Neral-Matheran steam engine yet to begin ‘return’ journey

Adverse conditions at hill station and a recent fuel conversion have limited vintage engine to trial runs

enginee-mainमथेरण Matheran (MAE):  At Matheran, even as repeated trials and repairs keep the steam engine busy, ‘adverse’ conditions at the hill station and a recently introduced fuel technology has kept the vintage beauty away from railway passengers. Although delayed by a year, Central Railway (CR) continues to hope that the engine will soon run between Neral and Matheran.

“So far, the engine is not in a position to run. We are trying our best to make it operational,” said Mukesh Nigam, Divisional Railway Manager, Central Railway.
Manufactured in 1917 at Baldwin Loco Works, United Kingdom, the engine named B-794 is green and black in colour and has red and white strips running through its edges. A white star in the centre gives volume to its face.

The heritage engine boasts a pumped capacity of 1,818 litres of water. In 2013, on the first week of May, the steam engine was sent to Golden Rock workshop in Tiruchirapalli from Neral station for fuel conversion from coal fired to a more dramatic oil fired platform.

With the heritage sensibilities to be safeguarded, the Central Railway chose the Golden Rock Railway Workshop (GOC), adjudged to be the best workshop in the Southern Railway for the task. It also manufactures steam locomotives and wagons.

After the fuel conversion, the steam engine was brought back to Neral station, following which the CR began trials. The Railway is hoping to bring the engine into service later this year. Around 10 oil- fired steam engines are running in Nilgiri mountain railway, said CR officials. An official said replicating the model in the Neral -Matheran section has proved ‘adventurous’ as there are are more curvatures and gradients here.

Also, the steam engine is old, making it too precious to try on difficult terrains. After the environment department imposed a ban on running steam engines on hilly railway sections, CR decided to change the fuel technology from coal fired to oil-fired to ensure that the steam engine would continue to emit huge clouds of smoke, reminiscent of a traditional steam engine.

The decision to convert from coal to oil  was also taken to avoid damaging the immediate environment of the hilly railways. The flames coming out from coal fired steam engines often sparked fires in the dry bushes alongside the tracks. There are no flames reported from the oil fired engines, said an official.