Hats off and congratulations to the management and staff of Sri Lanka Government Railways. I was scheduled for a sudden visit to Kandy for about 3 hours of work and everyone advised me to take the train instead of coming all the way by car and back which can be 3 ½ to 4 hours to Kandy and the same on the way back which will be approx. 8 hours for 230 Km on the road giving an average road speed of 28 Km/Hr at great risk to life and limb with the crazy driving habits of drivers of Sri Lanka in addition to ware and tare of the vehicle.
I obtained a second class reserved seat for the 05.55 a.m. Colombo – Kandy Train. I arrived at the station by 05.30 a.m.. The train was parked at platform number 2 all ready to roll. I located my seat. Since there was time I walked from one end to the other of the train along the platform. A very pretty blue train, a power set. The carriages and engines humbly begging for a wash. Can the Department of Railways wash a train at least once a week. I noticed all trains parked at numerous platforms desperately needed a wash. Maybe the dirtiest trains on the outside are managed by SLGR. We have a well accomplished engineering department at SLGR. They can design a simple drive through train wash.
- Platform of stations when passing by were spotlessly clean
- The knock of carriage to carriage was terrible as if the train was falling apart
- 20,000,000 citizens of the country have to contribute by way of taxes to subsidise 350,000 train passengers
I walked through the carriages back to my seat. The interior floor was spotlessly clean which was a surprise. Some seats showed ware and tare of cushion covers but they were clean. I had to get down and get back in as the connecting door to the 2nd class reserved was closed. I settled in my seat to watch life pass by. Some people running, some walking fast, some walking by very relaxed. There were many people in brown uniforms which I assumed to be the SL railway security. I watched the minutes go by on a large digital clock. The biggest shock I had was that the Engineer-in-Charge or Locomotive Driver sounded the horn as the clock hit 05.55 a.m. Guards blew their whistles and the train started to move before the clock showed 05.56 a.m. Congratulations SLGR for the train to move sharp on time. Reminded me of JR of Japan. Clocks can be set based on departure and arrival times of trains. In most developed countries trains depart on time including China and now express trains of India. SLGR has moved many steps these days. Clean interior and trains starting on time. Great show by SLGR.
Although the train started on time. The knock of carriage to carriage was terrible as if the train was falling apart. The same type of Power Sets are operated in many countries inclusive of China / India as this was a Power Set. Can Engineers of SLGR design some equipment to prevent the drag and knock between carriages. Someone told me that the front and back engine is not synchronized and the gear changes cause the knock. The ride was very uncomfortable as the train bumped up and down and swung from side to side. The reason being that in the rails are not at level and not parallel to each other. This can be seen to the naked eye by laymen looking at the tracks.
The new rail tracks laid by Indian / Chinese construction crews is done by Sleeper and Track Laying Machines which lay sleepers and tracks by machines ensuring the sleepers on tracks are on level and rails are parallel to each other. This eliminates the up/down bump and swing from side to side, reduces ware and tare of the wheels, load on axels and the pata pata noise of the train to the interior and exterior. The maintenance cost of SLGR will reduce drastically if all tracks are re-laid with track laying machinery. Either SLGR can buy track laying machines used by the Indians / Chinese after they finish the contracts as the machines have proved their worth by being in action in Sri Lanka than SLGR designing specifications, calling for tenders, appointing tender boards, specification committees, technical evaluation committees and all the red tape involved in Government Procurement. If tracks are laid scientifically. Trains could move at higher speeds than the current maximum 50 - 65 KmHr thereby reducing time of travel. Intercity with 5 Stops takes 2 ½ hrs for a 115 Km run to Kandy giving an average speed of less than 40 KmHr. If average speed can be increased to 60 KmHr time will reduce to 2 Hrs. Average speed can be increased to 75 KmHr. Time will reduce to 1 ½ Hrs. Train time to Galle can be 1 ½ Hrs on a flat track. In some parts of Europe trains move at over 200 Km/Hr and now testing is going on in Europe, Japan and China for trains to travel at 400 Km/Hr of course on special tracks. Lenier Magnetic Motion too is being studied and tested where a train does not touch the rail but rail functions as a guide at high speed and the train gets back on track at low speed.
Another surprise was that the platform of stations when passing by were spotlessly clean and all had the coloured garbage bins and station masters were in white uniforms observing passing trains. Even conductors / security / locomotive drivers were in uniform. Good discipline has been set in to SLGR.
According to SLGR website details of 2017. Total Number Stations 162 + Substations 149. Total length of track is 1568 Kms. Total number of passengers transported per day 348,000 – 350,000. In 386 Passenger Trains operated on a daily basis making it an average of 15 – 16 trains an hour countrywide. Approx. 900 passengers per train. SLGR is said to operate 96 diesel electric locomotives, 42 diesel hydraulic locomotives, 90 power sets, 3 steam engines and 500 carriages.
On the way back it was a standard train with old red carriages which looked hand painted recently. There was no signage to say 3rd class, 2nd class, instead they had E, D. As usual the interior was clean but the seats looked old, recently redone but of very poor quality. Seat numbers were stenciled on the side above the window. This train started at 03.03 p.m. instead of 03.00 p.m.. This did not have the knock and drag as it was drawn by a single engine, but had the up and down and side to side swing. Seats were not as comfortable as the Power set, but it was OK. Being a faster intercity it arrived at Maradana in 2 hrs 35 mins.
The train ride was not as comfortable as the back seat of the car but there was much less tension as there were no buses, trucks, other vehicles to challenge drivers face to face and no sudden braking due to a 3 wheeler, bicycle, motorcycle. Pedestrians suddenly deciding to cross the path to challenge who is faster in getting away or the other driver, pedestrian, rider suddenly deciding not to commit suicide.
Sri Lanka Government Railway is run at a loss to please 350,000 passengers. 20,000,000 citizens of the country have to contribute by way of taxes to subsidise 350,000 train passengers. If the state decides to increase fares, a few passengers make a cry about it and the media goes to town. No constructive analysis is done other than the empty vessels of this country making a big noise. The entire population shouldering the loss.
If train services, rolling stock is improved with more comfortable carriages, such as Uttara Devi, with frequent schedules, many car passengers can be encouraged to travel by train thereby reducing congestion on roads. More trains of the type of Uttara Devi should be introduced on upcountry routes, coastal routes. Passengers will not mind paying extra for a comfortable faster ride.
With a freeway to Kandy onwards being planned, the SLGR will have a challenge to face, but travel South by train has not been affected by having a Freeway.
Since, the service has improved. New rolling stock is to be imported. Train fares should be increased at least to the bus fare rate for SLGR to break-even thereby decreasing the tax burden on non-train using citizens. 2.5 USD for 115 Km in second class reserved. 6 USD in 1st class reserved AC coach. Maybe SLGR is the cheapest train service in the world.