The International steam Pages
The Black Beauties Reborn
Samarendra Kumar, Chief Works Manager, Northern Railway Mechanical Workshop,
Amritsar writes about their part in assisting the steam revival in India.
Amritsar workshop is the oldest workshop on Northern Railway. It was built in 1901 by Head Works division of Punjab Public Works department (Irrigation Branch) to repair their machines and equipments. Later on, in 1942 it was taken over by the Defence Department and converted to an Ordinance factory. The Punjab Government took it over again in 1947, so as to manufacture equipments for Bhakhara Nangal Dam and it was 1956, when Indian Railways took over the Workshop and started POH (periodic overhaul) of steam locos. It continued for next 30 years, during which 12 categories of steam locos were overhauled, but with the advent of diesel and electric traction on Indian Railways, steam traction tapered down and eventually became extinct.
However, nostalgic demand for restoration of rhythmic chugging and whistling in form of quintessential chhuk-chhuk and synchronized throw of black smoke from steam loco was seen catching up the taste of European/British/American tourists. In view of high value for steam locos, in the eyes of global tourists, Northern Railway’s administration decided to preserve and revive the few leftover steam locos, as heritage assets. Rehabilitation of the black beauties was entrusted to Amritsar workshop in mid-2012. In this connection, it is worth mentioning that this workshop had earlier carried out major repairs to KC-520 steam loco of Kalka- Shimla narrow gauge heritage section, in early 2011. Unfortunately, during a long gap of 26 years, most of the skilled staff and supervisors had retired and engineering drawings/ specifications became untraceable. It became a daunting task at this stage, to revive the process of POH. The only way out was to try - and - hit, essentially groping in darkness. However, this exercise did give clues to identify the persons who could be having faint ideas of revival activities. A few recently retired Railway men from Amritsar workshop along with some old timers, a few on the verge of retirement from Moradabad division, and some skilled personnel from Rewari steam shed (near Delhi), joined hands to form a conglomerate. The conglomerate which was having its own handicaps, took some time, initially to develop inter personal communication channel (both formal and informal) and working understanding. Their brainstorming sentimental charge to Chhuk-Chhuk (rhythmic chugging) and gradual socializing, ultimately led to formation of a well-meaning and cohesive team. Their effort was further emboldened by the encouragement and motivation from HQ’s Mechanical wing and from the local administration. This culminated into understanding and attention to motion components, under gears and others, the background of which was long forgotten in this workshop. Thereafter, came the timely supplement from a Ludhiana based trade source, which proved to be handy in overhauling the steam loco’s boiler. The team carried out small things, day-to-day and its synergic performance resulted in successful revival of the following three locos, in a record time of 6 months (August 2012 to January 2013), in addition to KC-520 and a miniature loco;
At present, following rehabilitation activities are underway, at this workshop:
The work executed so far and experience gained, have gone in to making staff and supervisors confident for the present assignment and to undertake periodic overhauling of steam locos in future.