City Hangout – Rewari Steam Loco Shed, Haryana
80 km from Delhi.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Half a century ago, it had 85 steam engines and a staff of 500. Today it has nine engines and a staff of 25. The Rewari Steam Loco Shed, situated on the Delhi-Jaipur railway line in Haryana, was the largest meter gauge shed in India. Started in 1893, the shed, 80 km from Delhi, closed 100 years later. In 2002, a broad gauge line was added to the site and it was declared a heritage shed. In 2010, a major revamp followed. Wandering pigs were removed, the barren field was landscaped and engines were painted.
The shed’s employees, all steam veterans, are nearing retirement age, save one. Muhammed Israel, 21, a fitter khalasi, says, “I’d seen steam only in films.” The engines, which have appeared in films such as Gadar: Ek Prem Katha, Guru and Love Aaj Kal, are named Rewari King, Sahib, Sultan, Sindh, Angadh, Akbar, Azad, Sher-e-Punjab and Virat. Of 1930 make, Angadh is the oldest. It came to Rewari via the National Rail Museum in Delhi, where it was donated by the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board. A broad gauge engine, Angad, when fully functional, consumed 25,000 liters water and 18 tons of coal. A meter gauge engine would take 12,000 liters water and 12 tons of coal.
“A steam engine’s fuel efficiency is 35%, a diesel’s is 65% and an electric’s is 98%,” says Shyam Bihari, the shed’s loco foreman, a designation that, along with steam engines, has become extinct. Mr Bihari is also a Hindi poet. His subjects include cellphones, computers and steam engines. His office has a hand-wound gramophone, a Murphy radio, an antique telephone, a mechanical bell with a wooden rod, and black & white photographs of steam engines. The ‘Engine Tik-Tek Register’, which lists the various steam engines, lies on his coffee-coloured wooden desk.
Six days of the week, the shed’s fitters, boiler makers, machinists, turners, painters, loco cleaners, boiler-maker khalasis and fitter khalasis keep themselves busy servicing the old giants; cleaning the engine parts, refilling their boilers with water and emptying coal from fireboxes. Every Saturday at midnight, the loco workers “light up”, or warm up, an engine (it’s a different engine each week).
If it’s a broad gauge engine, 2 tonnes of coal and 20kg wood are filled into the firebox. Jute grass soaked in kerosene oil is thrown along with a lit matchstick. The engine is ready to start in 8 hours.
On Sunday, the engine driver lifts the regulator handle. The throttle valve opens, the wet steam escapes from the boiler, runs through an internal pipe and reaches the header box, where it gets superheated and is converted to dry steam, now as powerful as compressed gas. Travelling through branch pipes, it enters the cylinders where it pushes the piston. The connecting rod transfers the reciprocating motion of the piston into the circular motion of the driving wheels. The engine starts and the smoke comes out of the chimney. The engine takes visitors on a ride around the shed.
The shed is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm. Its Exhibit Room has models of steam engines, a couple of old books, some railway crockery, a few hand-signal lamps and many photographs. There are plans to use these revived locomotives to run steam engine-hauled trains between Delhi and Rewari for tourists.
Where Near Rewari Railway Station, 80 km from Delhi How to reach There are many trains running between Delhi and Rewari but a car drive through the countryside is more interesting Tip Carry your own food; there’s a cafeteria but it remains closed
Blast from the past
Take a ride
The theory of motion
The loco foreman’s office
The steam veterans
The steam fresher (Muhammed Israel)
The time machine
Time stops in Rewari
Wish you were here