Queens and princesses are here again

NEW DELHI, AUG. 30. It was not just another beauty pageant. The traditional ramp was replaced by rails, the stage by a platform, and the long row of slender beauties by gleaming lengths of iron.

To improve services in trains and ensure high standards of maintenance, Northern Railway today organised a colourful ``Beauty Queen'' and ``Fairy Princess'' contest-cum-exhibition for steam, diesel and electric locomotives and passenger coaches at the saloon siding of State Entry Road off Connaught Circus. The contestants -- locomotives and coaches that have been in operation for over 10 years -- represented various workshops which restore them between runs. Participants were judged mainly on their user-friendliness, safety record and cleanliness.

On the jury were Mr. Mark Tully, formerly of the BBC; railway enthusiast, Mr. Dalip Prakash; Northern Railway Women's Welfare Organisation president, Dr. Geetha Dhasarathy; and Railway Women's Welfare Organisation president, Ms. Balakesari, all assisted by a team of railway engineers.

Bhagat-ki-Kothi shed from Jodhpur bagged the Beauty Queen Crown in the diesel category, while Electric Loco Shed of Ghaziabad won in the electrical locomotive category. The Northern Railway coach maintained by Jagadhari workshop won the Fairy Princess contest.

Open to the public, the show included four diesel engines, two electrical engines, one steam engine and four passenger coaches. But the most popular contestant was the steam engine Pawan Doot, rehabilitated recently at a workshop in Amritsar. Built in 1905, this locomotive was inherited by Northern Railway after Independence and is one of only 56 steam engines left now with Indian Railways.

Oldest among all contestants, Pawan Doot won a special award. Until recently this locomotive was treated as an ``antique piece'' and was on display in Ambala. Now, nearly 30 years after retirement, it has been restored and will once again run on the old tracks between Kalka and Shimla.

``World over, steam is a dying tradition. But the charm associated with it is hard to forget. Over the years there has been a growing demand for reintroduction of these engines, especially in tourist-frequented areas. Hence the decision to reintroduce this engine on the Kalka-Shimla section,'' said Northern Railway's Chief Public Relations Officer, Mr. Davinder P.S. Sandhu.

The engine will resume its haul from September 10. After a monthlong trial, it may become a regular feature. There are also plans for a steam locomotive on the Pathankot-Joginder Nagar sector.

``With the overseas tourist season starting in September, this is just about the right time to reintroduce steam locomotives,'' says Mr. Sandhu.