AROUND FIVE years after it was looted, vandalised and rendered useless in Delhi, Fairy Queen, the 166-year-old, world’s oldest functioning steam locomotive, came back to life on Saturday, resuming its run between the Delhi Cantonment station and Rewari in Haryana, some 123 km away. The long restoration process involved replacing 32 valuable parts, stolen in 2011 from its shed in Delhi Cantonment station. The parts stolen included the original steam whistle, Also stolen were the shiny brass coat of its dome, parts of its “crown”, and the gleaming ladder next to the boiler. The boiler itself was found riddled with holes.
The news of Fairy Queen’s vandalism and subsequent actions was first reported in The Indian Express on December 22, 2011 ). The Railways subsequently hauled the Fairy Queen to its workshop in Perambur loco workshop near Chennai in 2011, from where the train has rolled out now. “A seven-year-old kid was one of the passengers today. We made him inaugurate the run,” Uday Singh Mina, director, National Rail Museum, said.
Saturday’s up and down run had 22 passengers, including some American tourists, mostly steam locomotive enthusiasts. The two coaches are especially designed with glass panels at the front so that the engine can be seen live in action by passengers. It is fit to run at 60 km per hour; on Saturday, it clocked 40.
In its earlier avatar, Fairy Queen used to haul a tourist train to Alwar but this time the run has been cut short to Rewari because tourists prefer day trips. Rewari has India’s oldest and only restored steam locomotive shed, which Railways has turned into a tourist attraction for enthusiasts. This run also marks 40th year of the National Rail Museum.
The locomotive was constructed by Kitson, Thompson and Hewitson at Leeds, England, in 1855, and reached Calcutta the same year. On arrival, it was given fleet number “22” by its owner, the East Indian Railway Company, not receiving a name until 1895. Initially, the 5 ft-6 in (1,676 mm) gauge locomotive was used to haul light mail trains in Bengal. It was later consigned to line construction duty in Bihar, where it served until 1909.