BY Dr Janaka Ratnasiri
This piece is written in response to a letter published by a former General Manager of Sri Lanka Railways (SLR) in The Island of 29.10.2020 under the heading “Improvements to Kelani Valley Railway”, highlighting a difference of opinion as to whether the stretch up to Homagama should be elevated or not.
PREVIOUS PROPOSALS FOR IMPROVING THE KV RAILWAY
In response to an Island Editorial titled “Ailing Railways” which appeared on 02.12.2015, the writer wrote a piece proposing a solution to ailing railways which was published in The Island of 08.12.2015. This piece may be accessed via: http://archive.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=news-section&page=news-section&code_title=49. In the Budget for 2016, the government has allocated a sum of LKR 1.5 billion to modernize the Kelani Valley (KV) railway line. The writer proposed that once the KV line is modernized, it could be leased to a private party to provide an upgraded railway service as a public-private venture.
He also said in this piece that “With the increase of frequency of trains, one problem one could envisage is the congestion that could be created due to frequent closure of railway crossings. The solution for this is to build fly-overs at every point where a major highway crosses a railway line. The government could get the assistance of the private sector here too by getting them to build metal flyovers similar to what has been erected at Nugegoda and Dehiwala. They have to just copy what is installed”. However, there was no news that any action was taken to spend this money for improving the KV line.
BROADGUAGING THE KV RAILWAY LINE
In the writer’s piece referred to above, he said that “A few decades ago, the narrow gauge of KV line was broadened to the standard gauge at Sri Lankan Government expense but the service was not improved concurrently. Only the dilapidated aged coaches and power sets operate on this line which run infrequently. According to the railway schedules posted in the Railway Dept. (RD) website, only four trains operate from Avissawella to Fort daily, three in the morning and one in the afternoon, while five trains operate from Fort to Avissawella, three in the morning and two in the evening. It takes about two and half hours to cover the distance of 61 km, which is running at an average speed of 24 km/h.
At such operating conditions, it is not surprising that most passengers, except those travelling on cheap government season tickets, prefer to travel by bus despite they are crowded and the service is poor. The High Level Road (HLR) is almost saturated with buses and there is no room to increase their number plying on this road, without slowing down the existing traffic further. Hence, shifting of bus commuters to railway is necessary. However, even after any modernization of the track envisaged after spending the allocated Rs. 1.5 billion, there is no guarantee that the KV line will be provided with additional rolling stock and a better service to the commuters”. This situation has not improved during the last five years.
CURRENT PROJECT FOR IMPROVING RAILWAYS
Sri Lanka sought a loan from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2016 for assistance to modernize the Colombo Suburban Railways covering stretches from Colombo up to Rambukkana, Kalutara, Negombo and Awissavella. The ADB agreed to lend USD 160 million on concessionary terms and the agreement was signed in July 2016 to undertake feasibility studies and detailed design of the system.
Already a sum of USD 10 million has been mobilized for preliminary work. The segment on the KV line included rehabilitation, capacity upgrade, modernization, and electrification of the KV line between Maradana and Padukka with double tracks in this section. After studying several options, it has been decided to have the section of 20 km from Maradana to Malapalla elevated. The section between Padukka and Avissawella will remain as a single track, following mostly the existing track. (See https://www.csrp.lk/kelani_vallay_line.php?id=3)
Under this programme, the design of infrastructure including railway stations, tracks and other facilities including electrification and communications are underway according to a video clip available in the above site. The preparation of detailed designs and bid documents are expected to be completed in December 2020. A copy of the final feasibility report of the project is available on https://www.csrp.lk/backend/documents/Kelani%20Valley%20Railway%20Final%20Feasibility%20Study%20Report%20-%202019-04-11.pdf.
Further, a detailed socio-economic survey has been conducted to identify affected families living on railway reservation land between Maligawatte and Malapalla and their resettlement is planned including construction of multi-story housing for them, both in Colombo and in Malapalla. The Cabinet approval was granted for the project on 17.10.2017 and to set apart houses built by the Urban Development Authority to resettle the families encroaching the lands to be used for the development of the KV Railway Line.
