NEW DELHI: Vintage steam locomotives in India will be seen running on tracks once again. From hauling the iconic Palace on Wheels to regular commercial services on small routes, these locomotives will be making a comeback 25 years after they were phased out from train operations in India.
To begin with, Railways has started a weekly train service with a steam locomotive on the outskirts of Delhi. Hauled by 1947-make steam loco “Azad”, a passenger train began its operation on 23 September between Garhi Harsaru and Farukh Nagar near Gurugram in Haryana. This is the world’s only broad gauge commercial train service with a steam locomotive. Officials said that the revival of steam locomotives was also aimed at promoting tourism.
Presently, the train is being hauled by “WP7200AZAD”, a broad gauge steam locomotive made in the US. It was brought to India in 1947, the year of Independence, and is hence named “Azad”.
Arun Arora, Principal Chief Mechanical Engineer of Northern Railway, said: “There was a longstanding demand for a passenger train between Garhi Harsaru and Farukh Nagar station on Sundays. So Northern Railway decided to start a steam engine-hauled train on the route, also keeping in view the tourism potential in the region. This is the only regular steam locomotive broad gauge service in the world.” Arora added that at present, Indian Railways occasionally operates steam locomotives on mountain railway corridors like Kalka-Shimla and Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.
Arora said that by November this year, Railways also plans to use steam locomotives to pull Palace on Wheels. According to the plan, a steam locomotive will haul the luxury train from Delhi to Rewari in Haryana and, thereafter, a regular diesel locomotive will replace the steam engine. Two vintage steam locomotives, namely Azad and Akbar, are being revived at the Rewari steam locomotive shed in Haryana.
The two mountain rail corridors under Northern Railway—Kalka-Shimla and Pathankot-Joginder Nagar—will also have regular steam locomotive trains in the near future. Officials are planning to begin a regular train service from Shimla on a steam engine, keeping in view the large footfall of tourists. Later, steam engine hauled trains will be started on the narrow gauge line from Pathankot to Joginder Nagar which passes through the picturesque Kangra Valley and Palampur in Himachal Pradesh.
Similarly, railway engineers are also reviving two steam locomotives at the National Rail Museum in Delhi, that have been lying defunct for the last three decades. These include a Ramagooty steam engine, which is similar to the Fairy Queen, while the other is a fireless steam locomotive. They are expected to be ready by this year end.
Ashwani Lohani, Railway Board chairman, has asked the Northern Railway to revive the steam locomotives by this year.