ON ROUTE TO PRIVATIZE SRI LANKA RAIL, PROMOTING ELECTIC VEHICLES (EVs)?
Posted on June 17th, 2024

Deshika Mendis

I write this because I love travelling by train and am very sad about the condition of Sri Lanka Railways and train travel in this beautiful island. In recent times, several of my planned trips had to be cancelled causing great inconvenience due to sudden service disruptions, including derailments, breakdowns and train cancellations.

Train travel is both cost-effective and environment friendly. Trains carry a large number of passengers and hence cause lower Carbon emissions per capita than do cars. A country like Sri Lanka, caught in a Eurobond debt trap and subject to International Monetary Fund (IMF), austerity programs should ensure that good Public Transport is available and a National Policy Priority.

Several studies have shown that labour force participation, particularly of women, increases when there is good public transport available.

Derailments, Accidents, Cancellations: Privatization on the Cards?

However, given a high number of mysterious ’accidents”, derailments, delays and outright cancellations (listed below), and the halting of the Colombo-Jaffna Yal Devi train for Six months purportedly to repair a small part of the track (from Maho to Anuradhapura), there appear to be coordinated attempts to sabotage Sri Lanka Railways (SLR), at this time.

Is SLR being turned into a ‘loss- making enterprise’, in order to privatize it? There is after all an ongoing IMF Firesale of State Owned Enterprises (SOE), and national infrastructure and assets including profit-making SOEs like Sri Lanka Telecom at this time. Simultaneously, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), is promoting the import of expensive Electric Vehicles (EVs), rather than urgently make Public Transport, particularly, investing in and upgrading the Sri Lanka Railways a top Development Policy priority at this time.

Of course, the Sri Lanka Railways that started operating in the 1850s still carries out a valuable service to the nation but it could be far more efficient, effective, modern, and passenger friendly. There is an urgent need for a reliable train service to better serve passengers, whether occasional travelers or daily commuters, in addition to upgrading and maintenance of many stations with a high volume of passengers, such as the Colombo Fort station.

Yal Devi Out of Action

The Colombo-Jaffna Yal Devi Train has not been running since January this year due to purported construction of the Railway line between Mahawa and Anurdhapura. Passengers are forced to take private coaches instead.

The Maho-Anuradhapura stretch constitutes 67 killometers of the 405 Km Colombo-Jaffna trip. Should this railway line upgrade, which just one sixth of the entire Colombo Jaffna route, take so long and are they now using the absolutely predictable arrival of the South West Monsoon Rains in May to further delay this construction and the operation of the Yal Devi?

Last year when a friend and I tried to take the early morning train from Batticaloa back to Colombo it was suddenly cancelled. We discarded the tickets and hired a car for our trip back to Colombo.  So too, last year, my one and only train journey on the Kandy Intercity Express train from Colombo to the University of Peradeniya had to be aborted when a lorry purportedly got stuck across the train tracks and the Intercity express train was delayed by 4 hours. I was unable to reach the meeting on time.

Reducing Train Passenger Volumes and Marketing EVs

In the wake of the economically devastating two years of Covid-19 Lockdown and Economic Meltdown when the Railways was shut down and infrastructure crumbled, there appear to be (hybrid) attempts to sabotage train travel, reduce passenger volumes and privatize Sri Lanka Railways.

SLR has a lot of valuable state lands. Is SLR being turned into a loss- making enterprise, in order to privatize it — in line with the International Monetary Fund’s Firesale and privatization of State Owned Enterprises (SOE) without a proper accounting of SLR’s assets and liabilities.

Privatization of SOEs are being done without a proper accounting of their ‘assets’ and ‘liabilities’ in a context where the IMF conveniently does not differentiate between the ‘illiquidity” and ‘insolvency’ of a country or in the rush to declare ‘bankruptcy’ and sell assets! Meanwhile, BlackRock which is Sri Lanka’s largest private creditor/vulture fund is on a global infrastructure buying spree.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), project which was aborted in 2019 had targeted the Sri Lanka Railways, also with a proposal for a train track from the BIA International Airport in the Southwest of strategic Sri Lanka to the Trincomalee Harbour on the North East Coast.

Rather than rushing to buy expensive Electric Vehicles (EVs) , marketed by the US, European Union  and China as they engage in EV tariff wars and blame games),  amid a staged Anthropocene climate catastrophe” promoted by various United Nations Agencies, EV and other Greenwash Corporations, profiting from a lucrative Green Energy Transition, the Government of Sri Lanka should urgently make Public Transport, particularly, investing in and upgrading the Sri Lanka Railways a top development priority at this time.

Indeed, the current EV trade war between the West and China is reminiscent of the Covid-19 Emergency Use injections trade war, when their big Pharma companies made huge profits during the economically devastating Covid-19 Panicdemic Lockdowns. Three years later there is growing evidence now that mRNA injections causing significant adverse reactions, injuries and excess deaths.

Inquiry Needed: Multiple Causes for Train Disruptions Erosion of Public Trust:

Disruption of Sri Lanka Railways at this time appear be both internally and externally driven: These include strikes and labour union activities and actions or inaction of other railway employees. There have also been apparently random incidents of lorries running into train infrastructure or trees falling across railway lines, as well as, staged climate ‘disasters”.

