The International Steam Pages

Steam in Colombo, 2014

Simon Colbeck reports:

Myself and Sri Lankan enthusiast Zajid Ahamed visited Ratmalana loco works on the 1st August 2014. This really is a fantastic time warp of Colonial British railways. The workshops were built in the 1930's by the British for the Ceylon Government railways and conduct all manner of rolling stock repair, with large diesel loco and rolling stock repair shops.

There are still a number of steam locomotives and steam equipment on site, for lovers of old British machine tools Ratmalana is heaven! There isn't a computer or even punch tape in sight, capstain lathes and planing machines rule the day.

Highlights include the forge where banks of 1930's Manchester built steam hammers were forging leaf springs (sadly now running on compressed air) and the wood work shop where line shaft powered lathes are the order of the day. From the clocking in machine to the office clocks, no electric all 8 day Fusee clocks from England, it really is a living museum.

During our visit there were three steam locos in the workshop undergoing attention:

  • Narrow gauge Hunslet J1 220

  • Broad gauge Hunslet 4-6-0TT B2b 213 in pieces for full overhaul ready for steam specials in the New Year. This will bring the active broad gauge fleet to three 4-6-0s.

  • E1 93 Dubs 0-6-2T was in for cosmetic restoration, this is in preparation for the new museum at Kandy . There are the remains of a second E1 dumped outside.

C1a 347 Garratt is also being cosmetically restored for Kandy and is now at long last under cover and being worked on.

A stationary steam surprise was the old steam engine from Demetagoda traverser, dumped outside shed. (A picture of it in steam days is available here.)

In addition a number of loco and steam crane boilers were scattered about the site.

Finally the operational miniature loco built at the works is still steamed on high days and holidays.

All in all a most fabulous place to relive the great days of colonial steam.

Next door at the German railway training centre, Zajid had arranged for one of the Robey lorries to be in steam, with the articulated version in the workshop for overhaul reputedly for Kandy museum.

At Demetagoda shed there are still the 7 Hunslet narrow gauge tanks dumped outside the shed. The usual collection of dumped broad gauge locos are still at the coaling stage including Garratt C1a 346 in a very sorry state.

More positively the operational B1a 251 and B1d340 were stabled together outside the diesel hydraulic shed.

For vintage diesel lovers Demetagoda is a real treat with the Candian M2's still much in evidence.

At the shop26 repair shops the 3 narrow gauge Sentinel railcars continue to deteriorate along with the Krupp diesels. But inside a Hunslet narrow gauge diesel was being cosmetically restored and we were told the Sentinel is next in line, again for the Kandy museum.

Finally a Cowans steam crane was being fired up to move some stock in the yard. Sadly the water feed pump failed so denying us the spectacle of watching it in action. Presumably this was 5841, CS  9587/1953

Rob Dickinson