Monday, December 26, 2011

Government has big vision for rail

by Rail Express — last modified Dec 21, 2011 12:18 PM
— filed under: 
Lyn O’Connell, Deputy Secretary, Department of Infrastructure and Transport, gave an overview of the Federal Government’s rail investment and reform agenda at the recent AusRAIL PLUS conference in Brisbane. The following is an edited version of the presentation.
 Government has big vision for rail
Courtesy RailGallery
The Australian Government under the Nation Building Program is investing over $36bn over six years through to 2013/14 on capacity building projects to modernise and maintain the nation’s road, rail and port infrastructure.  
This represents the largest ever Commonwealth Government commitment to transport infrastructure in Australia’s history [and]  includes a record spend of up to nearly $8bn on rail projects, with twenty three projects already completed and twenty two more underway.
Of course for the full benefits of investment and reform to be realised rail operators must capitalise on improvements to offer services tailored to the needs of their customers; be they passengers, operators or transporters of freight.
Challenges for government – the drivers for rail reform and investment
The transport sector generates up to 14.5% of Australia's GDP. This means that any efficiencies made in this sector translate into significant national productivity gains.
A key challenge for the Australian Government in working towards a more efficient, sustainable and productive country is modernising and expanding our transport systems to maintain our trade competitiveness.
Our competitiveness relies on our ability to move our goods and services from their source to cities and transport hubs – and then on to world markets in Asia, Europe and North America.
To move products as efficiently as possible requires unlocking the inherent advantages of rail in relation to bulk and long-distance transport and its role in easing road congestion.
Over the next two decades, Australia’s trade is forecast to grow considerably. Total rail freight is projected to double between now and 2030, largely as a result of increasing iron ore and coal exports.
Our transport systems have to adapt to be able to meet this increasing freight load.
The Australian Government recognises that improving the efficiency of rail and its attractiveness to end customers is not merely the construction of road and rail – it’s about getting the best out of our existing networks as well as legislative and regulatory reforms to foster efficiency, innovation and the ability of industry to respond to the needs of its customers.
An efficient transport system also means working both with state governments and with industry to increase the competitiveness of the rail industry through a better appreciation of the needs and value choices of customers and an outcomes oriented approach to investment.
This year’s AusRAIL topic of Innovation & Customer Service is well chosen – the challenge for the rail industry is to win customers – in particular freight customers -  over to rail.  Without a focus on the end customer and the supply chain rail’s share of the growing freight will remain static and the investments and reforms that I will talk more about won’t have the impact they should have on our economy.
Investment in our cities and connecting people 
Improving the liveability of our cities and major regional centres is a key part of the infrastructure agenda.  Well-planned and sustainable cities are crucial to our national well-being and productivity.
Infrastructure Australia noted in its State of the Cities Report 2010, that Australia’s population is projected to reach more than 35 million people by around midcentury according to both ABS and Treasury projections. Most of this growth (72%) will be in the capital cities. 
As urban environments are becoming denser and more congested, they impinge on freight networks, including future storage and terminal capacity.
Additionally demand for passenger travel is forecast to increase by nearly 40% over the next 20 years.
The Australian Government has recognised that rail can play a significant role in easing congestion in our cities – it is especially effective in moving large numbers of people quickly and reliably.
This is why the Australian Government has committed to major urban rail projects in every mainland state capital.

