Post War Steam

The Railway arrived in the Indian sub-continent on April 16th, 1853 and they have never looked back from there. However, the standardization of railway equipment and rolling stock was not an issue of immediate importance in the early years as most railway companies preferred to follow their own set of rules and standards. They largely relied on their own experiences, operating practices and procedures for infrastructure development and procuring rolling stock.

In addition, locomotive supply was, but of course, monopolized by British locomotive manufacturers who in turn relied on the railway experiences in Britain to provide research and development inputs for locomotives bound for the colonies such as India.

India obtained independence from over 200 years of British rule on August 15th, 1947 and ever since the railways have played a pivotal role in the development of the nation. In the words of a former Chairman of the railway board: "The launching of the five-year plans in 1951 threw the economy of the country in high gear and brought in an upsurge of activity on all fronts with a momentum which has perhaps few parallels in history. It has also brought into sharp focus the pre-eminent importance of transport as the kingpin of progress, particularly in development of economy. A tremendous burden was thrown on railways, the only form of transport able to expand its capacity in an extensive way under these conditions."

During the period of the first two Five-Year plans, which ended on March 31, 1961, the route mileage of the Government railway system rose by five percent (2750 Km), the annual passenger-miles by 17 percent and the freight ton-miles by a whopping 99 percent! These remarkable increases, particularly in goods traffic, necessitated substantial addition to the total motive power, and the figures on March 31, 1962 (all gauges) are given below, together with comparative figures for 1948 which include certain lines taken that were taken over by the Government in 1948-9.

Traction Type 1948 1962
Steam Locomotives 7988 10481
Diesel Locomotives 18 228
Electric Locomotives 72 208
Railcars 76 99
Electric Motor Coaches 122 325

Moreover, after the war years, the replacement of over-age locomotives had become a necessity as in 1944, on the broad gauge (5'6") and metre gauge lines combined, there were 2233 steam locomotives (29% of the entire stock) that were 35 years or over in age with some 352 of these over 45 years old. Even the emergency acquisition of 1303 goods locomotives from Canada, the United States and Great Britain during 1943-46 proved insufficient to cope with the vast increases of wartime traffic without retaining many old locomotives, past their prime, in active service. The problems of rehabilitation and replacement have been just as urgent as the need for additional stock and although the net increase is shown above between 1948 and 1962 is 2493 engines, the actual numbers of new steam locomotives put into service during that period was 4644. Another 224 locomotives were built in 1962-3 and a further 724 were added by end of the third five-year plan period on March 31, 1966.

These HS class 2-8-0 engines worked out of Santragachi shed of SER when they were over sixty years old! - Rob Dickinson

The preponderance of steam against other forms of traction in this era can be attributed to three main criteria. Most importantly, there was an urgency of need at the when diesel traction was virtually unknown and a costly fuel to import. Secondly, there was a passionate desire of the Indian Government to become self sufficient in manufacture of railway equipment at the earliest. The fact that indigenous oil production at that time was limited to a few oilfields in Assam whereas coal was in adequate supply also played an important role to opt in favour of steam traction.


The failure of India Railway Standards (IRS) class locomotives and its aftermath

At the end of the first World War, the prices of coal rose rapidly and it became apparent that the railways will have to be able to use inferior grades of coal, something that the British Engineering Standards Association (BESA) design locomotives were not designed for. Starting 1919 several railways started ordering experimental locomotives capable of burning cheaper coal by adopting wide firebox and Pacific (4-6-2) locomotives for passenger service and Mikado (2-8-2) for freight service. The railway board intervened by only allowing purchase of a handful of these experimental locomotives and did not allow the simultaneous purchase of British and American locomotives for direct comparison. Around the same time, Locomotives Standards Committee was formed for replacing the old BESA standards of 1905. The committee rushed to bring out its report without learning the important lessons provided by the experimental engines in service at the time. For the broad gauge the committee recommended five designs based axle loads and duty.

XC class 4-6-2 No.22201 seen at Burdwan - Rob Dickinson

HPS class 4-6-0 BESA locomotive hauling passenger train near Lucknow - John Lacey

The first batch of broad gauge IRS locomotives arrived from Vulcan Foundry in 1926 and these consisted of 26 XA, 30 XB and 12 XC units and several others orders followed quickly. The new Pacifics XA, XB and XC were used all over India and it soon became apparent that they were incapable of the expectations thrust upon them.

