The International Steam Pages

A Passage Round India, 2014
Leighton Buzzard Indian Adventure

Andrew Robinson reports on the trip of a lifetime between 30th January and 10th February 2014.

As a member of the Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway volunteers I came across this trip that knowing the majority of the participants and being assured despite the difficulty I have with mobility, with a liberal use of taxis, rickshaws, and anything else that goes on wheels or legs (horses) combined with the element of arranged bus transfers it would be suitable for me. I could go on the break of a lifetime, so we decided to go.

We went to India to visit some of the Hill stations, steam Railways and utilising a variety of transport modes. With such a vast country it was to be confined to the area of North West India near to the golden triangle. Our triangle however was a different one to the tourist trail of Agra, the Taj and Mumbai. Our visit took in a few days in Mumbai with starter of a private visit to the railway control centre for the Mumbai suburbs out roughly the 150 km that was their patch Heavily loaded and intensively timetabled all doors open in transit (Health & Safety goes out of the window here- or door)! The magnificent Victoria Terminus now renamed. Chhapravati Shivaji Terminus, designed and built by the Chief Architect F W Stevens, it was commenced in 1878 and took over ten years to complete.

There is a Heritage Gallery housed within the station offices with a full history and also a compact but comprehensive museum called the enthusiastically demonstrated to us by staff guides. This site certainly deserves its UNESCO World Heritage status.

On the way back to our basic but clean hotel,  I was directed towards the terminus of the Central Railway at Churchgate which incidentally was not the original end to this stretch of track. Nearby in the grounds of the Western Railway HQ roughly opposite the end of the station platforms, there was a plinthed 2'6" gauge steam locomotive W 585. After another day exploring Mumbai we travelled by various taxis some built to a 1950’s /60’s design Some Government officials were favouring the use of the Ambassador style body cars.

We travelled on the early morning Koyna Express to Neral, a rural junction village, and transferred on to the 2'0" narrow gauge railway. At Neral the former Central Railway steam fleet 738 is plinthed. There is   spectacular scenery en route to to Matheran which is a wonderful traffic free village - other than horse transport or rickshaw throughout the hill station. To greet us there at the station was another steam locomotive which also formerly worked this line 741. Covered liberally in red sand/dust, not unlike Torquay, there was a pleasant cold swimming pool at the Hotel, a heritage one, both in décor and accommodation .It boasts delightful gardens in which the chalets are located , complete with wild monkey population kept at bay with a catapult!

DHR Loco 794 has been converted to oil firing but the trial results have not been good it may be reversed, it was in the shed at Neral which we visited next day, journeying down by taxi.

Some of us took a look over the diesel shed, locos and shops, the current standard traction is these diesels numbered in 500 series.

A day later, after travelling to Neral on a 7.30 am train we transferred by coach to the airport in Mumbai somewhat earlier than we had intended as our 10.10 train was cancelled. 

So it was on to a domestic flight from Mumbai to Delhi arriving at 17.55 from one very noisy city to another, New Delhi being constructed along next to the old. Drivers have a maniacal method of
driving on the horn. A meal in the modern part of the city was to be followed by a night train from Delhi to Kalka. However, we had word that the overnight train was running 4 hours late and our connection in
Kalka at 05.40 was in jeopardy. On a whistle stop tour like this, you cannot miss such a connection.

The train, now running 6 hours late, was abandoned and with much pumping of ATMs we hired the bus we used for the day trip earlier in the day for an overnight dash to Kalka. A stop in Waves Restaurant, Delhi suburb, was welcomed complete with Indian traditional music. Planning for the dusk to dawn dash by bus from Delhi to Kalka as our train would definitely miss the connection at Kalka some 10 + hours away, we made it with 5 minutes to spare!

Spectacular scenery on the 2'6" gauge Kalka to Shimla railway was available for the effort of not missing the Shivalik Express 05.40 narrow gauge train. That night it snowed and rained – a bit like home. We were living in a former Palace of a Maharajah. In the morning there was a visit round the Baba Bhalku Rail Museum. This a small museum we had spotted on the inward trip, only 1/2km from the station, very new containing small exhibits of a range of railway related topics. An enthusiastic employee showed us around and we took chai and biscuits. We were again greeted by Indian Railways hospitality and were shown a steam locomotive being prepared for our private steam trip in luxury the following day on a stretch of the line to Kathlegat. This was Northern Railway's tank no NL 520.Shimla – Himachal Pradesh. The superb immaculately restored two coaches comprised our train. As it was a lack of steam due to poor coal quality delayed our return considerably but no matter, the sumptuous coaches were far above our station. The hotel was in an old palace the Woodville but not much better as it was very cold since rain and snow. A taxi was required through the again hectic Shimla traffic.

The first picture shows the Station Manager's office at Shimla, the second the traffic in Delhi. Our arrival in Delhi was late that night to a much more modern hotel in the New Delhi part of Delhi.

Next day, the Heritage Museum side of the Indian Railways had laid on a special steam excursion run by the National Railway Museum Delhi from Delhi Cantonment station to Alwar alighting at Rewari Jn using a massive WP class locomotive No WP/1 7161, seen here before departure. These Pacifics were the mainstay of Indian Railways main line passenger haulage up to the 1970’s.

We were escorted to the steam museum and concentration point for steam in India in the former Rewari locomotive shed housing 8 locomotives, some in working order. Both metre gauge and broad gauge are represented together with even a Fowler Road Roller present plus a steam 7¼" line. This is a superb effort to concentrate skills and form a collection of live locomotives and staff to look after them. Incumbents at present include Fairy Queen, the oldest locomotives at present in a ‘steamable’ condition.

Firstly metre gauge YG 4245 and broad gauge XE 3634:

Broad gauge WL 15005 and Fairy Queen:

The Fowler steam roller which appears to be in good condition and under restoration:

Next day was a 'free day' taking a taxi to the Delhi National Railway Museum. Set up under the direction of the late Mike Satow MBE from the Leighton Buzzard Railway. That was a reward in itself with a huge number of exhibits large and small, but  some in a very sorry state. Darjeeling Himalayan Railway 777 was very smart having just received a repaint:

This fire engine purchased by Nazam’s State Railways is a Morris-Belsize, one of only two known to exist. Built in 1914 in Salford, Manchester for the Lallagude Carriage Wagon Workshops in Secunderabad.

You cannot go to on this museum without seeing the oddity using the Ewing system Patiala State Monorail Trainways locomotive which has a single rail to run with an outrigger for balance – not much success as it only lasted from 1907 to 1927.

Other locomotives present in varying degrees of condition mostly out in the open are a fascination. Returning to the theme of the Matheran Railway No 739.was unfortunately in a sorry state...

Well a hectic noisy and seat gripping journey round some of the tourist sites of Delhi was fitted in before our farewell dinner. 10 days on the move a success I think and I managed to keep up!!!

Rob Dickinson