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Monday, April 23, 2012

Smoking Beauties

The steam movement in the country that started with the historic run of the fairy queen on the 17th of october 1997 is now bearing fruit. Firmly established on the system are the Rewari Steam Loco shed and regular steam runs between Delhi and Alwar/Rewari.

The resurrection of Rewari and its positioning as the finest steam heritage tourism on planet earth is a landmark that celebrates the return of steam and also commemorates in the efforts of a few committed individuals whose only desire is to see steam on track, even if in a very limited way. Rewari is also a symbol of success, a pulsating proof of the saying that nothing is impossible if the focus is clear and commitment is not lacking.

The Rewari shed saw the light of the day, courtesy a brilliant officer by the name of Vikas who is now the torchbearer of the steam movement in the country. His team did the impossible by resurrecting the engines, one by one and simultaneously a team of engineers led by Saraswat turned the ruins into paradise.   

The 2nd era of steam began with the historic run of the legendary fairy queen on the 17th of October 1997, almost ninety years after the steaming beauty was laid to rest on the East Indian Railway. The resurrection also marked the birth in India of steam heritage tourism, a niche tourism segment, till then known only to the developed world. The massive national and international recognition that the successful run of the fairy queen garnered, resulted in the surfacing of a strong domestic tribe of steam enthusiasts whose selfless contribution is still keeping the movement alive. The Guinness world record certificate that the beauty was decorated with on the 13th of January 1998 also helped in laying a strong foundation of the 2nd era of steam.

The formation of the Indian Steam Railway Society almost at the turn of the century provided the much needed impetus to the movement that the fairy queen was instrumental in creating, almost from scratch. The society has been unfailingly organizing a National Steam Congress every year, this one being the ninth in the series. Regular monthly meetings and exhibitions and lectures being organized by the society have helped in keeping the flame alive. A major role of the society has been to provide a platform to the tribe of steam lovers whose emergence on the scene after the historic run of the queen was increasingly getting noticed. With a retired doyen of the Indian Railways, Romesh Chandra Sethi Esq providing leadership as its President since inception, the society has kept the flame burning even during those turbulent times when steam locomotives were getting regarded as a sure shot recipe for fame and foreign jaunts. Yes the movement suffered and was almost on its last legs when Rewari happened.    

Rewari was conceived as the mecca of the steam movement in the nation, but unfortunately the shed was allowed to go to seed when the initial euphoria died a sudden death almost immediately after the unveiling of the inaugural plaque by the railway minister. The long drawn saga of decay and neglect that followed was fortunately reversed at the turn of the first decade of the twenty-first century.

The Rewari shed has in the last two years undergone a metamorphosis almost akin to a crow turning into a swan. A dilapidated structure with decaying engines has with a lot of hard work, commitment, focus and vision transformed into the finest steam locomotive shed of the world, and also perhaps the finest steam heritage tourism destination on planet earth. It is also perhaps one of the finest examples in the nation of brilliance achieved, despite a highly constraining environment that the system offers.

What next ? The answer is obviously, more of steam on track. One hopes that spurred by the success of “Rewari”, the railways would seriously attempt to get back in a limited way, steam on all the five hill railways and “Insha Allah” if that happens, it would be the finest things to have happened for the cause of Indian Steam as well as Indian Tourism.

Elated I feel and rightly so. Smoking beauties have started churning out smoke once again. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Good Traditions!

Despite a plethora of ills, the Indian Railways still retains some very good traditions. Whether the traditions have remained because the railways finds them relevant or whether because of the sheer resistance to change being inherent to the system is not very clear, yet the continuance of a few good traditions is indeed a matter of tremendous satisfaction.

The annual railway week awards functions at the apex, zonal and divisional levels that are held unfailingly across the entire railway network are an example of a good tradition being carried through. These events generate a feeling of solidarity within the railway fraternity, besides acting as a strong incentive for railway men to achieve excellence in their sphere of activities. The award of department wise shields of excellence also leads to a healthy spirit of competition amongst the various zonal railways.

The sheer number of awards and the selection process at times is however a matter of concern. Many awards are apparently given on considerations other than sheer merit, perhaps based on proximity to powers that really matter. And this to a limited extent dilutes the sanctity of these awards. Despite this kink, the entire exercise remains a rarity, a fine example of a wonderful tradition being carried forward in the spirit with which it was initiated.

If only the spirit of concern for the human resource that such functions bring out is imbibed and practiced, also on the remaining three hundred and sixty four days of the year, the glory and the greatness of the railways would indeed be restored.