Although the valve gear design showed marked improvement over the predecessors, steam distribution in both XB and XC class was poor and caused sluggish performance. Although the lighter XA was relatively successful, the frequent instances of frame fractures and tubeplate cracking in the other two pacifics overshadowed its moderate success.

After a spate of derailments and track distortions involving the XBs and XCs, speed restrictions between 45 to 60 mph were placed on these two classes. For many railways this meant that the IRS class engines were off limit for mainline mail and express duties and this marked with the return of BESA class engines for faster passenger services!


The development of WP class

The IRS class engines were not the only locomotives built in the inter-war period. There were a number of other experimental new designs as also extended modifications of the existing BESA class engines. Bengal Nagpur Railway (BNR) and North Western Railway (NWR) as usual led the pack in innovation. The BNR tried out the de Glehn compound 4-6-2 locomotives for its passenger operations and Garratt engines for heavy freight service.

NWR Garratt 2-6-2 + 2-6-2 No.480 built by Bayer Peacock in 1925 - Picture courtesy of Ian Forrest whose great grandfather worked on this railway.

NWR 2-6-6-2 Mallet No.460 built by Baldwin in 1923 - Builder photo scanned by John Lacey

Vulcan Foundry built the WM class 2-6-4 tank locomotives for hauling heavy suburban trains out of Sealdah - From British Locomotive and Allied Manufacturers Association brochure (Scan provided by Jimmy Jose)

The NWR also experimented with the Garratt and also used a Mallet (2-6-6-0) for comparing the two for goods service and were impressed with neither and continued to use multiple 2-8-0 engines for its steeper lines. The Assam Bengal railway also used Garratts on its metre gauge lines in the 1940s for hauling heavy goods trains. Between 1939-43, a new series of modern tank locomotives was introduced consisting of class WM 2-6-4 tank, WU 2-4-2 tank, WV 2-6-2 tank and WW 0-6-2 tank engines for heavy suburban trains. Of these only the WM class was repeated in large numbers.

In year 1937 two experimental broad gauge engines had been put into service for the GIPR. The two locos carried GIPR running numbers 3100 and 3101, and their all-India numbers as Central Railway locomotives after 1959 were 22599 and 22600. They were christened as XP class locomotives and were built with the aim of gaining the power of the XC class within the operating area of the XB class. The aim was to achieve running mileage of 200,000 between overhauls, and a monthly average of 10,000 miles. These were very high figures for the time. The boiler and firebox of the XB were taken as the basis, although details were modified, and the wheels and cylinders were of the same dimensions. The XP class had an axle-load of 18.7 tons, improved boiler with thermic siphons and a working pressure of 210 lbs per sq. in. (against the 180 lbs for IRS class). The tractive effort of 31,200 lbs was greater than that of both the XB (26,760 lbs) and the XC (30,625 lbs).

Both locomotives were fitted with Caprotti valve gear, and both had roller bearings on all engine and tender wheels - one Timken (3100) and one Skefco (3101). They weighed 99 tons, with an axle load of 182/3 tons, and a grate area of 45 sq ft. This was the starting point for the "WP Design" but research dictated many further changes.

The WP class design was the outcome of several years of research on boiler efficiency, valve gear, and the lateral reactions of locomotives at speed on different kinds of track. At the time although most broad gauge main lines could take a 20 ton axle load, it was decided to increase the availability of the new design by restricting the axle load to 18.5 tons. The task at hand was then to produce a locomotive incorporating tried and proven details of design and capable of being manufactured domestically in due course. It was generally agreed that the horsepower potential of the new engine should at least be equal to the IRS design XC class 4-6-2 engine (axle load 19.7 tons) achieved at a greater economy but with greater availability and without the deficiencies of IRS designs.

