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Monorail proposed to resolve Colombo's traffic woes

Colombo, which is getting increasingly traffic-clogged and congested, is in dire need of a mass rapid transit system that could help reduce the number of cars on the road. It should be more convenient, faster, cleaner and equally affordable. Several proposals are being pursued and there is greater focus on a monorail project, which does not require (enormously costly) underground tunnelling.

A preliminary meeting was held last month at the Ministry of Transport on the proposed monorail project. Everyone at the meeting agreed that this project was a long-felt need and a realisation of the Mahinda Chinthana pledges on the development of an alternative transport mode. It was discussed at the meeting that the route from the Fort to Battaramulla is appropriate due to factors such as high volume of traffic and the non-existence of a rail track as well as lack of space for further widening of the road network.

In the first stage, the proposed monorail system will operate 10 km. parallel from Fort Station (the proposed City Airport Terminal) to Battaramulla and then in Phase II, 19 km from Moratuwa to Maradana. It will be extended to Kaduwela later. The technical and administrative systems of the Fort Railway Station will be modernised with advanced technology.

Facilitating passengers

In the meantime, the Airport Railway and Colombo Monorail (BIA to Colombo-Airport Express Railway) will be amalgamated and operate simultaneously to facilitate passengers from abroad from the BIA to Colombo and vice versa. Passengers flying abroad will be able to check in baggage at the Fort Railway Station directly.

Government representatives noted that the monorail project will effectively increase the efficiency of the transport system in the country and also increase tourist arrivals. It will also be in line with the recent decision of the Government to introduce a special Act on energy security. Under this Act, it is expected that 10 percent of the total import cost of fuel be reduced by introducing alternative transport modes. A monorail system has been highly recommended in this regard.

The Korean investors of the monorail project were requested to furnish an economic study and EIA on the route and more details on the type of technology that will be provided, because the participants were of the view that the technology must be standard, affordable for maintenance and compatible with any locomotive system in the world, said Leelananda Ihalagamage, a spokesperson for the monorail project.

He said that after signing an MoU with the Moratuwa University, Professor Saman Bandara's services would be engaged for the economic feasibility and other studies along the route. The actual route tracing and basic engineering studies will be done in collaboration with Isuru Engineering, the Civil Engineering Works partner of Garamspace Co. of Korea, the investor of this project.

Kim Jongik, President of Garamspace Co. Ltd./Garamspace Research Institute of Korea and members of the project will visit Sri Lanka early next month, to hold further discussions with ministers and senior officials.

Significant progress

Several participants at the meeting raised the point that the road leading to Sri Jayawardhanapura is used by the Members of Parliament and VVIPs when Parliamentary sessions are in progress. Erecting a monorail over the road on concrete poles in the middle of the road could disturb VIP movements, they said. Therefore, it was suggested that the clearance of the Ministry of Defence is needed and a representative of the Ministry should be called to attend the next meeting. The second issue is, when diverting the rail track at Borella junction towards a new road, it should be considered whether the sharp bend is technically feasible and a possible alternative route should be ear-marked.

The continuous relationship between the Republic of Korea and Sri Lanka over the past 30 years has shown significant progress in the investment sector and mutual understanding between the two countries has been immensely developed.

This relationship was further strengthened through President Mahinda Rajapaksa's official visit to Korea recently when he was warmly welcomed by the Korean people.

The Government has taken several measures to develop the infrastructure sector especially the main roads, other access roads and highways after the end of terrorism in 2009. Colombo city, the first stop for tourists and investors, has undergone a vast transformation since then. Developing a metro area is a big risk and a highly technical exercise. Sometimes, it takes three to four years to complete feasibility studies and other related activities. The Government itself cannot invest alone for this purpose.

Way back in 2008, even before the end of the conflict, the GaramSpace Company conducted various studies and discussions with the Ministry of Transport and Sri Lanka Railways on this project, following an invitation to the President of the company by the Ministry of Transport to conduct the feasibility study. The Experts' Group of the project comprises officials from Korea Transport Institution (KOTI), Korea Railroad Research Institute (KRRI), Busan Transport Corporation (BTC), Incheon International Airport Corporation (IIAC) and other leading Korean private sector companies.

Feasibility study

This project is part of the New Generation Transit System Joint Development Program. It also includes the BIA to Colombo Airport Railway Improvement Project and upgrading the signals and communications system of Sri Lanka Railways based on Korean Technology.Currently, most of the basic studies have been concluded and submitted to the Ministry of Transport. An economic feasibility study, operational study, environment impact assessment and introduction of system engineering through research and development have to be carried out.

As Sri Lanka possesses a capable human resource in this sector (transport engineering) at the Moratuwa University, the consortium has decided to tap such resources for the benefit of both parties.

There will be opportunities for graduates and undergraduates involved in the research to get professional training in Korea which will improve their knowledge of the latest technology on the modern railway systems, signalling and communication systems. This landmark project will provide a unique opportunity for ultimately achieving the goals of the Mahinda Chinthana.

The design concept is benchmarked directly from Korea's existing transportation system. The Incheon International Airport, a gateway to Korea, is connected to metropolitan Seoul area directly, through the Airport Express Railway. After getting off from the Airport Express Railway, passengers can go to any place in metropolitan Seoul by choosing another subway line.

Although the company cannot duplicate all of Korea's current transportation systems in Sri Lanka, they will try their best to develop systems that can benefit people in the Colombo Metropolitan Area effectively in a practical way. This is one of the successful solutions proposed for the present heavy traffic jams in Colombo and the suburbs. The project also envisaged improvements to the railway and other related technical systems, such as IT-based signal and telecom system, traffic management system, security management system (CCTV), railway level crossing protection system and a railway concrete sleepers plant based on a buy back agreement. The first project steering meeting was held in January 2010 with the Minister of Transport Kumara Welgama and Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. Another round of discussions took place in Seoul later.

 

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