IR's 150th Year Celebrations: A re-run that was a runaway hit!

by Rajendra Aklekar, Mumbai, 2002

When Indian Railways kicked off their 150th year celebrations by running a special heritage train led by steam engines in Mumbai (Bombay), tens of millions of people clambered to have a glimpse of the giant steam puffing monsters which led the train. There was a near riot. It was live steam in Mumbai after nearly 20 years.

The heritage train was flagged-off by the Central Railway (formerly known as the Great Indian Peninsular Railway), the pioneering one in India, to mark the 150th anniversary of Indian Railways. The special train was planned as a re-run of the first train on the Indian soil between Bombay and Thane and had a similar composition of coaches and locomotives as that of the first train.

The first train in India (and Asia) ran over a short distance of 34 kilometres (21 miles) on 16 April 1853 between Bombay and Thane. Hauled by three engines — Sindh, Sahib and Sultan — the original train had fourteen coaches and 400 guests as passengers. It left Bombay at 3:35 pm and reached Thane in 57 minutes.

The heritage train ran the same distance, at the same time and between the same two stations — Bombay and Thane — with the same number of guests. It was hauled by two WP Pacific class locomotives (WP #7015 and WP #7161) and with fourteen coaches, seven old, heritage ones refurbished from the National Railway museum, New Delhi, and six brand new all metal light-weight high-speed coaches manufactured in co-ordination with Alsthom LHB, Germany. The past and the future.

When the first ever train had run in 1853, there was astonishment and fear of what the British sahib had brought to their land. Was it a devil vomiting fire or some heavenly powers that ran the steel injan (engine)? asked many. It was feared that traveling at such massive speeds would shorten the average life span. But there were crowds to watch the miracle run on its own.

The Bombay Times and Journal of Commerce described the event thus: "On Saturday last, the 16th instant, the Railway between Bombay and Thane was opened with all the pomp and ceremony. The whole line was densely crowded with spectators from the terminus to the flats beyond, tier after tier of the houses in the Native town were filled as thickly as they could be, by men, women and children — the heights of Nawrojee Hill and all the adjacent highland were literally crowded with anxious spectators and the scene altogether was one of great beauty and excitement."

One hundred and forty-nine years later, the scene was similar. The re-run evoked much more cheer and joy. The crowd was double its figure and there was no astonishment but excitement, excitement and more excitement. Tens of millions of people with families, women with kids in arms, and more people had come down all the way near the railway lines to watch the Central Railway's heritage steam train. The main attractions were the two WP Pacific steam locomotives that hauled the train.

Onlookers had parched themselves on building terraces, tree-tops, electric masts in the bright summer afternoon in sweltering heat as the gleaming locomotives, whistling their way, puffing steam and belching out thick grey smoke thundered along the way. The excited crowds waved hands, shouted and clapped hands. Tears rolled down the eyes of many as the "black beauties" sped past, cherishing old memories. The only thing that fell short was the official public holiday similar to that declared in Bombay in 1853, but with the labour strike call given by unions, the unofficial holiday replaced it.

The WP Pacific class (4-6-2) locomotives were introduced in India after the World War II for passenger duties, specially designed for high-ash Indian coal. Initially, these locomotives were built by Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia and Canadian Locomotive Company at Kingston, before Indian loco workshop, Chittaranjan, took over its manufacture. These engines were in active service in India till late 1980s.

WP *7015 and WP (7161, the locomotives that hauled the heritage train on Tuesday, are from the former Moradabad loco shed in Uttar Pradesh in north India. They were in a dilapidated condition till 1999 after which they were revived as a part of the National Railway Muesum's efforts to revive steam in India. The locomotives were then hired by the railways to be used for film shootings in Mumbai. The locos were completely refurbished by Parel loco shed in Mumbai in preparation for the 150 year function.

"We could never imagine that the people of this city would react like this. We expected a significant number of people to turn up to watch the event but not such immense response," said a senior divisional officer of the Central Railway. "It's truly a rail city indeed."

