Tuesday, February 13, 2007


It has been a Heritage High of sorts for Southern Railway over the last few months, what with the UNESCO status for Nilgiri Mountain Railway, the renovation of Royapuram Railway station, and now the Fairy Queen making an appearance in Chennai.

For the uninitiated, the Fairy Queen is the oldest working Steam Locomotive in the world, and in entered in the Guinneess Book for this feat. Originally manufactured by M/s Kitson, Thomson & Hewitson, it was built in the year 1855, a full century and a half ago. Commissioned and operating the mail trains in the Howrah Ranigunj section of the then East India Railway, it has the now famous road number EIR 22. It was decommissioned after a prestigious service in 1909.

Later, it found itself plinthed at various locations, ending up at the National Rail Museum at New Delhi . It was restored to working order and was the pride of the Museum upto 1996, when Indian Railways decided to explore the possibility of using the engine for Heritage Runs.

"The Premabur Loco Works was given the pride of resurrecting the loco to work the main lines", informs S Rangarajan, Chief Workshop Manager, Perambur Loco Works. "The Fairy Queen has been coming to us every two years for Periodic Overhauls", he added. This is the fourth such overhaul, and this is probably the most comprehensive, since the renovation in 1997.


"The overhaul this time around is the equivalent of an Open Heart Surgery", quips R Parimalakumar, Assistant Works Manager, Perambur Loco Works. "All the tubes in the boiler were removed and replaced", he informs, making the tough job look easy. The trail run itself was delayed by small hitches along the way as the Queen made its way out on the tracks of the workshop.

We also had to wait for the main line clearance, since the Queen was to blaze a smoky trail through the Chennai Tiruvallur main line for a small distance. Frequent water filling for the loco added to the delays, though arrangements were made for tankers of water.

One could not help feeling the goosepimples as the Queen made its way on the tracks from Perambur Loco works to Villivakkam and beyond to Anna Nagar. "This has been a wonderful experience", said a Railway Official, who was inspecting the Trial Run. The pick up was good, and the Queen would stand the tough test on the Heritage run from Delhi to Alwar, which is slated to recommence shortly.

The whistle of the Queen was as good as one could get in the good old days of the Steam era. As the train chugged – it feels nice to use this word instead of 'pulled' as in the case of new gen locomotives – the distinct chuk buk sound was music to the ears. The flying dust of coal, water droplets all added to the thrill – though we ended up with our clothes soiled. As we waited for the signal clearance at Villivakkam, the eager crowds were all looking around awestruck. We soon left Villivakkam, after filling up water, and reached Anna Nagar a few minutes later.

As the Fairy Queen leaves Chennai after a well deserved rest and rejuvenation, to its rostered duties of hauling the Steam Heritage Run from Delhi to Alwar on weekends, the proudest people will be the Heritage conscious Officers and staff of the Southern Railway – who have done the unimaginable, first resurrected a locomotive that was lying unused for close to ninety years – and then maintaining it. Long live the Fairy Queen!


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