PROPOSED OPERATION OF THE NEW SYSTEM
According to the above feasibility report, electric multiple units (EMU) will operate during peak hours at seven minutes intervals between Maradana and Makumbura North (a new station) and at 14 minutes intervals between Makumbura North and Padukka. Diesel multiple units (DMU) will operate at 30 min intervals between Padukka and Avissawella until such time this section is electrified. The travel time from Padukka to Maradana during peak hours is estimated to be 64 minutes with stopping at all stations.
Each coach could accommodate 200 passengers, but only 40 seating capacity will be provided in each coach. Seats are fitted longitudinally leaving more room for standing passengers. Each EMU will comprise 10 or 12 coaches, with capacity of 2,000 and 2,400 passengers respectively. So, most passengers will have to keep standing during their entire travel. There is provision to operate express trains with stops only at a few major stations.
For the regular traveler, a more desirable option is to have a combination of coaches with longitudinal seats and transverse seats. With the latter, seating capacity will be increased but overall capacity reduced. The coaches with transverse seats could be offered at a higher fare in a different class. Passengers may not mind paying extra fare if they are assured seating for over an hour-long ride from Padukka to Maradana.
The EMUs will be powered by electricity supplied through an overhead catenary system (OCS) operating at 25 kV connected by a pantograph to the coaches using rails as the return path. The project proposes to feed power to the OCS system from the 132 kV grid substations at Pannipitiya and Kosgama. During day time, the national grid has adequate capacity to feed the EMU operations. However, one risk factor is the unexpected power failures in the national grid encountered occasionally, in which event the EMUs will get stranded until power is restored. Perhaps the CEB may be asked to give priority to these two GSSs when restoring power.
IMPROVEMENTS TO THE TRACK UP TO AVISSAWELLA
The original KV line was built mostly following the contour of the highlands and hence comprised many bends with short radius of curvature. This is unlike the HLR built in late forties by American contractors which was mostly a cut and fill exercise. If one examines the present trace of the KV line up to Makumbura, there are several places where the track could be straightened. According to the Final Feasibility Report, the curves at many of the places seem to have been straightened or curves realigned with larger radii of curvature.
In addition, straightening the stretch between Hokandara Road crossing and Athurugiriya Road crossing will avoid several bends and reduce the distance from 1.83 km to 1.56 km. Further straightening the stretch between the Malabe Road crossing and Makumbura will reduce the distance from 1.56 km to 0.85 km, resulting in an overall reduction of about one km distance.
The stretch between Padukka and Avissawella is supposed to follow the existing track. The railway line between Kosgama and Avissawella crosses the A4 highway at four places. Since it is expected to run trains at 30 min intervals during peak time in this stretch in one direction or at every 15 min if both directions are considered, there will be congestion on the highway unless fly overs are built at these crossings. Alternatively, the track could be re-laid to avoid the crossings altogether.
There is also the ambiguity with regard to the section to be elevated. The Final Feasibility Report says it is up to Kottawa in some places and as Makumbura North in other places. The project website gives it as Malapalla. The former GM says that the railway line to be elevated is up to Homagama.
OPERATION AND MAINTENANCE OF THE NEW LINE
Once the new system is built by the foreign contractors, it has to be operated and managed by a competent organization. Being the owner of the project, SLR may want to do that, particularly because all trains operating in Sri Lanka are required to be driven and guarded by SLR staff according to the law. However, the question is are they the most suitable for the job? The archaic rules and regulations, the attitude of staff, lack of interest in passenger care, low level of maintenance and neglect of existing tracks, dominance of trade unions in operative matters would necessitate the government to rethink on who should be entrusted with the task of operating and managing the new system.
