AS HE affixes a star on the face of the century-old steam retrofitted diesel engine loco, a fitter at the Neral car-shed of Central Railway claims this marks the return of the heritage loco in the Mumbai division of the railway. The Central Railway plans to use the steam engine on the heritage narrow gauge section of Neral-Matheran by March this year.
“Before it is put into service, we will re-modify the engine to ensure it is a replica of the original steam engines that plied on the suburban system till 1982. Its front-head will be covered with a circle of stars. The engine will be cleaned and re-painted afresh in dark green, black and pink. According to one official, “Viewers will be transported to the heritage era.”
According to plans, the tickets for a ride on the Neral-Matheran section on the steam loco will be on the higher side, and the train will run with fewer coaches. “The existing toy train, though popular, does not attract much ridership on weekdays. The heritage steam-loco engine will attract tourists from across the world. This can attract revenue to the division,” said a senior railway official.
Manufactured in 1917 at United States company BLW, the 794-B engine has been used extensively in the Darjeeling Himalayan railway. After the CR received the engine in 2001, the Southern Railways’ Golden Rock Workshops retrofitted it into a diesel loco.
“After diesel locos replaced steam-run locos in the Matheran-Neral section in the late Eighties, maintenance of the steam locos became difficult. The loco also required certain technical parts that were not manufactured in the country. While other steam locos were preserved, this one was retained to be put to use in the future,” added a senior railway official.
Burning of diesel oil, as opposed to coal, produces the smoke that is emitted from the chimney of the engine. The whistling sound has also been retained in its running. As opposed to existing diesel locos that have five automated power brakes, this one is fitted with a handbrake. In comparison with existing diesel locos, it will be able to pull fewer coaches .
“The Matheran-Neral toy train section had four original steam engine locos — numbered 738, 739, 740 and 741 — that plied between 1907 and 1982. On the four locos, two are now placed at Neral and Matheran stations, one at the National Railway Museum in Delhi, and one runs on a meter gauge section in the United Kingdom. Steam locos add to the tourist value of a hill station such as Matheran and its revival could will accentuate its importance,” said Ali Akbar Adamjee, second great grandson of Sir Adamjee Peerbhoy, who built the railway line between Neral and Matheran in 1904.
However, authorities claim the loco has shown “poor” performance in the last three trials conducted between December 20 and December 28. Authorities say the loco fails to pick up speed on hilly terrains and curves.
The operation and maintenance cost of this engine is ten times more than the existing diesel-run loco engine of the toy train. At present, retired and senior staff who have worked with steam locos are assisting the existing staff in its operation.
“Steam locos are driven in a different manner. I have driven many steam locos since my joining the Railways in 1975. I am excited to see its return in the system,” said Raja Khade, retired loco pilot of the Central Railway.
The loco will ply after it is deemed fit for it by the Commissioner of Railway Safety.