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The world of steam, whistles and railways

27 August 2013 04:36 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Written by a railway enthusiast, ‘The Viceroy Special’ tells the tale of the creation of a very special relic in the history of Sri Lankan Railways. In his memoirs, Hemasiri Fernando narrates how his childhood passion about everything connected to railways eventually led to the birth of the Viceroy Special, a steam-powered train that had carried thousands of tourists in colonial style to various locations over the last quarter-century. 

"He hopes that “it would be an eye-opener to the authorities of the Sri Lankan government to preserve more railway artifacts in a comprehensive manner for the benefit of future generations."

Fernando is an Economics Special graduate from the University of Colombo whose career ranged from being a volunteer naval officer to being Secretary to the Prime Minister. Railways were not just a hobby for him; they held a certain kind of fascination which resulted in him gaining an extensive knowledge and a wide array of experience in the field. It is with this knowledge, passion and experience that Fernando has written this book which aims to create awareness among rail fans and steam buffs around the world, of his unforgettable journey with a unique project. In writing the memoirs he also has a nobler goal in mind; he hopes that “it would be an eye-opener to the authorities of the Sri Lankan government to preserve more railway artifacts in a comprehensive manner for the benefit of future generations.”

In the beginning of the book Fernando recalls childhood memories – the beginning of his long love affair with trains. His favourite locomotive, fondly referred to as “Baby Garratt” occupies a somewhat elevated status in the early part of his book as it was because of this locomotive that he became a full-fledged railway enthusiast. After the initial seed was planted, Fernando’s passion for trains and railways grew steadily right up until 1984. In this momentous year, he visited the old ‘Running Shed' at Dematagoda, an old railway colony in the outskirts of Colombo with a fellow railway enthusiast from Manchester named Cliff Jones. Cliff Jones turned out to be Fernando’s right hand in spearheading the launch of this special heritage service. It was during this fateful visit with Jones that Fernando met Loco Foreman Paramanathan. Paramanathan is another crucial character in Fernando’s memoirs because he fuelled the ‘Viceroy Special’ project with his knowledge, initiative and his positive attitude.

Throughout the book, Fernando mentions many other individuals who helped the initiation and the running of the unique steam train in various ways. He also relates the myriad of challenges and obstacles he encountered with regard to the feasibility of the project, ranging from gathering relevant information and facts, repairing the age-old engines, selecting suitable carriages doing trial runs, motivating the workers and convincing the authorities. In closing, Fernando claims that his triumph at the end of his two-year - long efforts was just the beginning of “a new era of the preserved steam train in Sri Lanka.”

While it may not keep the readers at the edge of the seat and biting their nails in suspense, Fernando’s memoirs would draw them into the fascinating world of steam, whistles and railways. In simple language and a captivating narrative style, Fernando shares his love and passion with the reader in his own personal style. Those who pick up a copy of The Viceroy Special would not only be treated to the charming story of the heritage train itself but also to other interesting anecdotes and intriguing facts from the rich history of Sri Lanka’s railways. In order to keep the reader completely engaged, Fernando’s memoirs are decorated with an assortment of black-and-white images from a bygone era. Fernando’s recollection of an extraordinary achievement in turbulent waters engrains the vital lesson that commitment, dedication and passion are enough to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

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