Goodbye Fairy Queen: all about the oldest steam locomotive in the world which will be replaced by the Vande Bharat train at Rail Bhavan

Indian Railways is replacing the replica heritage steam locomotive Fairy Queen placed in front of Rail Bhawan with a replica Vande Bharat train.

It will be the end of an era as the replica Fairy Queen steam locomotive paves the way for the mini replica Vande Bharat semi-high speed train at Indian Railways headquarters in the nation’s capital.

The glorious Fairy Queen has held pride of place in front of Rail Bhawan for Rail Bhawan years. And he has good reason to be given the honorable position. Fairy Queen has been a big attraction among steam engine enthusiasts around the world and was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records in 1998 as the oldest steam locomotive in the world in regular operation.

Also known as the East Indian Railway Nr. 22, the Fairy Queen was built in 1855 by Kitson and Company in England. It was brought to Calcutta (now Kolkata) in the same year and operated between Howrah and Raniganj. Thereafter, he was assigned to line construction in Bihar until 1909. And that was the end of the Fairy Queen’s journey for many years to come.

It had a fairly long stationary life since then and was stationed on a pedestal outside Howrah Railway Station for the next 34 years. He then transferred to the Railway Zonal Training School in Chandausi in Uttar Pradesh, where the fairy queen has served as a case study and curio for students since 1943. In 1972 the government granted “Heritage” status to the Fairy Queen, making it a national treasure. The locomotive has been restored and has a special place in the National Rail Museum in New Delhi.

It was not until 1997, after the resounding success of the Palace on Wheels luxury tourist train, that the government considered commercial travel for the Fairy Queen. She was readied for her first mainline trip in 88 years and returned to commercial service on 18 July 1997, having been restored by Perambur Loco Workshop in Chennai. Subsequently, it was certified as the world’s oldest steam locomotive in regular operation by Guinness Book of Records in 1998 and received a National Tourism Award for the Most Innovative and Unique Tourism Project from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999.

It was a big shock for authorities in 2011 when they discovered that rare parts of the Fairy Queen’s locomotive, including the “boiler, condenser, lubricator and flow tubes” that were “nearly irreplaceable” had been stolen. It was taken back to Loco Works in Chennai for repair. After a difficult, arduous and substantial rebuild, the locomotive was returned to service on December 22, 2012.

While the replica was stationed outside Rail Bhawan, the actual train has been making occasional trips between New Delhi and Alwar since 2012. Otherwise it is mostly housed at the Rewari Railway Heritage Museum.

Vande Bharat’s replicas signify the transformational changes in Indian Railways. Fitted with upgraded equipment, better seats, security and monitoring systems as well as fire-retardant devices, the Vande Bharat trains were an ambitious project of the Modi government. Indian Railways is racing to build 75 of these locally designed semi-high speed trains by August 2023 – the deadline publicly set by Prime Minister Modi.

Though it comes, the Fairy Queen will continue to rule the hearts of rail fans whether or not she is stationed outside Rail Bhawan.

Jose P. Rogers