Monday, 14 December 2015

Sri Lanka Observations - 23/11 - 06/12 2015

M8 945 reverses on the bridge outside Colombo Fort Station.
Observations from a 'normal' holiday to Sri Lanka, with as many trains as I could fit in.

Visited a location just to the West of Colombo Fort in the late afternoon.
Observed M10 916 arriving on a train from the Galle direction. M10 944 was observed shunting (presumably running around a train at Fort)

M8 842 passes the Batticaloa train at speed with an express bound for Colombo.
An early start to catch the 06:05 train from Colombo Fort to Batticaloa (as far as Habanara). M4 756 was the train loco which proved to be a very rateable machine. We were traveling in reserved 2nd class (this train is 2nd and 3rd only) which, like most of the train, was not particularly busy. The journey of around 6 hours cost about 600 rupees (£3). Leaving Colombo we passed several commuter trains, most formed of DMU's but several with locos and stock, some of these probably being the end of longer distance overnight 'night mail' trains. Commuter trains into Fort at this time were extremely busy with all space used and many people hanging onto the outside of doors. At Kurunegala we passed a loco hauled train with what looked like an M2 and another short train stabled with M7 806.

M4 743 passes through Semaphore signals as it approaches
Maho junction with a mixed t
The train was paused at Wellawa for M8 842 to pass non-stop which made a nice photo (having climbed down from the train and crossed over to the bank having worked out something was going to pass us). At Maho Junction the train reverses and the M4 loco was run around and turned so that it would continue to lead 'nose first' to Batticaloa. M4 743 also pulled into the station with a mixed train from the northern line for connections. As with much of more rural Sri Lanka this juction station contains a nice collection of 'British' looking semaphore signals. I got chatting the the crew of the train before leaving Maho Junction and found myself sharing the cab with the driver and secondman for the next section of the jounrey, passing Hunslet shunter class Y 699 on leaving Maho Junction. The track quality was significantly poorer off the main line and train speed reduced somewhat. Many signals on beyond Maho Junction appear to be out of commission with the line beeing worked by token block. There was a pause at Moragollagama station to pass another train.

Our journey with M4 756 comes to an end at Habanara.
This was the first time I had encountered the slightly odd passing procedure (which seems common) whereby at a single platform station with loop the train pulls in, calls, and then sets back beyond the station approach points and then pulls into the unplatformed loop to await the train in the opposite platform to pass. We were running late (so this may not have been the usual passing place) and had to wait some time for the passing train led by M4 751 to pass.
Time to make frineds with the station groundsman and show some pictures of the UK railways to the staff, which generally went down quite well! The ALCO back on the move again we eventually arrived into Habanara around 1 hour late. A really excellent train ride with hawkers selling food through the train and massive window (and doors) to lean out of. Friendly crews and a really great loco- what more could you want!?

M6 797 will be our traction into the mountains. Seen herea at Peradeniya Jcn.
The next encounter with the railways was a journey on the Highland line from Peradeniya Junction to Ella (Most trains from Colombo stop at the junction some 10km from Kandy with only a few slower trains running through on the line from Kandy to Baddula) on the 12:30 train. This station again has an impressive array of semaphore signals, a traditional looking box, and platforms on two sides of the triangle. The station also has an easily vieweable array of block equipment and you can see into the back of the ticket office where the Edmondson card tickets are still issued for journeys. The train from Colombo arrives backwards, having taken the '3rd' side of the triangle it then reverses into the Badulla bound platform to negate a run-round. The loco for this journey was Henschel built M6 797 which while good fun really didn't compare to the Alco M4 a few days earlier. Unfortunately on this train we were booked into the 'Expo Rail' coach, one of two privately run 'luxury' coaches which run on Sri Lankan Railways, the other being the 'Rajadhani Express' coach. While most 'Expo' coaches have an open air viwing balconly, ours did not. The coach is air conditioned and has TV screens, fairly comfortable seats, which were all facing in the opposite direction to travel, and provides meals- imagine aircraft food. Fortunately the small windows did still open (no good if you had a 'virgin style' wall next to your seat though!) and after a while passengers caught on to the fact that the crewe didn't mind people leaning out of the door on this very scenic train ride. Either way if you are a rail enthusiast being couped up in the Expo coach is not ideal- 3rd class looked much more fun in the traditional coaches with big doors and windows! The train soon starts to climb up into the hills and through tree planatations- only the British love for tea could really explain why a railway was built through such difficult terrain. Again I managed to escape the luxury of the 'Expo' carriage for a ride in the cab, where the friendly crewe happily pointed out the sights of Waterfalls and mountain loops as the journey progressed. It was interesting to note that instructions to the driver were still handed up to the cab in English, which is widely spoken to at least some degree. The secondman held on to my photo of Waterloo station as a souvenier!
A mixed train was passed at Nawalapitty (possibly a W3 loco) and another passenger with M6 785 at Watagora. A final mixed train was passed at Pattipola with M6 795. Despite these observatiosn is it worth noting that two of the 5 trains each day on this route are now handled by the S12 'Chinese' DMU's.

