When the ‘Express Loco' steam locomotive made its maiden journey in 1855 on the 121-mile line between Howrah and Raneegunge, the British were firmly at the helm of power in India, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was not born then and Indian Independence was a faraway dream.
While time seems to have had a toll on everything on the face of the planet, it seems to have left the oldest running locomotive in the world, christened ‘EIR 21', untouched.
Built by Kitson Thomson and Hewitson Leeds, United Kingdom, the locomotive was used in the erstwhile East Indian Railway till 1909. After 101 years at a workshop in Jamalpur, Bihar, the locomotive came back to life during a heritage run between Chennai Central and Avadi on Sunday.
Chugging smoothly and effortlessly, belching out heavy plumes of smoke, the locomotive stood for something larger than heritage. The locomotive, which was used to ferry British troops to quell the great Indian mutiny of 1857, recreated a slice of the past to mark the country's Independence Day.
However, for Sunday's heritage run, only a few officials got a chance to travel, as they feared the engine did not have “enough pulling power.”
The heritage run was flagged off from Chennai Central at 11 a.m. Enthusiastic crowds greeted the train all along the way – from Basin Bridge to Avadi. Though steam engine is no longer used in locomotion, the undying romance of steam traction brought in a huge number of curious onlookers, said a senior Railway official. He added that the locomotive might make a special appearance in Delhi during the Commonwealth Games.