September 17, 2019
The Southern Railway (SR) has decided to refurbish the heritage Nilgiri Mountain Railways’ (NMR) steam powered engine. The engine has been taken from Coonoor to Tiruchi Railway Coach Yard.
The NMR began operations during the British rule in India. They tunnelled the tracks from Mettupalayam to Ooty through the Nilgiri mountain ranges. A multi-rail track was specially designed for the distance between Coonoor and Mettupalayam for the train’s safe passage through the steep ranges. The older engines were powered by steam.
The engine numbered 37834 was designed in Switzerland in 1914 and brought into service in Nilgiri in 1918 when the NMR service began. After that the Coonoor-Ooty and Ooty-Coonoor NMR engines were powered by diesel. However the Coonoor-Mettupalayam train continued to function on steam powered engines. Later they were replaced by Burns Oil steam engines. Currently the Railways has decided to retire these 37834 engines and keep them as heritage exhibits.
This move was heavily opposed by social activists who demanded that the steam powered engine be continued. Tourists also seemed to be enjoying the steam rail engine more than the diesel-powered one. So the Railways had to abandon the project.
Then on October 2, 2018, the Railways announced that it would refurbish the steam powered engine 37834 at the Ponmalai Loco Shed in Tiruchi. Railway authorities said, “The engine was towed down to Mettupalayam and then to Tiruchi Loco Shed yesterday. This is because the old engine often broke down mid-journey angering the passengers. The new engine, also steam-powered, will be more energy efficient.”