Required in overdoses
Remember the railway tracks at Auschwitz Birkenau? You would if you
watched Schindler's List. If you have not seen the movie, well...the
same kind of spine chilling eeriness (greatly toned down of course)
could be experienced if you visited the abandoned railway tracks in
Maradana, on a weekday morning.
Railway tracks in Maradana Pix by Avinash Bandara
From Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express to Dr. Ranaga
Wickramasinghe's Satha Dahaya trains and railway tracks have often been
associated with gloomy and foreboding events. Add to this a sense of
desolation and the picture is complete.
But, hopefully not for long. Though we are often resistant to changes
or persistently stubborn when it comes to applying new solutions to
current conditions, with the increase in traffic congestion on the roads
the bulk transportation of containers over long distance by rail is
surely the right answer - both economically and environmentally, which
means sites like the above will soon be non-existent.
This is specially so, because under the right circumstances, freight
transport by rail provides the best 'capacity' in the transport industry
due to the fact that "capacity" which is usually defined in terms of a
level of service, such as how many trucks or trains can be handled
efficiently and effectively by a facility in a given amount of time is
congested on the roads as a result of the number of heavy vehicles which
has risen drastically in recent times, so much so that previous speeds
are no longer sustainable.
Capacity, however, can be constrained by a shortage of any critical
input-infrastructure (for example, tracks or switching systems),
equipment (locomotives and other rail cars), or labour. This means,
according to the officers of the Sri Lanka Railways, at present the
Department is not in a position to mitigate the effects of a surge in
demand for freight transportation.
Providing the number of cars on-line, system train speed and yard
dwell time, on-time performance, train- and engine-crew utilization,
locomotive utilization, and infrastructure and capacity improvements
that would be required to operate a successful freight transportation
system is seen as a Herculean task which would not be achieved during
this century. Steps taken in this direction till now have not been
The wagons purchased from Egypt in 1990 are kept idling due to the
lack of locomotives, as, to quote K. A. Pemasiri, General Manager, Sri
Lanka Railways 'Non-availability of 'motive power' has greatly hampered
freight transportation." Another set back is the necessity of having
different types of freight trains, for carrying different kinds of
freight, with many different types of wagons.
The type which would most suit today's needs is container trains,
where containers can be lifted on and off the train by cranes and loaded
off or onto trucks or ships. But what the Department possesses at the
moment are the traditional boxcar type trains, with which the cargo has
to be loaded or unloaded manually.
"This requires double-handling" explains G. R. P. Chandrathilake,
Additional General Manager - Operations. Admitting that one main
disadvantage of rail freight is its lack of flexibility but believing
that improved distribution routes using rail containers will have
environmental benefits as it would reduce CO2 emissions to about
one-seventh the amount generated by conventional transportation
Chandrathilake says 'railway is the best way' and explains that at the
moment containers are being transported to Colombo on the Colombo
Bandarawela line and the Colombo Trincomalee line.
Talking about the abandoned wagons P. P. Wijesekara, Additional
General Manager - Technical says that in a new proposal presented to the
Ministry of Transport, the Department of Railways intends to utilize the
steel taken from the wagons to construct overhead bridges at level
crossings. The rest will, as usual be sold as scrap. Needless to say,
only railways that are modern and efficient will have a promising future
in our transport system.
Being modern means running on time, offering reasonably priced fares
and attractive services, in other words meeting customer requirements.
But it also means being able to meet the challenges of the future.
Developing freight transport to make the Department of Railways
economically efficient should therefore be one of the logical
consequences of any future reforms. With such a policy of growth and
consolidation, the railways can surely get back on the right track.
Let the railway be the best way.