The International Steam Pages

India's Millenium Express

HGS 26761 made its first official  run on September 19th 1999:

"Come November and a unique science-cum-history heritage package will be provided to tourists on the country's first Millennium Express train that will roll over the rails, pulled by a 77-year-old steam engine. "We are providing the product, which is the train. We want the state tourism department to promote and market it," Eastern Railway (ER) general manager S Ramanathan said during the trial run of the train between Howrah and Tribeni in Hooghly district on Sunday.

Inspired by the success of the Fairy Queen, running between Delhi and Alwar in Rajasthan, the Millennium Express is powered by a 77-year-old steam locomotive, oldest operating in the ER and the trip's main attraction. ER had phased out steam engines in the early 1990s. According to Ramanathan, use of the steam locomotive will educate tourists on one of the greatest scientific inventions. "The world over, steam engine enthusiasts spend thousands of dollars just to ride a steam powered train. It is this section that we are targeting," he said. The Millennium Express is expected to begin regular service in November between Howrah and Triveni, via Bandel. West Bengal

Tourism Development Corporation's managing director S Chakraborty said possibilities were being explored to tag on a launch cruise along the Hooghly to give the tourists glimpses of the historical and archaeological sites along the river.Detailing the circuit plan, Chakraborty said the Millennium Express will bring tourists from Howrah to Tribeni from where they will be taken to the historic and archaeological sites in the vicinity. The tourists will then be taken on the launch cruise with stops at the former Portuguese colony at Bandel, former Dutch colony at Chinsurah, former French colony of Chandernagore, former Danish colony at Serampore and global headquarters of the Ramakrishna Mission, Belur math. "Each of these locations are replete with history. We are confident that the tourist will get his money's worth by availing of the package," Chakraborty said.

According to Ramanathan, initial plans are to operate the train once a fortnight, but the frequency could be increased if the demand picks up. "If necessary, we can run the train in other circuits too within our system," he said.

Both Ramanathan and Chakraborty, however, said that some infrastructural aspects of the tour were yet to be worked out. While coal loading and watering facilities for the steam engine had to be made by the ER, the state government will have to make adequate launches available.

Sunday's trial run of the Millennium Express created a lot of enthusiasm among the people with cheering crowds lining the tracks as the HGS (heavy goods super)-class locomotive hooted and chugged along with a train comprising an AC chair car, an AC lounge car and two first class coaches. The unnamed vintage locomotive, number 26761, was manufactured by England's W M Beardmore Company and commissioned in 1922. It was operated in the ER's Asansol division till 1985, after which it was homed for maintenance at the Madhupur loco shed in Bihar.

Ramanathan said during the commercial run of the train, the coaches will be replaced by non-AC, open-window bogies along with a glass-front car to enable tourists to get a wider view along the railroad and get the 'real feel' of traveling on a steam-powered train.

Rob Dickinson