Steam Update - Autumn 2000

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 ISRS Newsletter No. 2/3, Summer/Autumn 2000.

Would steam in India make it to the 21st century? For several years now this was the popular topic of discussion and speculation in the steam enthusiast circles. With the fighting spirit that it has always been reckoned with, 'steam' did make it to the year 2000 and Wankaner steam shed on Rajkot Division of Western Railway had the honour of being the last regular working steam shed in the country. Brian Manktelow, fellow ISRS member and a veteran of 18 visits to India since 1977 got the rare opportunity to witness the last days of steam at Wankaner. He reports: -

"Timetabled steam services finished on Thursday February 3rd, 2000 when YG 3437 arrived at Wankaner at 2130 Hrs hauling 411 Morbi - Wankaner passenger virtually unannounced and unnoticed! YG 2-8-2s 3360 and 4369 were the other locos working on this day At the 11th hour a farewell to steam special train was sanctioned and YG 3360 was superficially cleaned overnight with slogan boards in Hindi proclaiming 'Mera Bharat Mahan' ('My India in Great'), 'Jai Hind' ('Hail India') affixed on the sides of the boiler and a brass plate saying 'Sandhya' (Evening) fixed on the front lamp bracket. This loco was expected to haul a VIP last steam special due to run sometime on the Friday the 4th February YG 3437 was also in steam as standby on the morning of 4th. However the loco still hadn't left the shed by the time we boarded the late running Saurashtra Mail at 1100 Hrs and the engines was still in the same position (cold and minus its name-boards) several days later when we passed through Wankaner en route to Vadodra. So whether the steam special actually ran or not, we do not know!" Therefore, we would be interested to hear from anyone who knows whetherthe last steam special planned on 4th February actually ran or not. Several enquiries at Western Railway headquarters at Bombay and Rajkot Division office yielded no replies at all.

Further Brian says, "On the final day of steam at Wankaner, YP 2825, YG's 3261/3318/3334 were having their tenders emptied of coal and being prepared for storage joiningYPs 2150/2211/2233.The remaining locosYP's 2683/2813 and YG's 3525/4129/4138/4159/4182 were all condemned, several of them extensively cannibalised. YG's 3360, 3437 and 4369 were being retained in working order for breakdown trains and other emergencies like diesel railcar failure."

On a more positive note, the end of steam at Wankaner was not to be an absolute full stop of all steaming activities on IR. We reported in the last issue that WP 7161 (4-6-2) was borrowed by Western Railway to take part in celebrations following completion of 100 years of Churchgate Headquarters. Although this function failed to materialise, the loco was steamed'up at Bandra diesel loco shed, where itwas stored, fora shooting of a Hindi Film called 'Veer Sawarkar'. At least the visit to Bombay was not entirely a waste forthe WP 7161 as is got a much sought after chance to work in a Bollywood movie. Viraf Mulla reports:-

"WP 7161 was steamed on 15th February for the shooting of 'Veer Sawarkar' in BAMY shed. Bharat Vohra and myself were present there, ready and well equipped with our cameras. Lucky for us that the railway police and the shed staff tcok us both to be from the film unit so no questions were asked. Her majesty the WP gave a grandiose performance during the run pasts with every retake hauling a light load of four coaches. The only hitch was that she was masquerading as SMR i.e. Scottish Midland Railway perhaps a namesake for the London, Mkiland and Scottish Railway (LMS). Another case of poor research of railway content for the cinema. So for this dubious role, the existing Palace On Wheels board was replaced with a one saying SMR on the buffer beams. The coaches were also camouflaged in some vague light brown livery to look like period wooden coaches. Lucky for us the camouflage was on one side only and we were clicking away from the other side with the evening sun in our favour. The WP crew arrived on 15th morning by The Flying Ranee from Udhana to fire and drive the loco. What a remarkable evening it was! It brought back my childhood memories of when steam ruled supreme in Bombay and it was after almost a lapse of twenty years that I saw a WP in Bombay AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER!"

The Doon Valley Railway celebrated 100 years of its foundation this year and the Moradabad Division organised extensive celebrations for the event under the leadership and guidance of Mr. P C Sharma, DRM Moradabad. Amongst other things, a special WP hauled train was organised to carry the chief guest of the function, Kumari Mamta Banerji, Hon. Minister of Railways. WP70l5 was chosen for this event and the first trial run was conducted on March 13th at Delhi on the Ring Railway lines when it hauled a delighful wooden tourist coach, which was previously being used by the Butterfield Tours. Several Delhi based ISRS members were able to join and enjoy this spectacle of steam by a WP in Delhi after a gap of neariy six years. Subsequently the loco was despatched to Haridwar where it made two trial runs between Haridwar-Dehradun before the final event. The special run for the minister on 24th June however was sadly cut short to only 10 Km single block section run between Dehradun and Harrawala.

