19 July, 2024


An Efficient Train System Should Be The Number One Public Transport Priority

By Deshika Mendis

I write this because I love travelling by train and am very sad about the condition of Sri Lanka Railways and train travel in this beautiful island. In recent times, several of my planned train trips had to be cancelled causing great inconvenience due to sudden train service disruptions, including derailments, breakdowns and cancellations.

Train travel is both cheap and environment friendly. Trains carry a large number of passengers and hence cause lower Carbon emissions per capita than do cars. Public Transport, in general is both cost-effective and environmentally friendly for a country in a Debt trap and IMF austerity program.

Rather than rushing to buy expensive Electric Vehicles (EVs), for a costly Green Energy Transition promoted by various United Nations Agencies and Greenwash Corporations, the GOSL should urgently make Public Transport, particularly, investing in and upgrading the Sri Lanka Railways a top development priority at this time.

Several studies have shown that labour force participation, particularly of women, increases when there is good public transport available. Of course, the Sri Lanka Railways that started operating in the 1850s still carries out a valuable service to the nation but it could be far more efficient, effective, modern, and passenger friendly.

There is an urgent need for a reliable train service to better serve passengers, whether occasional travelers or daily commuters, in addition to upgrading and maintenance of many stations with a high volume of passengers, such as the Colombo Fort station.

Out of Action: Yal Devi from Colombo to Jaffna

The Colombo-Jaffna Yal Devi Train has not been running since January this year due to purported construction of the Railway line between Mahawa and Anurdhapura. Passengers are forced to take private coaches instead.

The Maho-Anuradhapura stretch constitutes 67 killometers of the 405 Km Colombo-Jaffna trip. Should this railway line upgrade, which just one sixth of the entire Colombo Jaffna route, take so long and are they now using the absolutely predictable arrival of the South West Monsoon Rains in May to further delay this construction and the operation of the Yal Devi?

Last year when a friend and I tried to take the early morning train from Batticaloa back to Colombo it was suddenly cancelled. We discarded the tickets and hired a car for our trip back to Colombo.  So too, last year, my one and only train journey on the Kandy Intercity Express train from Colombo to the University of Peradeniya had to be aborted when a lorry purportedly got stuck across the train tracks and the Intercity express train was delayed by 4 hours. I was unable to reach the meeting on time.

High Number of Incidents, Erosion of Public Trust, a Push to Privatization?

Given the incredible list of seemingly small and random train accidents and incidents (listed below), in the past few months that appeared in major newspapers, the question arises do these amount to a pattern?

Are there subtle attempts to sabotage the Sri Lanka Railways (SLR), damage passenger confidence, reduce the number of passengers and the SLR’s profits and then privatize it?  Sri Lanka National Railway has extensive and valuable lands.

Reducing Train Passenger Volumes and Marketing EVs

In the wake of the economically devastating two years of Covid-19 Lockdown and Economic Meltdown when the Railways was shut down and infrastructure crumbled, there appears to be (hybrid) attempts to sabotage train travel, reduce passenger volumes and privatize Sri Lanka Railways. SLR also has a lot of valuable state lands that are being targeted in the IMF fire-sale?

Recall that the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), project which was aborted in 201r had targeted the Sri Lanka Railways, also with a proposal for a train track from the BIA International Airport in the Southwest of strategic Sri Lanka to the Trincomalee Harbour on the North East Coast.

Disruption of Sri Lanka Railways at this time appear be both internally and externally driven: These include strikes and labour union activities and actions or inaction of other railway employees. There have also been apparently random incidents of lorries running into train infrastructure or trees falling across railway lines, as well as, staged climate ‘disasters”.

Given the high number of disruption in the Railway services which appear to form a pattern, it is incumbent on the Minister of Transport to conduct an inquiry and analysis of the entire railway system and infrastructure in a systematic fashion.  So too, should not the head of SLR take note of and act upon the regular disruptions and delays of the Sri Lanka Railways, also given the inconvenience caused to Passengers?

Please see below a random sample from the national newspapers of incidents that have caused delay and disruption of Sri Lanka Railway services in the past months and make your own assessments.

June 13, 2023

Derailment disrupts train services on coastal line June 13, 2024 (Ada Derana News)

A slow train plying from Panadura to Maradana has derailed near the Panadura railway station, disrupting services on the coastal line, Sri Lanka Railways announced. Accordingly, the trains operating on the coastal line will experience delays, according to Sri Lanka Railways.

One of the compartments of the derailed train has collided with a nearby railway signal board, causing a complete breakdown of the railway signaling system in the area. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Sri Lanka Railways stated that it will take a considerable amount of time to restore the railway line for regular train operations.

June 9, 2024  

Ongoing Railway Strike disrupts Services (Daily Mirror) – A total of 35 trains were canceled this morning due to the ongoing strike by the Sri Lanka Railways Locomotive Operating Engineers’ Union.

05 Jun 2024 

Train services delayed due to derailment (The Morning Newspaper) Train services between Colombo Fort and Maradana were delayed due to a derailment today (5), according to the Department of Railways Accordingly, due to the derailment, the train services will operate with a considerable delay.

June 2, 2024  

Bridge collapse disrupts Kelani Valley Railway Services (Daily Mirror) – Train services on the Kelani Valley line have been severely disrupted following the collapse of a bridge between Waga and Kosgama. The collapse has forced Sri Lanka Railways to limit train operations on the line to Waga station.

May 25, 2024   

Fallen trees and signal failures continue to disrupt train services: (Ada Derana News) The night mail trains to and from Badulla and other special trains on the up-country line have been cancelled today (25) due to trees and rocks falling onto the tracks, Sri Lanka Railways announced.Meanwhile, Deputy General Manager of Railways, N.J. Indipolage, stated that over 15 incidents of trees falling on to the rail tracks have been reported so far.

Additionally, power interruptions have caused critical issues in maintaining the railway signaling system, especially beyond Nanu Oya railway station, he added. The Department of Railways also urged motorists to be vigilant while driving across railway crossings, as signal failures are possible at level crossings due to power breakdowns. Drivers are advised to be cautious when crossing level crossings if there is no signal or if the electric bells continue to ring with only a red signal at the crossings.

April 24, 2024 

Train Services Disrupted on Mainline (Hiru News)

Train services on the mainline have been disrupted following a breakdown of a train from Mahawa to Colombo at Ambepussa according to the Railway department. The Incident has led to delays and cancellations affecting commuters on this route

March 21, 2024 

Train derailment disrupts coastal line operations in Sri Lanka (March 20 (Xinhua) — Sri Lanka’s Railway Department had to cancel 18 trains on Wednesday morning in the country’s coastal line due to the derailment of a train between Colombo Fort and Kompannaveediya railway stations on Tuesday evening, a senior official said.

January 15, 2024

Train on upcountry line derailed January (Daily News)

The special express train operating from Badulla to Kandy has derailed.The train has been derailed between the Nanu Oya and Great Western railway stations, the Department of Railways said.

December 9, 2023

Trains between Colombo and Jaffna to be suspended for 6 months (News Wire)

Sri Lanka Railways department has announced the temporary suspension of train services between Colombo and Jaffna/ Kankasenthurai due to maintenance work.

Issuing a notice, the railway department said that the 2nd phase of the scheduled maintenance work in the northern railway line will be carried out between Mahawa and Anuradhapura Railway Stations.

The maintenance work will be carried out from 7th January 2024 and expected to be completed within a period of 6 months.

Therefore, the department has announced that during this period trains will be running from Colombo Fort to Mahawa Railway station and from Kankesanthurai to Anuradhapura only (NewsWire)


Should train-track repairs take so long? What are the SL Railway Authorities upto?!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 2

    The author seems to care about the state of the Railway. I don’t know if she can remember the situation at SLT in ,say, the 80’s when it was a State monopoly. The Railway is in the same situation.
    The engine drivers (nowadays they are called locomotive engineers) are paid very well, but they stop work suddenly for flimsy reasons. The Railway is not allowed to charge higher fares due to protests from the very same unions that go on strike. So, there isn’t any money to invest on improvements. How can a bankrupt country invest in such things?
    The author seems to think that the delays and strikes are caused by “conspirators “, presumably to get the Railway privatised. But, given that the unions are JVP-inspired, that is hardly likely. Instead, it could be that the JVP wants to discredit the government by creating trouble. It could easily backfire on them if the government decides to sell off the Railway under public pressure.

    • 3

      old codger, Please let Deshika relax.
      She has drawn attention to the plight of a standard mode of transport.
      The railways have been neglected.
      I have a medical condition. I need a washroom every two hours or less. The buses stop only twice in between Jaffna and Colombo. My trip to Colombo from Jaffna, in January, turned out to be a nightmare.

      • 0

        Sorry to hear about your problem. Yes, trains are more convenient that way.

        • 0

          I thought you live in UK?

          • 1

            If I live in London,
            I wouldn’t have said, Raj-UK, A two hour drive is not so difficult. GO and see Anura.
            I would have said, Raj-UK, A two hour drive is not so difficult. COME and see Anura.

            • 0

              Yes, I said that I landed in London in 1982 Summer.
              That was just a visit.
              I can see how you got confused.

              • 1

                But you did not say that it was only a visit.

              • 2


    • 2

      Hello OC,
      The Railway Infrastructure suffers from the same problems as the Electricity and Water – lack of Maintenance and no Investment in New Technology. The Government has no money to spend on such vital parts like the Health Service, Education or Local Government, so there is no hope (yet) for the Railways . As for Privatisation, have a look at the UK Rail situation – https://www.railway-technology.com/features/a-blow-for-privatisation-in-the-battle-for-british-railways/?cf-view
      Sri Lanka needs a comprehensive study of its complete Transport Vision, taking lessons from Countries that have efficient and affordable Transport Systems. The MCC money would have barely scratched the surface.
      If the next Government doesn’t begin to address the problems, cut your losses and sell Sri Lanka, lock stock and barrel, to the Chinese.
      Best regards

      • 3

        The ruin of the Railway started after the general strike of 1981.
        JRJ decided to punish the strikers. All railway workers who struck work were dismissed.
        The jobs went to political appointees.
        With all their faults, until then, railway employees had a strong sense of belonging to the organization, far more than any other group.
        Then came the transport of fuel being shifted to the roads. It was a major source of income for the railway. Every major station had huge fuel storage tanks. They are still in use, but not the way they were.
        Railway warrants and concessionary tickets for several categories of commuters are subsidized but the Railway is not compensated.

        • 1

          Hello SJ,
          The UK did a couple of U Turns on Transport after the end of WW2. My Father’s friend had a fairly big Transport Business in the 1980s and 90s. He reckoned that the reason for at least one of the U Turns was Thatcher’s hatred of the Rail Unions (John Major brought about Privatisation in the early 1990s). He also said that after the war when the Railways were Nationalised there was a distinct opposition to Road Haulage Businesses. The expansion of the Motorway System made Road Transport much more economic in the sixties. The phasing out of Coal fired Engines in the 50s and 60s and the introduction of Diesel led to much better efficiency. Despite this Road Transport is still more efficient and less costly. https://iea.org.uk/blog/rail-versus-road
          The Rail Infrastructure is still under Public Ownership in the UK.
          Best regards

          • 0

            GMR Rampala did much to modernize the railway during his time.
            Coal was phased out by the mid 1960s here I think.
            Electronic signals too came in pretty early.
            but expansion was poor. Track maintenance suffered after the 1980s.
            True. But Maggie’s hatred for coal miners will not be beaten by any of her other pet hatreds.

      • 2

        Yes, reluctance to use new technology is part of the problem. Rails in other countries for example, are stressed and welded, so none of that swaying and rattling, plus higher speeds.The technicians grumble at new but basic Indian locos as well as complicated French ones. They prefer the 60’s tech that their fathers worked on.

        • 6

          “reluctance to use new technology is part of the problem. Rails in other countries for example, are stressed and welded”

          More rubbish from the master of rubbish. Unfortunately, the Scot has no way of fact-checking.

          Coastal Line Rehabilitation Project:

          Project Details:
          The Coastal Line, especially the segment from Colombo to Matara, underwent significant upgrades as part of rehabilitation efforts following the 2004 tsunami and general modernization initiatives.
          The project was funded by various international partners, including the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of India.

          Implementation of CWR:
          The rehabilitation included replacing old tracks with new continuous welded rail, enhancing the track’s durability, and reducing the maintenance required compared to jointed rail systems.

          • 2

            Wow, the Master of Lies finally admits that India improved the railway! You took the bait. Congratulations!

      • 7


        Both the railway and the airport systems were attacked by terrorists during the civil war. Despite this, the train system in SL is better than the one in India:


        I went on one of these trains while visiting India. People were not standing on the roof. However, the bathroom was filthy, the train was overcrowded, and the food served was terrible.

        Some low IQ commentators on CT still think “India” is a superpower. The brain drain (IIT’s) is as bad as in SL.

        • 0

          Cut the crap. You don’t have the money to pay for a 3rd class train ticket in India.

        • 0

          “I went on one of these trains while visiting India”
          A guy who claims to always fly first class now goes third class in a train?🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣
          “Despite this, the train system in SL is better than the one in India:”

          • 0

            Lester? Lester?
            Still meditating?

  • 1

    As a frequent traveller, I can say that the tracks on the Colombo Fort to Kandy railway line are laid out very badly and unevenly. When going through several long sections the coaches oscillate violently and rapidly from side to side and create a hell of a racket while doing so. Not only do the travelling public but even the railway employees including the engineers appear to treat this as though it is normal. I beg to differ and wonder why train derailments do not occur more frequently despite the wild and frenzied shaking of the carriages. I can only attribute it to good luck!

    Another shortcoming is that the trains do not display the train numbers or destination boards prominently. Neither are they displayed at both ends of the train so if you are at the wrong end you have to walk to the other end past a dozen carriages to confirm whether you are boarding the right train. Furthermore, on the older carriages all the lettering and numbering are difficult to read for persons who don’t have 20-20 vision. They are too small in size and fail to stand out boldly as there is not sufficient contrast between what is printed and the background surface.

  • 1

    i agree that trains are more important than passenger cars,Far too much is spent on highways without constructing more railways.Just imagine going without any traffic conjestion and carrying so much.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.