Southern expressway and intelligent politics of mass transport
Posted on November 28th, 2011

Chandre Dharmawardana

The Southern Expressway is an example of the government’s policy “to ensure that all segments of the country receive the dividends of development”, as stated in the Daily News article announcing the “Gateway to Wonder” (Daily News 26-11-2011). The integrity and governability of a nation depend on its transport system. The Romans knew it. The British were quick to build roads and railways, to move troops and haul commercial products to imperial markets. Since then, Sri Lanka’s roadways stagnated at the level of the British era, while the gross population quadrupled.

The road usage increased much faster. Hence any type of road improvement is an essential step. The present government has done wonders in the Eastern province, and things are moving mightily in the North.

However, it is also time to look to the future – even just ten years from now. The southern highway is the first and longest unit of the proposed network of expressways for Sri Lanka. Naively, one would think that this would unclog the roads, and the expressways would enable people to get to any part of Lanka in no time.

Gasoline (petrol) is cheaper than Coca Cola in the West, thanks to compliant or subjugated Arab nations. Los Angeles is full of six to twelve-lane highways and has impressive flyovers. Nevertheless, all American urbanites dread the “ƒ”¹…”carmageddon’ that they have to face every morning and every evening . My prediction is that in Sri Lanka too, these expressways would very soon become no different to the clogged Colombo roads of today. We need to consider the environmental degradation, foreign exchange for petroleum products, vehicles, the carcinogens and heat emitted by the engines, mortal accidents etc.

The costly upkeep of these highways is well beyond the modest tolls proposed. The final cost per kilometer-ton of persons and goods moved becomes immense. As the highways get clogged, the kilometer-tonnage asphyxiates to a trickle. This has been proved every time, in every nation enslaved by the car.

The answer to this carmageddon is the building of public transport which uses electric vehicles. The most efficient and ecologically clean way to do this is via very fast electric trains running on dedicated overhead tracks. It is not necessary to quote studies or expert opinion, as most engineers, environmentalists and urban designers know all this. Densely populated Europe, China and Japan have already invested in fast “ƒ”¹…”bullet’ trains and similar public mass transport (see attached picture from Japan, where the train had a maximum speed of 580 km/hour in 2003). Sri Lanka’s population density is similar to Holland, and it badly needs public mass transport, rather than the existing mayhem of privately operated buses belching fumes as dangerous as from Fukushima.

In a talk I gave at the Presidential Secretariat sometime ago, I pointed out that within a few decades the shoreline would be meters underwater due to global warming (a power-point of this talk may be accessed at http://dh-web.org/place.names/posts/dev-tech-2009.ppt). We need a dyke around the country, roughly 800 miles long that would keep the sea out, protect the land against erosion and tsunamis, and provide the base of a ring road for a fast electric train. Internal spokes can connect the whole country to the ring road. Such a system would soon pay itself, and would not enslave the country to petroleum and Pajeros. Cost estimates per kilometer-ton of mass moved, environmental suitability etc., always favour the electric trains, compared to road-car systems that are vastly more expensive in the long run. The raucous politics of devolution and regional segregation would yield to the technological solution (already known to the Romans) when a man from Vaddukkoddai (Batakotte) finds that he can reach Colombo in 40 mins, in an air-conditioned Japanese-style bullet train! Today it takes 12-14 hours by bus.

Unfortunately, the VIPs always think of expressways with the freedom to horn their hubris and launch their luxury limousines. Even the train service from the Katunayaka airport to Colombo has been killed by the unreasonable fares, when it should have been under Rs 100 (less than a dollar!) per person. While there is every justification for a good road network, especially for a country striving to promote tourism, it has an even stronger over-arching need for an intelligent, fast, cheap mass transport system.

(chandre.dharma@yahoo.ca)

12 Responses to “Southern expressway and intelligent politics of mass transport”

  1. Devinda Fernando Says:

    The writer seems to be ignoring the fact that the automobile is evolving towards the Electric engine… already we have Hybrids, in 10 years when the Highways are in optimum operation we will be consuming far less petroleum as a country even though our vehicle population will no doubt double or triple. Trains will also be the way of the future, but to suggest that we embrace trains instead of automobiles is a futile dream. If a person can buy a car, they will do so…because a car represents individual freedom and privacy, – you cannot substitute mass transit for that very desire in all of us.

  2. brahamin Says:

    No hybrid car or anything will ever be able to move at 400km/hour or 600 km/hour. These electric trains are able to do that because they use mag-lev technology and very advanced computer optimization that cannot be installed in cars. The next generation of electric trains will go even faster (800 km/hor) and in tubes where the air pressure has been reduced very much to remove drag resistance).
    The cars seem to be nonpolutting but moving one person takes a lot of energy and space and to it is more expensive than on the mass transport. The manufacture of batteries and their disposal are highly polluting technologies.
    The writer says “while there is every justification for a good road network”in his last para. So he is not excluding private car travel. I don’t know what the writer think, but i think people who want to get in a car and go for a ride “for their individual freedom” will have to pay much much more than they are paying now for such excesses in a world where more than half the people have no clean water or food. Furthe more, all these highways will get clogged within the next % years,.
    How about taking your car for a ride in Somalia to see the people with no food, no roof, no water, no way of growing any because of increased desert conditions arising from global warming?