As part of its Sustainable Cities Strategy, and in the face of transport gridlock and increased public transport demand, the Australian Government is committed to assisting State governments deliver more efficient and reliable public transport solutions. 
To this end the Australian Government has committed $7.3bn in 2008-09 to 2017-18 on public transport projects; more is now being spent on urban public transport projects than all previous Australian Government’s combined have spent since federation.
These projects are more than just pieces of infrastructure.  They are important enablers for urban regeneration and development in areas with high dependence on private vehicles. 
Meeting the challenges - government key strategies and priorities
Getting freight on rail is fundamentally important for our economy, our environment, and our cities. Each 1500 metre freight train takes about 100 trucks off our roads.  This goes a long way towards addressing congestion and improving safety for road users.
For government intervention to be effective we need to plan for the future and it is essential that governments understand how freight transport systems and supply chains work. 
The government’s reform agenda is focused on delivering a national and integrated approach to investment – an approach where we plan for networks, rather than single pieces of infrastructure. 
To this end Infrastructure Australia is pursuing a nationally co-ordinated approach to port and freight infrastructure planning and investment in the development of a National Ports Strategy and a National Land Freight Strategy (currently under development for consideration by COAG).
The Australian Government is also undertaking work through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), and through our National Urban Policy to better plan our long-term infrastructure needs. This includes better integrating land use and infrastructure planning.
Moving Freight and Improving Productivity
Sound investment in our interstate freight network is a key government priority with the Australian Government investing more than $3.4bn over six years,
from 2008-09 to 2013-14, to rebuild more than a third of the existing interstate rail freight network, or nearly 3,800 kilometres of track, in order to move bulk long distance freight off road and onto rail.
Between 2008 and 2010, the Nation Building Economic Stimulus Package delivered investments of almost $1.2bn through the  Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) to modernise the interstate rail network and increase rail capacity in the Hunter Valley.
This is making a big difference on the ground where improvements to the freight line between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne have already resulted in savings of around seven hours on 2005 travel times.
We have also ensured that rail does not become the bottleneck that hampers the growth in our high quality Hunter Valley coal exports by matching rail’s capacity to that of the port.
Between 2010 and 2012, the Australian Government is investing a further $960 million in rail projects that will enhance the productivity of rail and rail freight users.
Rail on critical sections of the East West interstate network will be replaced with heavier gauge steel that will enable heavier axle loads at faster speeds.  Steel and other freight from our resource-rich regions will be transported more quickly and at less cost.
The Australian Government is also funding major rail upgrades at a number of priority locations across the country, such as Port Botany in New South Wales and Geelong Port in Victoria to make the movement of freight in and out of these export hubs more efficient. 
The $177m Australian Government funded Port Botany rail upgrade project will improve rail freight capacity in Sydney and help meet a growing demand for container transport by rail.  It will be complimented by an $840m Australian Government investment to remove the largest freight bottleneck on the interstate corridor, North of Sydney.
Intermodal terminals
From a national and logistics perspective it is clear that the competitiveness and efficiency of the transport sector, including rail operations, are inseparable from the health of its intermodal terminals.
Moving freight between economic centres as well as shifting bulk commodities to ports quickly and reliably is a key driver of productivity improvements.
Under the Nation Building Act, intermodal terminals are now recognised as key elements of the freight transport network and eligible for funding in their own right.
The direct investment in intermodal terminals by the Australian Government represents a new direction for the Commonwealth and complements the investment in the interstate rail network aimed at supporting our productivity.
The Government is currently investing in ports and intermodal terminals in New South Wales, Victoria and WA.
The development if an intermodal terminal at Moorebank in south-west Sydney is a good case study. Establishing an intermodal terminal at Moorebank will address the critical shortage of intermodal terminal capacity in Sydney and help protect the health of the city by alleviating urban congestion and encouraging a more efficient distribution of containers through the increased use of rail.
From an industry perspective the site is ideally located adjacent to the South Sydney Freight Line and the M7, M5 and Hume Highway Road network.
The Australian Government has established the Moorebank Project Office to manage the feasibility study into the project. A detailed business case is expected to be completed by February 2012.
Regulatory reform
The Australian rail industry has waited a long time for a single National Rail Safety Regulator.  On November 4th, with industry and the unions present, the federal, state and territory transport ministers took a big step forward and unanimously agreed to national rail safety laws.
These laws, once passed by Parliaments, will create the National Rail Safety Regulator who will begin operating from January 2013. At the same time, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau will become the National Rail Safety Investigator.
Minister Albanese has described these regulatory reforms as ‘the most important micro economic transport reform in our history.’ (IA Conference 8/11/11)
However, as ... previously noted, agreement to the laws is the not the final step in the reform process - but it is a major step forward.  The opportunity is now there for industry to align practices, cut costs and gain efficiencies.
Governments, owners and operators, and unions are working together on the implementation of this important reform with a number of complex issues being addressed such as fatigue risk management, drug and alcohol testing and implementation arrangements for the tourism and heritage rail sector.
It will be a busy year ahead and many details to be worked through, but I can report that we are well on the way towards the goal of micro-economic reform and safety improvement in the rail industry.
During the next year, the National Rail Safety Law will be introduced into the South Australian Parliament.  Once passed, other states and territories will follow suit and introduce the related enabling legislation into their own parliaments. 
The national regulator will be based in Adelaide with branch offices in each mainland state capital city. Some states may choose to retain the regulatory staff as state-employed and deliver the national regulation under a Service Level Agreement. 
Under the new rail safety law, rail operators will be able to get streamlined national accreditation instead of applying in every state and territory where they operate. 
A common approach across Australia to the safety regulation of rail transport operators and railway operations will reduce compliance and reporting costs, red tape and help lift national productivity without compromising safety.  Benefits to the rail industry from reduced costs from this reform could be up to $73 million annually.
Wide reaching reforms
The Government’s nation building and transport reform agendas are wide reaching and are squarely aimed at boosting this country’s productive potential and social and economic prosperity by ensuring sufficient transport capacity both now and into the future.
The Australian Government is providing unprecedented support to the rail transport sector ranging from regulatory reform to investment across the board including into intermodal terminals, urban passenger networks and upgrading interstate lines.
The challenge for industry ... is to capitalise on this reform and investment with the aim of growing rail’s market share by focusing on creating supply chains which are reliable and meet the needs of your customers.
That’s the challenge for this conference and aligns with your theme – Innovation and Customer Services.
You are here: Home → archive → 2011 → December → December 21st 2011 → Top Stories Study starts on regional high speed rail gains ‎

Study starts on regional high speed rail gains ‎

by Rail Express — last modified Dec 21, 2011 12:17 PM
— filed under: 
The Australasian Railway Association’s (ARA) launch of a study that will examine the economic and social benefits of high speed rail for regional Australia is a major boost in strengthening the case for an East Coast high speed rail network.
Study starts on regional high speed rail gains ‎
Courtesy GRMS Media
The study follows the Federal Government’s announcement earlier this month that it had chosen AECOM to head up the second and final stage of the government’s study into the economic merits and financial viability of an East Coast high speed rail network.
The ARA’s study, to be conducted in conjunction with the University of Sydney’s Institute of Transport and Logistics, will assess the potential economic and social benefits of a high speed rail service on affected regional areas, particularly between Sydney and Melbourne via Canberra.
ARA chief executive Bryan Nye explained the study’s main focus will be to identify the wider economic impacts of high speed rail for regional centres including the Southern Highlands, Goulbourn, Wagga Wagga and VAlbury-Wodonga.
“Experience around the globe shows that social and economic enhancement in regional areas is a direct benefit of high speed rail,” Nye said.
“These economic impacts include improved access to jobs and work-related activities as well as the reduction in social exclusion and the increase in tourism.”
The study will assess the extent to which high-speed rail, when added to the existing mix of available services to each Local Government Area, will deliver additional wider economic and social benefits expressed as a proportion of real Gross Domestic Product.
It will also outline the impact of high-speed rail on land values.
A similar study conducted by KPMG in the United Kingdom shows that a comprehensive national network of high speed rail could provide significant changes in business-to-business connectivity as well as effectively linking core cities and regional centres.
Nye said KPMG’s study also makes clear that high speed rail can create an additional 25,000-45,000 jobs in Britain, as more productive businesses offer higher wages and attract people into the labour market.
“High speed rail can also help spread prosperity outside the productive areas of the South East and London and contribute to closing the economic divide. It’s about greater accessibility and social equity,” he said.
The ARA believes that the positive results from the study will help boost the case for high speed rail in Australia.
It is envisaged that the study will complete in March 2013. 
Safer, Faster and Greener Graffiti Removal proves to be a winner at Ausrail
Mason Grogan just recently exhibited at AusRAIL Plus in Brisbane to present its products to the rail industry. The Graffstop® range of anti-graffiti coatings for both rolling stock and rail infrastructure attracted enormous attention from rail authorities, rolling stock and infrastructure builders alike who are looking for ways to protect assets and reduce the huge ongoing costs of graffiti removal.
Graffiti removal accounts are vast. QR alone spend $5.5 million on removal per year.
Unlike traditional anti graffiti coatings, these innovative coatings are not sacrificial and provide long term protection against graffiti providing without the need for re-application for many years. Graffstop® for rolling stock also provides an effective shield against the dirt, grime, brake dust and rail filings that penetrate car bodies and make thorough cleaning difficult or impossible.
Visitors to the stand were shown how graffiti and dirt is simply washed off with either water or mild detergents chemistry, removing the need for harsh graffiti removers, acids or other toxic chemicals.
Speed and ease of cleaning to get rolling stock quickly back into service and rapid removal of graffiti are key priorities for operators and these products are providing greater cleaning efficiencies at reduced cost and improved safety for cleaning teams.
The products come under the GraffStop® name and include:
GraffStop® Self Release (for infrastructure)
GraffStop® Hard Coat (for rolling stock)
GraffStop® Crystal Film Protect (scratch resistant film for carriage windows).

