquarters of the district of the same name. I traveled by train number 56214, Tirupati-Chamarajanagar Passenger. Here is a map to show you an overview of the area I travelled (zoom and pan as needed to see the map):

The Indian Railways use letter codes for all railway stations in the country. You can search for station codes for specific stations here by station name. Or you can look at the alphabetic index of station codes here. So, the e-ticket that I booked (online) said TPTY – CMNR Pass, i.e.: Tirupathi – Chamarajanagar Passenger. You can see the codes of the starting and ending stations of the train here. The word ‘passenger’ means that it stops at (almost) all the stations on its route.

The number of the train is 56214 going from TPTY to CMNR. See? It’s easy to get into the railway lingo! But now, I don’t think the “up” and “down” label are used for trains any more. Just the numbers, thank you very much!

The same train going back from CMNR to TPTY, via SBC (Bangalore City Central!), is numbered 56213, and called “Tirupati Passenger.” Yes, station-name spellings are often very inconsistent.

On the way to Chamarajanagar, I decided to note the altitude of each station.

You can find this information for almost all stations if you observe the large signs for the station at both ends of the platforms. Here is the picture of such a sign for Bengaluru City.

Bengaluru City railway sign at the station, showing altitude information.

The bottom left corner has the altitude, marked with ‘MSL’ and a number. You read this as so many metres above Mean Sea Level (sea level varies a little due to tides, so they use an average or mean value for that).

Here is a question for you: Why do they have that “+” sign in front of the number?

For two stations, I could not read the sign because they were too far from me. So, I left them out of my data records. Here are my data:

[table “14” not found /]

I plotted these data on a graph.

Altitude changes on train travel Bangalore to Chamarajanagar

The actual change in altitude from SBC to CMNR was 394 (897 – 303 = 394) metres. If you study the graph, it would seem that there were not many steep ups and downs in altitude. But beware! We don’t have information about the altitudes between stations; we have them only AT the stations.   Still, this is interesting because it helps you to understand data collection and using data intelligently.

For this year’s summer vacation, will you be traveling by train for your holiday? If yes, why not gather some geographic information online or in person? (In either case, be sure you have an adult friend or family member with you for safety!)

In the new school year, when you return from vacation and your teacher asks you to “write an essay about your summer holidays”, you can write a more interesting essay than before because you can add geographic data to your essay!

And guess what else? You will have done geographic research – having collected data, organized them into a table, graphed them, discussed them, and presented them.

If you do this kind of research and want to share them with others, send your essay (with data) to The Indian Institute of Geographical Studies:

We will publish them on the geography blog here,

Have a great journey!

Explore! Geography virtual field research on Indian Railways!

You can find altitude and other geographic information for a station here. Here’s how:

  1. Type the name of the station in the “to station” box.
  2. This will give you a list of the stations that match the text you entered.
  3. A list of stations will appear that the system thinks matches what you typed in.
  4. Click on the station for which you want information.
  5. The box changes colour and shows the name of the station, with a  down-pointing triangle.
  6. Click on that triangle to get a pull-down menu. In that, you will find an option: “Map”.
  7. Click on “Map” and you will see a lot information for this station.
  8. On the right of the page, you will find a list of other stations for which you can get similar information.

I left out two stations from my data. See if you can find that information from this site.

Virtual geography on Indian Railways! Okay, you can’t go on every route. Not yet, anyway. Why not have virtual (that is, online) train journeys? The journey I took on 56214 and 56213, you can take online! Also, you can plan your own journey. Explore this interesting site and see if you can do some virtual geography travel. For each station on your chosen route, you can get information from India Rail Info.

At RailRadar, you can also find out exactly where your train is right now! (Well, with a gap of 5 minutes or so, for security reasons.) Beware! This site is very fascinating! You can get so absorbed at this site that you may forget where you are! So, spend your time wisely — make short visits! 🙂 Pick any route and identify as many physical and cultural geographical areas that you will traverse on that route.

Geography by numbers!

Whichever train you choose to travel by or to simply research, has a number.Does this number have any meaning? Or is it simply a sequence number? You would be amazed at the detailed geography that these numbers represent! Check out the meanings of the numbers of the trains I took (56214 and 56213) here. You can also choose some other train’s number and find out about its geography.You can have quite a railway adventure online!

Join the Indian Railways Fan Club!

Hereis a site full of all manner of information about Indian railways through the years. If you are fascinated by trains, history, and — of course — geography, this is a must-visit site.  Join the Club if you find it interesting. Share thoughts and images. Ask questions about Indian Railways from other Club members.This is a great way to add another dimension to the romance of trains!

The featured image of the WP engine with this blog post’s summary on the home page of TIGS is courtesy of Indian Railways Fan Club.

An earlier version of this post was published in 2013.
This is an updated version: 3 November 2023.
Some links have been updated and some extraneous text has been deleted.
The data table is missing from the site, hence not displayed.


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