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Nilagiri Mountain Train Project

Nilagiri Mountain Train Project
New Oil-fired technology saves the historic Nilagiri Steam Loco

Backdrop


The Nilagiri Mountain Railway (NMR) is a surviving steam heritage railway which is over 100 years old. Ooty had served as the Summer capital during the days of the British Raj and a proposal for a Railway was mooted in 1875, but it was not until 15th June, 1899 that the NMR, masterminded by J.Morant (Royal Engineers) and Swiss engineer Niklaus Riggenback, opened from Mettupalayam to Coonoor, later to be extended up to Ooty in 1908, mainly to serve the Army base. Totaling up to a length of 46 kms, the line became a part of the Southern Railway during the post independence re-organization in 1951. It is one of India's steepest railway line, built to negotiate sharp curves and such gradients as 1 in 12 with 16 tunnels and 250 bridges, making it a tremendous piece of engineering with no parallels even today.

With closure of the main line steam sheds, NMR and the celebrated Darjeeling Himalayan Railway are the only surviving steam operated routes and the Indian railway is committed to the efforts to ensure the survival of steam locos in the interest of heritage and tourism.


The NMR has mostly been dominated by the hardy "X" class tank engines built by Swiss Locomotive and Machine Works of Winterhur, Switzerland. These engines were introduced in 1914; there are 7 vintage engines in all, the youngest being almost 50 years old. The Locomotives exude regal beauty in their attractive shade of blue outlined in yellow with the divisional emblem on the side tanks besides other embellishments. But, the Railways has been facing a problem of non-availability of good quality coal for nearly 2 decades coupled with other problems such as tough manual labour involved in shoveling 4 tonnes of coal per trip and also the implications of environmental pollution, that threaten the very existence of the Steam locomotive which is a major Tourist attraction, in the Nilagiris. Foreign tourists flock the NMR just to experience the nostalgia of a bygone era of steam. The success of the conversion to oil firing of the newest "X" - number 37395 shall prompt the extension to the rest of the fleet, breathing a new lease of life into the cherished heritage steam locomotives of India.



The Technology development initiative by TREC-STEP



The upgradation of the heritage Steam locomotive from a Coal-fired system to an Oil-fired one is a unique and challenging project that was taken up by TREC-STEP. The major problem of Railways of non-availability of good quality coal and also the punishing inhuman manual handling system has been addressed by the introduction of a new technology by TREC-STEP. In an attempt to solve the problems and retain the popular tourist delight on track the Southern Railways decided to convert on an experimental basis one of the "X" class engines - no 37395 into an oil-fired system. This challenging task was taken up by TREC-STEP with the confidence and conviction provided by its diverse group of Experts drawn from its own Entrepreneurs, Academia, BHEL and other organizations.

In order to leave the antique beauty of the heritage locomotive largely untouched severe space constraints were imposed while installing the proposed system - "Boiler on wheels", in place. 35 experts from diverse fields such as combustion engineering, boiler controls, heat transfer etc., toiled on every minor detail to fine tune the system design which demanded new and unique solutions in:



Trial runs with the upgraded system in place were meticulously planned and coordinated with the various Railway departments, 70 trials were carried out on the Mettupalayam - Coonoor section over a period of 140 days. The "X" class steam locos operate between Mettupalayam and Coonoor, the first section of the track between Mettupalayam and Kallar is adhesion worked. Beyond Kallar with the Nilagiris looming large, the ruling gradient rises steeply to 1 in 12; this section of the track is the rack section - the taxing yet thrilling part of the ride which can be handled only by these sturdy "X" class engines which take on the sharp gradient by operating on the rack and pinion mechanism.

The final stretch between Coonoor and Ooty has been dieselized. With all other efforts by the Southern Railways, such as replacement of the aging engines with a new fleet, electrification etc., being shelved for various reasons, the successful yet cost effective conversion to an oil-fired system has ensured that the vast Tourist populace comprising international and domestic tourists who throng the popular hill retreat shall continue to experience the ecstasy of an exhilarating ride while adding to the Railway exchequer.

The powerful oil-fired locomotive now propels up to 6 compartments as compared to 4 by the coal fired one as it carries out the daily assault of the "Queen of the Hills" at a faster and maintenance free pace with an environmentally friendlier technology. As for the future of steam locos in India - the light at the end of the tunnel shines brighter than before. The oil fired system has restored the NMR back on track from the brink of extinction. This project marks the beginning of new technology introduction to the NMR fleet and also demonstrates the excellent project based working relationship between Southern Railway and TREC-STEP, thus providing a shining model of Industry-Institution-Interaction for other institutes to emulate.

Trial runs with the upgraded system in place were meticulously planned and coordinated with the various Railway departments, 70 trials were carried out on the Mettupalayam - Coonoor section over a period of 140 days. The "X" class steam locos operate between Mettupalayam and Coonoor, the first section of the track between Mettupalayam and Kallar is adhesion worked. Beyond Kallar with the Nilagiris looming large, the ruling gradient rises steeply to 1 in 12; this section of the track is the rack section - the taxing yet thrilling part of the ride which can be handled only by these sturdy "X" class engines which take on the sharp gradient by operating on the rack and pinion mechanism. The final stretch between Coonoor and Ooty has been dieselized. With all other efforts by the Southern Railways, such as replacement of the aging engines with a new fleet, electrification etc., being shelved for various reasons, the successful yet cost effective conversion to an oil-fired system has ensured that the vast Tourist populace comprising international and domestic tourists who throng the popular hill retreat shall continue to experience the ecstasy of an exhilarating ride while adding to the Railway exchequer. The powerful oil-fired locomotive now propels up to 6 compartments as compared to 4 by the coal fired one as it carries out the daily assault of the "Queen of the Hills" at a faster and maintenance free pace with an environmentally friendlier technology. As for the future of steam locos in India - the light at the end of the tunnel shines brighter than before. The oil fired system has restored the NMR back on track from the brink of extinction. This project marks the beginning of new technology introduction to the NMR fleet and also demonstrates the excellent project based working relationship between Southern Railway and TREC-STEP, thus providing a shining model of Industry-Institution-Interaction for other institutes to emulate.

With the validation of the system by the Railways after the trials, the newly converted Oil-fired steam locomotive was flagged off by the Honourable Minister of State for Railways, Mr. A.K. Moorthy, Mr. S. Dhasarathy, Member Mechanical, Railway Board presided over the function.