Graffiti is unsightly and it cheapens the image of a train or infrastructure. It is no longer a visually pleasurable riding experience when confronted with graffiti. Customers might also question how secure and safe the trains or buildings are if someone has managed to graffiti them? Now you can put your passenger’s minds at ease and attract more business by having a protective coat that allows a simple removal of graffiti from your rolling stock and infrastructure without using expensive chemicals.
Also, by having GraffStop® on your rolling stock or infrastructure, vandals will quickly realise that it is difficult to apply their tag and it doesn’t remain on for long and will take their vandalism elsewhere.
Innovative Flooring for the life of the train
Much interest was also shown in the quartz based flooring system called Abrastopâ„¢. This granite like flooring is hard wearing, easy to install and provides significant savings over the life of a train. Although Abrastopâ„¢ is well established globally as a high performance flooring material, it is still a new concept for the Australian market. Pre-cut panels, rather than the traditional rolls of vinyl or rubber, are simply placed on the existing subfloor or as a complete system on the train structure itself. Unlike rubber or vinyl flooring, Abrastopâ„¢ does not need replacing, and its dense, non porous surface provides protection against water penetration to the subfloor or train structure as well as the penetration of graffiti substances. Graffiti, dirt and chewing gum is easily removed without harsh chemicals and without the typical shadowing or marks often left behind on rubber or vinyl based flooring following cleaning. With the growth in design & manufacture rolling stock contracts that include long term fleet maintenance, Abrastop offers a one time installation with very low maintenance requirements and significant savings over the life of a fleet.
Greater understanding and attention to foam materials used for cushioning and gasketing is needed to ensure the right solution is provided for the interior components they protect from failure or early refurbishment.
The BISCO® specialist silicone foams are already proving themselves as the premier solutions in rail for seating, sealing, vibration isolation, thermal and acoustic management. The high flame, smoke and toxicity requirements have limited the choice of foams that can be used in rolling stock and the BISCO® range of specialist foams not only meet the highest global standards , but also provide long term performance reducing frequency of refurbishment and in turn reducing operating costs. BISCO®Foams ensure the longevity and protection of components through vibration isolation, sealing against water penetration, and cushioning. They are used in many areas of the carriage: HVAC, flooring, seating cushions, electrical enclosures, partitions, under seat seals, display gaskets and are relied upon for their consistent performance over many years of service. Download some thought provoking articles concerning, the costs of gasketing (download)seating (download)and new trends in floating floors (download) for quieter interiors.

Mason Grogan product range for rail can be viewed here.


Brian Glendinning
Technical Sales Executive 
PH: (02) 9748 3838

Mason Grogan
108-110 Carnarvon Street
Silverwater NSW 2128

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Daily News Online

An engineering perspective of railways

Even though the railways is a subject close to my heart and my professional interest, I did not have the privilege of knowing or associating with this man who to many Sri Lankans was the heart of the railways. As a schoolboy in the 1960s who used the train when going home for the weekend to the upcountry, I grew up knowing that the name Rampala meant Railways and Railways meant Rampala – alas that is all that I knew at that time. Later in my professional career it was evident it meant much more to many people who had associated with this great man. But it was not until a few days ago, when armed with a few books and articles on the railways and Rampala, I sat down to study the man and his work in whose honour I had been asked to deliver this lecture.