Firebox of WP 7200 - John Lacey

A postwar HPS2 4-6-0 locomotive at Pathankot - John Lacey

One of the prototype WP built by Baldwin at its Philadelphia works - Builder photo

WP's in snow! Locomotives built by Montreal Locmotive Works await shipment

The firebox was increased in size to suit lower grade non-coking coal and the boiler was also enlarged, although the distance between tube-plates was reduced from 18.5' to 16' so as not to sacrifice superheat in a long boiler. Bar frames were introduced largely as a result of experience with wartime engines from America, and the diameter of the coupled wheels was reduced from 74" to 67" to save weight, to permit a deeper firebox and thus facilitate hand firing, and also to bring the coupled wheels closer together and as far behind the bogie as possible to reduce axle-load. Walschaerts' valve gear was used (XP class had Caprotti valve gear and the initial WP design carried Poppet valve gear but this was changed later) and the two outside cylinders were 20.25 X 28" compared with 21.5 X 28" in XP class and 23 X 28" in XC class.

The weight of the engine in working order was 101.5 tons, which was 3.25 tons heavier than the XC class; nevertheless the distribution was such that the maximum axle load of 18.5 tons was achieved. The tenders were designed to carry 15 tons of coal and 6,000 gallons of the water but the water capacity was later reduced to 5,550 gallons to keep the axle load under 18.5 ton limit. The WP design also incorporated a semi-streamlined bullet-tip shaped nose in front of the smokebox. However this partial streamlining did not serve any useful purpose and even though deemed unnecessary at one stage, it was never really removed.

Shortly after independence, an order of 100 fast passenger locomotives was pending due to the severe locomotive shortage. The design for the new Pacific engine was ready but with the memories of unhappy experiences with the IRS locomotives looming large, the order for the prototype WP was restricted to 16 engines (on scale of two for each major broad gauge route). The remainder 84 engines were to be the already established and successful HPS 4-6-0 types `mail engines' that came from Vulcan Foundry in 1949-50. These came to be known as HPS1 and HPS2 class.

Baldwin Locomotive Works (BLW), Philadelphia was awarded the task of building the first sixteen prototype WP class locomotives. These were numbered from 7200 to 7215 and went to GIPR, BBCIR and EIR. These engines soon earned the reputation for free steaming, fuel economy and good riding characteristics; also there was none of the `tail wag' experienced with the new engines that was so characteristic of the XC class.

On establishing their success, further orders for WP locomotives went to Baldwin, Canadian Locomotive Company (CLC) and Montreal Locomotive Works (MLW) who shared the manufacturing of next 300 WP engines. These engines were numbered from 7216 to 7515 in order of the railways to which they were allotted. A further 120 engines were ordered from CLC in 1955-6 and 60 more engines came from Poland and Austria between 1957-9.

The regrouping of the various railway companies to six (later eight) railway systems in 1951-2 caused severe chaos in locomotives numbers due to the duplication of running numbers between different railways. A new numbering system was then instituted by the railway board on an All India basis for all gauges and for new as well as existing locomotives.

Under this system broad gauge standard classes were to be numbered from 7000 to 19999 and the 30 new WP engines from Austria and Poland that had arrived in 1958-9 were given numbers from 7000-59.

XD class along with XA and XE were relatively successful IRS designs. The WG class postwar locomotive was designed with keeping the horsepower potential of XE in mind along with availability of XD class. Here a South Eastern Railway XD locomotive is seen at Raipur on pilot duties - John Lacey

A WG class 2-8-2 engine leaving Delhi Jn. doing precisely what it was designed for - hauling goods - Rob Dickinson


Development of post war standard goods locomotive

The first postwar order for broad gauge goods locomotives went to Canada for 150 Canadian War Department (CWD) class 2-8-2 locomotives with 60" driving wheels and 21 X 28" cylinders. CLC and MLW built these units between them and these locomotives were similar to 434 wartime engines ordered from the same source between 1943-6. A surprise entry in the list of post-war engines ordered was six IRS class XD 2-8-2 locomotives from Vulcan Foundry for Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway (MSMR) in 1948.

Then a new standard 2-8-2 design goods engine appeared in 1950 and was called the WG class. The engine was designed in such a way that its boiler, motion, springs, axle-box, rear truck and bogies for the tender were all identical to those used for the WP class. The coupled wheels however were only 61.5" in diameter, in continuation of the pre-war standards goods design, the cylinders were 21.875 X 28" and the axle load was restricted to 18.5 tons. The first hundred WG engines came from North British Locomotive Works (NB) in Glasgow, England and were numbered from 8301 to 8400 on arrival. Out of these 100 engines North British sub-contracted 10 to Vulcan Foundry. Locomotive No. 8350 was exhibited at Festival of Britain in 1951 prior to being shipped to India.


