Nilgiri delight: Coal-powered loco chugs again

Nilgiri delight: Coal-powered loco chugs again

The vintage coal-powered locomotive ready for its joy ride at the Ooty station on Tuesday. DH Photo

The vintage coal-powered locomotive, which made its debut at the Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) exactly a century ago, is back in action.

The coal-fired locomotive hauled by Swiss X Class steam loco X37384, which was pulled out of service in late 2016, on Tuesday carried 80 passengers for a ‘joy ride’ from Udagamandalam (Ooty) to Ketti, covering a distance of 10 kilometre.

And, as expected, there was a huge demand among locals and tourists to take the ‘joy ride’ which comes at a cost of Rs 420 plus GST for first class and Rs 300 plus GST for the second class.

The coal-powered steam engine, which chugged below the blue sky and along the lush green mountains, offered breath-taking views of mother nature to its commuters for decades together.

It enjoys a cult status among Ooty's residents, who vehemently opposed displaying it at the railway station in the picturesque tourist town.

Over the past 6 years, the Swiss-made coal-fired locomotives used to haul trains in NMR since its inception in 1899, were gradually replaced by the indigenous furnace-oil fired steam locomotives.

However, this lone coal-fired steam loco which was fit enough to haul the train was in use till late 2016.

The coal-fired locomotive, which underwent massive overhaul, was brought to Ooty a year back to be placed as an exhibit at the railway station yard.

However, the Heritage Steam Chariot Trust (HSCT), an organisation of the NMR aficionados, made several representations to the Railway Board seeking re-induction of the engine into service, at least for joy rides.

With the first ‘joy ride’ receiving tremendous response, the Railways plan to organise such trips for tourists on national holidays like Gandhi Jayanti, which fell on Tuesday this year, and during peak summer season.

The loco, which was made in 1914 was inducted into service in NMR in 1918 and is the only surviving coal-fired locomotive on the NMR.

K Natarajan, founder of HSCT, told DH that the idea of a ‘joy ride’ was first proposed by his organisation as it would provide a vintage experience for tourists who flock to Ooty.

“The train passes through three tunnels before it reaches Ketti station, located 10 km from Ooty. We are happy that our suggestion was considered positively,” he said.

Natarajan also said that the HSCT has proposed to the Railways to extend the ‘joy ride’ to include a trip to Ullada village, very close to the Ketti station, to help tourists interact with villagers, which is known for its ethnic sweets and snacks.

“Ullada is a picturesque village that has featured in many Indian movies and instead of just making it a joy ride, the Railways should allow passengers to visit the village and enjoy its beauty along with its residents,” he said.

The mountain rail is very famous among tourists who flock to the Nilgiris for their holiday, the hill station also hosts thousands of foreign tourists every year.