A train
It did not take me long to come to grips with this compelling personality about whom many people had shared their experiences over the years. But the more I read, the more I was convinced that what had been written and said surely was not enough. Even though all of what I have gathered about Eng Rampala is second hand, it is with much honour that I wish to share a little of his life I have come to know, realizing with a tinge of regret that I wish to share a little of his life I have come to know, realizing with a tinge of regret that I should have either met or at least read of the life and work of this man earlier in my own life and career.
Bamunuarachchige Don Rampala was born on November 14, 1910 and grew up at his ancestral home in Moraketiya junction, Pannipitiya. He received his education initially at the Anglo Vernacular Mixed School, Kottawa and after which he went to Nalanda College, Colombo and completed his Senior Cambridge Examination at Ananda College. According to Ranjith Dissanayake who is researching material for his forthcoming book on ‘Ceylon Government Railway – Golden Era of B D Rampala and the Way Forward’, Rampala entered the Colombo University College where he completed his examinations in Pure Mathematics Applied Mathematics and Physics. After a few months training in the Police Department he joined the Ratmalana Railway Mechanical Engineering Department of the then Ceylon Government Railway (presently the Sri Lanka Railways) as a Special Apprentice in 1931. He sat and passed the Bachelor of Science Degree of the University of London as an external candidate in 1933. He then went on to qualify as an engineer through private study by obtaining the Associate Membership of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in October 1935.
Eng B D Rampala rose to the position of Chief Mechanical Engineer and then to become the second Ceylonese (as we were known then) General Manager of Railways in 1955 at the age of 45 years, a position he was to hold for 14 years up until his retirement thus becoming the GMR with the second longest term of office. Eng Rampala was elected the President of the Institution of Engineers of Sri Lanka (IESL) in 1958, an important year for transport.
It was the year of nationalization of the bus industry and exactly 100 years after the construction of the railways in Ceylon was inaugurated by Governor on August 3, 1858. He was also instrumental in establishing the Ceylon Transport Board along with Vere de Mel and served in other statutory boards such as the State Trading Corporation and the State Hardware Corporation.
As I read about Eng B D Rampala I was struck by the relevance of this man's example for today, not just for the railways but for transport and engineering and in fact for all Sri Lanka. He was an engineer par excellence. But he was also a planner, a designer, a builder, a leader, a mentor and above all a servant of the people. Today it is common to think these are all specialist skills and traits to be found in different departments and in different people. But in Rampala it becomes obvious they were all rolled into one man.
In fact I may be guilty of subverting the title of my lecture to pay more attention to the man in whose honour I speak tonight. As such the title of this lecture may well be changed to ‘The example of the life and work of Eng B D Rampala for the present and future of the Railways and of Engineering in Sri Lanka'. Whatever the actual title of my lecture should be, what I wish to talk about today are the key attributes I am convinced are strong motivational examples for the engineers, planners and managers of today and of tomorrow.
First, I observe that Eng B D Rampala was a professional of immense integrity and aptitude
Many examples have been written of Rampala who reputedly had the capacity to fix any problem he was faced with at any time, be it technical, operational, administrative, financial or in management of people. It was not merely positive thinking that got these done, nor was it that he had powerful political connections that gave him added advantages. But it seems to be the combination of knowledge, experience and a strong commitment to serve the people through his office.
His strengths appear to be his thorough knowledge of the workings of the railway, the commitment to practice what he had learned (what I call professionalism) and a reckless abandonment of a caution on innovation and development for the common good. He comes across as a professional leader who had the capacity to lead his people and the organization towards serving the people it stood for.
He was truly a railway-man and one cannot find evidence that he was in anyone's pocket or a puppet on anyone's string. He stood his ground on the strength of his professional views and competencies. His reputation spread even abroad and in 1956, the Institution of Locomotive Engineers in London recognized Eng Rampala as the Best Diesel Engineer East of the Suez. He did not need any political support to get appointed or for survival therein or to provide insurance for any incompetency.
He did not seek promotions or appointments by request and neither did he align himself to any power political or otherwise for popularity or protection. Such administrators and even engineers in State institutions are a rare entity today. Sadly this is a need of our times for engineers of integrity to stand up to lead and to protect the practice of engineering and the organizations they represent.
The collapse of engineering leadership in the Railways seems to have begun soon after Rampala's retirement as GMR. Perhaps it was the political response to ensure a more subservient institutional head that the next GMR was appointed from the Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) with an Additional General Manager to assist him in technical matters. This even led to a very capable AGM (Technical) to retire prematurely from the railways and thus the mentoring and succession of engineering leadership of an engineering institution was broken never to be fully restored.
Eng A R P Wijesekera recollects a news headline in 1977 which stated 'The trains are running to time, the stations are clean, Rampala is back! It was true that Rampala was back in the Ministry of Transport, but only as a consultant 7 years after retirement. Wijesekera a former Mechanical Engineer and later President of IESL in 1980, however notes that 'his tenure was short lived as there was now no place for Rampala or others of his ilk'. So sadly, in just a few short years the very organization that he led for 15 years and the ministry could not properly accommodate his contributions. Things had changed even in the space of 7 years. Sadly the tide still keeps coming in an goes out with each passing change of political administration. Each tide keeps eroding the pristine procedures and practices that were in place before Rampala's time which were the pillars on which he practised his engineering and on which the CGR was built.
Today these engineering processes that were initially instituted by our colonial masters are being dismantled in full public view. While the purpose of these processes when first instituted could be questioned, they were useful to ensure organizations serve the task they are set up for. They are to ensure that transparency and accountability are built into the core processes of each organization.
To be continued

[Eng B D Rampala memorial lecture]

The nineth Eng B D Rampala annual memorial lecture organized by the Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka (IESL), was held at the Wimalasurendra auditorium of the institution on December 20. It was on the theme An Engineering perspective of the past, present and future of railways delivered by Eng (Prof) Amal Kumarage, Senior Professor of Civil Engineering, Department of Transport and Logistics Management, University of Moratuwa.

An engineering perspective of the past, present and future of Railways


Eng. B. D Rampala Memorial Lecture

The 9th Eng. B.D Rampala Annual Memorial Lecture organised by the Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka (IESL), was held at the Wimalasurendra Auditorium of the institution on 20th December 2011. This year’s lecture was on the theme ‘An Engineering perspective of the past, present and future of Railways’ delivered by Eng (Prof) Amal Kumarage (Senior Professor of Civil Engineering, Department of Transport & Logistics Management, University of Moratuwa).

The significance of the theme and contents of the lecture that follows would surely be not lost on policy makers, administrators, professionals etc. and who could help revive the Sri Lanka Railways at the present times. The late Eng.B.D Rampala, as General Manager, Sri Lanka Railways (1955 -70) had risen up to the occasion when the country needed its sons to decide its own destiny. His sterling performance in that seat won acclaims both within and beyond the shores of our country and set an example to all others.

