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


‘Hooter’ to alert loco drivers

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention and the same goes for innovation. And so, some imaginative engineers from Signalling and Telecom wing of the South Central Railway (SCR) have come up with a ‘Hooter’ to warn locomotive pilots (engine drivers) if they beat a ‘red signal’.

As most innovations that attract the spotlight go, this one too appears rather simple and tests conducted between Cherlapally and Moulali stations between June 10 and 15 turned out to be pretty successful. Going by the description, the device consists of two track circuits installed on the tracks two km before what’s called the ‘home signal’ before an approaching station.

As soon as the locomotive approaches the two-km mark before a station and there is a red signal ahead, a shrill warning erupts from the ‘Hooter’ located 800 metres away from the station, in the form of a noise that lasts a full one minute. There is a default setting though. The ‘Hooter’ makes a noise only if the train is travelling over a speed of 40 km per hour. If it is well within the speed limit, it means the pilot is anyway alert and there is no noise.

“This is just an imaginative, intelligent thought by our engineers that was taken forward. We will soon be sending across the details of the prototype to the Railway Board for further tests and approval. Once it is fine-tuned and standardised, it might well be used across the country,” says D.P. Pande, General Manager-SCR. He described it as an innovation that did not require any great technology but only the fundamentals. “The device just provides a warning to the loco pilot. It does not have the ability to shut off the locomotive on its own but only serves as an added safety mechanism in a worst-case scenario. After all, there can be no compromise on safety.


Vintage machines find ‘pride of place’

Three majestic machines, including a vintage rail locomotive, a narrow gauge coach and a British-era classic steam road roller, have been given “pride of place” on the Divisional Railway Manager’s office premises here.

A classic steam road roller and (below) a vintage rail locomotive at the Ferozepur railway station.

These machines, two of which were recently brought to the station, were unveiled during a recent ceremony by Divisional Railway Manager Naresh Chand Goyal.

Goyal said the vintage machines had become a centre of attraction not only for the passersby but also for the entire railway staff.

Weighing eight tonnes, the steam road roller was manufactured by Aveling and Porters Limited of Rochester. It was dispatched from England on February 28, 1908. It first arrived in Karachi. Though several steam road rollers of different specifications were imported from England then, only a few of them are available now.

About the locomotive, Goyal said it was last run on the Kalka-Shimla rail section where it remained in service for over 40 years.

The MAK-21 model, with a single turbo-6 cylinder engine, weighs over 36 tonnes. It was manufactured by Chitranjan Locomotive Works. The narrow gauge wooden coach with a carrying capacity of 29 passengers was also used on the Kalka-Shimla section. It was built in 1979 by the Jodhpur railway workshop. Officials had also placed another vintage locomotive in front of the main entrance of the railway station.


Rs 200-cr locomotive plant to be set up in Sehore

An Indo-US joint venture firm has announced to set up the first diesel locomotive plant to manufacture environment-friendly and fuel-efficient railway engines at Sherpur village in the adjoining district of Sehore.

The firm will invest over Rs 200 crore for the project. Disclosing it to the media persons the Managing Director of the Daulatram Engineering Services Pvt Ltd CP Sharma said his firm had entered into a partnership with the US-based National Railway Equipment Company (NREC) to star the pioneer project in the state.

According to him, it was the first such example in which a private firm was given the permission in the county to manufacture diesel locomotive.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Industries Minister Kailash Vijawrgiya will lay the foundation stone for the ambitious project at Sherpur village on Saturday, Sharma said.

The plant will be set up in a 50 acre land already acquired by the company. “The joint venture has already bagged the order from Indian Railways and Chennai Metro to manufacture two such engines for them. These are currently being manufactured jointly by the company along with Diesel Locomotive Modernisation Works in Patiala,” he said. These two locomotives will be rolled by January next from the Patiala unit, Sharma said.

The next five locomotives will be rolled out from the new facility in next 18 months.


Shatabdi, Rajdhani set to become faster

In a bid to reduce travel time of train journeys, the Railways will induct Electrical Multiple Units (EMU) train sets for all Shatabdi and Rajdhani services. This will increase the speed of these trains to 160 kmph from 90 kmph.The proposed train set will have 21 coaches and with its distributed power arrangement, it is touted to be highly power efficient. Each EMU set will cost the Railways Rs 200 crore.

“The existing locomotive-hauled trains has speed constraints due to poor acceleration and deceleration capabilities. The proposed modern distributed powered EMU train sets will be free from these bottlenecks and will substantially reduce run-time,” said a senior railway official.

Officials say the EMU train sets will have driving cabs at both ends. “This will reduce the required turn-round time of the train at terminal stations by 15 minutes. It is being estimated that such a train set can do an extra trip per day in inter-city route like Delhi-Chandigarh, Delhi-Amritsar or Mumbai-Ahmedabad,” the official said.


“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.