New Delhi, India
December 30, 2006
Inaugurated in 1977, the National Rail Museum is an outdoor affair spread over 11 acres. The tiny Joy Train chugs along every few minutes on a circuit of the area, and an unsightly eatery stands in the middle of it all.
The museum’s most conspicuous exhibits are steam locomotives. Most date to the late 1800s, and were built largely by British manufacturers with evocative names: Dubs Co., Glasgow; Vulcan Foundry; Saltley Works; Kerr Stuart and Co.; and Beyer, Peacock and Co. Ltd. There are some impressive locomotives here: the HG-/C-1598, with a massive silver-coloured cowcatcher; and the F-734, built at the Ajmer Workshop of the Rajputana Malwa Railway in 1895. There are, equally, some surprises: the Mourbhuj Coach has no brakes. The world’s oldest functional steam locomotive, the Fairy Queen (1855), used to be the star attraction, but has now been pressed back into service and does leisurely tours to Alwar.
You can climb into most locomotives for free, but Rs 50 is charged to view one of the saloons. There are three: the Prince of Wales saloon, built for the Prince (later Edward VII) when he came for the Royal Durbar of 1896; the saloon of Maharaja Krishnarao Wodeyar of Mysore; and the saloon of the Gaekwar of Baroda. If (like us) you arrive at lunchtime, when nobody’s around to open the saloon, climb the steps and peer in - you’ll see part. The Gaekwar’s saloon, all gold-enamelled ceiling and etched glass, is definitely worth a peek.
There are some modern locomotives including a dynamometer car and a track recording car; a crane, built in 1883 at a cost of Rs 7,000; a sheep van; and an indoor gallery.
The gallery houses a neglected souvenir shop and lots of railway memorabilia, including signals, telephones, a station clock, electrical fittings, and Victorian tableware. Cases of buttons, badges and first day covers occupy one section, as do some quaint photographs of VIPs on trains and platforms: Gandhi, Nehru, maharajas, and Viceroys such as Hardinge and Linlithgow.
One wall’s covered with emblems of defunct state railways, the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, the Gaekwar’s Baroda Railway and the Cooch Behar Railway among them; and there are dozens of builder plates of rolling stock. A large section is devoted to models of locomotives and hill railways such as the Nilgiri Railway and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR, a World Heritage site). The DHR section has some amusing engravings of the work done on the DHR.
There is also, interestingly enough, the skull of an elephant killed in 1894 when a train banged into it (was the locomotive akin to the Mourbhuj Coach?). One tusk was dispatched to London while the other was presented to the engine driver, so what’s here is a somewhat depleted version of the pulverised pachyderm.
The Museum is closed on Mondays. Entry is Rs 10 per adult.
From journal The Museums of Delhi