The IESL is the premier professional body, incorporated by an Act of Parliament, to serve the science and practice of engineering in Sri Lanka. It piously commemorates the engineering greats of the past who gave invaluable service to the country during their lifetime, with memorial lectures on themes that are relevant to the present times. The IESL which has over 14,000 members on its roll currently had the honour of having the late Eng. B.D Rampala as its President in 1958.

Continued from Saturday

Again it could be argued that many GMRs and railway men have tried in more recent times many innovations, improvements and developments. But sadly the processes that are needed to complete such initiatives were not in place. The professional judgment was not allowed freedom to implement. Political considerations have over ridden engineering considerations. A good example of this is the attempt to double track the track between Kadugannawa, Gampola and Kandy to run a suburban train service. However this was not allowed due to issues raised on regaining railway reservation required for double tracking. Thus the space available for engineering leadership and leadership of engineering institutions to perform as technical institutions has almost become non-existent.

Thirdly Eng. B.D. Rampala was a man with the People’s welfare in mind

Even though he planned and implemented many technological advancements Mr. Rampala was one who also realized that the needs of the people must also be met through these developments. It was during this period that the construction of new stations that were more spacious with better facilities such as retiring rooms, canteens, long platforms with roof covers were carried out in Anuradhapura, Jaffna, Kandy, Nawalapitiya, Galle and Trincomalee under priority. Eng. Rampala also led the localization of the CGR from very British practices. For example the new station building did not follow British Architecture. He also started giving Sinhala and Tamil names to trains and locomotives.

One Mr Senguttava wrote to the press in 2010, about Eng B.D. Rampala following his 100th Centenary lecture that ‘many benefits to commerce, social cohesion and mobility have flown from his altruistic thoughts. …. and that his name will be remembered along with the immortal Yal Devi for a long time to come ‘. Such is the fondness with which he is remembered by people who felt he was sensitive to the culture and needs of all the people of Sri Lanka.

Rampala appears to have been a servant of the people in the true spirit. He is often remembered as one who never took credit for his many innovation or his successes. He was never shy of publicly giving credit to his juniors. It is said that such instances never failed to inspire his juniors to even greater heights. Their welfare and potential seem to have been his pre-occupation.

Yet he was firm and tolerated no slack or bluff. Eng ARP Wijesekera recounts his experience with Mr. Rampala as his boss where he states that ‘good understanding of one’s work led to advice and guidance from Eng. Rampala. Bluff on the other hand received short shrift’. In other words he appreciated the hard work and commitment and took to task anyone who did not demonstrate these qualities adequately. ‘He knew about every branch of engineering and no one could pull wool over his eyes’ is what Mr. Paul Senarathne also a former railway engineer and one of the most illustrious Executive Secretaries of IESL, wrote about him in the IESL Felicitation volume on Eng B.D. Rampala in 1989.

In fact he nurtured many of his juniors to great heights. Eng. ARP Wijesekera who was one of them, recounts that ‘on his first week of the job as the newly promoted Deputy Chief Mechanical Engineer where he had keenly reported on his progress on solving a problem of a burner in one of the engines. To which Rampala’s cold reply has been ‘you seem to be able to do only one job at a time’. Wijesekera who himself went on to become Chairman of the CTB and several other organisations says those were the words that had the biggest impact and shaped his life most thereafter. How such words have changed and shaped his juniors has been seen in the life of many railway men such as Mr P. Rajgopal, Mr. N.A. Vaityalingam, Mr Paul Senaratne, Mr L.S. de Silva and Mr A .Chanmugarajah almost all of whom went on to become leaders in both the railways and in engineering with many of them holding position at the IESL also.

In 1982 he addressed the 76th Annual Sessions of the IESL as its Chief Guest possibly the only time in the history of the IESL that one of its own members was invited as the Chief Guest. He observed how Sri Lanka needed to move on towards industrialization and the need for establishing a global reputation for quality products so that could compete effectively in the international market. His knowledge of world markets and of international trade was to me, deep and profound. He has spoken with strong views on the need but yet caution of getting foreign investment and obtaining international credit and of joint ventures at a time when even experts in financing were yet to be fully conversant with these financial instruments. It is no wonder that he tried to and understood the forces that shaped the society in which the people he served lived. This is so very important for engineering leaders of today and tomorrow to think outside of mere engineering technology and in fact be competent in doing so. Their thinking and actions must be shaped by world affairs, economics, culture and even philosophy. We can only serve the people we work for when we understand, appreciate and can stand up against the forces that shape their world and lives.

It has been said that it was not due to lack of logic in asking that railways did not get enough funding, from the Treasury but due to lack of logic in national priorities. But it needs to be said here that engineers need to rise about technical logic to economic, financial and even political logic. This is where it appears Rampala was a maestro.

Finally, Eng. B.D. Rampala, what can we learn from his life and work?

Another former GMR Mr D.C. Lelwela who served in the late 1980s notes in the Felicitation volume put out in honour of Eng. Rampala in 1989 that Mr Rampala ‘rose above all his contemporaries and his predecessors. He moved like a Colossus. None could and none ever had challenged him in matters of Engineering because of his masterly techniques of handling engineering problems and his profound knowledge of the theory and practice of the science of engineering.

It is clear that Mr. Rampala practiced his engineering with ease and pleasure. He was comfortable in the cab of a locomotive, the workshop or the board room. It was not cheap popularity that he sought but application to real life problems to work shoulder to shoulder with all ranks. He did not compromise his professionalism just for acceptance by people at different levels. In fact professional aptitude appears to have been the basis and the only basis for his work and leadership.

It is also clear that Eng. B.D. Rampala was recognized as an engineer and a leader of engineering. In a country where engineers have had little or no public recognition for the vast contributions they have made, where few if any, streets, stamps or buildings have been named or issued after them. Neither are there any noteworthy commemorations or memorials of engineering or of engineers. Few engineers are known in the public domain. Fewer still are considered national leaders. Eng B.D. Rampala was certainly such of his times and possibly even now. Engineers and in fact professionals of any walk who have commanded such recognition from the general public have only been a handful. This further exemplifies the contribution that Eng Rampala made.