An S12 Chinese DMU crosses a significant viaduct on the
mountain line between Ella and Badulla.
Our first 'disaster' with Sri Lankan railways was the short 20km hop from Ella to Badulla which I had insisted on doing by train. The timetable revealed the 'Goods' train would be perfectly timed at around 13:24 from Ella, and would also give me a chance to travel on my frist 'mixed' train. Unfortunatly on arrival at the ticket office the clerk was not keen to sell us our Edmondson tickets claiming that the train was 1 hour late today. This wasn't a terrible issue so we decided to wait it out. After the hours delay it was abundantly clear that the train was still not about to arrive now being just 'late'. The next train at 15:14 was scheulded to be an S12 DMU and after waiting over 2 hours when this arrived late as the first train there really was no alternative but to take it. I don't know what happened to the 'Goods' or if it ever turned up. Quite a waste of an afternoon, but the journey on the final section of the line to Baddula was at least scenic, andjuor a 30 minute journey though!
S12 933 has reached journey's end at Baddula. A number of services in this route are now in the hands of these Chinese DMU's instead of the more traditional loco hauled coaching stock.

M10 944 at Galle.
Popped into Galle station on a quick fact finding mission. I was suprised to find a train in the station which turned out to be the the 2:45 to Kandy with M10 944. Tickets are rarely checked on the trains, but are at stations, so I could not get down to get a photo without a platform ticket. Fortunatley there was just time to purchase this for 10 rupees (about 5p) before the train departed.

