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New oil-fired locomotive for Nilgiris Mountain Railway arrives

V.S. Palaniappan

— Photo: K. Ananthan

Change in the air:A crane lifts the first of the four new oil-fired steam locomotives for the Nilgiris Mountain Railway that arrived at Mettupalayam

METTUPALAYAM: The first of the four new oil-fired steam engines for the Nilgiris Mountain Railway (NMR) arrived at the Mettupalayam railway yard on Saturday from the Golden Rock Workshop in Tiruchirapalli. The next one is expected to arrive by June.

This signals the beginning of the process to phase out the coal-fired vintage Swiss engines that took scores of passengers on the rack and pinion track to Coonoor and Udhagamandalam, covering 41.8 km, 108 curves, 16 tunnels and 250 bridges.

The uphill journey takes around close to five hours and the one downhill takes more than three-and-a-half hours. The route is the steepest in Asia with a maximum gradient of 8.33 per cent.

Over the last two years, the NMR engines developed technical snags frequently and there were problems in procuring quality coal. Sparks from the engine also posed the risk of stroking forest fire.

Hence, the Southern Railway decided to replace the coal-fired locomotives. The work was entrusted to Golden Rock Workshop of Southern Railway at Tiruchirapalli. Each of the new engines weighs a little over 50 tonnes and cost Rs.10 crore.

The new engine has been provided with pilot and primary burners with separate tanks to hold about 850 litres of diesel and 2,250 litres of furnace oil. The hauling capacity of this new engine is 97.6 tonnes and it can run at a speed of 30 km an hour in plains and at 15 km an hour on a gradient.

Rajali, a crane from the Erode locomotive workshop, with a capacity to handle 140 tonnes, was moved to Mettuppalayam to place the new engine on the track. The locomotive was brought from Tiruchi to Mettupalayam this morning by a multi-axle goods carrier. It was then shifted to an open goods train wagon and taken close to the NMR line. It was lifted from the wagon and placed on the rail by evening.

Officials hoped to put the engine to use by Sunday on the Mettuppalayam–Coonoor section. The arrival of the new engines raises hopes of eliminating the disruption in service that occurred frequently over the last two years.

For long, the X Class locomotives manufactured by Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works of Winterthur in Switzerland lent that distinct charm to NMR. These locomotives are six to eight decades old, railway officials said.

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