A throwback to the era of steam engines

History buffs, heritage enthusiasts and curious onlookers were transported back in time to an era of steam engine trains as the oldest locomotive in the Indian Railways, the EIR 21, went chugging along the tracks here to mark Independence Day.

The 158-year-old bedecked locomotive fitted with a coach painted in tri-colour huffed and puffed its way from Platform 4 of Chennai Egmore at 11.15 a.m. for a 10-km journey to Guindy reminiscent of the era of the Industrial Revolution.

The locomotive averaged a speed of about 32 kilometres per hour though in previous runs it has clocked 41 kph.

The heritage run had a 15-minute stoppage scheduled at Kodambakkam where a large crowd had gathered to soak in the old world charm.

“Such was the enthusiasm of the public that the stoppage was extended beyond scheduled time,” a railway official said.

The EIR 21 belongs to the fabled stock of the Kitson Thompson and Hewitson Leeds in the London. The loco was shipped to India in 1855 and was soon pressed into service on the erstwhile East Indian Railway. By the beginning of the 20{+t}{+h}century, it had become a museum piece and in 1909, the steam locomotive was put on display at Jamalpur and Howrah.

Rail fan lore suggests a sort of sibling rivalry between EIR 21 and the Fairy Queen (EIR 22) for the title of the oldest locomotive — a quibble apparently settled in the former’s favour. In tandem, these two locomotives account for a slice of history having been used for transporting troops during the 1857 mutiny.

The Loco Works in Perambur which is the EIR 21’s custodian for the past several years has been taking great care to keep the locomotive track-worthy. Engineers have even retrofitted modern-day gadgets such as a GPS-based speedometer and a wireless video monitoring system on the locomotive.

The EIR 21 belongs to the fabled stock of the Kitson Thompson and Hewitson Leeds in the London.
It was shipped to India in 1855 and was soon pressed into service on the erstwhile East Indian Railway


Fairy Queen to make a comeback

Fairy Queen, the world’s oldest running steam engine that was vandalised and looted at a railway shed and rendered useless last year, is on its way to recovery and may hit the tracks in October.
Built in Leeds, UK, in 1854, Fairy Queen made its first commercial run on August 15, 1855, from Howrah in West Bengal.

The brass spare parts, almost irreplaceable, of the 156-year-old engine were stolen while it was parked at a railway shed last year. “The rare parts are being made at Perambur loco workshop in Chennai. We are hopeful of getting the engine back in October, after which it will be rolled out for tourists again,” said Ashwani Lohani, DRM (Delhi), Northern Railways.

The engine, which was brought back to life in 1997 on the mainline after being in the wilderness for almost 88 years, was given the status of national treasure by the government.

Fairy Queen, which retired in 1908, was resurrected by Lohani, also founder of the Indian Steam Railway Society. The heritage engine, which used to run between Delhi and Alwar, has also made it to the Guinness World Record.

After it was looted in 2011, the steam loco was parked at the National Rail Museum in New Delhi before it was sent to Chennai for repair last month.

“Almost everything, including its rhythmic whistle, was stolen. There were slight chances that it could be revived, but we have been told by the workshop that they have made a breakthrough by making its spare parts,” said a Railways officer, requesting not to be named.

The Railways hope that in October the spotlight will be back on the engine. “Steam enthusiasts across the world are waiting to see it again. This time, we will keep it at the Rewari steam loco shed. Its revival and preservation plan will be presented before the international steam loco experts in the upcoming national steam congress,” said Lohani.


Published in: on March 3, 2012 at 8:19 am  Leave a Comment  
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“Black beauties” fire up India’s railway tourism

The pounding of pistons, the rhythmic chuff of a locomotive and storybook names such as “Fairy Queen” are all part of the allure of India’s old-fashioned steam railways, which once tied together this vast nation.

Now, heritage train aficionados are turning their passion towards the foreign tourist market, hoping for even more attention — and preservation — for the “Iron Ladies” they love.

“Steam heritage tourism is a potential tourism sector for the country,” said Ashwani Lohani, Divisional Railway Manager, Delhi, Indian Railways.

