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Black Beauties get ready for action

india Updated: Apr 16, 2011 23:43 IST
Avishek G Dastidar
Avishek G Dastidar
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The air is heavy with the long-forgotten smell of burnt coal and steam. Black smoke shoots in the sky - something only seen in old movies nowadays. The giant machine huffs and puffs as the familiar shrill whistle shatters the quietness of the village.

A piece of the distant past has now come back to life at Rewari, a village in Haryana, just about an hour's drive from Delhi. And for Northern Railway, this is an out-of-the-box idea to set the cash registers ringing by linking this to a special heritage-trip package to and from Delhi.

The 118-year-old Rewari Steam Loco Shed, resuscitated around the time of the Commonwealth Games, is now ready to host tourists and enthusiasts with nine locomotives brought in from various parts of the country where they were discarded as junk and were waiting to be sold away as scrap.

"Some of the locos, which were once imported from the US and the UK, were lying at the mercy of nature at some yard in Howrah and Siliguri after they were taken from here. One was entangled in a court case and by and large they were being used by dogs to sleep at night. Basically, they were rusting in peace," said Vikas Arya, divisional mechanical engineer, Delhi Division of Northern Railway, who spearheaded the revival project.

Instead of overgrown shrubs, rodents and puddles of muck, now the place has tiled paths leading to the shed, where stand the giant classic "black beauties", their old avatar restored and ready for action.

A Railway Protection Force (RPF) outpost has been replaced with a modern cafeteria, while next to it a vintage, air-conditioned "lounge car" of saloon train from the '60s stands to host visitors for refreshments.

Parks and a garden with old-world iron benches discarded at platforms are waiting for their visitors. A small museum carries a treasure trove of railway history worth 150-plus years - cutlery, imported models, pictures et al.

To complete the sepia look, the 25-member staff now wears the same uniform as their counterparts wore 100 years ago. The shed manager's cabin has been renovated to look vintage - a gramophone turntable, a metal telephone, a huge radio set, all in working condition, aid to transport tourists back in time.

Officials at Northern Railway are now toying with the proposal of running heritage special trains to and from this location for tourists. The project's website is filled with queries and comments from enthusiasts from India and abroad.

"In the West, steam locos are not only maintained, they occupy pride of place in the heritage tourism scene. We can also do the same in India," Arya said.