Building locomotives at Chittaranjan

In August 1947, the only locomotives being constructed in India were part of IRS class of broad gauge XT 0-4-2 tank locomotives, with 51" coupled wheels and 12 X 22" cylinders, being built at Ajmer works. Ajmer works had built its first locomotive; a 0-6-0 tender engine in 1896 and by 1945 had constructed a total of 447 engines, all for metre gauge. Of the total order of twenty XT class locomotives being built at Ajmer in 1947, only ten were completed by August 1947 and went to NWR and the remainder ten could only be completed between 1947-50 due to material shortage and eventually went to the Eastern Punjab Railway (EPR, the Indian portion of NWR after 1947). New construction ceased thereafter and Ajmer workshop concentrated solely on repair work.

After the phenomenal success of the postwar WP and WG class, prototypes for which were built outside India, the need to establish indigenous locomotive industry became apparent. After a great deal of brainstorming and consideration given to alternative proposals, Chittaranjan in West Bengal was chosen as the site for building new locomotives for all domestic requirements. Construction began in April 1948 and a new city that sprang up to accommodate plant and workers was name after the great Indian Statesman, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan Das. His widow, Shrimati Basanti Devi, inaugurated the manufacturing of locomotive components on January 26, 1950. The first 100 locomotives to be built at Chittaranjan were the WG class numbered from 8401 to 8500. The President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, flagged off the first locomotive at Chittaranjan Works on November 1, 1950 and it was named `Deshbandhu'.

The first 10 locomotives were only assembled at Chittaranjan from imported parts but by the end of 1951, the domestic built content of the parts grew to 50% and by 1953 it reached 70%. By March 31, 1953, Chittaranjan had turned out 57 engines, 11 of which had locally built boilers. The 100th engine was steamed off the assembly lines on January 6, 1954.

Due to severe shortage of goods locomotives faced partially due to retirement of overage stock necessitated further large orders of locomotives to be imported. Franco Belge of Raismes, France supplied WG class Nos. 8501-82 and Henschel built some of these under sub-contract. Chittaranjan built Nos. 8583-8839 between 1954-6. Subsequently, WG class engines were built in Germany, Austria, Italy and Japan before production at Chittaranjan was stablised.

A pair of WGs await their turn at New Delhi

After August 1956 all locomotives of WG class were built at Chittaranjan and production was stablised to 14 locomotives a month. By 1959 the manufacturing process had progressed to a stage where boilers for prewar engines were also being produced at Chittaranjan for replacement in addition to those required for new locomotives.

It is interesting to note that the first batch of WG class was numbered from 8301+ on their arrival in 1950 from England and engines 8000-289 were built at Chittaranjan between 1959-60.

There was no WG class engine numbered 8300! The last WG engine to be built was WG 10560 in 1970 and was named `Antim Sitara' taking a cue from the `Evening Star'; the last 9F class built in England.

In stark contrast to the large number of WG class engines produced at Chittaranjan in its early years, it wasn't until February 1963 that the first indigenous WP class engine was built. The WP engines produced by CLW were called WP1 and the first engine numbered 7060 was called `Vikananda' commemorating the birth centenary of the great 19th century Indian seer Swami Vivekananda. Subsequently all orders for WP class went to Chittaranjan and by 1967 when the last WP No. 7754 was produced, Chittaranjan had built 259 engines of this class.

A WP1 class locomotive built by Chittaranjan

The WP1 engines were 5 tons heavier than the imported WP engines after manufacturing process for certain parts had to be simplified for domestic production.

By the time Chittaranjan ceased building steam locomotives in 1972, the number of WG class engines produced there had reached 1,908 bringing the total for this class to 2,450, easily the largest for a single class of locomotive in the commonwealth countries. By this date the Chittaranjan had turned out 30 WT class, 94 WL class, 259 WP class and also 60 YG class metre gauge locomotives - a total of 2,351 engines in a span of just twenty years of its existence!