On the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), things were to change forever and absolute reign of steam for 120 years on this line was jeopardised by the introduction of only diesel hauled services between New Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling on May 22nd.This hasty step could alter the presentation of the line forever and will surely affect the tourist traffic as well since steam has always been one of the biggest appeals of the line.The only silver lining behind the clouds at the moment is that steam has been retained on the Kurseong-Darjeeling 'School' train and the seasonal tourist special between Darjeeling-Ghcom. IR has also given several assurances that steam will be retained on DHR for the Ghcom specials and steam charters but this has little meaning for the steam enthusiasts who want the diesels to be removed and the services to be put back on 100% steam haulage (See elsewhere in this issue for more details).

MLR 740 (1907) was one of four Orenstein and Koppel tank engines with articulated coupled axles on the Klien-Lindner principle, which worked on the Neral - Matheran narrow gauge in the days of steam. After the closure of steam on this route, 740 went to Leighton Buzzard Railway, a preserved railway society in Bedfordshire, England. Following many years of being kept in storage, the society recently decided to restore this locomotive to full working order. After a complete overhaul the boiler was reunited with the frames in January and clearance tests taken.The next major event in line would be the steaming up of the rebuilt boiler and there would be no doubt many ISRS members who would like to be kept updated about the progress of this engine. Edwin Lambert who also works as a volunteer Guard on this railway has provided the above details and pictures and has promised to send more news forthe members as it happens.

As the steam pressure in the ISRS boiler rises, one can expect a few more special steaming events in days to come. The latest is line is a proposal to put back some steam on the Neral - Matheran line as well. We had expected that this announcement would mean revival of either MLR 739 that is incarcerated at Parel works of Central Railway or the MLR 741 which is plinthed at Matheran station. But we were surprised to learn that two of the B class locomotives from DHR are being sent to Neral instead. Although this will give the enthusiasts a rare opportunity to witness an unusual motive power on this line, we still feel that the best bet for the Matheran Light Railway (MLR) would be to have one of the old MLR class loco revived and used here for these were the locos that were spedally designed and ordered to work the sharp contours of this line.

At the time of going to the press we have the most significant news for our readers that of a possible revival of an already removed historic rail link with an added incentive of broad gauge steam thrown in as well. Read on;

The HRH group of hotels has several heritage properties in Rajasthan. One of them is the Gajner palace at Gajner which is located about 35 Km away from Bikaner. Gajner Palace was the former hunting lodge of the Royal family of Bikaner. A metre gauge line was constructed from Bikaner to Kolayat (famous for its pilgrimage sites etc.) in 1922 via Lalgarh Jn. which also brought Gajner, a crossing station between Lalgarh and Kolayat, on the railway Map. There was also a Royal siding of about ~ Km that connected the palace to the Gajner station. The branch line to Kolayat was converted to broad gauge (1676 mm) under the project uni-gauge of IR. The private siding to the palace was also removed soon after independence. Now the HRH Group of Hotels has embarked upon an ambitious project of heritage restoration by way of steam locomotive excursions from Bikaner to Gajner for their guests. We at ISRS are thrilled at this prospect of private enterprise taking interest in the revival of steam heritage for we feel that this project will take shape faster and bring tangible returns and show the true potential of Steam Heritage Tourism. However one must understand that it is not a cakewalk - the laying of new tracks alone would cost upwards of Rupees 10 million. Then there is requirement of two steam locomotives, broad gauge at that which makes them even rarer birds so the total project cost including restoration of sidings, station etc. could range between 30 to 50 million Rupees. The Chairman of the HRH Hotels Mr. Arvind Singh Mewar however is upbeat and positive about bringing this dream project to fruition. HRH Hotels have also displayed the Royal Saloon of State of Bikaner at the Lalgarh Palace Complex at Bikaner, which is a top draw amongst the visiting guests. They also have a plan to park an original renovated royal dining car at the Gajner Palace as well, creating a new standard for heritage hospitality. We wish the HRH group of Hotels the very best in their pioneering endeavour. The ISRS is committed to support this venture in every possible manner.