By Gnana Sankaralingam –
This proposal is for construction of light railway system for Jaffna peninsula, which when is fully operational, will boost local economy and pave the way for other infrastructure schemes.
Jaffna peninsula is the second most densely populated region in Sri Lanka next to Colombo district. It also has within its limited territory airport, harbour, university with almost every faculty, teaching hospitals, government institutions and industrial zones similar to Colombo district. Thus a light railway system to cover important parts of the peninsula is a prudent and pragmatic proposal, which will make travelling easy for people living there. Jaffna peninsula is also a built up area, less compact than Colombo district, which could pose problem due to opposition by people when their property is encroached by the tracing of the routes. Due to concentration of middle class families in the peninsula, system would be widely patronised, though may be expensive than bus journey.
To construct a railway, cheapest is the ground level, but in an area like Jaffna peninsula, it could be costly due to large sums paid as compensation. Tunnelling would be very expensive both in construction and maintenance though it could be confined to areas around city centre. So the best is an elevated railway built on concrete pillars with parallel lines. If tracing is done along broad roads, it could minimise disturbance to existing structures and displacement of people, unless there are any unavoidable cross country links needed between important landmarks. To get around disruption and displeasure, state land must be used to erect structures and compensation paid to people at market value, as much as possible. Plan is drawn to build four corridors taking these points into account.
Jaffna to KKS route is the busiest road in the peninsula, and in the future it is to be widened as multi-lane dual carriageway with fly overs at important intersections. Therefore it is best avoided as pillars for railway along middle of that road will hinder plans to convert it into a fast highway. Jaffna to Palaly road should also be reserved, to develop it as an access route to airport. Other major ones like Manipay, Pt. Pedro and Kandy roads could be used if required. Jaffna to KKS surface railway line can be closed and existing path be used to construct one of the corridors. Track from Jaffna to Palai will be retained for double tracking in the future, but land reservation along its route could be used. As tracing will be along Jaffna to Kandy road, new expressway is needed to be built to replace it.
Land around the present Jaffna railway station could be used to construct central interchange which would be bounded on the north by Stanley road, south by end of Station road and in west and east by railway property. This will be convenient for passengers, as all four routes are planned to run over this square. Two lines running from west to east will be at level one and other two running from north to south will be at level two. Concourse will be built at ground level below, with walkways and elevators connecting platforms of all four routes, and will provide facilities such as electronic boards of train times, shops, canteens, waiting rooms and toilets. New terminus for surface railway could be constructed east of the square, which would be developed into an eight platform transport hub.
To cut down on expenditure on infrastructure, common design of stations should be developed and used wherever possible. For security reasons, it is advised to have single point for entry and exit, which will also help in having to install only one pair of escalators at each station. Lands allocated for stations would be 150 meters long, while small stations with two lines and a single platform could be 12 meters wide and big stations of four lines with two platforms could be 24 meters wide. Platforms could be of 120 meters in length to accommodate eight car trains, and a further 30 meters would be for the concourse with escalators and ticket hall. For level two stations, either a single long escalator be used or two short ones, one between levels two and one and other from level one to ground.
Level one would be fifteen feet above ground to clear tall vehicles, while level two is designed to be fifteen feet above level one, in case a decision is made to have overhead power lines rather than electrifying the tracks. For clearing between level one and two, 400 meters is allocated in the tracing so that the gradient will be 1 in 88. Effort has been taken to keep lines straight and have wide curves as much as possible. To provide connectivity between corridors, four other interchanges have been designed, in which trains on different lines arrive at adjacent platforms, so that passengers need not have to cross over, and there are four more points for changing among lines. At the terminus, tracks could be lowered along 1: 44 gradient to ground level and land around used for parking of trains.
The whole project of constructing four corridors to cover the peninsula will take about 10 years, and therefore it is best that they are done one by one, starting with KKS to Palai line, that is unlikely to give much problem about land acquisition, as it would be following existing surface railway route for most of its journey. While doing the first corridor, land acquisition for other three should be done to prevent delays in their construction. Also infrastructure should be planned to accommodate other three lines where they cross or share same station with the first, to execute the scheme in an orderly manner. Service depots at ground level for each of these corridors, with ability to park sixteen trains could be located in Vadamaradchy and Thenmaradchy regions where adequate land is available.
This project will generate employment to local people not only within the system but also in the support services. Construction will need large amounts of prefabricated concrete structures which if made in the peninsula will save cost in transporting from elsewhere. Facility to turn out them should be established near KKS cement factory which would give jobs to further number. Workshops should be set up to produce metallic, wooden and plastic accessories for infrastructure instead of importing them. These institutions could be used even after completion of this project for providing services in the future. Shops could be built on lands below tracks and rented to bring additional revenue to the system and benefit so gained passed to customer by subsidising fares to make it affordable.
Land surveys and soil testing have to be done for finalising the tracing and for suitability to erect pillars, and action taken to remedy problems to make it feasible. Power supply centres independent of national grid have to be built along routes to ensure smooth running. Getting funds for the project from international agencies would not entail difficulty, as it is bound to be a profitable venture.