Black steaming beauties and the old world charm

Vintage delight:A miniature working model of a steam engine on display at the National Steam Congress at Rail Museum in New Delhi on Sunday.– Photo: S. Subramanium

“The unique sounds, the rocking gait, the shrill whistle, the throbbing body and an open design are features that impart an irresistible charm to these black beauties,” writes Ashwani Lohani of the Indian Steam Railway Society (ISRS) by way of explaining ‘Why talk of steam now?’ It is the same “charm of these black beauties” that brought Mr. Lohani and many other steam enthusiasts to the tenth National Steam Congress here on Sunday.

These die-hard steam enthusiasts believe in the unique personality of each steam locomotive and are pushing for the growth of a niche tourism segment in the country known as “Steam Heritage Tourism” so “children know what our heritage is”. Yet with the United Kingdom boasting of 1000-odd steam engines, India hardly has a handful. “The 1990s were bad years for the steam locomotives in India especially with a massive drive by the Indian Railways to sell scrap and get money out of it. What could be better than a steam locomotive which has 150 tonnes of steel?” asked ISRS president L. K. Sinha. “Thankfully, a handful of steam enthusiasts scampered for the last of the engines and put it on a pedestal.”

While the steam engines are “about passion, love, and commitment they get lost in the daily grind of the Indian Railways”, said Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor CEO Amitabh Kant, who suggested creating a unique centre to manage this heritage. “All of us need to participate vigorously. This is a huge legacy that India has to preserve in the best possible manner.”

Among the vigorous participants was Anil Kapoor, a lab assistant at a Railway workshop in Amritsar who was presented with an award of excellence for his philatelic collection on steam locomotives. “I’ve been collecting stamps since I was 18. My father was in the Railways and I have always been fascinated with the Chuk Chuk Gaadi ,” he said.

Among the stamps which were on display at the Congress include that of the ‘World’s First Railway Locomotive Richard Trevithick’, ‘Chief Mechanical Engineers of Britain’s Great Western Railways’ and stickers from India’s South Eastern Railways which was known as the ‘blue chip railways’. “Steam heritage is common to all countries so you will find a lot of my stamps from places such as Maldives and Zambia with pictures of Indian locomotives,” said Mr. Kapoor.

More die-hard enthusiasts such as Mr. Kapoor were commended for the efforts in furthering the cause of steam and among them were representatives who work with the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways and the Nilgiri Mountain Railways. But there are also others who conjured up images of the black beauties with their words such as former BBC journalist Sir Mark Tully and writer Bill Aitken.

For all those who wanted to know how it all worked, there were two working steam locomotives and a working miniature model on display.

A treat for steam loco enthusiasts

Apart from a discussion on developments related to steam locomotives in India and overseas, the tenth National Steam Congress to be held at National Rail Museum here this Sunday will see a philatelic exhibition as well as a photo exhibition.

Hosted by the Indian Steam Railway Society, this annual event will see participation of steam enthusiasts and experts from India and abroad.

According to Society founder-member Ashwani Lohani, the public needs to understand that steam locomotives are part of our heritage. “Even now, they evoke excitement among the young and the old. People get a feeling of déjà vu when they step into the steam locomotives which we run at National Museum every day.”

However, both the philatelic exhibition and the photo exhibition on steam locomotives would run only for a day. “As this annual exercise is held for a day, we did not want to change the structure.”

Mr. Lohani said the participants would get to understand how the steam locomotive movement began in the United Kingdom. “Two experts from the U.K. — Cedric Lodge, a steam locomotive expert, and David Barrie will be sharing their perspective. During 1970s, the steam locomotive movement started. This is the reason why 1,000 steam engines are running in the U.K. for tourist purpose.”

Veteran journalist Mark Tully, who is passionate about Indian Railways, and writer Bill Aitken and will participate in the discussion.

Presentations will be made on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and the Nilgiri Mountain Railway.

A steam locomotive brought all the way from Rewari and a miniature steam locomotive from Amritsar will be on display at the Museum.

The Society will also honour individuals and organisations for their contribution to the cause of steam locomotives.

Raising a toast to steam railways

In an age of high-speed trains that help you reach your destination in double-quick time within the confines of air-conditioned luxury, there are still very many who believe that these modern contraptions can never match the romance of the steam engine trains. If you are one of them, then head towards the National Rail Museum this Saturday for the 9th National Steam Congress organised by the Indian Steam Railway Society.

The congress is being conducted to celebrate the transformation of the Rewari Steam Shed from a dilapidated structure with decaying engines into one of the finest steam locomotive sheds of the world.

“This event will give a fillip to the preservation of steam locomotives and also propel the growth of the niche Steam Heritage Tourism section in the country,” said Indian Steam Railway Society president Romesh Chandra Sethi.

In 1997, the Indian Railways revived the Fairy Queen which then entered the Guinness World Record for the oldest locomotive engine in the world, which brought steam locomotives into the limelight in India.

BBC’s Sir Mark Tully will be delivering the key-note address and Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society (U.K.) vice-chairman Paul Whittle will be making a presentation on the steam engine scene in the U.K.

Luminaries from various fields like the Archaeological Survey of India, British Council, INTACH, Aga Khan Trust, Ministry of Tourism and Ministry of Railways are expected to participate.

A presentation by the Indian Steam Railway Society on the recent “resurrection of steam locomotives” will be then be made at the Rewari Steam Centre and nMOU will be signed between the Indian Steam Railway Society and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Society (U.K.).…cle2905725.ece