Railway: New GM plans to transform service | Sunday Observer

Railway: New GM plans to transform service

Around 350 trains operate daily with over 500,000 passengers linking over 300 stations across the country.
Around 350 trains operate daily with over 500,000 passengers linking over 300 stations across the country.

The Sri Lanka Railway (SLR) will be transformed into a modern railway system with upgraded facilities to increase revenue and boost its market share in the transportation sector, General Manager Railways, S.M. Abeywickrama, who assumed duties recently, said in an interview with the Sunday Observer last week.

SLR founded in 1858 as Ceylon Government Railway marked 100 years of its iconic station in Fort with an issue of the first day cover and a series of events at the station last week.

The present Fort Station opened in 1917 was built on land reclaimed from the Beira Lake.

Railway is considered a faster mode of transportation linking Colombo with several major cities across the country. However, the level of service needs an urgent face lift according to commuters.

“We have taken many steps to improve the quality of service, enhance efficiency and access to better facilities,” Abeywickrama said.

SLR has signed a contract with an Indian Government entity to purchase six diesel multiple units and 10 locomotives under the Indian line of credit.

“We expect the carriages to arrive a little over a year’s time as they have to meet our specifications,” the General Manager Railways said.

The tender procedure for the procurement of 20 container transportation wagons has been completed. Twenty oil tankers to transport fuel to the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) have been finalized with an Indian company.

“We hope to receive the orders soon,” Abeywickrama said.

SLR meets around 28 percent of the CPC transportation requirement.

SLR plans to procure 160 passenger compartments from India to cater to the growing number of passengers. The number of passengers increased by around 1.2 percent during the first six months this year compared to the corresponding period last year.

Around 350 trains operate daily with over 500,000 passengers linking over 300 stations across the country.

The tender has been finalized to procure nine diesel multiple units from a Chinese government owned company for the upcountry sector.

“We expect to provide a better service with more trains in about one-and-half years with the arrival of all the orders,” Abeywickrama said.

SLR has taken steps, according to the General Manager, to improve train and station facilities, railway services, time schedules and installation of bell and light signals at unprotected level crossings.

“We in the process of procuring 200 bell and light signals to be used across the country, with the support of the University of Moratuwa. Another 200 protection systems will be set up across the country next year,” he said. Developing the Kurunegala station with improvements to the access roads, building and raising platforms at the Kelani Valley line, developing the Secretariat platform and the station, construction of 200 toilet units and, setting up double lines are some of the measures taken by SLR to improve the railway system. “We have called for tenders to construct luxury toilets at stations,” Abeywickrama said.

The double line from Kalutara South to Payagala is to be opened within one month according to the SLR General Manager.

A new entrance at Bastian Mawatha with a ticketing counter is also to be opened soon.

“We have installed air condition facilities in new trains to attract the foreign travel segment and promote rail transportation for tourism,” Abeywickrama said.

However, the SLR has over 2,000 unfilled vacancies of train drivers, guards, technicians and security personnel. The absence of a proper recruitment procedure for certain grades has aggravated the issue of shortage of staff.

Railway transportation experts noted that proper attention should be given to delays caused as a result of crossings outside colour light areas especially on the Polgahawela to Anuradhapura stretch and developing major city stations.

Commuters are inconvenienced due to long distance trains not stopping at certain cities such as Ragama and Veyangoda. Besides lack of information on train schedules and delays are hassles for commuters.

The SLR has to maintain buildings, signal lights, tracks, bridges, rolling stock, quarters and certain electricity lines.

The railway is among other state sectors that constantly faces trade union action.

At present, the railway network comprises over 1,500 kilometres with 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) broad gauge.

The railway contains some of the scenic rail routes in the country particularly the Main Line winding through waterfalls, forest mountains, misty peaks and precipices and man made festoons such as tea estates, pine forests and engineering feats including bridges and peak level stations.

The railway network was introduced by the British in 1864 to transport tea and coffee from the hill country to Colombo. Initially the service began with the Main Line of 54 kilometres connecting Colombo and Ambepussa.

Sir Guilford Lindsey Molesworth was the first chief engineer and Director General of the CGR. During this time people referred to trains as the Anguru Kaka Wathura Bibi Duwana Yakada Yaka[4] (the coal-eating, water-drinking, sprinting, metal devils). Extensions were made to the main line in 1867, 1874, 1885, 1894 and 1924, extending its service to Kandy, Nawalpitiya, Nanu Oya, Bandarawela and Badulla.

Many other railway lines were added to Ceylon Railway System within the first century of its life, such as a line to Matale in 1880, Coast Railway Line in 1895, Northern Line in 1905, Mannar Line in 1914, Kelani Valley in 1919, Puttalam Line in 1926, and to Batticaloa and Trincomalee in 1928.

Extensions were made to the main line in 1867, 1874, 1885, 1894 and  1924, extending its service to Kandy,
Nawalapitiya, Nanu Oya, Bandarawela  and Badulla.