Railways of Sri Lanka
by Raja Fernando - The Ceylon Daily News Tue Nov 11 2003
With the British domination the first sod was cut and the present population enjoy 80 per cent of their railway network. Firstly please enjoy the undernoted amended song which I had heard when I lived with an uncle of mine in 1960 onwards who was at that time the Operating Superintendent of the Railway J. Mervin Dharmaratne, a locomotive engineer resident at Pentreve Gardens, Kollupitiya.
"Mahajana sevaya sandaha venwu
A short journey back from Panadura to Aluthgama
Although I am not a rail commuter I had always a liking to travel by train. When Mr. J. M. Dharmaratne was the Operating Superintendent, on his instructions I travelled in the guard locomotive (as I remember manufacturers were Bayer Peacock of Leeds (subject to correction) from Nanuoya to Badulla and back. Going through Pattipola the railway summit and the Demodera Loop I shall remember the experience up to my death.
I was then a young Tea Taster of the George Stuart & Co. the largest British Agency and by passed several estates managed by them. During my young days in the Tea Trade I was dressed in shorts and for this trip on the Ganete I wore a Field Grey Tootal Drill Shorts, a checked shirt and white stockings which I wore daily in Colombo. From 1960 I had a new car bought by my father and often I drove up to Estates managed by the agency.
When I came to live at Panadura the home town of my parents prior to marriage I drove and on certain days I travelled by train to Colombo. Some times when I was late Mr. Gamini Fernando stopped the power set before the North rail gate and I enjoyed a ride on the "Schindler Power Diesel Engine". Ten years ago he ascended to Samsara with a small bottle in hand. A good classmate he was.
I heard the Alstom locomotives the purchase of which made Mr. B. C. Perera (Ex Civil Service) to resign from his post as secretary, were being unloaded at the harbour and when these were hauled 20 yards from our office, I had a glimpse of it. Ever since I wanted to have a ride and I requested a railway driver middle of last month to take me up to Kalutara South. He asked me what was the purpose and I said in a jiffy to see how it was being operated. He consented and I got on to the Cab and stood in the middle of the two seats. At the out set I asked how many 'Notches', and where is the brake lever. With computerised dash board he pointed to a small lever-verticle and extent of applying the brakes the driver could see on the computerised dash board.
Prior to the last General Elections, I have heard many rude comments about these locomotives and I defended the procedure of purchase. Initially, I used to drive the car parallel from Moratuwa to Panadura and the maximum speed the engine attained was 80 k.m.p.h. On the run I asked him for the speed and between Beruwala and Aluthgama on the straight track it to touched 78 k.m.p.h.
Several times he slowed the speed at unprotected level crossings. At protected level crossings he could not see the signal operated by the gate man as the foliage was over grown and he slowed until the assistant driver saw the signal clearly. This I would say the wayworks should inform their subordinate staff at railway stations to send a 6 man team on a push trolley with a long ladder, and improvised knives to cut the plantain branches and other trees or shrubs if there are bunches of plantains, also to cut them and enjoy at their homes. However, the SMs should give a note of caution to the driver to horn at bends and particulary look for the Push Trolley ahead. It will last for 4 months and repeat thereafter. The six men should be equipped with raincoats and water repellant caps in case of rain.
Operating the Alstom M9 is easier than driving a road vehicle in present traffic. When compared with steam engines, with the lever, regulator, vacuum brake handle and the vacuum gauge in what comfort could they drive today. The pleasant journey ended at Aluthgama and then I did a right about turn. I would say many thanks for the unknown driver and his assistant, I got another good experience on the last locomotive purchased by the Railway.
Inferences - The track should have sufficient rubble packed with tiny pieces of rock, as spread on the newly tarred roads, since the packing between sleepers is grossly insufficient. If the track is maintained well the locomotives can run at an optimum speed. School days I travelled by train to Ananda College with my colleagues Dr. P. A. de Silva, Prof. of Mechanical Engineering, Katubedda University, M/S Dharmasiri and Hema Weerasinghe (SP) retired early and we saw all these being done by the way and works manually.
I suppose they are partly asleep due to insufficient funds. It is natural that loose packing of concrete wooden sleeper caused a derailment approaching from Colombo, Motatuwa bend, about two years ago.
I was a ticketless traveller in the locomotive and had the presence of mind to purchase two second class tickets from the booking office at Aluthgama to Panadura in order to leave no debt to the railway. It was in my mind, the rail commuters should enrich the railway by purchasing their tickets as this service has to go on for next 5000 years in a third world country.
I awaited the next express and sat in a 2nd class compartment. Next to me was a retired officer from the head office of the Education Department. M4 the Canadian loco horned and pulled off.
The Rumanian Carriage had rusty fans making a racket. Some had been pilfered when parked in railway yards. The locomotive speeded up and I could not converse with the passenger seated next to me because of the huge noise and racket which came through the Damaged Vestibule with large holes on the thick canvass. The auto coupling's massive noise reverberated in the compartment. With the speed the under bogies oscillated so much and I was frightened the compartments would get derailed which can cause a severe accident at high speed.
Inferences - During Mr. B. D. Rampala's time (the renounced G. M. R.) he was instrumental in reducing the oscillation when English carriages were purchased. The play between the flanges and the rail gauge was reduced. I travelled to school in those compartments with absolutely no noise whatsoever seated in the most comfortable seats in the 2nd class. I see daily about 26 or more of Rumanian coaches in an utter state of disrepair when I drive past over the Base Line road. There is a solitary steam engine near a shed which they can cut up and sell or have it repaired and keep it stored as an artifact for the next exhibition.
The Rumanian coaches have in the under bogie shock absorbers which have not been replaced in time. This makes the Railway should not invest on Rumanians as India is a much closer source or even Peoples Republic of China. Chinese carriages we had were very fine riding with the best of springs. Cannot this CME's Department renovate these carriages and put them on the run!
Repairing the vestibules if they import the proper, hard canvas can be done at the best equipped workshop at Ratmalana.
All coaches should be used until they are scraped owing to unserviceability. I have seen the M-8 Indian LOCO, full of power, but the outer metal is getting corroded, while running on the coast line from Puttalam to Matara. In due course CME will have to find a solution for this. General comments
I visited daily the Railway exhibition out of curiosity and enjoyed it, up to the fullest. Other visitors may have thought a crazy Ass has come as I did run up and down by the side of the Little Baby loco which handed small carriages.
If I do get an opportunity I would like to see the Baby Still in Railway storage. Precautions should be taken to counter ticketless travelling by placing two security men or ladies at Matara, Galle, Aluthgama and all other rail heads up country and northern lines with quarters for them.
They will charge the penalty which will add to the revenue and a different to others who travel ticketless.
In order to defray the high cost of maintenance and as bus fares are being increased the ticket price should be slightly increased. If there is a deficit the Treasury has to fund the losses as Rail-Transport has to serve the common masses, as a reliable method of transportation. Please remember commuters are a poor lot.
When I got off at Panadura I surrendered the two tickets and told the policeman that I had a ride in Alstom Loco up to Aluthgama, and when I came home Mrs. Fernando gave me a thorough scolding, So it was better than getting thrashed. Excursion ended and when I got up the following morning after my son had driven to work, as a punishment she had padlocked both sets of gates and all exits of my house locked and keys hidden.
May the recently established railway Authority have a good day and look for better fortunes in the ensuing centuries!