India's largest and smallest locomotives

National Rail Museum

The ninety-one feet long Bengal Nagpur Railways' Garratt was the biggest locomotive in India and Asia. This marvel occupies pride of place at the National Rail Museum, with the Hasang, India's smallest locomotive. Here's a closer look at these two powerhouses.

Bengal Nagpur Railway's N-class Garratt holds the distinction of being the largest railway locomotive to ever run in India. At 91 feet long and 235 tons heavy, it is in fact, the biggest locomotive of Asia!

The BNR N-class Garratt was a broad gauge locomotive, built in 1930 by Beyer-Peacock, in Manchester, U.K. The N-815 Garratt, at the National Rail Museum, is one of the many Garratts built and imported from 1910 to India. It was one of the most powerful locomotives of the time, and is also said to be the heaviest of any locomotives ever to be used in Indian Railways.

The Garratt class of locomotives were designed to double the power of the largest conventional locomotives.

Equipped with two steam engines, they were mainly used to haul minerals and iron ore in Central India.

Such a design greatly reduced the need for multiple locomotives and operating crews.

Also known as Beyer-Garratt, the N-815 was articulated into three separate parts - the coal-carrying tender, the boiler, and the water carrier. This articulation permitted such a large locomotive to negotiate curves and lighter rails which generally restrict rigid-framed large locomotives. Bengal Nagpur Railways' N-class Garratts were the only 4-8-0+0-8-4 wheel arrangement Garratts to run anywhere in the world.

The locomotive weight was distributed in such a way that even though it weighed a immense 235 tonnes (232,000 kilograms), its axle load - the weight felt by the rail track for wheels on each axle - was barely over 20 tonnes.

The massive boiler of the Garratt was mounted on the center of the locomotive with the tender and a tank on either side.

The water-carrying tank of the locomotive sits on a separate frame, which is connected to the front of the boiler frame. Water is pumped into the tender for heating, through pipes along the side of the frame.

The coal-carrying tender sits on a separate frame behind the boiler. Similar to any other locomotive, the driver's cab is attached to this tender. From there, the driver would manually shovel coal into the boiler.

Hauling immense loads  at high speeds
These articulated steam locomotives were used mainly to haul heavy minerals and iron ore loads between Central and Eastern India, on Bengal Nagpur Railway (B.N.R) and later South Eastern Railway. This set of locomotives was so powerful that it could haul a load of 2400 tonnes on a 1:100 gradient and achieve speeds of up to 72 kmph, working both ways.

The Garratt was also used by the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway. The DHR Garratt was, in fact, the first true Garratt and had an extraordinary reversing gear.

It was given a class 'D', with the engine numbered 31. It had a wheel arrangement of 0-4-0+0-4-0, Beyer Peacock No. 5407 of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway.

(Photo courtesy: “Renovation-Revival of a Garratt Locomotive", Saibal Bose and Subhasis Ganguly.)

The Garratts were also used on coal traffic in Jharkhand, between Chakradharpur and Jharsuguda; between Anara and Tatanagar.

They were last used in 1970-71, hauling 2400 tonne iron ore trains between Chhattisgarh's Dalli-Rajhara and Bhilai.

Another Garratt, BNR 811, of South Eastern Railway, was restored at the Kharagpur Workshop in 2006 and came to life after a gap of almost 46 years.

The first Garratt Heritage Run was successfully held on 17 November, 2006 between Shalimar and Mecheda in Bengal, by South Eastern Railway.

Restoring the giant
 The BNR Garratt 815 underwent its cosmetic restoration at the National Rail Museum. The last restoration was in 2015 and took place over a period of six months.

Corrosion and flaking paint is visible all over the locomotive, and rust had gathered on the under-frame, boiler, steam dome and chimney.

Inside the locomotive - in the cab - paint was peeling off and cracks had developed on the driver's panel.

The restoration process began with repairing the outer structure. New metal sheets were welded in place to replace corroded parts.

Then, gaps in the welded pieces were filled with putty and a coating of grey base paint was applied to the locomotive.

When the base paint was dry, a fresh layer was applied, to bring the locomotive back to its original colours.

The inside view of the driver's cabin after restoration - notice the freshly-painted control panels, levers and valves.

The mighty BNR Garratt 815, after restoration, looks formidable as ever.

Take a virtual tour around this mighty steam giant, now stationed at the National Rail Museum, New Delhi.

The smallest locomotive
In contrast to the Garratt, the Hasang-A/885 is the smallest steam locomotive ever to be used in the Indian Subcontinent. Manufactured in 1897 by M/s W.G. Bagnall, Stafford (UK), it spent most of its time at Assam's Ledo coal mines.

It has a little saddle tank on top of the boiler for water storage, and a small tender just behind that for coal.

This 0-4-0 (previously 0-4-2) locomotive was donated to the National Rail Museum by Coal India Limited.

Enjoy a virtual walk around the tiniest locomotive of the subcontinent, stationed today at the National Rail Museum, New Delhi

National Rail Museum
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