When one goes around taking photos of trains, one does tend to attract attention. I can only guess what went trough this pretty, little girl's mind. Eventually she even smiled at me.


Finally I have gotten around to getting my video together, showing some of the trains we took in Sri Lanka. As I have mentioned before, the railways in Sri Lanka were started by the British. Now solely owned by the government of Sri Lanka, they were originally built to haul coffee and other agricultural goods from the Central Highlands to the ports. The system did eventually expand to include lines to the north and south of the island and is now run by Sri Lankan Railways, which is part of the country's Transportation Department.

The system is a shade over 900 miles in total, built to broad gauge at 5 feet 6 inches. That fact sort of baffles me, since the first line started, the Central Highland Line, goes from Colombo Fort Station at sea level to the town of Nanu Oya at 5560 feet.

Waiting at Nanu Oya station


The still in operation signal box at Nanu Oya station

It then decends to Badulla at 2200 feet where it terminates. So it is a mountain railway. Single track with very tight curves and steep gradients. Generally those kinds of lines were built with narrow gauge trackage: think Switzerland, South Africa or Agentina. Given that infrastructure, it follows that, even now, the trains in Sri Lanka are quite short. Even the relatively new Class S12 DMU sets have only four coaches and two power cars, one at either end. 

A Sri Lankan Railways Class S-12 DMU at Colombo Fort Station

At lot of the infrastucture is from Britain or based on British railway practice even now. On the few double track main lines around, the trains run on the "wrong" track. (I just had to get that in here!) Station and support buildings look like they are lifted straight out of the UK.

A switch throw - straight from England!A disused turntable from CarlisleLike many railroad systems in the world, the Sri Lankan system was totally neglected during the late 1990's and the early 21st century. That has changed and there is now a massive push to get the system up to speed. It is a small country though, finances are finite and it will take some time. And it will take a massive rebuilt. I was amazed that the railway is still using mechanical signal and switch control. This means that the signals, turnouts and other line side items are operated by rods or wires connected to a signal box. Take a look at the next picture. This is the signal box at one of the major junctions. All the rods and wires coming out of the bottom of the building control switches and signals on the line.


Sometimes the rods/wires go for several hundred feet before they connect to their intended instruments:

Switch/signal connecting rodsA mechanical rod connected switchBut, like I stated before, the railway is modernizing. Sometimes with great success, sometimes with not so great success. One of those not so great successes was the purchase of some Alstom diesel electric locomotives, the Class M 9. They have proven to be unreliable and not suited for the tropical climate reigning in Sri Lanka.  

An Alstom built Class M-9

On the other hand the Class S-11 have been deemed successful.

A Sri Lanka Railways Class S-11Then there are the Class M2 locomotives which have been soldiering on since 1954. Considered the most successful locomotive on the Sri Lanka Railways is was developed by EMD in the USA and GM Diesel in Canada. They are A1A A1A, diesel electrics and have a 1500 hp output. A lot of those locomotives were given to Sri Lanka with grants from the Canadian government. Thus the names of some of the locomotives, like this one named "Nova Scotia": 

A Class M-2 "Nova Scotia" at Galle station

Unbelievably most of the class are still in operation after 50 or more years!

"Nova Scotia", a Class M-2 diesel electric at Galle railway station 

And a short video about the railways in Sri Lanka.



All photos by Brad Wing (Sony RX-100) and Ralf Meier (Sony RX-10) unless otherwise indicated.