Experts call to choose railways over expressways | Sunday Observer

Experts call to choose railways over expressways

A team of engineers, transportation experts and intellectuals last week unanimously called on the government to give railways its due priority over building expressways

arguing that a modern efficient railway network will provide a sustainable long term solution to tackle the growing issue of road traffic congestion.

Addressing a panel discussion on the topic of ‘Railway development as a viable alternative to the Central Expressway Extension to Kandy’, Senior Professor, Department of Transport and Logistics, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, Dr. Amal S. Kumarage advocated that development of railways is a cheaper, effective and equitable option and a better alternative to the proposed Central Expressway.

“The economic viability of Central Expressway is highly questionable given that the estimated cost for building the stretch of the Outer Circular Highway Project from Kaduwela to Kerawalapitya cost a staggering US$ 54 per kilo meter.

Comparatively, the estimated cost of developing the railway network is only one-third of this cost,” Professor Kumarage said quoting statistics presented by Engineer Ranjith L Dissanayake, a Retired Personal Assistant to General Manager Railway Engineer Headquarters at the General Manager Railways’ Office.

Prof. Kumarage said as railways will have less impact on traffic congestion, it is still not too late for the Sri Lanka’s National Planning Department in conjunction with Central Environmental Authority (CEA) to carry out a rail feasibility study and assess the alternative. “The Road Development Authority should show traffic studies how expressways will impact traffic with the two cities,” said Kumarage recommending the development of a new Intercity-Express Railway network enabling the carriage of freight and extendable to other provinces.

“This will present a new paradigm shift for railways,” the Professor outlined.

Meanwhile, former Secretary to the Transport Ministry, Dr. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan alleged that the railway development has been given a step motherly treatment by successive governments over the years.

“The common question everyone asks is why the railway is continuously making losses. In the same vein, why isn’t the same question being directed at Road Development Authority, who spend a mammoth amount of money on expressways,” Dr. Gunaruwan countered pointing out that both rail transport and expressway tolls were subsidized.

He further elaborated that it development of railways is a far equitable option as it will be utilized by a greater proportion of the population while being a solution to congestion.

“Sri Lanka’s total vehicle population is around 6 million out of which three-wheelers and motorcycles amount to 4mn or two-third of the total. When you build an expressway, this two-third majority are not allowed to take their three-wheelers and motorcycles into the lanes although the total cost of building the expressway is borne by the taxpaying public at large. Hence, expressways are not an equitable alternative,” Dr. Gunaruwan emphasised.

The panel discussion was jointly organized by the Sri Lanka Society of Transport and Logistics (SLSTL) and the Mechanical Engineering Sectional Committee of the Institute of Engineers Sri Lanka (IESL). The event was held on Thursday at the Institution of Engineers in Colombo.