Even the drivers of the locomotives cherished memories of the past as they drove the engines all the way from CST to Thane amid a crowd of people lined along the tracks. "I have never seen such excitement and joy. I am very happy and proud to drive this locomotive. After all, it is after 17 long years that I am driving a steam engine," said A. H. Khan, the driver of one of the steam locomotives, hauling the heritage train.

The steam monster made it again!

This has just been the launch. A commemorative postal stamp and a first day covered was also unveiled on the occasion. Indian Railways have elaborate plans to celebrate 2002-03 as the 150 years celebrations year. Exhibitions, heritage steam runs, seminar and lots more is in the offing.

1. Inauguration

An inauguration ceremony to be held at each Zonal Railway/Divisional Headquarters Production Unit / Other Units during the Railway Week, April 2002.

2. Seminar

Seminar on "Railway Vision 2050" to be held at Railway Staff College Vadodara.

3. Exhibition on Wheel Train

An Exhibition on Wheel Train has to be prepared for being run and would move all over the country with nominated halts.

4. Railway Torch Runs.

The Zonal and Divisional Headquarters to organise Railway Torch Runs taking off from a Central location and moving on a notified route to create a wave of enthusiasm in different parts of the country.

5. Trains at a Glance Time Table.

The TAG/Zonal Railway Time Tables to carry a special feature on the Railway's contribution to the country.

6. Stamp Release

Zonal Railways and Production Units would select appropriate themes to come up with at least one stamp release / special day cover cancellation from each Railway / production unit during the year of celebration.

7. Cultural Festivals

Zonal Railways / Divisions / Production Units will organise cultural festivals at appropriate venues and showcase Indian Railways to the public.

8. Illumination of Buildings / Stations

Zonal Railways/Divisions to select heritage buildings and also important station buildings for contour illumination during the Railway Week 2002 and also 2003.

9. Picture Post Cards / New Year Greeting Cards

All official cards sent by Railway Ministers, Board Members, General Managers, and other officers to be in harmony with a theme of "Indian Railways 150".

10. Table Calendars

All Table Calendars made by any office of the Railway to blend with the theme of "Indian Railways 150".

11. Heritage Steam Runs

Zonal Railways are to take action to finalise and run one Heritage Steam Run on the first laid railway line / section of that Railway, on the pattern of the first ever passenger run, and with the same level of coaches / passengers/ invitees. Care is to be taken to create the same atmosphere such as speed of tram, timing, halts, colour scheme, uniform of staff as that of the first run.

12. Honouring Brave Railway Employees

Railwaymen who have rendered exceptional services to the country by saving human lives or preventing train accidents should be recommended by the Zonal Railways for being honoured on the occasion of Republic Day Parade, 2003, by being paraded on caparisoned elephants.

13. Honouring Oldest Living Railway Employees

Railways are to identify oldest living Railway Employees from the pension records and honour them during the "Railway Week Celebration — 2002 & 2003".

14. Bringing out Supplements / Theme Issues in Press

PR Directorate, Railway Board/Zonal Railways may sponsor Supplements theme issues in newspapers and magazines to create a positive focus upon the Indian Railways' contribution to the country and its economy.

15. Press Tours

Special Press Tours to different Zonal Railways would be organised centrally so as to facilitate the Press and Media in capturing the journey of the Organisation from the initial days to the present.

16. World Heritage Site

National Railway Museum New Delhi (NRM) to pursue the proposal for declaration of Mumbai CST building as a World Heritage Site Monument in a manner that the announcement comes in the I5Oth year of Indian Railways.

17. Nilgiri Mountain Railway

The NRM to pursue the submitting of the proposal to get the Nilgiri Mountain Railway as a serious contender for being conferred the World Heritage Site status.

18. Exhibitions at ZTCs.

Every Zonal Training Centre to hold Exhibitions at their premises for knowledge of staff.

19. Second Rail Museum

The second Rail Museum at ICF, Chennai to be started during the year.

Acknowledgement: This article was written with input from the Indian Steam Railway Society.