FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Steam to Colombo Fort

Posted in Colombo, Kadugannawa, Kandy, Rambukkana, Sri Lanka by folkestonejack on February 4, 2018

The last day of the tour saw us travel seventy-six miles from Kandy to Colombo Fort on a busy public holiday. Across the country celebrations were taking place to mark the 70th anniversary of Sri Lankan independence, something we had seen for ourselves in the morning as marching bands started to make their way into the city centre. It wasn’t entirely clear if any extra trains would be running but most of the services we saw looked as packed as ever.

On arrival at Kandy station at we found our two steam locomotives sat outside the shed and not attached to the stock. AS all the trains seemed to be running late it was no surprise to hear that our departure had been pushed back an hour to 2.30pm. At least it gave us another opportunity to photograph the beautiful signal gantry at Kandy. Inevitably the best light fell on the service trains, but it was a marked improvement on the murky conditions that had greeted us some days earlier.

Steam under the gantries of Kandy

A walk down the track to a position just beyond the gantry gave us a great vantage point to admire the variety of locomotive classes in action today, including an S12 diesel multiple unit, two classes of diesel electric locomotives (M5C and M6), two classes of diesel-hydraulic locomotive (W2A and W3) and a class Y Hunslet shunter. Most of us were looking pretty clean and refreshed after a morning chilling or taking in the city but many a white shirt proved a good litmus test for the speed at which dirt gets sprayed around on these trips!

After taking a photograph of a false departure we boarded our train and set off at 2.45pm. The plan was as simple as it could be – we would run as fast as the pathing would let us be, apart from a scheduled photostop at the Lion’s Mouth. In reality the complexities of our train’s appearance on the network were amply demonstrated by the many stops needed to allow the service trains to overtake us. Luckily, we were able to take advantage of a couple of these to squeeze in extra runpasts at Kadugannawa (4.15pm) and Rambukkana (5.32pm) on the way to Colombo Fort (8.05pm).

Most of all, the run in to Colombo Fort gave us a chance to soak up the atmosphere and absorb the detail of the stations, signals and even the wonderful weigh bridges along the route. Our speed was pretty limited for a long stretch, dictated by the speed restriction signs enforcing a limit of 25km/h due to weak rails and sleepers, but once we got clear of this section we were able to pick up speed and got up to 65 km/h where we had an uninterrupted run.

One of the many warning signs along the first part of our route

In the cab for today’s run there was one driver and three firemen (one past fireman and two trainees) so they could keep at it all the time. Although inexperienced (with only two previous trips behind them) they seemed to be doing a good job, improvising where they needed to and giving us a superb run into Colombo Fort. It was pretty splendid to be riding west into the setting sun, towards the Indian Ocean, with cinders flying past the windows and locals crowded at the lineside. The air thick with smoke as we thundered towards Colombo.

At Polgahawela we could see photographers in tuk-tuks chasing the train, which seemed a rather uneven battle, whilst at another stretch workers packed into an open truck cheered and waved as we passed. Somewhere else a family of three perched precariously on a motorbike waved as they rode in parallel.

More often than not it looked as though ordinary folk had heard about the train whistling in the distance and come to the lineside to see it pass. It certainly seemed to add something to the celebratory vibe of the day. In all these snapshots of lives intersecting with our train, as seen from the carriage windows, we were reminded of the final line from Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic poem about the views from a railway carriage ‘Each a glimpse and gone forever!’

A quickly arranged run past between service trains at Kadugannawa

Even when the colourful skies gave way to darkness there were still many marvelous sights to enjoy on the approach to Colombo, from the fishermen in the wetlands using lamps to illuminate their spots to the sight of the Lotus Tower specially illuminated for national day. However, it was just enough to sit in the dark carriage illuminated only by the streaks of light from passing trains and stations, along with the constant spark show.

It has been a very enjoyable tour in good company, even if one of our number did voice the opinion that it would make a great psycho-pathology field trip! The weather might have been less than kind at times, but it did at least clear the skies, giving us bursts of brilliant blue rather than the haze that apparently dogged the previous tour here. Bernd thought that we should also thank the Chinese engineers – for it was their railcar breaking down that gave us such brilliant photo opportunities when we had to push back rather than forward a few days ago!

A considerable degree of effort has gone in to making this tour possible, from the way that the railway staff across the network have found ways to make things work for us (often at short notice) to the supreme efforts of the crew handling the locomotives with limited experience and equipment. Most of all though, it is Bernd’s years of effort and incredible organisational skills that have delivered the most astonishing photographic opportunities to us. I for one am very appreciative of everything that has contributed to making this such a wonderful trip and look forward to my next FarRail adventure!

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Through the Lion’s Mouth

Posted in Kadugannawa, Kandy, Sri Lanka by folkestonejack on January 29, 2018

The complications of arranging photo stops on the main line were highlighted by our arrival at one of the most memorable locations – the Lion’s Mouth, a distinctive rock that overhangs the line at the Kadugannawa end of the Moragalla Tunnel.

The Lion’s Mouth is a spot that has fascinated photographers since the completion of the tunnel in 1866 and looks remarkably unchanged from a photograph in the British Library from the 1870s. Our timings allowed just one attempt at the shot (12.10) before we had to clear the line for an express, arriving at Kadugannawa ten minutes later. Once the express had passed through we were able to roll back down to the Lion’s Mouth for a second attempt.

B1d class steam locomotive no. 340 at the the Lion’s Mouth

Once this was all complete we were able to return to Kadugannawa and take a look round the National Railway Museum during a lull in the action. It’s a compact museum based around a goods shed with some locomotives and rolling stock displayed on the adjacent sidings (admission 500 rupees) with slightly forbidding no photography signs attached to just about everything.

The museum collection includes the oldest surviving steam locomotive in the country – an E1 class tank locomotive (no. 93) built by Dubs & Co in 1898. It seems astonishing to think that this was still in industrial use, in the mills, as late as the 1980s. Other exhibits on outdoor display include some interesting looking railcars, an early railway carriage (no. 4173), a class S3 diesel-hydraulic multiple unit (no. 613), a class M1 diesel-electric loco (no. 560) built by Brush in 1955, a diesel electric 0-4-0 shunter (no. 500) built by Armstrong Whitworth in 1934 and a N2 narrow gauge diesel (no. 732).

As we wandered the consist of our train was re-arranged to give us a brake van at the end of the wagons when the diesel and other carriages are taken off during runpasts. Our onward journey resumed in mid-afternoon (14:50), taking us through Pilimathalawa (15:00), where we were all astonished to see a maroon Routemaster in public service, then on to Peradeniya Junction (15:10).

Steaming through Peradeniya Junction

The triangular junction station at Peradeniya has three signal cabins to co-ordinate movements and you can see why they would be needed. Historically, this has always been one of the busiest spots on the Sri Lankan railway network and it certainly demonstrated that during our stay.

There are some lovely photographic opportunities here, including a beautifully positioned Buddha at the end of the station platform and a semaphore signal gantry. Unfortunately, the number of trains through the station made it difficult to make the most of this – when we arrived we had three trains cross so by the time we were able to attempt our shot with the gantry the sun had slipped behind the clouds and looked quite unlikely to return! I suspect the crew will have been relieved that the light had disappeared as their shift started at 11.30pm last night…

Our departure from the junction (16:39) left us with the very short run in to Kandy’s rather gorgeous art deco station (16:51). The day had a little more to give with a couple of false departures in rather dark and moody conditions, but after that we headed off to dinner and our hotels in Nawalapitiya.

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