Monday 29 May 2017 News Updated at 09:05 AM IST
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Steam engines offer a peek into history - Deccan Herald
Steam engines offer a peek into history
Mrityunjay Bose in Mumbai,
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A railway engine outside Kurla station in Mumbai.
Super-romantic song "mere sapno ki rani…” in Rajesh Khanna-Sharmila Tagore hit "Aradhana” that makes one fall in love again, the superb nail-biting action sequence featuring Sanjeev Kumar, Dharmendra and Amitabh Bachchan in blockbuster "Sholay”, the memorable sequence of Satyajit Ray’s "Pather Panchali” and an item number like "chal chaiyya chaiyya” Shah Rukh Khan-starrer "Dil Se” have one thing in common: steam engines!

And 'rail gaadi…rail gaadi…chhuk chhuk chhuk’, was probably India’s first rap song. Legendary actor the late Ashok Kumar sings in "Aashirwad” about trains and life even though no train is seen in the song sequence.

The "chhuk-chhuk gaadis” or "injans” are definitely missed now!

The "chugging” or "chuffing” sound in a steam locomotive, smoke billowing out, the sharp whistles are a passe now - except for a select few countable heritage trains across the globe - but these engines reflect the rich railway heritage of the country.

The first thing that one does when he looks at a steam engine is to click a selfie. "Steam engines have their own charm and they cannot be replaced. We should have more steam engines on display in Mumbai. I am sure there would be a few somewhere here and there that are not on display,” says veteran tour guide Raj Suri, who also publishes tour guides and maps of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

The National Rail Museum in New Delhi houses a few steam engines. Mumbai has the second highest with four on display at Churchgate, the headquarters of Western Railway, at Mumbai Central railway station, at Lokmanya Tilak Terminus at Kurla of the Central Railway and at Nehru Science Centre at Mahalaxmi-Worli area.

Mumbai is the birthplace of railways in Asia as on April 16, 1853 the first passenger train ran between Boree Bunder (later Victoria Terminus and now Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) and Tannah (currently Thane station) covering a distance of 21 miles (33.8 km). It also has a unique railway heritage. Hauled by three engines - Sindh, Sahib and Sultan - the original train had 14 coaches and 400 guests as passengers. It left Bombay at 3.35 pm and reached Thane in 57 minutes.

When steam engines were phased out, decommissioned ones were put on display outside big railway stations across the country. "We cannot think of the history of Indian Railways without steam engines….the Bollywood films, the backdrop, the sound….steam engines just cannot be forgotten,” says Vimal Mishra, senior journalist and writer, who has penned "Mumbai Local”, one of the first books on the history of railways in this commercial capital of India.

"Railway engines are of immense heritage value,” added Rajendra B Aklekar, a railway heritage expert and historian, who had authored "Halt Station India-The Dramatic Tale of the Nation's First Rail Lines.”

On April 16, 2002 - when Indian Railways turned 150 - steam engines were brought in and a heritage run was enacted between CST and Thane for which thousands of people gathered along the railway line to have a glimpse of the steam engines. The event was planned and organised by the Central Railway, the successor of Great Indian Peninsular Railway - which laid the foundation of railways in Asia. Hauled by two WP Pacific class locomotives (WP #7015 and WP #7161) and with 14 coaches, seven old, heritage ones refurbished from the National Railway Museum and six brand new all metal light-weight high-speed coaches manufactured in co-ordination with Alstom LHB, Germany.
None of the steam locomotives on display in Mumbai actually worked in metropolitan city, Aklekar points out.

At Kurla, the railways have showcased an old F-class steam locomotive numbered 716. Records state that this locomotive was once used on the Barsi Light Railway that opened in 1897, a 2 feet 6 inches-gauge railway line in western India. It was the brainchild of British engineer Everard Calthrop, and regarded as having revolutionised narrow gauge railway construction in India. The line operated as a privately-owned line till 1954 when it was purchased by the Railways and continued to be operated until its conversion to broad gauge in 2008. It was placed here in 2011 when the LTT station was remodelled.

At Churchgate, the engine on display is a W-class locomotive. The W class NG locomotive No 585 was manufactured by M/s W G Bagnall Ltd., Stafford, England, in 1922. Condemned in the 1990s, this loco is the only surviving loco from that branch line after steam engines made way to diesel engines. This loco operated on the Bilimora-Waghai Narrow gauge (2'6" gauge) section in Gujarat. It was placed here in 2007.

The Mumbai Central station loco, popularly known as Little Red Horse, was manufactured in 1928 by M/s Kerr Stuart and Co., England. It operated on the Devgarh-Baria Railway Narrow Gauge line and owned by the Princely state of Devgarh-Baria. Later it became part of Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway (the forerunner of Western Railway) in August 1949. The engine was in service for 61 years, and was shifted to Pratapnagar workshop for shunting duties in 1990. In 1991, to commemorate its platinum jubilee celebrations, authorities placed the engine in front of the Mumbai Central station.

The steam engine on display at the Nehru Science Centre is 807C, a part of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. It ran on the Kishanganj Extension from 1915 to 1950 and up to 1967 around Siliguri, hauling both passenger and goods trains. Manufactured in 1907 by North British Loco Co Ltd, Glasgow, England, this C-Pacific Class loco has 2 feet gauge.

According to Suri, the steam engines were very much part of Mumbai’s culture, but since the eighties they were slowly phased out. "In fact, both on the Central and Western lines there used to be the facility to change the direction of steam engines,” he said.