Oldest locomotive in the Indian Railways hits the track

History buffs, heritage enthusiasts and curious onlookers were transported back in time to an era of steam engine trains as the oldest locomotive in the Indian Railways, the EIR 21, went chugging along the tracks here to mark Independence Day.

The 158-year-old bedecked locomotive fitted with a coach painted in tri-colour huffed and puffed its way from Platform 4 of Chennai Egmore at 11.15 a.m. for a 10-km journey to Guindy reminiscent of the era of the Industrial Revolution.

The locomotive averaged a speed of about 32 kilometres per hour though in previous runs it has clocked 41 kph.

The heritage run had a 15-minute stoppage scheduled at Kodambakkam where a large crowd had gathered to soak in the old world charm.

“Such was the enthusiasm of the public that the stoppage was extended beyond scheduled time,” a railway official said.

The EIR 21 belongs to the fabled stock of the Kitson Thompson and Hewitson Leeds in the London. The loco was shipped to India in 1855 and was soon pressed into service on the erstwhile East Indian Railway. By the beginning of the 20 century, it had become a museum piece and in 1909, the steam locomotive was put on display at Jamalpur and Howrah.

Rail fan lore suggests a sort of sibling rivalry between EIR 21 and the Fairy Queen (EIR 22) for the title of the oldest locomotive — a quibble apparently settled in the former’s favour. In tandem, these two locomotives account for a slice of history having been used for transporting troops during the 1857 mutiny.

The Loco Works in Perambur which is the EIR 21’s custodian for the past several years has been taking great care to keep the locomotive track-worthy. Engineers have even retrofitted modern-day gadgets such as a GPS-based speedometer and a wireless video monitoring system on the locomotive.