The Majesty Of The Fairy Queen 

The Majesty Of The Fairy Queen - Sakshi Post

By Ravi Valluri

Indian Railways (IR), the lifeline of the nation has played a pivotal role in becoming the engine of growth and fuelling the aspirations of passengers.

Gatiman Express, plying between New Delhi and Jhansi -clocking a speed of 150 kmph- is touted as the fasted train in the country. The mind resonates with images of Usain Bolt scorching the tracks.

Very soon, T-18 would connect New Delhi and the ancient town of Varanasi at a breathtaking pace of 130 kpmh. These epoch-making events are precursors to the ‘Bullet Train’, that is yet to make a foray in the Indian railways’ landscape. But as the estimable thinker and novelist Victor Hugo wrote, “No one can stop an idea whose time has come.”

IR has always been a customer centric organisation and over the years metamorphosed itself to etch multitudinous memories in the cranny corners of our minds, be it summer vacation trips or school excursions. It has introduced transformational services to attract foreign tourists and propertied Indians to unearth India, travelling on luxury trains. The opulent Fairy Queen is yet another jewel in the crown.

The Fairy Queen, also known as the East Indian Railway Nr. 22, is an 1855-built steam locomotive, which was refurbished by the Loco Works Perambur, Chennai in 1997 and housed at the Rewari Railway Heritage Museum.

The locomotive is steeped in history. It was constructed by Kitson, Thompson and Hewitson at Leeds, England, in the year 1855 and was despatched to Kolkata, then known as Calcutta.

Upon arrival, it was given a fleet number “22” by its owner, the East Indian Railway Company and was named 1895. Initially, this locomotive was deployed to haul light mail trains in West Bengal, operating between Howrah and Raniganj. During the Mutiny of 1857 it hauled the armies of the company to quell the attempted coup d’etat. After playing an exigent role, the locomotive was consigned to line construction duty in Bihar, where it served until 1909.

Thereafter the Fairy Queen spent the next 34 years on a pedestal outside Howrah station in isolation and certainly must have wondered its fate and future.

In the year 1943, the locomotive was moved to the Railway Zonal Training School at Chandausi, in Uttar Pradesh, where it served as an object of curiosity for several of the probationers.

A number of similar locomotives were built around the same time as the Fairy Queen. Some were supplied by Kitson, Thompson and Hewitson and others were built by Stothert, Slaughter and Company of Bristol.

It is noteworthy to mention that Stothert-built Express, has been preserved at the Jamalpur Locomotive Workshop, in Bihar, since 1901. The inscription on the Express' pedestal claims that it was the first locomotive operate between Howrah and Raniganj and was numbered “21” by the honchos of East India Company. This locomotive too was resuscitated the by Loco Works Perambur, making it fit for running in 201. It a contender for the title of the world's oldest operating steam locomotive. Express EIR 21 currently runs on different divisions of Southern Railway on weekends.

The Fairy Queen is a coal-fired engine capable generating a maximum speed of 40 kmph.

The Indian government bestowed heritage status on the the Fairy Queen in 1972, rendering it as a national treasure. It was revived from the obscure environs of Chandausi and provided a special spot in the newly built National Rail Museum at Chanakyapuri, in New Delhi.

The stupendous success of the Palace on Wheels triggered the imagination of railway officials to exploit the inherent potential of this locomotive. It was restored to its full working order in 1997, in preparation for its first mainline journey in 88 years!

The two-day excursion on the menu has the train plying 143 kilometres from New Delhi to Alwar in Rajasthan, with passengers spending the night at the Sariska Tiger Reserve. The steely inanimate beast transports humans to encounter the animate one!

The locomotive hauls a carriage capable of transporting 60 passengers. A service car holding a generator and compressor and a pantry car make up the rest of the convoy.

The operation was repeated between December and February in the following years. It was certified by the Guinness Book of Records in 1998 as the world's oldest steam locomotive undertaking regular operation.

The following year, the train received the National Tourism Award for executing a pioneering and innovative tourism project from Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister of India.

Palace on Wheels was the trail blazer, and soon several luxury trains have mushroomed in the country. The Fairy Queen has successfully attracted tourists from across India and abroad and earned precious revenue for the country and has put Alwar and the Sariska Tiger Sanctuary on the tourist map which is no mean feat.

“It is always sad to leave a place to which one knows one will never return. Such are the melancholies du voyage: perhaps they are one of the most rewarding things about travelling,” writes the eminent traveller Gustave Flaubert.

Also Read: Golden Chariot Express–Explore The South In Style

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