  3. Bodhi Says:

    I fully supprot public tansport. That is the right approach for a heavily populated country short on petrol.
    Here is the new Shanghai bullet train 300km/hour;
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mxKiRtIs-_Y“>China’s high speed railway

  4. Ariya Says:

    “Unfortunately, the VIPs always think of expressways with the freedom to horn their hubris and launch their luxury limousines. Even the train service from the Katunayaka airport to Colombo has been killed by the unreasonable fares, when it should have been under Rs 100 (less than a dollar!) per person. While there is every justification for a good road network, especially for a country striving to promote tourism, it has an even stronger over-arching need for an intelligent, fast, cheap mass transport system.”

    Quite nice stuff to say, when one doesn’t have to breathe the Lankan air in Canada, right? It must be pretty cheap in Canada!

  5. geoff Says:

    Trains are not economically feasible to introduce these technologies in SL in the near future. It is a massive investment which may not be recovered soon.

    ……Even the train service from the Katunayaka airport to Colombo has been killed by the unreasonable fares, when it should have been under Rs 100 (less than a dollar!) per person….

    If this is the approach, we will never recover such huge investments and the electric trains project fails.

    Electric vehicles is the future. But trains need massive state investments which is not going to happen. Cars on the other hand are private investments. There will not be a profitable number of people to travel from Batakotte to Kolamba daily or for such long distances. Economy will develop regionally so that people will have no need to travel so far in 40 minutes. When they want to travel, they will be willing to waste hours for that. That is the right way.

    China, India are wrong examples because their train services are for thousands of kilometres not hundreds. Tube and other urban train services are also wrong examples because they cover only suburban areas. The tube model for a larger area is certainly not profitable.

  6. Bodhi Says:

    Regarding what Geof says.
    If you have a Bullet train to Batakotte or Japanaya, it will also link to the Indian system, and the number of people who travel becomes enormous.
    One km of 4-lane express highway is actually several times MORE expensive than one kilometer of monorail on pylons. Only the cars are paid for ny private people, not the highway.
    The cost of four Eelam wars equals hundreds of such bullet trains. One or two such trains will integrate the country and prevent any future Eelam wars.

  7. brahamin Says:

    Colombo to Katunayake is probably 30km. In the west, public transport for that distance can be used
    as a guide. In Greece, Athens, airport to City is 50 km, and they charge one ticket, about 2 euros. So Colombo to Katunayake being about one dollar is what it should be, and NOT $15 as they were charging. So it is not surprising that people did not use it.

  8. geoff Says:

    Bodhi

    What you say is contradictory.

    ……If you have a Bullet train to Batakotte or Japanaya, it will also link to the Indian system, and the number of people who travel becomes enormous…….

    ……….The cost of four Eelam wars equals hundreds of such bullet trains. One or two such trains will integrate the country and prevent any future Eelam wars…………..

    If it is connected to the Indian system, it will connect to Tamil Nadu. Millions of illegal immigrants will come to Sri Lanka which will lead to Elam War 5. Other Indians don’t waste time travelling by train. Air travel is many times more convenient for them. Even Tamil Nadu tourists will not take the train.

    …..One km of 4-lane express highway is actually several times MORE expensive than one kilometer of monorail on pylons……….

    We are not talking about monorail. If we talk of monorail, it cannot travel faster than 50 Km/h. Much slower than trafic on an expressway.

    That too only the monorail’s is accounted for. Not the “bullet train”, very costly maintenence, electricity infrastructure, running costs and crossings.

    This new rail system will not be any different to how the railway is managed now. It will be a huge loss.

    Expressways are better. Multiple entrances, no transport matters to attend to, only maintenance, well connected to the road network which means no switching, individuality, state is not into running hi-tech trains which will be a disaster.

    However, we have to develop the existing train system too. Not to travel at bullet train speed but for affordable travel for long distances. Certainly not to replace expresseways but to compliment them. No use doing major extentions to the existing rail system. Major extentions are not profitable. More expressways are better.

  9. geoff Says:

    Brahmin,

    What happens when they get to fort or wherever station? They don’t have cars to get into as in KIA. Three wheelers cannot take the lug. That is another reason.

  10. Devinda Fernando Says:

    *** No hybrid car or anything will ever be able to move at 400km/hour or 600 km/hour. ***

    Do we need anything that fast? Is the island even 400km long from top to bottom? Anyway, that was not my point, nor what the writer was advocating, which is that we depend on Mass Transit to avoid highway congestion, pollution, and other negatives associated with industrialization and modernization of Sri Lanka…

    My point is Mass Transit will never be able to replace the desire for Privacy and Individual Freedom – which a Car provides and a public train does not. Even if a train will get you to your location faster, people will always choose to get in their own car and drive somewhere unless it is severely cost-prohibitive to do so.

  11. brahamin Says:

    reply to Devinda: Some people will always choose Privacy and Individual Freedom. They should have to pay extra for that previlage. So this writer has allowed for highways. But we like to get to our destination fast and safe. Today we have to take a plane. I suppose Devinda has his own private lear jet.
    I will always use public transport it it is available.

  12. Devinda Fernando Says:

    *** Some people will always choose Privacy and Individual Freedom.***

    No, … MOST people will choose Privacy and Individual Freedom over Public Transportation. Please take a look at every single Industrialized country in the world to see that I’m right.

    *** I will always use public transport it it is available. ***

    The fact that you have an internet connection makes me doubt that statement very much.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

 

 


Copyright © 2021 LankaWeb.com. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress