Shimla, March 29: An 109-year old British-era steam engine Saturday once again chugged down the Kalka-Shimla heritage track with over 12 passengers, mostly foreigners on board, railway officials said here.
Considered to be an engineering marvel, locomotive KC 520, the only narrow gauge steam engine which dates back to 1905, operated to and fro between Shimla and Kathlighat, commercial inspector (railways) Amar Singh Thakur told IANS.
The one-way 22-km journey between the two stations, located on the Shimla-Kalka rail line that figures in UNESCO World Heritage site list, takes more than one hour.
The steam engine-hauled train, being handled by the Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC), a wing of the Indian Railways, with two chartered coaches was booked for Rs.96,000, including taxes, he said.
The Indian Railways in February last year rolled out the indigenously built coal-fired steam locomotive for the first time in over six years. This was for the second time since then that it was hired.
Frank, a tourist from the US, said he had specially come here to enjoy the ride on the locomotive.
“I really enjoyed the rhythmic chiming of ‘chuff-chuff-choo-choo’ of the engine. I really enjoyed the ride in the cool hills coated with Himalayan cedars,” he said.
Another tourist Sandy said travelling on a coal-propelled engine was really memorable.
IRCTC officials said under the plan, any company or individual can hire a steam train comprising two to three coaches with a capacity to accommodate up to 40 people between Shimla and Kathlighat at a cost of Rs.80,000 plus 20 percent service tax. Food is provided on board.
The British-era steam engine was recently repaired and restored in Amritsar.
The steam locomotives, which ferried Europeans to and from this hill town, the erstwhile summer capital of British India, were gradually phased out with the launch of diesel engines from 1952 onwards.
The Kalka-Shimla rail track, built by the British, was inaugurated by Lord Curzon, the British viceroy in India, in November 1903.
The ascent on the track begins from 2,100 ft (640 metres) above sea level at Kalka in Haryana and crosses Dharampur, Barog, Solan and Kandaghat before it reaches Shimla at 7,000 ft.
There are 102 tunnels on the rail line. Initially, there were 103, but tunnel number 46 does not exist any more.
A train takes about three minutes to cross the longest tunnel at Barog (5,000 ft). The other big tunnels en route are at Koti (2,276 ft), Taradevi (1,615 ft) and tunnel number 103 (1,135 ft), which is near Shimla.