Mere Sapnon Ki Rani....
by Sridhar Joshi
Trip Report on the Trail Run of the Fairy Queen at MAS on Saturday, 1st October 2005.
It was a normal Saturday morning, and having nothing to do, except the rounds of the few newspapers, I was surprised to receive a call, early at about six thirty. It was my friend and alter ego, Rajaram on the line, who informed me that the Fairy Queen was in town. Would I take the trouble to do a story for the journal that we usually write as freelancers?
As I banged the phone down and cursed myself for being downright silly for not knowing that Mere Sapnon ki Rani was in town, I started dialing furiously for contacts and finally got the PA of the Chief Workshops Manager of Perambur Loco Works, who welcomed my photographer and me to see his boss and of course, take photos of the Queen - he however, cautioned me to be in latest by 10.00 hrs, lest the CWM leave for inspections.
We were there at 9.50, and were quickly ushered into the cabin of the CWM, Shri Rangarajan, a very friendly interview was done, and he was kind enough to give the details I wanted for the story. He also asked his PA to get a pass ready for two of us alongwith the camera of the photographer - for entry into the workshop. This was when I my mobile vibrated - the vibration of a railfan! Gowrishankar was on line and was exicted. I had to stop the man writing out the passes midway - include Gowri's name and add another camera to the list, and slightly impolitely set a deadline of 10 mts for Gowri to reach. Throwing his coffee cup halfway through - I could visualize Gowri driving like tearing mad - going under the closed LC gate at Villivakkam, he was there - in about nine minutes, his camera waiting eagerly for shots of the Queen.
We were quickly taken into the long winding way into the workshop and were really excited to see EIR 22 - the Fairy Queen, glistening black in the dim lights of the shop - with men crouched all over her, under her, tightening up loose ends, some furiously working up the coal into the burners - or boilers?, some wiping away the last dust particle et al. Had it not been a train engine going by this name, and had it been a real queen - this would have made a porn film!
Explanations, history, renovation, resurrection etc. all made their way into my mind as the AWM - a very informative, technically sound Shri Parimalakumar, kept updating us on everything around us about the Rani. Shortly after, Shri MS Rangarajan, a Retd SSE joined us - and as it turned out, he was on the team that firstly resurrected the loco in 1997. People were calling him, and he was kind enough to help his mates in what was the fourth overhaul of the loco since resurrection. This was a sort of a landmark overhaul - akin to an Open Heart Surgery, he said, since all the 120 0dd boiler tubes made of copper were replaced with new ones. Whoever said that queens have soft hearts has to just see the hard hearted - nay, copper hearted queen.
A sleeper coach was quickly coupled to the Queen and it was out of the shop shortly thereafter, with all of us clinging firstly to any available hold on the loco, then moving into the coach. The queen and its entourage was taken out on a disused line, and all the bushes and the crushed growth under the wheels literally took the steam off the queen. The wheels were moving fast and furious - the queen was stuck with nowhere to go - the wheels were slipping.
A quick ingenious solution like sand also did not work, and before long, a WDS 4B was pulling away the coach and the queen back to the shops. The mandatory checks, tightening of bolts etc over, the queen and the coach made their way out, with the 4B positioned behind the coach. We would have covered about half a kilometer and we had to stop - this time for watering. All this took time upt0 12.30, and we were really hungry.
In between, Ramprasad called and expressed interest in joining us - left the court in a huff - hope he's is not hauled for contempt - and joined us right outside the main gate of the Loco Works, with the AWM nodding his head to the security to let him in. He also joined the band of photographers (all three of them posing as working for the same newspaper!). The AWM coaxed us into having lunch with them - he did not know that we needed any coaxing, and would eat anything that came our way. Hot Tomato rice, curd rice with potato curry and pickles - bottles of mineral water et al were devoured - just as the Queen was getting its share of coal and Water! Lunch and watering - a cigarette outside the Main gate all took its own time - and we were out again at about 13.30 hrs. The queen made light work of the load right upto the end of Road 3 at the Workshop siding lines and came to a dead halt. The gate ahead was open, and the idea was to just test the queen, before the main line clearance was given. The rear WDS 4B hauled us back just to the edge of the shunt signal which would usher us into the main line.
As the queen let out the Jets of steam - coal dust, water particles literally doused us and suddenly there was a competition amongst us as to who were the faririest of them all - read darkest of them all. The Fairy Queen again won hands down, after all, she is a Queen and a winner all the way.
Officers including the friendly Awm walked the 300 mts to the cabin to get the main line clearance. We were shocked initially when the main line clearance was denied. The controllers were not willing to give clearance without an SLR - or we had to detach the SL coach, and make do with the WDS 4B - when the clearance could be granted to a coupled engine for the next two blocks.
That option was taken, and suddenly we found ourselves short of space. Hanging on to the loco railings, now getting into the WDS 4B, Gowri and me perched ourselves at vantage points in the shunting loco, so that we could get full and uninterrupted view of the Queen in her full flow. The shunter loco took us into the main line, and the shunt signal was cleared in no time. Again the Queen showered us with water droplets and coal petals as she chuk bukked her way on the main line. The next signal was a caution - not that it really mattered to us. The Queen was not hauling us at full clip - it was working on the handbrakes. The compressor motor was being repaired, and was not attached. Hence the handbrakes.
The experienced driver from the NMR rrequisitioned was exasperated at the situation - the sheer number of people on the Queen. Many of them had to disappointedly head back to the DSL loco gangway, some had to leave, and we were two members short - the ET photographer, the real one, and Ramprasad left us.
As we trundled into the Villivakkam station, the crowds were eagerly looking at the engine as though they had hadn't seen one - at least the kids were. People who had read in the newspapers that the Queen was in Chennai were out in full strength on the sit outs, the street sides and cheered.
We went past the VLK station into the line meant for Anna Nagar trains, and stopped past the LC gate. There was a lot of confusion about the watering. A tanker was there, but the gate could not be opened for about half an hour if the Queen were to be watered there. We came back on to another line and into the VLK station, and the engine was watered there.
A quick smoke, a cup of juice and hour of waiting. It was during a chat that MS Rangarajan, SSE narrated the experiences of the 35 odd trial runs in the NDLS Rewari section that he made for various dignitaries after the resurrection. And no tale was more bizarre than the one where he was approached by a high ranking dignitary form the British High Commission to buy the loco for 30 mn pounds. Would Mr Rangarajan also leave the railways to work for him at the York Museum? Both the offers were flatly declined, one by Rangarajan n the other by the GOI, and now as they say, the rest is history.
The remainder of the run was beautiful, with some people lined up near the Padi station, and the train was hauled back into the PLW by the WDS 4B.
Immdly after this is a mail I had earlier sent clarifying the presence of a compressor.
As for run itself, it has been a wonderful privilege and a godsend for us, to have ridden the Fairy Queen - the oldest steam locomotive. The whistle, unlike the horn of the monsters now is still meek and musical. The rhythmic chuk buk, the coal dust, the water droplets all add to the thrill and joy of making a journey that is all but forgotten now. It was a great Saturday for all of us, the one that saved us more than twenty thousand rupees - that is what one gets to pay for a trip on the Queen. More than the money, it was a dream come true for us at Chennai. We only wished that we could more IRFCAns on the bandwagon - guess we could have arranged more passes, but the time was so short.
Have tried to bring the report as it happened that day, and hope you enjoy reading. Keep your queries coming.