Speaking at an event organised by Heritage Beku, TR Raghunandan said the locomotive in the park was first brought to India in the 1960s for the Gwalior Light Railway.

The old narrow-gauge locomotive in Indira Gandhi Musical Fountain Park Bengaluru
Features Heritage Sunday, February 21, 2021 - 17:25

Nestled under the canopy of trees in Bengaluru’s Indira Gandhi Musical Fountain Park lies an old locomotive. Seen as a piece of junk by the common public, no one realised that this was an old gem rusting away until five months ago. A social media post led TR Raghunandan, a former government employee and railway historian, to take an interest in the engine and start researching it.

Raghunandan revealed this when speaking at a small event organised by Heritage Beku, a citizens’ group aimed at preserving the city’s heritage. Officials from the state Horticulture Department and the Railways were also in attendance.

“I’ve been working closely with the National Rail Museum and was conducting research on other locomotives in the city when I happened to see a picture posted by a friend on social media. That piqued my interest and I began researching this engine,” the railway historian recounted.

After carefully scraping the tender [coal-car] of the engine, he stumbled upon the number 812 inscribed with paint, which was now fading. In addition to the number, the fact that the engine is narrow-gauge intrigued him to dive deeper to find more answers.

The research

“I’ve had a fated relationship with railways ever since I was a kid. During my youth, I’d devoted a lot of time towards studying rail engines. I knew right off the bat that this locomotive was special. I started to dive deeper into the locomotive manuals I had and came to the park often to study the locomotive, which led me to the Gwalior Light Railway,” Raghunandan said.

The locomotive was built specially to suit semi-arid regions and the longest existing narrow-gauge railway line in present-day India can be seen in Gwalior, he added.

Digging into the fairly well-maintained archives, the historian found that the engine was first brought to India during the 1960s for the Gwalior Light Railway. Studying old photos of locomotives similar to the NH/5 class, helped him, he said.

However, the quest to find the manufacturer of the engine still remained.

The quest in different countries

In a bid to learn about the manufacturer of the engine, Raghunandan travelled across countries and continents. His search extended to different places in countries such as the US, Japan and the United Kingdom.

“In the UK, I met a person who had taken a photograph of the locomotive 811 in London. I got as much information from him as I could. The model seemed like an American one but uncertainty still lingered. After multiple difficult attempts, I finally found some archival documentation done by Hugh Hughes on the locomotives in India,” added Raghunandan.

The four-volume book series finally gave him the answers. He found out that the engine was manufactured by Japanese firm Nippon Sharyo in the year 1959 unlike his inference that it’d been manufactured by Baldwin Locomotive Works, Philadelphia, USA. “We’re of the same age,” Raghunandan quipped, as he was born in 1959.

The locomotive also has its fair share of history, he said, before letting Kannabiran, who was involved in the building of the park, speak about the engine.

The journey of the locomotive

Kannabiran recalled that it was in 1995 that the then Railway Minister CK Jaffer Sharief helped them procure the Japanese locomotive, which had been operational in Gwalior, for the park. This and similar locomotives were stored in Lucknow and Varanasi after they were replaced by broad-gauge engines.

“We wanted something to commemorate the contributions of Minister Jaffer Sharief [who represented the Bengaluru North constituency], and one way was to install a historic locomotive in the park. We contacted South Western Railway, who informed us about all the engines stored in Varanasi. We travelled there and selected the engine that we see in this park,” Kannabiran said.

The locomotive had become an object of marvel, he reminisced while talking about how children would rush to the park during holidays just to see the locomotive emit smoke after they put in coal. The fascination inspired them to come experiment with it, he said.

But now the engine is sadly in a battered condition and in need of restoration.

Restoration

The Horticulture Department, which manages the park, the Railways and Heritage Beku have now teamed up in hopes of restoring the engine to its original glory. Raghunandan will be assisting in the restoration process, said Priya Chetty Rajagopal, a member of Heritage Beku.

“We have support from the department but they have their constraints too. We wanted to start a public drive where the citizens of the city assist in the restoration work apart from the officials,” Priya added.

Raghunandan added that the locomotive will weather away further if its restoration is not started soon, with the city losing another structure with a rich heritage. He urged the public to come forward and help with the engine’s restoration.

Show us some love! Support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.