He was truly a leader both within and outside the railways. He was not a big fish in a small pond. His leadership saw him venture out from the railways to other engineering sectors and institutions. He was one of 9 railway men who went on to become President’s of IESL.

His leadership was inspirational to junior staff. He was able to respond to emergencies as well as provide leadership for long term institutional capacity building. He understood the people he served and put country, people and the institution well above his personal interests or even that of the political masters of that time.

Mr. John Diandas former Chairman of Chartered Institute of Transport and of the National Transport Commission is another that could be spoken of as highly as Mr. Rampala. John says of Rampala, ‘that he was a leader par excellence and that he had everything going for him. Rampala was learned and scholarly, tall and wealthy, respected in the engineering profession and by the administrative and political communities’.

It is only in the writing of John Diandas that I find any material on the debit side of the account on Mr. Rampala. Mr. Diandas states that his weaknesses were the anti-pathy for electrification and over enthusiasm for diesel-mechanical locomotives, presumably a reference for his decision to import W1 and W2 diesel-hydraulic locomotives in 1968/69. But even heros are human. However he did not allow any professional weakness to bring him down where he was strong.

In every way he was a legend of that time. In fact I can confidently say that the legend lives on. In fact he can be called a living legend. He example stands before us to challenge us as to how each of us responds to the situation we are in. His life begs for followers. His work invites emulation. Each of us no matter what our profession is, needs to think of what legend we ourselves will leave behind. Are they stronger institutions and a better country? Or would it be something weaker than when we first joined.

His influence on the railways so powerful that people in the railways divide time itself into a pre-Rampala era, the Rampala era and the post-Rampala era. Such was the impact of a single life on the institution he led. May each of you find the will and the strength to become true professionals in your own vocation. May you be a blessing to others as Eng. B.D. Rampala was to the whole of this country.

The chips maybe down for the railways even though the future opportunities are many. It may seem that the railway era is over. It seems that even a Colossus such as Eng. B.D. Rampala may not have found a way out of the current situation the railway finds itself.

Mr B.B. Perera a former Railway Engineer has recorded that the many achievements during the time of Mr. Rampala were possible due to high standard of discipline and dedication to work displayed by all railway men. This again is another problem facing the current railways and in fact in all of society in general. There is a lack of adherence to discipline or the desire to be committed to any cause or concern other than one’s own welfare.

This is where engineers should learn yet again from Eng. Rampala, that we should love what we do so that it grows in value and appreciation in the eyes of others. During Eng. Rampala’s time he truly converted the railways from being just an economic asset to a national symbol. We therefore cannot simply treat it or right it off as a bad account or a bad investment or a loss making institution. It is true that there are many areas the railway can and should become more effective. It should also become more efficient. By doing these they should reduce the burden that is placed on the taxpayers and the very people it strives to serve. The innovation for cost reduction, downsizing of staff with modernization such as what happened with electrical signaling during Mr. Rampala’s time have to be carried out to make it economically and financially viable.

However, the bigger threat is forget that it is a national asset. With rapid motorization imposing constraints on road transport and consequent issues of congestion and pollution, railways world over are making a comeback in different forms. Rail based rapid transit through different from conventional rail is yet another more modern extension of the technology. The high speed trains in Japan, France and now in China are a competition to air transport. Freight railways in North America and in fact many parts of the world are making profits and challenging trucking. Thus the return of the railways to Sri Lanka is possible though daunting. The railway needs to meet this challenge head on. There is not much time to lose before the impatience of those who have a lesser understanding of its potential will demand more drastic action.

It will not be as easy as it was for Eng. Rampala who had the processes and the people to support him. Now is perhaps the time for many Rampala’s to bloom not just in the railways but in the field of engineering in Sri Lanka. The task will be harder and the risks higher. But it is just possible that the cost of not doing anything maybe even higher.

We need Sri Lankans to learn to love what we should preserve. Can one imagine for a moment that India would allow its prestigious Indian Railways to be managed by another country- however neighborly or friendly? Eng. B.D. Rampala showed how to develop the railway for Sri Lanka and for Sri Lankans. It is a pity that we have since then prevented just that from happening.

One may find many faults with what I have spoken. In the first instance I am not a railway man . Perhaps someone may even term me as a competitor as I have been a promoter of bus transport, but that has been mostly to curb motorization. One could also say that I have not make a technical presentation as would have been expected from me. I could have. But reading the life and work of Eng. Rampala, I decided that there were more things of importance than the technical innovations he introduced. His leadership, his vision, his commitment, his integrity and his attitude of service are of much greater relevance for the challenges the railways and indeed many other engineering institutions are faced with today.

Thus I wish to conclude my lecture expressing my sincere appreciation to the Chairman of the Institution of Engineers Sri Lanka, Dr Ananda Ranasinghe and the Mechanical Engineering Sectional Committee for the invitation extended to me to deliver this lecture. I also wish to acknowledge with gratitude the authors of many articles I have referred to in preparation for this presentation as well as former GMRs and several other railway men who have shared insights and information.


Saturday, December 24, 2011


An engineering perspective of the past, present and future of Railways

Eng. B. D Rampala Memorial Lecture

The 9th Eng. B.D Rampala Annual Memorial Lecture organised by the Institution of Engineers, Sri Lanka (IESL), was held at the Wimalasurendra Auditorium of the institution on 20th December 2011. This year’s lecture was on the theme ‘An Engineering perspective of the past, present and future of Railways’ delivered by Eng (Prof) Amal Kumarage (Senior Professor of Civil Engineering, Department of Transport & Logistics Management, University of Moratuwa).

The significance of the theme and contents of the lecture that follows would surely be not lost on policy makers, administrators, professionals etc. and who could help revive the Sri Lanka Railways at the present times. The late Eng.B.D Rampala, as General Manager, Sri Lanka Railways (1955 -70) had risen up to the occasion when the country needed its sons to decide its own destiny. His sterling performance in that seat won acclaims both within and beyond the shores of our country and set an example to all others.

