Oil-fired steam loco for hill railway

Equipped with new oil–fired system, the narrow gauge steam locomotive is all set to chug in the lush green Matheran Hill Railway in Maharashtra. The 96-year-old steam loco ‘B 794’ will henceforth run using high speed diesel as fuel instead of coal in the 20-km eco-sensitive section from Neral to Matheran located on the Western Ghats range in Raigad district.

The ‘B’ class engine was dispatched on Monday from the over 80-year-old Golden Rock Railway Workshop here, which was entrusted with the task of converting the firing system of the loco from coal to oil. The Golden Rock Workshop accomplished the firing system conversion work within a span of 30 days after receiving the loco in April end.

As coal-fired system was posing problems to environment besides causing fire at times from the small particles of burnt coal flying out of the loco’s chimney in the eco-sensitive Matheran region, the Railways decided to convert the loco into oil-fired to avoid such situations in future, workshop officials said. The Golden Rock Workshop was chosen for the task as it had experience and required expertise in conversion of firing system from coal to oil. The workshop had already manufactured oil-fired steam locos for the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway and the Nilgiri Mountain Railway.

As part of the conversion work, the 15.5 tonne steam loco has been provided with twin head burner, combustion blower with air control, fuel pump, electrical control unit, fuel oil system accessories, and diesel oil tank.

The oil tank with a capacity of 800 litres has been installed in the bunker area where coal had been stored earlier. The 5 KVA generator set to power electrical items has been installed in the side platform of the loco which will run at a speed of 13 km per hour hauling four coaches. The loco has been given a fresh coat of polyurethane painting. The modification work has been carried out without affecting the heritage value of the loco, said P. Mahesh, Chief Workshop Manager. This is the first time that a narrow gauge loco has been sent for conversion of firing system from the Matheran Hill Railway, Mr. Mahesh said.

A technical team from the workshop will monitor the trials in the hilly Neral–Matheran section before the steam loco with oil-fired system is put into operation. The cost of conversion was Rs. 20 lakh. The loco was flagged off by S. Sundarrajan, Director, National Institute of Technology, Tiruchi, on the workshop premises.

The Neral- Matheran Light Railway was built between 1901 and 1907 by Abdul Hussein Adamjee Peerbhoy at a cost of Rs. 16 lakh. It is operated by the Central Railway now. Matheran is connected to the town of Neral, which lies at the base of the hills, by narrow gauge rail.


Suburban rly coaches to be made in Trichy

Southern Railway plans to manufacture coaches for suburban trains atitsGolden Rock Workshop in Trichy. A feasibility report to produce Electric Multiple Units (EMUs) and Diesel Electric Multiple Units (DEMU) at the workshop,one of the three maintenance workshops in the railway zone, will be prepared and sent to the Railway Board for approval.

The move follows a suggestion by Parliamentary committee on railways president TRBaalu,who held a review meeting to assess railway projects in Southern Railway. In a statement T R Baalu said “Southern Railway general manager Rakesh Misra has promised to prepare a report and forward it tothe railway board.”

Golden Rock workshop was founded to carry out periodic overhaul of metre gauge wagons and coaches. It started periodic overhaul of board gauge coaches of express trains after metre gauge was phased out.The work shop became the first choice of the railways when it wanted to identify a workshop to make steam locomotives for Nilgiri Mountain Railway.

“The unit is capable of doing production work if adequate machinery is included because it has well-trained workers,” said a railway officer.

Thereis a shortage of rakes for suburban trains and railways are not able to introduce new suburban services promised for Chennai in the budget. Railway board has also given a contractto private companies to manufacture EMUs using a design prepared at the Integral Coach Factory. However, ICF workers have been opposing the move to hand over designs.

There is pressure on railways to manufacture coaches at maintenance workshops owned by different zones. In Southern Railway, coaches are maintained at Golden Rock at Trichy, Carriage Works and Loco Works at Perambur.


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.


MatheranTracks to be lit up with LED lamps

For a nature lover and one looking for new experiences, Matheran could just be the destination in about a fortnight.

This mountaintop dense forest will have the added attraction of a ride back downhill in the narrow gauge train after a view of the breathtaking sunset. It will be a night safari through the forest and mountains under the security of lights.

The Central Railway which manages this 22 km ride has decided to illuminate the Matheran Light Railway (MLR) track with the latest LED (light emitting diode) lamps to add a new dimension to this tourist spot of heritage importance, though convincing Unesco to grant recognition has become an uphill task.

Generators will be installed to light up the Matheran track in compliance with the directives of the Commissioner of Railway Safety. He had refused to give clearance to run trains after sunset on this 107-year-old route between Neral and Matheran without proper lighting arrangements.

For smooth operation of the LED, a windmill energy system will be put in place. It will keep the track illuminated and provide power to the stations en route and the sleepy township located 800 metres above sea level, set in the forest at the top, as the name suggests — Matheran.

The windmill will be another step towards protecting the ecology of this region. Vehicles are not allowed beyond Aman Lodge station from where one has either to trek or go horse-back or by train alone. Hand-drawn rickshaws are available for local movement.

