Mismanaged “Ceylon Railways” in Sri Lanka!

The Locomotive No.1 that hauled the first passenger train in New South Wales, Australia, built by Robert Stephenson and Company. Following an extensive restoration program, the locomotive featured in the new Powerhouse Museum building opened in 1988.

Locomotive No. 1 is the only locomotive designed by James McConnell to have been preserved. McConnell was the Locomotive Superintendent of the London and North Western Railway (LNWR) Southern Division at Wolverton railway works and the Sydney Railway Company’s Consulting Engineer at the time of the railway order.

During my present visit to Australia, I observed firsthand that its rail service was doing well globally today, while the current state of our mismanaged rail service in Sri Lanka is very worrying indeed. The picture was taken at the museum by our daughter with grandson during my visit with wife Kamala to Sydney, Australia in 2022/23.

In Sri Lanka, (then Ceylon), the Ceylon Railway Company was established in 1845, to build the colony’s first railway and on 3 August 1858 the initial sod turning was done near the present Maradana railway station. The construction of a railway in Ceylon was first raised in 1842 by European coffee planters seeking a line be constructed between Kandy and Colombo as a quicker, more efficient means to transport their product for export.

The golden age of Ceylon Railways was from 1955 to 1970; and until 1953, Ceylon’s railways used steam locomotives and during the golden age, it was changed to diesel locomotives. During the late 20th century, the railway began to decline; for three decades, it was neglected and poorly run. As Sri Lankan economy shifted its focus from plantation agriculture to industry, with it grew its road network. With the increase in lorries and highways resulting in a faster means of transporting goods, the amount of goods transported by rail declined and the railways experienced heavy losses.

Sadly, Ceylon Railways is not properly managed today and further due to lack of replacement of rolling stocks and without proper maintenance of rail roads due to the civil-war made matters worse for the Sri Lankan Railways, that failed to adopt the technological innovations of foreign railways. Thereafter problems with travel time, reliability and comfort caused it to lose much of its passenger market share, and by 2011, it had only a seven-percent share of the market.