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The Millennium Express

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 guaranteed.