Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav will flag off a steam engine brought from the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway on Sunday to kick off the centenary celebrations of the Matheran Railway. But sadly the celebrations will be sans its original glories – four steam locomotives used on the line 100 years ago. Reason: They are now scattered across the globe.
Reliable sources said the Peerbhoy family had bought four novel steam locomotives for Matheran Light Railway (MLR) from Messrs. Orienstein & Koppel, Germany. These were especially made for the narrow curves and steep climbs of the Matheran hills.
The four engines – MLR 738, MLR 739, MLR 740 and MLR 741 - survive today. The oldest loco MLR 738 is at the National Railway Museum in New Delhi, MLR 739 is at Central Railway’s workshop, MLR 740 has been taken by a group of steam railway enthusiasts in England who have pooled in money and got the engine started which is now run for regular tourist runs and the MLR 741 is being exhibited at Matheran station.
The four steam engines worked the line until the introduction of diesel power in 1956. The steam locos then worked with the diesels till the last one was withdrawn in 1982.
“The railways should have started at least one of the original locomotives for the centenary function. When amateur British enthusiasts can do it why not the Central Railway?” questions Ali Akbar Adamjee Peerbhoy, member of the Peerbhoy family that first built the railway.
“We did it out of enthusiasm. MLR 740 was imported to England in 1986 for preservation. After being on static display at other museums, it arrived at the Leighton Buzzard Railway in 1994, for restoration to working order,” Mervyn Leah, chairman of the Leighton Buzzard Railway in Bedfordshire, England, that restored one of the dead Matheran engine, told HT from London.
“With the help of a grant from the Science Museum in London, MLR 740 was completely dismantled, and both mechanical and steam components were given a full overhaul. Some of this work took place in our workshops at Leighton Buzzard, while other tasks were contracted out to specialist companies,” Leah said proudly.
The Central Railway says they are also trying hard to restore the one locomotive lying with them. “We are working hard on the Matheran engine that is lying with us as we hope to restore it to its working order. But it is too early to say whether it will be completely restored,” Shriniwas C. Mudgerikar, Central Railway’s chief public relation officer said.