The IESL is the premier professional body, incorporated by an Act of Parliament, to serve the science and practice of engineering in Sri Lanka. It piously commemorates the engineering greats of the past who gave invaluable service to the country during their lifetime, with memorial lectures on themes that are relevant to the present times. The IESL which has over 14,000 members on its roll currently had the honour of having the late Eng. B.D Rampala as its President in 1958.

By Eng (Prof) Amal Kumarage

Continued from yesterday

It is important to for us to remember that engineering can only be practiced in organisations and organisations need designers, planners, implementers, quantity surveyors, maintainers, logisticians and so on. If even one of these contributions are ignored or over ruled the engineering supply chain breaks and the end product would be less than a professionally engineered product. In fact it cannot be called engineered. I was aghast the other day when someone from a large state authority told me that its leadership has been questioning its engineers why Engineering Estimates are too low as they hamper negotiations with contractors!! Can an engineering organisation function where cost reduction or optimization is not a core requirement? Do we need engineers to design and build things without consideration of costs? I was equally astounded when another very senior engineer from yet another state institution reported that they have been told not to check for quality as there was a need for the contractor to finish the job and to send his resources to the next job which was equally urgent. I hear regular laments from many engineers in planning sections that they are simply being told what to do. Feasibility Studies are commissioned after public announcements of projects are made. Simply stated the status quo has become that what is planned is not implemented and that which is implemented is not planned. Moreover, design sections lament that they are mere spectators having to accept supplier based designs. Survey plans are not consulted before sending the bull dozers to clear the land. Of course not all engineering agencies have all these problems. But certainly the complaints are more regular and louder. If engineers are not given the space to practice their profession, we may not have engineered infrastructure in the future. We may not have engineering institutions in the future. Engineering itself could reduce to simply carrying out what is decided by others. These are matters that all engineering institutions and indeed perhaps even the IESL should raise with the highest authorities and address with due concern.

In the opening address to the 76th Annual Sessions in 1982, as its Chief Guest, Mr Rampala recalls the time when ‘the Chief Executive of the island was the Governor. He notes that the country had administrative officers on one side- namely the Civil Servants, the services including the Police on another side and Engineers on the third side- which he refers to as the third leg. He observes that ‘there was nobody else to interfere with them or give advice. What they thought as right for this country was done. The engineers were the people who looked after the development of the country’.

Today this has become the vested role of politicians. It appears that society has accepted that only politicians can and know how to develop a country and that professional are only needed to carry out their decisions without comment or concern. This is a culture that prevents a new generation of Rampala’s from coming to the leadership of the engineering profession. The culture of constant policy reversals, program reversals, process reversals as well as personnel reversals are becoming commonplace in engineering institutions as in political institutions. As such the constant replacement of GMRs and Heads of institutions does not allow such leadership to develop at least from the state sector. There is also however every indication that the expectations of engineers in the private sector are also fast becoming likewise.

A hypothetical or ‘test’ question I would like to pose to ourselves today is- would Mr. Rampala have been able to deliver what he did if he were the GMR today? Would he have even survived leave alone 14 years even 14 days? Or would he have been among the many engineers who have left the state engineering system in frustration of not been able to practice engineering with integrity and aptitude.

Dr TL Gunaruwan, also GMR and later Secretary of the Ministry of Transport till 2009 notes that Mr Rampala was one who chose the option to "leave" positions when he felt that he could not do a genuine job any longer. It has been observed that he had left GMR’s office all of a sudden in 1970, when the victorious Trade Unions were coming in procession to railway HQ after the 1970 elections. It is possible that he would have realized the times had changed and that "professional management" was no longer possible. Similarly, he also left the 1977 administration, when he could have well existed as a Consultant. As much as he had energy to deliver, he also had the honesty and courage to quit when things were going wrong, a quality that is very rare among professionals today, engineers or otherwise. It can be seen that Eng Rampala always made decisions based on his professional judgment and was not prepared to allow trade unions or political authorities to direct him. When he considered such freedom was not available he was ready to leave.

Will the deterioration of engineering processes and practices rob the engineers of the respect for engineers and for engineering leadership that Eng. B.D. Rampala and his kind so methodically established in our country? I may sound an alarmist. But sometimes one wonders if we are conditioned into living in denial that we simply have no choice but to move on with the pressures and the trends of the times and that we have no power to charter our own course and destiny.

Secondly, Eng B.D. Rampala was a man in readiness to Lead

Eng. Rampala in his Presidential Address to the IESL in 1958 stressed the need for engineers to focus on design and planning in their work. He lamented that most engineers merely stand guard over an army of labourers and craftsmen wasting the asset they have. It is true that engineering is an esteemed profession that recognizes practitioners and not mere holders of qualifications. Today we are mulled to believing that the title of the position one holds in an organisation or the qualification one has is all that matters to being an engineer. We confine our identity as engineers to these titles and qualifications but not to what we should earn through the actual practice of the art and science of engineering. This is why true engineering leaders are hard to find today. There are many who aspire for leadership of engineering institutions but who are nothing more than administrators or as best managers or sadly sometimes even mere agents of politicians. Eng. Rampala demonstrated leadership and vision and did not restrict his work to the mundane activities of a head of department.

A core attribute of a leader is one who must be able to anticipate problems and take pre cautionary measures. It is rumored that Eng. Rampala was able to anticipate what could go wrong before anyone else, especially in Mechanical aspects of the engines he knew so well. It is said that he could trouble shoot the cause of a failed engine from his desk without even seeing the failed engine!!

It is recorded that he personally prepared the time tables for the expresses he introduced. He personally did many of the timing trials. He personally drove the locomotives in their runs. This is how sound technical planning and design processes were applied to the introduction of new ventures. That is why they were successful then and are still so today and will be for the future as well.

