On the cool and fresh
morning of the 19th of September, 1999, when I reached
Howrah station to travel on the Millennium Express, the atmosphere at
platform No.9 was electric and expectant. The four coaches of the
Millennium Express were waiting for the bride, the 77 year old HGS
26761 steam locomotive built in the year 1922 in UK and recently
resurrected after a 14 year resting period.
The black beauty HGS
26761, arrived sharp at 9.45 a.m. in all its glory. The absolutely
spick and span exterior and interior of the locomotive with
resplendent brass fittings were a sight to watch. A large crowd had
gathered near the locomotive with an expression of awe and pleasure
writ large on their faces.
The train left Howrah
Station at 10.15 a.m. on the way to Tribeni, a distance of
approximately 48 km following exactly the same route which the first
train of the erstwhile East Indian Railway took on the 15h of August,
1854. Moving at a restricted speed of 25 km there as a long journey
ahead. The comfort of the air-conditioned chari car train coaches and
the out-of-the-world lounge car provided on the train, alongwith
immaculate service by uniformed bearers was enough to make this
journey enjoyable, comfortable and memorable.
Amongst the glare of
flashing cameras. Shri S.Ramanathan, the General Manager of the
Eastern Railways cut the cake, which was made in the shape of a steam
locomotive. On board were a distinguished gathering, comprising
senior railway officers of the Eastern, Southern and Metro Railways,
officers of the State Governments, Regional Director (East) of the
Ministry of Tourism, people from the media and others.
The train reached Tribeni
at around 1.15 p.m. where the passengers took lunch at the ITC Guest
House. The return journey started at around 3.30 p.m. and the train
reached Howrah Station at 6.15 p.m.
This historic journey was
planned, conceived and executed under the leadership of Shri Jayanta
Ghosh, Divisional Railway Manager of Howrah. This was the second such
effort in the direction of promoting Heritage Steam Tourism on the
Indian Railways, the first being the Fairy Queen Express. It was
evident that a very major effort had been put in by the Howrah
Division of the Eastern Railway in ensuring the very successful run
of this train. Action is now on hand to package this trip and promote
it as a Steam Heritage Tourist attraction.
Steam Heritage Tourism is
a totally new concept in India, though in the West, especially in the
UK, this concept has already taken deep roots. A very large number of
Steam Tourism Trains run in UK, evoking nostalgia and providing a
major tourist attraction. Efforts are now on both in the Ministry of
Tourism to adequately promote and exploit this untapped high
potential tourism segment. The success of such ventures is almost