There is a light at the end of the tunnel
We recently loaded our bicycles on a train to Anuradhapura. On the way up the roof fell in on some people in the back, but besides that uneventful. On the way back, however, I noticed that we had a printed m-ticket, this seemed to be something you could order over the mobile (Mobitel only methinks). The train itself was also new. The drivers were asleep when it pulled in, but still.
I love travelling by train, in theory. Sri Lankan trains, however, are only just emerging out of post-colonial stasis. There is no train to Jaffna, the line stops just a bit past Vavuniya. The train ride through the hills to Badulla is beautiful but, quite frankly, insanely slow. Within Colombo, you can’t take trains from point to point. Etc.
Furthermore, unlike India, you can’t really book trains online, it is nearly impossible to get information from the train station over the phone, etc. Still has a long ways to go.
On the plus side, however, I have noticed new trains, one of which seems to be an old bus with the bottom chopped off and put on rails. Exporail has launched a luxury train service and the new Ruhunukumari is apparently the longest train in Sri Lanka.
There are still, however, major structural issues with Sri Lanka Rail itself. The interesting blog Maho Train has solicited ideas on one particular issue:
Sri Lanka Railway (SLR) supposed to have one of the biggest potions of state owned lands. Most of the property in Colombo area is neglected and has become the junk yard of old rusting carriages and engines.
How can we use these land and other resources of SLR better? (Land Problem)
Convert some railway yards / carriages into theme parks or theme hotels
Convert some carriages into mini motels or “love stations” .The government is proposing turning some parks into “love parks” for couples… So this is up the same route
Collect abandoned carriages into less commercially viable lands and convert them into housing schemes.
Use these withering resources and ‘Expand the Railway System’; the very purpose for which the British reserved this land.
Anyways, Sri Lanka Rail is still a bit whack, but unlike years ago, it’s showing signs of improvement. For one thing, I think it was quite cool that we could ship bicycles for about Rs. 500 each (one way). You just show up in the morning, go to the cargo section round back at Fort, and write your name on a piece of cardboard and fill out a form. You’re supposed to have a bike license, otherwise you get lectured like schoolchildren by the officers there for like 15 minutes, but they’ve always let us go.
For another, the m-ticketing is quite cool, tho I don’t see why we can’t use it on other service providers. The website is still horrendous, but they should really improve it, or let third parties do e-ticketing. At least there are signs of life though. We’ve ridden colonial era trains through colonial era tracks using colonial era administration for years. It’s nice to see Sri Lanka Rail finally picking up steam.