Other post war designs

Based on the success of WM class 2-6-4 tank engines of 1940, a new engine was designed for hauling the heavy suburban train around Calcutta area. It was a large 2-8-4 tank design called WT that were built at Chittaranjan between 1959-60 and numbered 14000-9. The engine was designed so as the coupled wheels and cylinders were interchangeable with WP class but a smaller boiler was used with Belapaire firebox and the maximum axle load was kept down to 18 tons. These engines proved themselves worthy by hauling 12 coach suburban trains out of Sealdah as compared to 8 coaches achieved by previous WM 2-6-4 tank engines. The first engine of this class No. 14000 was named 'Chittaranjan' and a total of 30 engines were produced until 1967 when electrification put brakes on use of steam for suburban services.

WL 15015 hauling passenger at Mangalore - John Lacey

The WT is a noteworthy locomotive for two reasons. It was the first locomotive to be fully designed at CLW; and it is probably the world's last new design of main line steam locomotive to go into series production. The first ten engines built by CLW in 1959-1960 went to Sealdah; and an order of further 20 in 1965-1967 went to Madras. The last WTs were operating in the Rajahmundry area in the early 1980s. Initially, there were 146 WTs ordered, but construction stopped after 30 were built, due to electrification of suburban lines.

At this time Indian Railways decided to build more of the WL class after the 10-year gap since the delivery of WL s built by Vulcan Foundry.


For lightly laid branch lines, a light pacific engine was designed with only 16.75 ton axle load and boiler interchangeable with the WT class. They had 67" coupled wheels, 19.25 X 28" cylinders and weighed a mere 88 tons. Vulcan Foundry built the first 10 engines of this class and five went to Northern and Southern Railway each. Chittaranjan built the next 94 locomotives between 1966-8 and these were numbered from 15014-107. These engines worked the branch lines around Firozpur, Jallandhar, Godhra, Rajahmundry and Shoranur and were known for their high-pitched boiler and sweet sounding whistle. This class is not to be confused with the earlier WL class of 1939-40, only four engines of which were ever produced, and all went to Pakistan after partition.

P Class Garratt 4-8-2 + 2-8-4 locomotive built by Bayer Peacock for South Easter Railway - scan provided by John Lacey

Abandoned post war designs

The WG Class was undoubtedly the most successful of all postwar designs produced and for most part the original design remained unchanged until the end. Individual railways like the South Eastern Railway tried mechanical stokers after 1961.


There was also a talk of using two WG locomotives back to back with one massive twelve wheeled tender between them. The need for a more powerful goods engine however became apparent and in 1952 a Heavy Goods (WHG) 4-8-2 + 2-8-4 Garratt version was designed based on the successful Beyer Peacock's P Class Garratt of 1939 used by Bengal Nagpur Railway. It was designed in a way that many parts including wheels and cylinders were to be interchangeable with the WG class. The maximum axle load was however restricted to 18 tons and mechanical stokers were incorporated in the standard design. Another similar heavier engine was designed with axle load of 19.5 tons but with dieselisation becoming increasingly popular, Chittaranjan never received any orders for these designs. It is interesting to note here that IR had called tenders for 20 broad gauge Garratts in 1954-55, but Beyer Peacock's price was more than twice that of WGs built in Germany or Japan, so none were ordered.

Heavy shunting engines were also designed but never built. The first design designed for hump work was a massive tank engine to be called class WS. It was to have 48" coupled wheels, 20.5 X 26" cylinders and a 2-10-6 wheel arrangement to keep down the axle load to 17 tons. Next to appear on drawing board was class WH, a 2-8-4 tank design with 51" coupled wheels, 20.25 X 26" cylinders and an 18.5 ton axle load.

A heavy passenger engine with 4-8-4 wheel arrangement and a large tender with six wheeled bogies was also designed around 1960 but never built. Alas! These fascinating designs must remain a vision on paper as a tribute to the great men who designed, built and rode the amazing steam locomotives.

(The author would like to acknowledge the May 1964 article `Steam in India' by Hugh Hughes in the Railway Magazine that formed the basis of this article. John Lacey added his valuable inputs and edited the text. Photographs are through the courtesy of Rob Dickinson, Jimmy Jose, John Lacey and others.)

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