Preservation Priorities: A suggested top ten

by Bill Aitken

This article was originally published by the Indian Steam Railway Society (ISRS) in its newsletter, and is reproduced here by permission, which is gratefully acknowledged. Copyright for the material here rests with the ISRS and the author(s) of the article. The ISRS is the premier organization in India engaged in preservation and efforts to promote awareness of the country's railway heritage.

This article originally appeared in the FNRM Newsletter No. 2, Summer 1998.

Everyone has his or her own list of Most Urgent operations to rescue railway history, threatened by undiscerning humanity and uncaring time. Here is my own top ten items I dream of seeing enacted. Happily, already some of them have been acted upon and others are under active consideration. Members suggestions are invited.

  1. The metre-gauge steam-hauled section out of Udaipur should be maintained for long-term tourist interest. The last steam locos built in India (the YP and YG class) can be shedded in Udaipur and used for occasional running of tourist trains between Udaipur and Chittorgarh which is a very scenic section. Since water and coaling facilities are in place around Udaipur and Udaipur is one of the few places outside the Taj Mahal that enjoys an international tourist reputation, Indian rail history can be displayed to good effect. (The two YG locos used to haul the Royal Orient between Rewari and Delhi Cantt will have to be moved to Udaipur with the re-gauging of this latter MG section (incidentally the oldest MG line in the world!)
  2. Each zone should appoint a Heritage Inspector to earmark and collect historical items at a zonal depot. Immovable works of quality should be deemed worthy of preservation as 'National Railway Monuments'. Inventories of antique station fittings and furnishings should be kept so that when due for replacement the originals can be sent to a museum rather than be scrapped.
  3. Live recordings of the actual running sounds of the steam era should be made immediately, starting with footplate recordings of the Darjeeling, Ooty and Western Railways steam sections.
  4. All vintage rolling stock bearing nineteenth century manufacturers plates should be kept in a protected zonal siding for induction into regional museums. There is a shortage of passenger carriages. (The National Rail Museum does not possess a caboose!)
  5. A zonal directory of architecturally outstanding stations should be compiled and any additions to these quality works should be in good taste and historically appropriate.
  6. A list of the miscellaneous plinthed locomotives that are to be found all round the country needs to be made with a view to the exchange of these vintage engines. Ideally these locos should be returned to steam and moved from zone to zone to prove the innovative skills of Indian Railways mechanical tradition.
  7. Indexes of zonal archives and files should be compiled to enable valuable records to be identified and kept secure at a central archive. Obviously this involves the appointment and training of archivists. (See No. 9)
  8. Steaml / Diesel / Electric Days should be observed at the regional museums to acquaint the public with the running properties of different tractions. Drivers and running crew should demonstrate their duties and help educate people on the myriad details involved in railway operations.
  9. Railway history requires exposure as an academic discipline. The Railway Board could provide scholarships or provide avenues for railway officers to study for doctorates in transport history. Research students would automatically qualify as archivists.
  10. Popular handbooks of railway reference that give details and performance of Indian Railways most famous locomotive types would stimulate public affection and demystify for ladies the masculine image railways enjoy.

If we can convey to the public the poetry of the railways, there will be no need to appeal for railway preservation. If we manage to present the epic qualities of India's greatest engine of progress, we can leave it to the public imagination to make railways part of national folklore.