FolkestoneJack's Tracks

The Demodara loop and other delights

Posted in Bandarawela, Demodara, Sri Lanka by folkestonejack on February 1, 2018

I’m not sure where the threatened storms are but I’m glad they are keeping away. In fact, conditions were quite the opposite. On our arrival at Demodara this morning, around 8am, we were even treated to a spell of blue skies and sun. I wouldn’t exactly say that I made the best use of them at our first photospot but the opportunity was there…

Class B2b no. 213 departs from Demodara Station as a track ganger looks on

Demodara is one of the more interesting spots on the route. At first glance it looks like a pretty country station but step over to the other side of the forecourt and you see that a 414 foot long tunnel runs underneath the station (approximately 100 feet below). This was our first glimpse of the spiral that allows the line to manage the dramatic change in elevation.

A train climbing from Badulla will cross the valley over the Badulu Oya river by means of a 210 foot long iron girder bridge and then enter the 414 foot long Tunnel no. 42, passing underneath Demodara Station. On emerging from the tunnel the train completes a 360 degree loop around the hill before arriving at the station. It’s a terrific engineering feat for its time that laid the way to the official opening of the final section of the Uva Railway on 5th February 1924.

In practical terms the loop takes sufficient time that you can photograph a train crossing the valley and still have time to photograph it arriving at the station. Needless to say, we took full advantage of this. On top of that the well tended station, opened in 1921, is very photogenic in its own right. I’m sure its appearance has changed little in its 96 year history although I noted little signs of the ingenuity that keeps this railway going on a tight budget with a lamp shade cleverly fashioned from a bottle.

Once again the use of the Tyer’s Electric Train Tablet provided a marvelous demonstration of the continued application of the system for single line working (originally invented in 1878 and long since vanished in most other places).

Tea-pickers in the hillside plantation at Demodara

We spent a good while at Demodara, taking a variety of shots around the bridge and station for almost two hours (8.45-10.30), before heading up the hillside to a spot among the tea plants of the Demodara Tea Estate for a couple of scenic runpasts (11:00-11:15). Bernd had arranged the hire of three tea-pickers to work in just the right spot for our photography, providing a really neat touch. None of us had quite anticipated their Adidas branded uniforms though – a long way from the traditional outfits you usually associate with tea pickers!

After leaving Demodara behind we headed uphill towards Ella (11:45), passing over the famous nine-arch bridge. Once a service train had overtaken us (a diesel hauled mixed train with freight cars, regular passenger carriages and an observation coach) we set back for the bridge (12:12). We had already seen how popular a tourist spot this was on our way through with around a hundred people at the Ella end of the bridge taking photographs and plenty more hiking along the lineside (signs at the platform ends at Ella and at either end of the bridge prohibit walking along the track but are largely ignored).

Class B2b no. 213 crosses Nine Arch Bridge

The 400 foot long and 100 foot tall bridge, the largest viaduct on the railway in Sri Lanka, was constructed at Gotuwala in 1917 to link the two mountains on the line between Bandarawela and Badulla. It’s another impressive example of British engineering, not least because of the hard to reach worksite and limitations of the equipment available. In his superb book Essays on Ceylon Railways (184-1964) Hemasiri Fernando points out that the construction materials had to be transported by pack bulls for the entire period of construction!

After two runpasts over the bridge (12.30-12.45) we continued on towards Bandarawela, passing through Ella (13.03) and Heel-Oya (13.20) en route. Another runpast on the approach to Bandarawela (14.05) was followed by a lengthy stop at the station whilst we waited for a train to cross. This was no problem – the station was fascinating and deserved a good explore.

Arrival at Bandarawela

Along with the by now familiar historic equipment and the lovingly maintained gardens that we have seen at most stations we found that Bandarawela’s platform included an aquarium; a framed faded picture of a Baureihe 103; some helpful posters showing a complete class-by-class history of Sri Lanka’s railway locomotives and units; and one of the most beautiful wooden departure boards we have seen so far. Opposite the platform we could also see a G2 class Bo-Bo diesel-electric shunter (no. 535) – one of eight in its class (North British Locomotive Co., 1950). Just when we thought we had seen it all a member of the station staff came out of his office ringing a large brass bell to announce the imminent arrival of the next train!

After the service train (a S12 unit) had passed through we continued on our way towards Hapitale. The clouds seemed ever darker as we progressed whilst the distant rumble of thunder threatened. Nevertheless, the conditions gave us the opportunity for some moody shots and certainly hadn’t deterred local onlookers – it was lovely seeing a family of young railfans watching in awe atop a stack of wooden sleepers here and at a tunnel just after Diya Talawa two kids could be seen running back and forth at the top of the tunnel mouth enjoying the spectacle (especially being clouded in steam!).

A moody shot on the line between Bandarawela and Diya Talawa

On our arrival at Haputale (16:57) we called it a day and boarded the buses for the drive back to our hotel. It was good timing as the mist was closing in fast. The forecast from the meteorological office for tomorrow sounds pretty dire with the promise of heavy rain (75mm) accompanied by thunderstorms in mid afternoon. Yikes!