The Railways of Sri Lanka (Ceylon)

 By Vinodh Wickremeratne and Kanishka D. Perera

About Us
The Club
The Hobby

Model Railroading
What it's all about

Sri Lanka Railways
Rail Routes

The system built by the British, began operating in 1864, initially from Colombo, Henerathgodde (Gampaha) and to Ambepussa. Kandy was reached in 1867. 1925-40 was the peak of railway development. Most of the system is Broad Gauge at 5'6" with diminishing bits of Narrow Gauge at 2'6" (Dual Gauged since 1991). The system was known as the Ceylon Government Railway, as of late it is referred to as Sri Lanka Railways.

The system's track standards have not been upgraded for some time which has resulted in our trains being limited to an official 50 mph though the M4 and M8 classes are capable of 70 mph +. The current passenger stock is from Rumania (1976 onwards) and from the 1960's from China. The early trains had rolling stock of British origin and carriages built to British designs at our work-shops at Maradana and Ratmalana. As of late the system has been receiving stock from Korea and India.

B.D. Rampala MBE (1910-95), one of the World's greatest mechanical engineers was the General Manager of the CGR from 1955 to 1970. He started his career in the CGR in 1928. Standards set by the founders of the system were maintained during his tenure in office. All the developments - Centralised Train Control, dieselisation (the programme commenced in 1969 with the import of 45 W1's 16 W2's and 28 Y Class shunters) and the few track upgrades were carried out by him. He successfully conducted the grand Centenary Celebrations held in 1964.

  • Rail Routes of Sri Lanka

  • Locomotives of Sri Lanka

  • Modelling the CGR

  • The Viceroy Special

  • Books and Movies Featuring Railways of Sri Lanka

  • Modelling the CGR

    This is not easy as there is no commercial support in any scale for locomotives and rolling stock. The closest one could get is to model the M2 (Canadian General Motors type G12) by obtaining the HO scale models of South American and Mexican G12's made by Frateschi of Brazil and painting the CGR colour scheme.

    The Viceroy Special

    A nostalgic trip with period fittings and modern conveniences is available by travelling in the Viceroy Special. This is a steam hauled charter train regularly used by overseas visitors. The Viceroy project was spearheaded by Cliff Jones of UK and Hemasiri Fernando of JF Tours & Travels (currently Chairman of the National Railway Museum Committee). During the Second World War, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India and Supreme Commander of All Forces in the South East Asian Command (SEAC) had his headquarters in Kandy (in the central hills of Ceylon). He regularly used a special train called the SEAC Special. This was the inspirant for the name Viceroy Special. The original colonial Viceroy coaches have now being discarded due to metal fatigue and a set of CVhinese coaches adapted as a replacement though not with the level of character.

    Books and Movies Featuring Railways of Sri Lanka

    Carl Muller, a son of a CGR engine driver is the author of "The Jam Fruit Tree", "Yakada Yaka" and "Once Upon a Tender Time". These books, published by Penguin are a trilogy of a railway family of the Burgher community (Ceylonese of European descent, of which the CGR employed hundreds in years gone by) are hilarious and is a mixture of fiction and fact which the author aptly calls "faction". An insight to our railway life from the 1930s to the 50s can be delightfully experienced by reading these classics which form a masterpiece.

    Royston Ellis, famous travel author who resides in Bentota, Sri Lanka has now written a book Sri Lanka by Rail.

    The TV serial "The Last Viceroy" had its railway bits done in Sri Lanka. Sir David Lean's masterpiece "Bridge on the River Kwai" was filmed in Ceylon in the late 50's. A little more than a quarter mile of narrow gauge track was laid across the Kelani River at Kitulgala. K1 Class locos No.104 and No.106 were used for film sequences, No.104 was destroyed by design in the bridge bombing footage.

    A Sinhala film inaptly named "Demodera Palama" (The Demodera Bridge - in reality this picturesque nine-arched viaduct is in Ella) was a local box office hit in 1995. A rather realistic bombing of the bridge was achieved through models which may have been scaled about 1:20.

    Sources of Information

    Institute of Engineers Sri Lanka (IESL), History of Engineering Volume 1 The Rampala Felicitation Volume by D.L.O.Mendis & L.S.de Silva.

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