INDIA: Small team of engineers and technicians resurrect some of India's rare steam locomotives in effort...
- Title: INDIA: Small team of engineers and technicians resurrect some of India's rare steam locomotives in effort to keep alive relics of the past for future generations
- Date: 17th May 2011
- Summary: REWARI, HARYANA, INDIA (MAY 15,2011) (REUTERS) A STEAM ENGINE RUNNING ENGINE DRIVER TURNING THE LEVER COAL BEING SHOVELED INTO THE ENGINE'S FIREBOX FLAMES INSIDE THE FIREBOX FIREMAN SHOVELS COAL INTO THE FIREBOX PRESSURE GAUGES SIDE VIEW FROM A RUNNING ENGINE
- Reuters ID: LVALZCWY7N17C1Y15SXCQGNF8JX
- Location: India, India
- Country: India
- Duration: 00:00:56
- Topics: Transport
- Usage Terms/Restrictions: None
- Story Text: Spurred by childhood nostalgia, a love for the old-world charm and a drive to keep the relics of the past alive, a handful of technicians are reviving some of the world's oldest steam locomotives at a shed in northern India.
Every Sunday this heritage shed in Rewari, some 80 kilometres from New Delhi, comes alive to the whistles and chug of steam engines as they are fired up for tourists to view the "Black beauties" which ushered in the industrial revolution in India and formed the lifeline of the nation.
A team of 25 technicians, engineers and assistants have painstakingly resurrected and brought back to life eight steam locomotives and are giving finishing touches to another one in the northern Indian town of Rewari.
The job was not an easy one as factories making the spare parts had shut down, engineers specialising in steam locomotive maintenance and repair have long since retired and resources available were limited.
Vikas Arya, Senior Divisional Mechanical Engineer with the Indian Railways and one of the driving forces behind the Rewari Steam locomotive Shed revival plan, said they wanted to preserve the heritage for the future generations and show the children what it was like to ride in steam powered train.
"The way it whistles and they have fire in their belly and that fire is visible. I believe for a common man that is fascinating to see a huge 120 tonne engine which can move just on steam. They are the most beautiful machines you can find in the world," said Arya, whose childhood dream was to become a steam loco driver.
The first steam train ran between Bombay and Thane in western India on April 16, 1853 and for nearly a century and half, steam powered trains criss-crossed the nation, initially serving the British empire and then helping unify a young independent India.
But as technology changed they were replaced with faster and more energy efficient diesel and electric powered engines.
The last steam loco, built by British Valcun Foundry, ran between Firozpur and Jalandhar in the northern Indian state of Punjab on December 6, 1995.
Steam enthusiasts rue the fact that India lost out on a great piece of heritage when it consigned thousands of steam engines to scrap once they were phased out.
A small workforce at Rewari is doing its best to bring some of them back to life.
However, many of those working on the task are nearing retirement age.
"Our main concern is that with the phasing out of steam locomotives from Indian Railways we are not inducting people who would come as trained steam engine maintainers. So, these few people, 20-25 left here are from the old age of steam trained. We need to preserve these skills, so our biggest challenge is to have people who have the skills, who have the know-how to maintain the steam engines," Arya said.
After the steam locomotives were phased out in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Indian Railways stopped training people on steam locomotives.
One technician feels they need to pass on their skills to the next generation.
"We are worried that once we retire from our jobs, who will take care of these locomotives. We need people now who can learn something from us and then become capable of handling them on their own," Lal Chand said.
The 100 year old shed has been granted a heritage status and has been renovated, while keeping its original character alive.
A museum has been refurbished to take visitors on a nostalgic journey of steam locomotives in India and a half-century old salon has been converted into a dining salon with a bar to attract tourists.
Since most of the locos are imported they could prove to be major magnets for international steam locomotive lovers.
Arya added that the future plans include running a steam powered train on the New Delhi-Rewari route on a regular basis to ferry the tourists.
Om Prakash Sharma, a supervising technician at the shed said no amount of technological finesse could replace the old-world charm of a steam locomotive.
"What is really unique about it is its rhythmic movement along with the sound that it makes -- a nice whistling sound that is very attractive and draws people towards it. When it moves through an inhabited area, people just know that a steam engine is passing bye," Sharma said.
Looking to the future, the Indian Steam Railway Society, established in 1999, has earmarked 53 routes for steam heritage train journeys in India.
Many of the journeys include scenic train routes such as Darjeeling, Niligiri and India's erstwhile hill capital of Shimla, which organisers hope will be popular with tourists.
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- Embargoed:1st June 2011 13:00