Sunday, March 27, 2016


Back on track to Jaffna

The No 4001 Train is a daily Intercity Express Train on the Northern Line of the Sri Lanka railways which runs between Mount Lavinia of the Western Province and Kankesanturai Railway station of the Northern Province. Distance is 398 km. At Wellawatte Station there are two train times shown in the morning. One says ICE and the time is 5.18 am. ICE starts at 5.10 am from Mount Lavinia. The other says Yal Devi which comes at 5.40am plus. ICE refers to the fully air conditioned express to and from KKS.
Currently four trains travel from Fort, Colombo to Jaffna and four trains from Jaffna to Fort, Colombo on a daily basis. On Saturdays, one train travels from Matara to Jaffna while the same train on Sunday travels from Jaffna to Matara. Of the four trains which travel from Fort, Colombo to Jaffna, two are intercity express trains while one is the Yal Devi and another a night mail train service.
ICE is the only train with AC onboard. It remains clean, including the toilets. Slowly the fabric on the seats is becoming discoloured due to food and drinks spilling and staining them. The cafeteria has begun restocking food for the return journey from Jaffna. Food lies on shelves covered with newspaper allowing the oil to soak the paper. Not the healthiest form of storing and selling food. There are no refrigerator visible, cooling beverages.
The train crew has an arduous day starting at the Dematagoda Yard and finishing their day at the same yard having stopped the run at Mount Lavinia. Cleaning is at the Yard. It’s tough on the engines. The trains in general in this country are well patronized.
LED displays
For this reason it is possible to look at improvements. The long distance buses have wi- fi free. No reason why trains cannot feature likewise. The DVD on ICE offers pretty much the same for months. The train carries people of all denominations. Since its air conditioned the windows are kept shut.
The CGR could and should introduce LED displays of the oncoming stations inside carriages. Buses are carrying such external displays. Even for a Sri Lankan, unless you are familiar with the geography of the country knowing your stations can be daunting. The drivers maintain a good speed right through. The track conditions in general seem quite good. The restaurant cars can easily scale up what’s on offer. Not merely selling pre- cooked short eats or lunch packets but also potentially food items which can be cooked fast. The carriages have phone charging outlets. Which means cooking using electricity should be possible.
A remarkable job
If ICE has a cousin which runs at night, there is no doubt it will be a roaring success. Every night a large number of night buses in this instance to the North leave Colombo. Likewise to other destinations. ICE II could easily consider a departure with dinner on board, arriving before sunrise in the North overtaking the night mail on the way. Same for the return journey in terms of timing. ICE takes approximately 6 hours 45 minutes if not delayed each way. Travelling at night means much less signals slowing the journey. If the night mail wakes up station staff when it passes, an additional wake up for ICE II should not pose difficulties subject to overtime issues. ICE has a famous companion in the Yal Devi the well-known cousin which takes a slightly longer time running a little slower with no AC at all. A shocking state of affairs for what is termed 1st, 2nd and Observation cars on the Yal Devi. The latter a derelict, pathetic pretender to its name. Here too, simply upgrading the fare on offer with better meals, air conditioning, comfortable seating and sleeping facilities will no doubt increase passenger loads and revenue. Seating and facilities for adults with infants or smaller children and even senior citizens will be undoubtedly a draw.
Our engineers’ do a remarkable job keeping our trains running. The crews too stick to their tasks with little recourse to luxuries. Looking at quarters for station staff one cannot but notice the pathetic conditions of the structures. Paying more attention to the back end which services the trains and railways will no doubt enhance productivity.
In advanced settings similar facilities have been offered to passengers shown below.
The Pacific Parlour Car of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight.
These trains have dining cars, which function exactly like a restaurant on rails. A lot of the entrées are prepared fresh on board, and they are actually pretty good. The Amtrak Signature Steak, cooked to order, is a passenger favourite. Vegetarian and lighter fare is also available.
The dining car is open for three meals a day, which are included in your fare if you are staying in a sleeping car. Reservations are always required for dinner, sometimes required for lunch and never required for breakfast.
Special carriage
Snacks and more inexpensive options are also available in the train’s café area, which sells alcoholic beverages in addition to the dining car.
A roomette aboard Amtrak’s Capitol Limited.
We are quite capable of rigging our carriages and scaling up comfort and facilities with tiered fares.
When the Queen visited Sri Lanka in 1981 a special carriage was configured at a privately run yard at Dematagoda by a former senior veteran of the CGR. Engineering Consultant and Railway Engineering Consultants- offered to provide a special air-conditioned coach fit for a Queen. Coach Stock No. 7402 was designed, built, equipped and fully furnished and air-conditioned - with a power plant installed in the coach itself. This coach was built by of Engineering Consultants in association with the firm of Railway Engineering Consultants. In view of the limited time available, they had to airfreight specialized items for this coach, namely, fabric imported from Germany for lining the interior of the coach, upholstery and curtain materials from Britain, a bathroom suite from Spain and safety glass from Singapore.
An extract of a letter of commendation received by the Minister of Transport from Buckingham Palace dated October 26, 1981 states:
“...... Her Majesty knows what an immense amount of work was put into preparing the train for the overnight journey to Anuradhapura and would like you to know that it was an extremely comfortable and convenient way of making this long trip and was greatly enjoyed by Her Majesty and The Duke of Edinburgh. They were particularly appreciative of the efforts of Rajagopal to produce the special coach in time for the visit...”
This coach specially designed and executed, was a 100 per cent Sri Lankan effort. Sri Lanka should be proud of this achievement, for the reason that when the Railway could not obtain a special coach for the Queen's visit from abroad, Sri Lankans took up the challenge and provided a coach fit for the Queen.
Where is the special coach, bearing Stock No. 7402 in which the Queen travelled?
CGR employees
Indian Railways some years back revolutionized the carriage of cargo by simply adding more cargo capacity on each train carrying goods. Revenue shot up. Given the congestion on roads not to mention wear and tear on surfaces using our rail system to carry greater tonnage of goods is the way forward. The railway authorities own very valuable real estate across the country. Some are being poached by other agencies. Cannot the CGR call for expressions of interest for private-public partnership ventures which optimize the use of these idle assets? Same is true of goods carrying capacity slowly rotting across the country. Is it unthinkable for CGR employees to become recipients of profit share, become shareholders and for the CGR to become a public quoted entity? If public service does not understand business why not allow business to make that a reality for the CGR?
It’s time the Minister and his CGR staff considered optimizing the assets and the opportunities not only to offer much greater public services but also to rake in the untapped revenue potential if any or all are serious about running our railways not only as a public service known for a very high standard but also as a business venture which rewards its employees and earns mega bucks.