Given the high number of disruption in the Railway services which appear to form a pattern, it is incumbent on the Minister of Transport to conduct an inquiry and analysis of the entire railway system and infrastructure in a systematic fashion.  So too, should not the head of SLR take note of and act upon the regular disruptions and delays of the Sri Lanka Railways, also given the inconvenience caused to Passengers?

Given the incredible list of seemingly small and random train accidents and incidents (listed below), in the past few months that appeared in major newspapers, the question arises do these amount to a pattern? Are there subtle attempts to sabotage the Sri Lanka Railways (SLR), damage passenger confidence, reduce the number of passengers and the SLR’s profits and then privatize it also given valuable land holdings?  

Please see below a random sample from the national newspapers of incidents that have caused delay and disruption of Sri Lanka Railway services in the past months and make your own assessments.

June 13, 2023

Derailment disrupts train services on coastal line June 13, 2024   Ada Derana News

A slow train plying from Panadura to Maradana has derailed near the Panadura railway station, disrupting services on the coastal line, Sri Lanka Railways announced. Accordingly, the trains operating on the coastal line will experience delays, according to Sri Lanka Railways.

One of the compartments of the derailed train has collided with a nearby railway signal board, causing a complete breakdown of the railway signaling system in the area. Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Sri Lanka Railways stated that it will take a considerable amount of time to restore the railway line for regular train operations.

https://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=99852

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June 9, 2024  Daily Mirror

Ongoing Railway Strike disrupts Services: Colombo, June 9 (Daily Mirror) – A total of 35 trains were canceled this morning due to the ongoing strike by the Sri Lanka Railways Locomotive Operating Engineers’ Union.

https://www.dailymirror.lk/breaking-news/Ongoing-railway-strike-disrupts-services-cancels-48-trains/108-284426

05 Jun 2024 The Morning Newspaper

Train services delayed due to derailment: Train services between Colombo Fort and Maradana were delayed due to a derailment today (5), according to the Department of Railways Accordingly, due to the derailment, the train services will operate with a considerable delay.

https://www.themorning.lk/articles/3gtfDsTVuEJX7bIVT15G

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June 2, 2024  Daily Mirror

Bridge collapse disrupts Kelani Valley Railway Services

(Daily Mirror)- Train services on the Kelani Valley line have been severely disrupted following the collapse of a bridge between Waga and Kosgama. The collapse has forced Sri Lanka Railways to limit train operations on the line to Waga station.

https://www.dailymirror.lk/breaking-news/Bridge-collapse-disrupts-Kelani-Valley-railway-services/108-283908

May 25, 2024   Ada Derana New

Fallen trees and signal failures continue to disrupt train services: The night mail trains to and from Badulla and other special trains on the up-country line have been cancelled today (25) due to trees and rocks falling onto the tracks, Sri Lanka Railways announced.Meanwhile, Deputy General Manager of Railways, N.J. Indipolage, stated that over 15 incidents of trees falling on to the rail tracks have been reported so far. 

Additionally, power interruptions have caused critical issues in maintaining the railway signaling system, especially beyond Nanu Oya railway station, he added. The Department of Railways also urged motorists to be vigilant while driving across railway crossings, as signal failures are possible at level crossings due to power breakdowns. Drivers are advised to be cautious when crossing level crossings if there is no signal or if the electric bells continue to ring with only a red signal at the crossings.

https://www.adaderana.lk/news.php?nid=99431

April 24, 2024 Hiru News

Train Services Disrupted on Mainline

Train services on the mainline have been disrupted following a breakdown of a train from Mahawa to Colombo at Ambepussa according to the Railway department. The Incident has led to delays and cancellations affecting commuters on this route

https://www.hirunews.lk/english/366516/train-services-disrupted-on-main-line

March 21, 2024 Train derailment disrupts coastal line operations in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, March 20 (Xinhua) — Sri Lanka’s Railway Department had to cancel 18 trains on Wednesday morning in the country’s coastal line due to the derailment of a train between Colombo Fort and Kompannaveediya railway stations on Tuesday evening, a senior official said.

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January 15, 2024

Train on upcountry line derailed January 15, 2024

The special express train operating from Badulla to Kandy has derailed.The train has been derailed between the Nanu Oya and Great Western railway stations, the Department of Railways said.

https://www.dailynews.lk/2024/01/15/admin-catagories/breaking-news/347567/train-on-upcountry-line-derailed/

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December 9, 2023

Trains between Colombo and Jaffna to be suspended for 6 months

https://www.newswire.lk/2023/12/09/trains-between-colombo-and-jaffna-to-be-suspended-for-6-months/

Sri Lanka Railways department has announced the temporary suspension of train services between Colombo and Jaffna/ Kankasenthurai due to maintenance work.

Issuing a notice, the railway department said that the 2nd phase of the scheduled maintenance work in the northern railway line will be carried out between Mahawa and Anuradhapura Railway Stations.

The maintenance work will be carried out from 7th January 2024 and expected to be completed within a period of 6 months.

Therefore, the department has announced that during this period trains will be running from Colombo Fort to Mahawa Railway station and from Kankesanthurai to Anuradhapura only (NewsWire)

WHEN WILL THE YAL DEVI TRAIN BETWEEN COLOMBO AN JAFFNA START RUNNING?

Should train-track repairs take so long? What are the SL Railway Authorities upto?!

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