The year after the floods of Dec 1957 where 85 percent of the rail track was damaged was the year that Mr. Rampala became the President of IESL. In his Presidential Address at the AGM he states that in six weeks after the floods the engineers of the railways made the entire system re-operational. This feat was in fact repeated in 2005 when my friend Mr. Priyal de Silva was the GMR who interestingly also held office as President of IESL. On that occasion the Coastal Line was totally devastated by the tsunami of 26th December 2004 and he led the engineers of the Sri Lanka Railways to restore the train service in just 57 days.

Eng B.D. Rampala’s readiness to lead the railways was not only in times of crises, it was also in making the railways ready for the future.

Recognizing the challenge imposed by the rapidly growing motor industry especially the bus and the lorry, he was the first to recognize the ‘need for speed’ if the railways was to keep up with the development of road transport. In response he commissioned three damsels to three parts of the country on 23rd April 1956. Ruhunu Kumari arrived in Galle in just 2 hours after leaving Fort and proceeded to Matara in 3 hrs, while her counterpart Udarata Menike reached Nanu Oya in 5 ½ hrs and Badulla in 9 hours. The fabled Yal Devi arrived in Jaffna at an average journey speed of 55 kmph in just 7 hours reduced from the earlier 12 hours, out stripping road competition to ensure that the railway would remain in the front line for the next decade or more in terms of capturing the long distance passenger market. He also introduced fast goods trains.

Introducing diesel multiple units was his answer to solving the urban transport problem. These lighter and faster power sets as they are commonly referred to, ably provided for the transport of several hundreds of thousands of commuters to Colombo and to take them back with relative ease keeping the roads leading to Colombo free of congestion.

We also know that until, the 1950s, Sri Lanka Railways operated entirely with a lock and block signalling system. The Centralised Traffic Control System was also conceived by Eng. B.D. Rampala. Mr Lelwela also a GMR in later years observes in an article that when Mr. Rampala found that the cost of installing the CTCS would be prohibitive he negotiated with the supplier to buy only the hardware and had the department staff install it themselves. He also saw the need for quality and comfort in travel and introduced the first air conditioned coach in 1960- fifty years ago and long before the push for tourism began.

During his tenure the railway improved in all aspects. He introduced express trains, fast goods trains, dieselization from steam power, track improvements, communications, signaling, buildings and even circuit bungalows. However since then in most aspects these services and infrastructure have deteriorated year by year. The proposal for electrification that would have modernized the railways to make it competitive in to the modern world was shelved and repeatedly postponed. Even though there were attempts to handle the transport of containers it never got it as right as Mr. Rampala did in his projects. However in defense of many of the subsequent GMRs and other railway men many of them whom are known to me and some considered friends, I also know that getting a respectful ear was always difficult for the railways that by then was firmly considered by many especially in the Treasury as an asset of yesteryear and a liability of today.

The railway has been an active partner in economic development in the early years of our country. Colombo became an international maritime hub in the 18th century and consolidated its position around 1865 when the Suez Canal was opened and the traffic between Europe and Asia began using the Port of Colombo. It was also the year before in 1864 that the railway in Sri Lanka began operating. The success of the Port of Colombo and the development of tea as an international trading commodity went hand in hand. The railway was responsible for this inter-modal transportation function. The current transportation network of Sri Lanka is based on this important creation of Colombo Fort and Pettah as the multi modal hub for agricultural produce created first by the port, then by canal transport during the Dutch period and thereafter by the railways in the 19th century and in more recent times during the 20th century by the road, bus and trucking networks.

The railway currently handles just 5% of the passenger share and 2% of the freight traffic. It desperately requires regaining its contribution in the transport sector. Sri Lanka as a country equally desperately needs a multi modal transport network to reduce the almost total dependency on road transport, high fuel imports and consequences of rise in congestion and pollution. The railway needs to identify and compete in niche areas in which it can provide services that would be the most effective, efficient and are sustainable. One such area would be urban passenger transport wherein the rapid increase in motorization would prevent the use of all the road vehicles in a given area say at peak period. The railway will remain as a space efficient, cost efficient and environmentally green mode of transport ideal for promotion in urban and sub urban conditions. The railway requires to plan and to provide for a return of the railways as a primary provider of urban transport. A recent study conducted by the University of Moratuwa for the Road Development Authority has shown how the railway can ease the road congestion in Kandy city and suburbs. Its contribution in Colombo is better known but still requires modernization and integration with other modes of transport and of course building more track and station capacity.

The role of the railways in creating new and alternate transport hubs also requires urgent attention. Such hubs would require inter modal connections with linkages to ports and airports. The railway needs to develop hinterland connectivity from alternate hubs such as Hambantota. It also needs to create alternate suburban hubs at locations such as Kottawa and Ragama and possibly Dematagoda and Ratmalana. The creation of logistics or freight handling hubs to be served by rail and the advent of the railways to container movement are also niche areas that should be pursued in earnest especially because of the potential of high financial returns. The pre occupation of building new lines should be dampened and rationalized to provide connectivity for creation of hubs or for providing essential missing links that are deemed to be economically viable and not mere by rationale of incumbent politicians and their persuasions to connect their own constituencies to the railway network.

The railway also holds much potential in terms of domestic recreational and foreign tourist travel. It again requires integration of tourist interests with convenience of using the railways not merely as a mode of transport but also as an exposure or experience of Colonial Ceylon and the life during that period. It needs to integrate the railways with the tea industry and world famous Ceylon Tea all of which are symbols and brand names by which Sri Lanka is known internationally.

Clearly the railway has a Herculean task to regain its pride and place. Again that hypothetical test question is how would Mr. Rampala have set about these challenges? Would he have allowed foreign consultants to develop such a plan or would he have commissioned the talent at hand locally to develop plans? Or would he have waited for instructions ‘from the top’? Would he have canvassed support among MPs and Ministers not for some personal benefit but to simply get Treasury to approve such funding? Whatever the means we now need an intervention to elevate the railways to play a more strategic role in the national transport system.

Continued on Monday