FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Rain, leeches and a loco failure

Posted in Nawalapitiya, Sri Lanka by folkestonejack on January 30, 2018

The sound of shunting might not be everyone’s idea of a great wake up call, but for me it was hard to fault the terrific sights and sounds of the railway station at in Nawalapitiya available from the balcony of the Jayabima Grand. Admittedly, I might have liked a room with glass in the window frames but I guess you can’t always get the luxuries in life!

The view from the platform at Nawalapitiya

It was raining steadily as we waited for our bus pick-up for the short run to the station and the mist seemed to be clinging with some determination to the hill tops. Everything suggested that we might be in for a difficult day of photography from the outset and a little dog seemed to capture that gloomy prospect perfectly when he cocked his leg to spray a microphone positioned by one of our number. If we managed to come away from the day with something decent it would be a very pleasant surprise.

I was perhaps more pessimistic than I should have been. There were some surprising moments of morning sunlight among the rain but it proved impossible to time our runpasts to take advantage of them (as usual, our movements were dictated by the timetable of service trains). Just occasionally the conditions worked in our favour, such as a shot with our steam locomotive passing underneath a pedestrian bridge filled with umbrella carrying commuters, but more often than not it was hard work for little reward.

Umbrellas at Nawalapitiya

It took a little while to get going – when we arrived at the station we discovered that our two locos were coupled together, facing each other, so a little re-marshalling was required. The plan today was to run with the class B2b no. 213 (Vulcan Foundry 3555/1922) up to Nanu-Oya.

Our station photography complete, we squeezed into a single carriage and set off from Nawalapitiya (8.40) heading deeper into the rain. Progress up the line was slow but steady, taking us to Inguruoya (8.55), Galboda (9.10), Watawala (10.05) and then on to Rozelle (10.57). The timings are more than a little deceptive as we sometimes arrived at a station, crossed with a local train, rolled back to a photo position, photographed the runpast, then returned to the station. A little distance can take quite a while!

In the worst of the rain we were mad enough to try a photo position on a hilltop overlooking a sweeping curve in the track. Normally we have to time the runpasts to catch the sun but here we had to time them for the moments where the mist thinned out sufficiently to reveal the landscape! A later shot that morning saw us standing utterly saturated in the forest, desperately trying to protect our cameras as thunder cracked around us and the rain poured. It was depressing that the forecast suggested we had two more days of this ahead.

The classy logo of Ceylon Government Railways (CGR)

After a welcome hour of respite at Hatton (13.20-14:30) we continued up the line. The next stop, Kotagoda, would prove to be as far as we we could go – our loco had a problem. Things seemed to have gone awry at the last stop, though the exact scenario proved hard to pin down. The facts were simple – there was now no water in the boiler and the fire was out.

Plan B was to lighten the load and run using our second locomotive – the class B1d no. 340 (“Fredrick North”, Robert Stephenson 7155/1944) – back towards Hatton. After re-marshaling the train we left Kotagoda at 16.40 and managed to squeeze in three decent photo stops before the light disappeared. Our train finally pulled in to Hatton at 6pm.

The day had one final kicker for me as I discovered that the wet weather had created the perfect conditions for us to discover the dubious delights of leeches. I’m sure that the local population are quite used to them, but to this squeamish westerner it was an unwanted experience! One had managed to attach itself to me and bitten through my sock. The results were painless but not pretty. The leech check now became a regular part of the post-photo stop routine…