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the-south-asian.com                         November  2000

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Steam Nostalgia - Back on Tracks

by

Saikat Neogi

 

 

steam_engine2.jpg (34049 bytes)
F 734 - the first locomotive to be manufactured in India in 1895 at the Ajmer railway workshop. It was used on the Rajputana-Malwa and the Bombay-Baroda circuits.

 

The steam engine may yet be back on the tracks, re-living an era gone by. The Indian Steam Railway Society (ISRS) consisting of a group of rail enthusiasts are assisting the Indian railways in putting energy back in the wheels of the steam engine. At the time of independence there were over 3,000 steam engines under operation - the largest fleet in the world. Today, over 50 years down the line there are just two that are non-functional most of the time. Some of the locomotives that the society wants to rejuvenate are the Sher-e-Punjab, the Ramgotty and others that simply go by numbers---WL 15005 WP-7200 and E-207.

 

 

Man has had an enduring romance with railways. The 'iron devil' as it is endearingly called, conjures up visions of a mammoth steam- bellowing black engine chugging through green fields, dark tunnels and river bridges hauling a string of red carriages. Today, years after most of the steam engines have been phased out, old-timers still remember them with a tug of nostalgia. And most have a story to tell.

The steam engine may yet be back on the tracks re-living an era gone by. The Indian Steam Railway Society (ISRS) consisting of a group of rail enthusiasts are assisting the Indian railways in putting energy back in the wheels of the steam engine. The group comprises, among other people, Mark Tully, the former BBC India hand, R.C.Sethi, a retired General Manager of Indian Railways, Harsh Vardhan, a steam engine researcher and Arun Mohan, a train enthusiast who is the proud owner of a steam locomotive.

The three tourist circuits, which the society is suggesting for running the steam engine-pulled trains, include Udaipur- Chittorgarh, Bikaner-Jodhpur and Coonoor-Ooty. These have been specially identified since a number of overseas tourists who travel on these circuits come from Britain who have a special fascination for the British Raj era.

" Similar societies exist in Europe and we felt that we should have one in India as well. After all our country has had a long history of steam engines," says Ashwini Lohani, director, Ministry of Tourism who earlier played an important role in setting up the National Rail Museum in Delhi.

steam_engine-fairy_queen.jpg (34296 bytes)
Fairy Queen - the world's oldest surviving locomotive

Indeed, India has had a long and a lively history of steam engines. At the time of independence there were over 3,000 under operation - the largest fleet in the world. Today, over 50 years down the line there are just two, which are non-functional most of the time. Some of the most prestigious - but now defunct- engines are preserved at the Rail Museum, others have been languishing in railway loco-sheds and many sold out as scrap.

 

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