“The presence of raw fire that fires raw power in the belly of steam locomotives attracts tourists, and the unique sound, the rocking gait, the shrill whistle, the throbbing body and an open design… are features that impart an irresistible charm to these black beauties,” he added.

Lohani, once director of India’s National Rail Museum and who piloted the historic run of the Fairy Queen, an 1855 steam locomotive recognised by Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest working locomotive, is hardly alone in his passion.

There are several fan clubs on social networking websites, as well as magazines and blogs about travel to unusual places.

Others pour their hearts into fashioning model trains or dreaming about doing so. A museum dedicated to train miniatures in the western city of Pune has over 400 working model trains which draw more than 500 people every week.

“There are people who come to purchase these models and stock them in their drawing rooms and there are those who just admire them but can’t afford to buy them because of their price, which vary from $100 to $300,” said Ravi Joshi, who runs the museum.

Now, with a growing number of foreign visitors coming for vacations and even weddings in India, tour operators are hoping to cash in on increasingly broad interest.


“There was a time when foreign travellers will be interested to travel only by luxury tourist trains of India such as Palace on Wheels,” said Ashok Sharma at travel firm Real India Journeys.

“Now there are hard-line steam railway travellers and photographers who come in huge groups every week. We refer to them as ‘narrow-gauged’ or ‘single-tracked.'”

Some 80 foreign tourists rode the Fairy Queen during its last season of roughly 12 to 14 runs, while more than 1,200 visited the National Rail Museum from October to December last year.

Yet despite growing interest, train enthusiasts feel efforts towards preservation have been few and far between after a noticeable decline in the number of steam trains two decades ago.

“Many countries, especially the UK, retained a sizable number of steam locomotives, primarily for the twin causes of heritage and tourism. India also could have retained more of steam than what it has,” said Lohani from Indian Railways.


‘Fairy Queen’ Ready to Haul Heritage Train

The ‘Fairy Queen’, the oldest surviving functional steam engine in the world is once again ready in this season to haul a heritage train from National Capital Delhi to Sariska National Park, Alwar, Rajasthan. This train, which is a great attraction among steam engine lovers across the globe, will run between Delhi Cantt. Station and Alwar from 23rd October 2010 to 12th March 2011. However, Northern Railway plans to run an additional trip on 9th October 2010 during the Commonwealth Games.

In this heritage travel, Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation will provide a comprehensive two-day tourist package including on ground catering, boarding, lodging transfer facilities, visit to Sariska National Park, cultural programmes etc. The Fairy Queen train would depart from Delhi Cantt. on day one at 09.00 a.m. to reach Alwar at 3.00 p.m. the same day, and the passengers would be lodged in Hotel “Tiger Den” at Sariska, as has been done in the past. On day two, the train will depart from Alwar at 1.00 p.m. (noon) to reach Delhi Cantt. at 6.45 p.m. the same day. It will stop for 10 minutes each at Garhi Harasuru, Pataudi Road, Rewari, Ajarka and Khairthal stations enroute in both the directions.

Tariff for full package would be Rs. 10,200/- per adult & Rs. 5,100/- for a child (half fare). Journey between Delhi and Alwar with sight seeing and stay at Sariska would be Rs. 7,100/- per adult and Rs. 3,550/- for a child while one way train journey between Delhi and Alwar only would be Rs. 3,200/- per adult and Rs. 1,600/- per child.

The tourist train will take about 2 trips every month from Oct 2010 to arch 2011. The first trip will commence on 23rd October 2010 and the subsequent trips will be on 13th Nov, 27th Nov, 11th Dec., 25th Dec., 8th Jan 2011, 22nd Jan, 12th Feb., 26th Feb. and the last rip would be on 12th March 2011.


World’s oldest steam locomotive to chug again

The world’s oldest steam locomotive is all set to chug again and thrill train lovers in a Heritage Run planned in Chennai soon. The 155-year-old ‘Express Loco’ built by Kitson Thomson and Hewitson Leeds, United Kingdom, was used in the erstwhile East Indian Railway till 1909.

