The International Steam Pages

Steam on the Ooty Mountain Railway

This page covers news from the Ooty line up till mid-2010, my apologies if it seems a little jumbled but with care you should be able to use the dates to sort it out!

Andrew Jones reports (3rd June 2010) that attempts to use redundant YDM4s from regauging on the rack section have been declared unsuccessful and that services will continue with steam for the foreseeable future. The Southern Railway has a well earned reputation for re-inventing the wheel, so don't be too surprised if they announce that they are preparing a rack diesel, even if nearly all such creatures have been diesel hydraulics in the past... 

The news from Ooty was not good (17th November 2009) according to local articles forwarded me by Andrew Jones and Chris Jeffery. No sooner was a diesel trial on the rack complete than the line was once again washed out - read the report. By early December, the railway was working hard to restore services (updated 10th February 2010), 'The Hindu' reported  on 6th January 2010 that the diesel operated section above Coonoor had re-opened the previous day and that the steam rack section was planned to resume operations by the middle of May 2010 (16th January 2010). Further information appeared on 3rd February 2010 in the Hindu (added 10th February 2010) and is included in the update above. A statement by the Southern Railway in mid-March stated that rebuilding of bridges was proceeding on schedule and that May 15th 2010 was the target reopening date (20th March 2010) and Chris Jeffrey reports (24th May 2010) that this was achieved comfortably with oil burner 37393 in regular use.

Heinrich Hubbert made what for him may prove to have been a last brief visit to Mettupalayam on 9th March 2010 (report added 4th April 2010). He saw a works train (which had a YDM 4 in the consist) returning with ugly duckling oil burner 37392, a more welcome sight was coal burner 37389 in steam although it was later pushed out of the back of the shed to make room for 37392. There was another fresh looking YDM4 here too - with rampant regauging the country has a huge stock of these surplus to requirements and, excellent machines of their type they may be, they have a very limited second hand market abroad. The upper works train was reported using oil burner 37395 with a coal burner spare, down very early and back very late with very limited photographic possibilities no doubt. General opinion on the railway is that once it re-opens at least one YDM 4 will be used each day on the rack, which would mean that an oil burning steam loco would be used on the seasonal second train or as spare. The traditional coal burners would then have almost no use except for the enthusiast specials which the railway appears to have no interest in operating. Like Darjeeling, the railway now has a set of 'bus bodies on steel wheels', this situation is hardly what anyone would recognise as being implied by World Heritage Site status - it sounds as if the Indians are running a close second to the Chinese in terms of bastardising such treasures. The Southern Railway is now almost free of metre gauge and it is reported that at least one area in Kerala is 100% electrified. Such is 'progress', this is not the wonderful old India many of us griced in our younger days... Those with a long memory will remember that being far distant from coalfields, the SR broad gauge lines were the first to eliminate steam.

Alexandre Gillieron found the railway working normally and very attractive in early 2006 (17th March 2006). However, it was washed out (again) in late 2006 and had still not re-opened by mid-January 2007 although a steam powered works train was in use from time to time, as reported by Jan Willem van Dorp (12th January 2007). Shortly after the railway reopened and the Southern Railway has since announced its intention to convert its steam locomotives to oil firing in view of the summer fire risk. One oil fired locomotive 37391 was shown being delivered in the 'Tamil Murasu' newspaper dated 11th March 2007:

Indian Railways do not have a glorious record in the field of oil burning and either this locomotive (or an earlier conversion) was reported to have failed ignominiously a few days later (all this 18th March 2007). Alex Jesserer was here in April 2007 (report added 29th April 2007) and confirms that this loco would never have won a Black (or Blue) beauty contest. Happily it was under repair at Coonoor, being said to be not be steaming well. What a surprise! He states that on 16th April 2007 the summer season started and thereafter there are two scheduled trains running until mid-June - the normal service train 661 leaving Mettupalayam at 07:10 and the Summer Special 669 at 10:00. The locomotives are reported to be in much better condition than a year ago, with the trains running to time. Normally the service train had 5 and the Summer Special 4 coaches. X 37384, 37386 and 37393 shared the duties with number 37386 the star performer with 4 clear exhaust beats and a solid thrash when she propelled up 5 fully laden coaches up the rack on 21st April 2007. X37392 was cold at Mettupalayam, 37389 had running repairs at Coonoor. I have now (23rd May 2007) added a page of four recent pictures by Alex Jesserer and Harsh Vardhan.

Reports in South Indian newspapers (24th June 2005) indicate that the railway will shortly acquire World Heritage Status to join the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, it appears this was achieved in early July 2005 (25th July 2005). 

Roy Laverick was here at New Year 2004/5 (14th February 2005). Dileep Prakash has been to Ooty in April 2003 and reports it looking healthier than for a long time (7th May 2003). Previously, Heinrich Hubbert tells me (13th January 2002) that a landslide washed away a 100ft bridge at Hillgrove and service on the rack was suspended. Damage was severe but has since been cleared.

While official policy is to try to build new locos for Ooty (whatever happened to those much trumpeted tenders?), in practice the existing locos are being put through works for a thorough overhaul. The IRFCA newsgroup has reported that a second loco was complete and would be steam tested on 20th November 2000 (added 21st November 2000).   Steam continues on the rack section, Donald Bell was here in late February 2001 (13th March 2001)

ex-Indian resident Takahide Yamamoto was here in early September 1999: "After the total dieselization of the adhesion section, the rack section continues to be all steam worked. Not being in the high season, only one round trip (train No.561 and 562) was operated in rack section, even though the new Southern Railway Timetable indicates both round trips are daily. Two steam locomotives were steamed daily, one on duty, the other staying at Coonoor as reserve. The loco used on train No.562 were 37389 on Sep. 3, 37393 on Sep 4 and 5. No.37390 was plinthed in front of Coonoor station. At Mettupalayam the only loco seen was that came braking down train No.561 and it pushed train No.562 up to Coonoor on the following day. Accommodation changes of coaches are in progress. One or two coaches out of four used on one train are now modified ones, destroying nice old day looking of the entire train! The security at Coonoor depot and Kallar station was tighter than ever before. The loco foreman or the stationmaster came very soon and threw me out. If serious photographing is intended, getting written permission from the authority in Delhi is advisable. But my application has been ignored every time!"

I.S.Anand reports from his pilgrimage down south: (27th September 1999) where he  visited the Golden Rock Workshop (in Trichi on the SR RD) where he saw and photographed 3 Nilgiri rack steam locomotives being completely stripped and rebuilt with new cylinders and fittings. They will emerge as brand new locos. One such loco will be ready by December 1999. Also seen in the same naked condition was the grand old lady "The Fairy Queen". She was being revamped for the coming excursion season this winter. (Compare this with the report above..... RD)

Rob Dickinson