The International Steam Pages

Steam in Sri Lanka, 2004

This report comes from Phil Lawson, I have added some pictures from Steve Pratt at the end.

Sri Lanka is back on the steam map after the 2003 blip when steam haulage was suspended because of coal shortages. The RTC Viceroy Special in Feb 2004 had the use of Class B1a 4-6-0 No 251 for several days supported by a large stockpile of coal (imported from Indonesia) held at Dermatagoda Works and some enthusiastic key staff at Sri Lanka railways.

The peace process continues to make progress thus opening up areas which have been off limits in the recent past. The tour was able to visit Trincomalee for the first time for several years and saw plenty of damage in the surrounding area but received a warm welcome from local people.

An interesting blend of rail travel and tourism gave 9 days on the Viceroy Special. No 251 "Sir Thomas Maitland" was nursed along despite a suspected hot box and was frequently diesel banked. Some days were entirely diesel hauled. Obviously there was no steam double heading or banking - usually such a feature of Sri Lanka- but on the last day 251 was able to make an unassisted run on the lightly graded line south from Colombo to Galle.

Routes covered included the Colombo-Kandy "main line", the scenic route into the mountains from Kandy to Badulla, Kandy to Matale, Trincomalee - Maho Junc - Anuradhapura and Colombo - Galle. Plenty of cab rides were possible but the opportunities for run pasts appeared to be too dominated by service train operations.

The many derelict locos at Dermatagoda, both narrow and broad gauge, look as though they have been untouched for many years. NG operations have ceased but there remains a short length of ng track outside the running shed where Hunslet J1 4-6-4T No220 was displayed and where Sentinel Railcar No331 was steamed up for the group to use.

Class B1D No 340, B2B No213 and B8C No240 are awaiting repair. No 340 should return to service in 2004 but, according to management at Dermatagoda, the other two are major longer term overhauls. No 213 was shunted onto the turntable for photographers. There was no comment about the restoration of Garratt No347 at Ratmalana.

The railways of Sri Lanka are well patronised, with commuter trains literally bursting with passengers clinging on externally. The colonial legacy lives on in the form of intriguing station architecture,1920's style block working, Edmondson ticketing, numerous semaphore gantries and a casual regard for H & S. The real gem is the Kandy to Badulla line which rises to a summit about 1900m above sea level at a ruling gradient of 1 in 44, crossing numerous viaducts/bridges and passing through 44 tunnels. Service trains are timetabled to take between 7.5 and 10 hours to cover the 172km route through tea plantations and serving the cooler hill stations favoured by British colonialists.

Managemant and staff at Dermatagoda appear to be pro-steam, intrigued by the amount of international attention they receive and enthusiastic about the service which ,given the right resources, they could offer. Hopefully if the local agents, JF Tours, share this attitude the steam hauled Viceroy Special experience should continue be around for many years.

These pictures of the trip are courtesy of Steven Pratt:

Rob Dickinson