Thereafter, it remained parked in Jamalpur and Howrah as a piece of exhibit for over 100 years. The ‘Express Loco’ is older than the ‘Fairy Queen’. The two locomotives have the history of hauling trains of troops from Howrah to Raneegunge to quash the uprisings in the 1857 mutiny.

The ‘Express Loco’ christened ‘EIR 21′ was brought by road to the Perambur Loco Works four months ago. A special team headed by the Southern Railway Chief Mechanical Engineer V. Carmelus took up the challenge of reviving the lost glory.

The 130-horse power locomotive was dismantled for undertaking corrosion repairs. Experts from the Goldenrock Workshop, Tiruchi, Integral Coach Factory, Chennai and Perambur Carriage Works were roped in to rehabilitate the world’s oldest locomotive.

“The only major replacement was the injector. We have introduced air brakes as the vacuum braking system is not in vogue. The steam-fired locomotive can haul at least four coaches comfortably,” Mr. Carmelus, who flagged off a trial run at the Perambur Loco Works on Thursday, told The Hindu.

Royapuram to Avadi

The Heritage Run is planned between Royapuram, the oldest railway station building in Southern Railway, and Avadi. “Depending upon the response, we may consider operating the Heritage Run at periodic intervals. It is a matter of pride for us…I am sure children and many youths who have not seen or enjoyed travelling in trains hauled by steam engines will love to be part of the Heritage Run,” Mr. Carmelus said.

He said the ‘Fairy Queen’ numbered ‘EIR 22′ that was stationed at the National Rail Museum in New Delhi was also revived by the Perambur Loco Works in 1996. The next year, it started hauling tourist trains between New Delhi and Alwar.

Explaining the salient features of ‘Express Loco’, Mr. Carmelus said it had a coal capacity of one tonne and two water tanks of 3,000 litres capacity each.

The total weight of the locomotive is 40 tonnes and it can run at a maximum speed of 40 kmph.


Fairy Queen – World’s oldest working steam locomotive

NEW DELHI: Despite recession and slowdown in tourists inflow to the country, travel by the world’s oldest working steam locomotive on the
Delhi-Ajmer route has gained momentum with the heritage train running to full capacity.

Plying only eight times a year during the first and the last quarters, the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ recognised train christened “Fairy Queen” ran with its full capacity of 60 passengers on Saturday when it left the Delhi Cantt station.

Among the passengers of the 154-year-old train, 30 were foreigners, a senior Railways official said on condition of anonymity citing protocols.

The official said passengers can now book a ticket of the train through Internet on the Railways website.

“Fairy Queen” train was rolled out for the first time by the East Indian Railway in 1855. The locomotive of the heritage train is the oldest working engine in the world.

On January 13, 1998 it was recognised by the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ as the world’s oldest working engine.

A comprehensive two-day tour package with ‘Fairy Queen’ is being offered by Railways and includes on-ground catering, lodging, boarding, transfer facility, a visit to Sariska National Park and cultural programme, the official said.

A journey on “Fairy Queen” costs Rs 8,600 for one person for both ways while the one way fare is Rs 6,000.

The train, which relives history, culture and heritage of its destinations in Rajasthan, has only one 60-seater AC passenger coach and a pantry, which serves delicious Rajasthani cuisine to its passengers, the official said.

The destinations of the train include Alwar and the famed Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary.

The train’s first journey this year on January 24 was packed to full. On February 14 and 28 also, the “Fairy Queen” ran with all 60 passengers on board, the official said, adding that for the next and last journey on March 14 for the quarter, 15 out of the 60 seats have been booked.

Nearly half the passengers were foreigners in its earlier runs this year, the official said.

During the erstwhile East Indian Railways, the train shuttled between Howrah and Raniganj stations. In 1895, it was christened “Fairy Queen”. In 1908, its service was stopped.

The heritage train was first exhibited in 1971 at the National Rail Museum, Delhi. In 1996, it was completely overhauled at Perambur workshop of the Southern Railways.

“Fairy Queen” was revived in 1997 and made its first commercial trip in July the same year. In 1999, it was recognised as the the most innovative and unique tourism project and conferred the National Tourism Award by the Prime Minister, the official added.