M2 626 'Montreal' waits to depart from Matara towards Galle.
After a few more days away from the rails we would meet them again at Matara on the southern tip of Sri Lanka. We had made good time by bus to reach the station for the 09:40 Vaunia Express (which I would talke to Mount Lavinia to spend an afternoon train hunting). The train loco was Canadian M2 626 'Montreal' while 1954 built M2 569 'Ontario' was sitting in another platform with the 10:25 mixed train to Galle. This train was formed of the older style red coaches with unreserved 2nd and 3rd class on board. Matara station has a useful pictoral display of all different classes of diesel loco (broad and former narrow gauge) and DMU which have been used in Sri Lanka. The train left on time and passed M10 944 between Matara and Galle. M4 756 was on shed at Galle. On arrival at Galle the loco runs around before continuing north towards Colombo. Heading north we passed M8 877 at Gintota and M7 800 was passed with a short train stabled at Aluthgama before we passed M2 591 here with another southbound express.
M2 626 runs around it's train in the terminal station at Galle.
By the time I arrived at Mount Lavinia for an afternoon of photography the weather had turned for the worst and it was now decidedly wet and grey- had nobody told the weather that it was the dry season? I didn't have an awful lot of luck with photographs here- having noted the timetable at the station the first train I thought would be loco hauled failed to appear and even the first DMU photo was 'disturbed' by some locals on the beach who wanted to befriend me and promised me a 'good time'. The northbound loco eventually passed while I was in a cafe eating lunch and the next southbound train which I had reckoned on a loco turned out to be an S12 DMU for Matara.
The first loco to actualy grace my camera was the ECS for the 16:10 to Polgahawela with M10 945 which passed at around 15:35. The light had improved a little on earlier but it was not the nice sunny shot I had come for. Being farily wet and defeated I decided the best course of action was to have a ride with the M10- which sounded very good!
There was just time to photograph the 15:52 to Panadura which I was convinced would be a unit at the station, ths turned up with M4 743.
The M10 run up to Colombo Fort was very good- these locos which were new in 2012 are some of the loudest I have come across. Coupled with running right along the coast and the opening doors the ride was certainly good fun- and very cheap.
M10 945 approaches Mount Lavinia with the empty stock for the 16:10 departure.
Once I had arrived at Colombo my simple task was to get back to Aluthgama or Bentota loco hauled. The lack of a timetable was really going to hinder this objective. M10 916 was noticed arriving at Colombo Fort from the East- maybe the perfect trian to head south with- Hopefully this would be the 16:50 to Aluthgama? Having asked the crewe they advised it was not and directed me to an S11 unit to get back to Mount Lavinia- I decided to take this, I could stop off to get some more photos then pick up the next loco in the right direction. Unfortunately the unit didn't stop at Mount Lavinia at all and I am still not entirely sure what train it was, except a busy one. The lack of a timetable really started to cause trouble now as I was stopping at stations where I did not know what trains were going where, or whether the expresses I needed would stop. After jumping off at one station to speak to staff I was promptly advised I needed to get back on the train and ended up riding on a crowded footboard to the large station at Panadura where I at least hoped most trains would be stopping. Unfortunatly I couldn't find a timetable here so had to rely on questions to the booking clerk. The next train to Aluthgama was a DMU so I flagged that, leaving the next train to be the Bentota service which I was fairly certain would be hauled - only problem was I had no idea if it was fast or slow or how long it would take! M10 944 was photographed with a northbound train after which bumped into Daffy who seemed to be doing a lot better for moves than I was! His somewhat out of date timetable guide clearly was very beneficial.
I returned to the station in time for my train to Bentota which turned up to be an all shacks stopper to Galle... and a DMU! Not really wanting to take this I asked the guard if there was an alternative to Aluthgama and was advised there was an express... but he didn't seem to know the calling pattern or when it was arriving. As I was already getting late for dinner and it was dark I took the S10 DMU, Defeated. To be fair, the DMU's are not bad at all with a large above floor power car and are more akin to an HST than what we would consider a DMU. They don't sound too bad either and still have the large opening doors and windows- not a loco though which is what I wanted. To add final insult to injury we paused for along while at Aluthgama- you guessed it, to let the express behind overtake us. This was M10 943 which I clearly could have had a ride on and still made the DMU to my locol shack. Oh well... you win some...

The final rail trip in Sri Lanka was from Bentota to Colombo.
I was fairly sure again that the local trian from Bentota at 11:05 would be hauled and it was with Loughbrough built M7 800 and finally a mixed train (even if only with one wagon). The train was tediously slow shunting at several stations to let trains pass in the other direction and calling almost everywhere.

Brush built M7 800 pauses en route to Colombo with the slow train.
En route M7 807 and M6 789 were passed with local trains. M6 788 was waiting at Kalutara south with the next train to follow behind us. Following more slow running we were quite late by the time we arrived at Panadura and after sitting there a few minutes the mass excodus of passengers indicated that we were were going to be overtaken by a faster train to Colombo. Not knowing how long our train would be delayed (and quite keen to get a final loco in the book) we crossed over for M2 591 'Manitoba' for the very crowded final run into Colombo. Within minutes or arriving the M7 followed in behind- it would have been a much more comfortable way to arrive in the capital. The local train was quickly re-engined with W3 677 to continue its run to Kandy.

Thus was the end of our Sri Lankan adventure and after leaving our cases in the HUGE lockers at Fort Station we were free to explore the city for our last afternoon.

A commuter DMU works in Colombo.
In conclusion Sri Lankas railways are really good fun, but a little hard work at times! The lack of anything resembling a timetable makes planning journeys incredibly difficult. Information is usually just the time of a train departure with no idea of how long the journey will take, an arrival time or calling pattern. The arrival of the Intercity S12 DMU's has also not helped matters as these turn up on some long distance trains that you would hope would be hauled. On a more promising note the 2012 built M10 locos are very loud and well worth following. During the whole trip I did not come across any Hitachi M5 locos or any Alsthom M9's with the exception of one which was deep inside the shed at Aluthgama.
Railway systems here are very antiquated with Edmondson tickets, ancient signalling equipment and ancient trains. Train crews are friendly and most people speak a good level of English. The country as a whole is well worth a visit.

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