Fort Railway Station
Fort, between Colombo Harbour to the north and Beira Lake to the south, is the heart of Colombo. The Portuguese built and extended their fortress here during more than a century of conquest and resistance. It was taken over by the Dutch, and finally demolished by the British after they completed their conquest of the country in the mid-19th century. Today, the area is the city's financial and commercial heart and houses Colombo's main international hotels, as well as Sri Lanka's seat of government.
A railway for Sri Lanka was first mooted in 1842. Planters in the Kandy province felt the need for better transport to haul bulk produce of tea to Colombo for shipment, a distance of 115 km. The Colonial Governor, Sri Henry Ward (1855-1860), reacted to the idea favourably, and the Secretary to the State for the Colonies was informed about it. In 1845, the Ceylon Railway Company (CRC) was established in England, under the Chairmanship of Philip Anstruther, for the building of a railway. The first railway line was inaugurated on April 26, 1867 linking Colombo with Kandy, in fulfillment of the wishes of the planters.
At one time, the railway was the best transport system in the island. Today, it's Sri Lanka's white elephant. Rampant corruption, derailments, bomb blasts, accidents have all contributed to heavy losses. Interestingly, only 4% of the population use trains ever since fares were doubled just recently. What makes the scenario worse is that the 17,000 employees of Sri Lanka Railways pay only 5 cents per passenger kilometer.
The tracks are broad gauge on most routes but the pitiable part is that they haven't been upgraded for quite some time now. Personally, I think that some of the compartments ought to be in museums and not running on tracks. The platforms look very much like the platform of say, a small town railway station in India with minimal facilities. Tickets are still made of cardboard and dates punched by a mechanical device. Computerized reservation system is still a dream.
There are 3 classes in their railway system - 1st Class, which is luxury, 2nd Class which they say is semi-luxury but a far cry from our compartments and then the 3rd Class, which is for the commoner. On the Kandy route, instead of 1st Class, they have what they call 'Observatory Class'. Its non-air conditioned, but the deck is raised slightly to provide a good view as the train runs through hills and plantations.
The 'Observatory Class' is what we were hoping to travel in, but all seats were booked. And we didn't want to travel by any other class.
This meant we had to change plans and explore an alternative mode of transport. Day trips by air-conditioned coaches were far too few and from little bit of what I saw, I wasn't too sure on the comfort factor. I certainly didn't see any Volvos; so that's perhaps one reason why we decided against taking a bus.
That's when we bumped into Priyantha Ratnayake.
Next: Please come with us to the Police Station