Puffing Up! – Vintage steam locomotive

Popularly known as the toy train, it was considered an engineering marvel when work on it began in 1889. For t of the tourists from England, traveling on the steam engine is a nostalgic experience as they have heard about the exhilarating journey from their forefathers while a few fortunate ones have faint childhood memories of the journey, which they wish to relive.

This year itself the steam engine, which is run only as a chartered service has had four runs, thrice for British guests while on one occasion it was for Polish visitors. It was in the year 1996 that the Railways reduced the tariff of the train making it more affordable with the intention of popularizing it and promoting tourism in the hill state. Now a single journey on the steam engine costs Rs 28,000 while the round journey costs Rs 54,000. Two coaches are attached to the steam engine with a capacity of 20 passengers.

Before being phased out in 1971 the steam engine used to run on a 96 kms stretch between Kalka and Shimla, rising to a height of alt 7,000 feet from about 2100 feet from its starting point at Kalka. During those days it passed through 103 tunnels, 969 bridges, 919 curves and 21 railway stations.

Hoping to save the famous Himalayan toy train from extinction, a proposal has been sent to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) by Indian Railways and preservationists to grant the train world heritage status. It was in 2000 that similar status was granted to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railways, the world’s first ever hill railway built in 1888. The London- based north British Locomotive Company, the KS-520, manufactured the present engine being used in the steam train. It was in the 1970’s that the steam engines made way for the powerful but less polluting diesel engines.

The steam engine was temporarily suspended after a mishap took place while a Canadian film crew was shooting the train in 2001. fields. It was later that the government decided to resume the steam charter service as part of the centenary celebrations of the Kalka-Shimla narrow gauge railway section.

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