The International steam Pages


The Black Beauties Reborn
Steam Revival at Amritsar Works 2012-13

Samarendra Kumar, Chief Works Manager, Northern Railway Mechanical Workshop, Amritsar writes about their part in assisting the steam revival in India.

Amritsar workshop is the oldest workshop on Northern Railway. It was built in 1901 by Head Works division of Punjab Public Works department (Irrigation Branch) to repair their machines and equipments. Later on, in 1942 it was taken over by the Defence Department and converted to an Ordinance factory. The Punjab Government took it over again in 1947, so as to manufacture equipments for Bhakhara Nangal Dam and it was 1956, when Indian Railways took over the Workshop and started POH (periodic overhaul) of steam locos. It continued for next 30 years, during which 12 categories of steam locos were overhauled, but with the advent of diesel and electric traction on Indian Railways, steam traction tapered down and eventually became extinct.

However, nostalgic demand for restoration of rhythmic chugging and whistling in form of quintessential chhuk-chhuk and synchronized throw of black smoke from steam loco was seen catching up the taste of European/British/American tourists. In view of high value for steam locos, in the eyes of global tourists, Northern Railway’s administration decided to preserve and revive the few leftover steam locos, as heritage assets. Rehabilitation of the black beauties was entrusted to Amritsar workshop in mid-2012. In this connection, it is worth mentioning that this workshop had earlier carried out major repairs to KC-520 steam loco of Kalka- Shimla narrow gauge heritage section, in early 2011. Unfortunately, during a long gap of 26 years, most of the skilled staff and supervisors had retired and engineering drawings/ specifications became untraceable. It became a daunting task at this stage, to revive the process of POH. The only way out was to try - and - hit, essentially groping in darkness. However, this exercise did give clues to identify the persons who could be having faint ideas of revival activities. A few recently retired Railway men from Amritsar workshop along with some old timers, a few on the verge of retirement from Moradabad division, and some skilled personnel from Rewari steam shed (near Delhi), joined hands to form a conglomerate. The conglomerate which was having its own handicaps, took some time, initially to develop inter personal communication channel (both formal and informal) and working understanding. Their brainstorming sentimental charge to Chhuk-Chhuk (rhythmic chugging) and gradual socializing, ultimately led to formation of a well-meaning and cohesive team. Their effort was further emboldened by the encouragement and motivation from HQ’s Mechanical wing and from the local administration. This culminated into understanding and attention to motion components, under gears and others, the background of which was long forgotten in this workshop. Thereafter, came the timely supplement from a Ludhiana based trade source, which proved to be handy in overhauling the steam loco’s boiler. The team carried out small things, day-to-day and its synergic performance resulted in successful revival of the following three locos, in a record time of 6 months (August 2012 to January 2013), in addition to KC-520 and a miniature loco;

1. PSMT

Orenstein and Koppel of Berlin, 1909 built Patiala State Monorail Tramway 0-3-0 (Double Flange wheels) loco was partly rail guided and partly road borne railway steam loco, and was operational in Patiala up to 1927. Working behavior of this steam loco built using the Ewing system was long forgotten. The major works for the revival was complete overhaul of boiler and that of the motion components. On 12th September.2012, when the Central Press Team visited Amritsar workshop, its members witnessed with awe, as the loco chugged with steam power.

2. Akbar

Manufactured at the Chittaranjan Locomotive Works and christened as Akbar WP-7161 (almost 50 years old) locomotive, was sent to Amritsar workshop for its rehabilitation without any drawings/ literature. This locomotive was lying abandoned in Saharanpur shed for some considerable time. The overhaul of motion components, under gear, brake gear and wheel repair were major tasks to be completed before resuscitating this loco. Again the commitment and dedication of the staff paid off and the 103 MT giant was back on tracks in September 2012.

3. Sher-E-Punjab

The last broad Gauge steam loco engine of Indian Railways that ran between Firozepur and Jalandhar till 1995 was Sher-E-Punjab WL-15005. It was 80 MT (mixed traffic) class locomotive, built in 1955 by Vulcan Foundry Ltd. UK. When the loco arrived in the Workshop, its tender, coal bunker and sole bar were totally corroded. Detailed investigation revealed that the motion components, springs and axle boxes were totally unserviceable. This loco was finally restored, despite several hurdles faced by the staff in course of repair/revival. It was a heartening experience to behold, when this loco ran with steam power on 12th January 2013. It was a pleasant surprise not only to the outsiders but even to the staff of Amritsar workshop.

4. KC-520

The Kalka - Shimla 2'6" gauge line is unusual for a narrow gauge mountain line. The steam engine was built in the year 1905 and it’s been a long journey since then. The North British Locomotive Company designed this engine for INR 30,000. The KC520 was built to ferry British soldiers, bureaucrats and their families from the sweltering Indian plains to a hilly Himalayan retreat. However, the advent of diesel engines resulted in the decommissioning of this engine in the year 1971. It was brought to the Shimla Railway station in the year 2001. This steam loco was turned out from Amritsar Workshop after major repair in early 2011.

5. Miniature

Recently, a miniature model of steam loco WG-9255 was made working with pneumatic pressure and during a trial, it successfully ran both in forward and reverse directions. Its working was highly appreciated by press and media, during their visit on 15th January.2013 to this workshop.

At present, following rehabilitation activities are underway, at this workshop:

a) Yugantar

Attempting revival of Yugantar is a challenge; since it was last run 13-14 years back. The repair process involves boiler, under gear, motion and other components. The work undertaken, shows that we have to go from assembly to sub-assembly and further down to component level.

b) ZB-66

ZB-66 steam locomotive (manufactured by W. Bagnall in 1952) is the last steam locomotive of Pathankot - Joginder Nagar section. Pre-inspection of loco, shows that there is heavy incident of corrosion in tender, under frame and boiler laggings and driver’s cabin. In addition, boiler and injectors require major overhauling. Under gear and motion components also warrant major attention.

The work executed so far and experience gained, have gone in to making staff and supervisors confident for the present assignment and to undertake periodic overhauling of steam locos in future.


Rob Dickinson

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