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All steamed up

It’s been a while since I’ve heard a train go choo-choo.

Yesterday, however, the era of coal, billowing black smoke and chuk-chuk gaadis was recreated effortlessly. Remember Sholay? Our local rail network is celebrating the 100th birthday of part of its line, this year. To mark the milestone, they had steam trains running three special trips between London and our town. It was a wonderful way to go back in time.

Mr R and I booked tickets for the afternoon train yesterday. We arrived in time to position ourselves on the bridge overlooking the tracks in order to catch the train coming in from London. Crowds gathered, most with children and prepared with cameras and handicams to record the event. We waited patiently, cameras in hand, waiting for a smoke signal, literally.

Then there is was. A wisp of black smoke at first, then billowing as it turned around a corner. What excitement as the engine came into view!! The train chugged forward proudly and came to a halt below us. The manual doors opened with a clack, passengers streamed out – excited children and adults posed near the engine, delighted with their journey.

Pictures taken, we got onto the train and fortunately found window seats. A lady dressed in period costume wandered about, waving to passengers. There were a couple of top-hats and tails to enhance the feeling of being back in pre-war days. Even the ticket checkers were dressed appropriately. The atmosphere was charged with excitement. We are all raring to go!

The train finally started. A hoot of the horn, a slight jerk and we were off, like a bullet. The speed was surprisingly fast. No slow chugging along here. We sped along like the regular trains, halting at two stations to take on more passengers before speeding non-stop to London.

Getting off at London Marylebone, we, along with all passengers on our train, decided to wait till it pulled out again. We didn’t realise that it would mean a wait of almost an hour, but what’s sixty minutes when you can capture a century gone by.

Twenty minutes later, as heavy rain pelted down, we cursed the nostalgia and took shelter under a railway bridge, with other passengers and some startled pigeons for company. The rain kept playing games with us, giving us ten minutes of heavy showers, biting winds and then alternating with some glaring sunshine. That’s a typical day in England for you.

Anyway, it was 3.40 by the time the engines were steamed up and the train pulled out on its final journey for the day.

The locomotives date from 1929 and have transported thousands of passengers during their lifetime – workers, holidaymakers and football fans – as well as parcels and freight. They were withdrawn from service in 1963, but rescued from the scrap-yard by Vintage Trains and rebuilt to full glory. They are now regularly used on ‘The Shakespeare Express’, a popular service that runs from Birmingham Snow Hill to Stratford-upon-Avon during the busy summer season.

I’m not old enough to remember travelling by steam trains in India, but watching the train pull out brought a severe jolt of nostalgia for me. It may have to do with just the train pulling out -watching people depart leaving you behind is not always a pleasant experience – sometimes, you want to go with them, experience their travels, share their adventures. The romanticism of the smoke, the dressed up people, the shining eyes of the children and their parents took me back to the old Hollywood movies and the excitement of the screen indeed translated into real life. For a moment, we were all spared the daily vagaries of life and we indulged our senses with smoke, the smell of coal and experienced flecks of soot on our clothes. It wouldn’t be fun breathing this on a daily basis, but once in a 100 years, it’s okay to get all steamed up.

As we exited the station, we came across this compartment parked by the entrance. If you look at the picture, you will see that the stamp has the magical ‘Hogwarts railway’ on it. The British take their fiction very seriously.

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One comment on “All steamed up

  1. Very quaint indeed – despite the pelting rain! I really enjoyed your account of steam choochoo’s – I keep thinking of the one in Parineeta that winds around hills…all wood and steam…so old school

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