for National Geographic News
in Alwar, Rajasthan, India
Steam locomotives evoke the charm of an era when life moved at a slow
ebb, and nothing embodies that nostalgia more than a ride on the
Last weekend, the broad-gauge steam engine notched another milestone in its historic 146 years of service to the Indian railways by more than tripling its own speed record.
The grand old steel workhorse of the former East Indian Railways, thought to be the oldest working steam locomotive in the world, was manufactured in 1855 by the British firm Kitson, Thomson, and Hewitson of Leeds. When built, the 26-ton coal-guzzling steam engine could travel at speeds of up to 15 kilometers (9 miles) an hour.
Last Sunday, on its inaugural service after a major overhaul, the Fairy Queen traveled at nearly four times that maximum speed, at 58 kilometers an hour, on its round-trip journey from the historic city of Alwar in Rajasthan to Delhi, India's capital.
"It is hard to imagine that a steam locomotive made in an era when India had no telephones, no electricity, and no airplanes could still be working and giving yeoman service in the 21st century," said Rajesh Agarwal, director of the National Rail Museum in New Delhi.
The Fairy Queen served the Indian railways continuously until 1908, when it was retired from active service.
Today the coal-fired train travels every fortnight from November to March for two-day trips down memory lane between Delhi and Alwara, a distance of 143 kilometers (90 miles). As an added attraction, the 50 or so passengers in the special two-carriage train can visit the Sariska Tiger Reserve for an outing in the thick forests of Aravalli Hills to get a glimpse of the rare royal Bengal tiger.
When not in service, the 130-horsepower engine has a pride of place at the National Rail Museum in New Delhi.
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