The township survives on the Railways and this was evident when torrential rains washed away the tracks in 2005. The delay in reviving the loss-making section had pushed the people towards penury. The Railways re-laid the track in 2007 bringing tourists back to the place facing the Western Ghats, and reviving the local economy. The revenue for the Railways is just about Rs. 60 lakh while they spend Rs. 6 crore to operate the two-hour journey that curls through dozens of exhilarating slopes and sets up the challenge of the “one kiss tunnel” to its romantically inclined passengers — that is steal one if you can.

The night running of trains is part of the programme to make the section more viable, stressed Central Railway general manager Subodh Jain, and push the earnings to Rs. 4 crore annually. The track has now been prepared to be used even during the monsoon, unlike in the past, to encourage round-the-year tourism.

Matheran has no blacktop roads; the broad pathways are dusty and rocky — allowing rain waters to percolate and preserve the foliage.

Two factors have come in the way of Unesco granting it world heritage status. After the torrential rains, the steam engine was replaced with a diesel locomotive.

A fortnight ago, the Railways did experiment with the steam engine to fulfil the UN body’s conditions but found it a fire hazard with the grass and tree boughs kissing the train in several places. They caught fire and the Railways decided against reviving the steam engine as it could set off summer forest fires.

The Railway Board intends to again petition the Unesco despite the rejection of its earlier proposal in 2009 to secure world heritage status for this mountain railway.

The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway and the Kalka-Shimla Railway are now on the World Heritage list since 1999, 2005 and 2008 respectively.

Mr. Jain however maintained that the Railways and other government agencies were taking care of the entire region with commitment, adhering to world norms to maintain the ecology of the hillock irrespective of whether Unesco extends a helping hand or not.


Documentary on Hill railways of India bags UK award

A documentary series on the hill railways in India has won the prestigious Royal Television Society Award of the United Kingdom early this week. The three-part series —shown by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC)— is based on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, the Niligiri Mountain Railway and the Kalka Shimla Railway. All the three hill railways are the UNESCO world heritage sites.

Of the three films, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was directed by Tarun Bhartiya, a Shillong-based Indian director with an all Indian crew. The other two films, Kalka Shimla Railway and Nilgiri Mountain Railway, were directed by Hugo Smith and Nick Mattingly.

“The hil railways is a metaphor of life in India. The railways are unique in their own way. They flourished during the British Raj and are still running brilliantly. There are so many folk songs based on these trains. Also, the film was shot against the backdrop of the 2009 elections and Gorkhaland agitation,” says Bhartiya. “Culture of the people here is so different than those from the plains,” says Gerry Troyna, the producer of the film.

The film got overwhelming response in UK. “The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway has a character called Sita Chetri who is a porter and climbs the hill to make a living for her family of five. A widow, she wants her eldest son to study in the best college in Darjeeling, but the lack of fund makes it difficult. After watching the film, we got several mails from people willing to help her,” adds Troyna.

Troyna has made several films on the Indian Railways. His six-part series on the Great Railway Journeys in the 1980s included his journey from Mumbai to South India. The series got BAFTA nomination for best documentary series. He also won accolades for his series on documentary on the Bombay Railway, Monsoon Railway and Indian Hospital Train-The Lifeline Express.

Constructed by the British for their luxury, these hill railways have now became a lifeline for people in the hills.


Nilgiri Mountain Railway, visit by British visitors

Udhagamandalam: The train of the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) which is normally hauled by a steam locomotive upto Coonoor from Mettupalayam and then switches to a diesel engine to complete its journey to Udhagamandalam on Monday did the entire trip with a steam engine.

The reason: among the hundreds of passengers was a group from the United Kingdom which had come not only for the coveted experience of travelling by the NMR but also give valuable tips on how to improve services on the line.

The 16 member group including three women were from the Leighton Buzzard Railway (LBR), Bedfordshire, United Kingdom. Run by a non-profit organization, the Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway Society, the LBR is operated and managed by unpaid volunteers and funded principally by the proceeds of the service. Pointing out that the railway which was built in 1919 was a product of the First World War and its 90th anniversary was being celebrated this year, member of the society Alfred Fisher told The Hindu that it was twinned with the Indian Railways and the two had signed a Memorandum of Understanding for exchange of expertise. The LBR which has no employees is proud to be associated with the Indian Railways, the largest employer in the World, he added. He said that for many in the group the trip on the NMR was the first. It was made possible by the Indian Railways.

Stating that the journey was beyond their expectations, member and mechanical engineer Mike Weedon said that taking care of steam engines had become a way of life for them. Describing the NMR as a magnificent line, he said that it was possible to carry out improvements and make it fuel efficient. The Chairman of the Society Mervyn Leah said that the scenery along the NMR had taken their breath away. Stating that the NMR very much deserves the World Heritage Site status granted to it by UNESCO, he said that it was a unique railway which should be preserved at all costs. It should also be promoted world wide. Divisional mechanical engineer, Southern Railway J. Nagesh who accompanied the group said that the members studied every aspect of the train. At every station they got down and even travelled in the locomotive. They will submit a report containing their observations and suggestions including ways to reduce cost and making the line environment friendly. He added that the LBR was already using an engine taken from the Manthahan Railway in Mumbai.