The SLR is dominated by Mechanical Engineers. Their inability to operate and maintain electronically controlled trains was amply demonstrated in the case of the 10 Locomotives from Alstom of France imported in 2000. After a short spell of operation, they developed various problems and efforts made to get them attended to by the manufacturers were not successful. Though the manufacturer trained the SLR staff in maintenance and gave them maintenance kits, it was reported that they did not have the background knowledge to assimilate the training given and as a result most of the locomotives had to be taken off service (Ceylon Today, 08.02.2014). Although SLR found these locomotives unsuitable here, India entered into a contract with Alstom to manufacture 800 locomotives in India, delivering 100 units annually.
It is therefore imperative that the new train system be leased to a private party to operate jointly with SLR drivers and guards, and the private party given the full responsibility for its operation and management including maintenance. The private party could be even a foreign company having the experience in managing similar railway systems in their own countries. This could be tried out at least initially until such time a local company staff are trained and ready to take over.
PLANS FOE FUTURE EXTENSION OF KV LINE
The former GM speaks about “the new infrastructure provided should be able to be utilized for any future extensions beyond Avissawella”. The website of the Colombo Suburban Railway Project (https://www.csrp.lk/about-us.php) has described several new railway lines to be built in the foreseeable future. One is the construction of a railway line from Kurunegala to Habarana via Dambulla, a distance of 81 km, for which the Feasibility Study has been completed. Another is the extension of KV line from Padukka to Nonagama via Ingiriya, Ratnapura and Embilipitiya to link with the Southern railway line. It is noteworthy that this trace bypasses Avissawella.
The KV line was first built from Colombo to Yatiyantota via Avissawella during 1900–1902 to serve the plantation community in Sabaragamuwa. It was branched off at Avissawella and extended up to Opanayaka via Ratnapura in 1912 (Wikipedia). Hence, today there is no necessity to retrace the old track to Ratnapura via Avissawella when there is a shorter route available via Ingiriya.
Furthermore, this stretch is heavily encroached and it will be a difficult task to claim it back. Even the Ruwanpura Expressway is planned to traverse via Ingiriya to Ratnapura. However, such investment on building new tracks is justified only if investments are made to acquire the necessary rolling stock to maintain a regular service.
FUNDING OF THE PROJECT
The project feasibility report gives the estimated investment required for the project as USD 1,424 million (M) comprising USD 700 M for track construction, USD 250 M for rolling stock, and USD 300 M for other infrastructure development and feasibility studies. Financial analysis of the project shows that project cash flows are not sufficient to fully recover the investment cost of USD 1.42 billion or LKR 263 billion.
According to the feasibility report, even though the Project cash flows are not sufficient to fully recover the total investment and associated cost of funding, it could recover approximately 21% of the investment cost and related cost of funding under 30-year analysis and it can go up to 27% with 50-year financial evaluation. Recovering the rest of the investment costs and paying the related cost of funding could not be made with project cash flows generated thus the government needs budgetary allocation from common public funds for the same which is the usual case with public sector railway projects in many countries.
On the other hand, the project operational and maintenance costs and replacement costs can easily be recovered with railway tickets and other income of the KV line. Accordingly, the project does not require government subsidies for meeting operating costs. It is also expected to generate wide economic, environmental and social benefits which cannot be monetized directly. It is therefore envisaged that funding could be raised through loans from commercial financial institutions and multilateral agencies in addition to government contributions.
RESERVATIONS EXPRESSED AGAINST THE PROJECT
Some independent consultants, including the former GM, are now questioning the desirability of elevating of the stretch from Maradana to Malapalla. It is surprising why these professionals are now making objections for elevating the track up to Malapalla at this late stage. He seems to be concerned about the high cost of the project, “the return on investment, and the impact of the solution to the country as a whole, in relation to financing of foreign loans”.
The former GM says “I believe there were two main excuses to recommend elevation; one was the acquisition of land or let me mention in a more prudent way, it is relocation of encroachments presently occupying railway land, and the second is the number of level crossings presently at-grade”. He goes to great length explaining how level crossings could be built economically in the event the tracks are laid on the surface including building fly overs and under passes quoting practices in other countries.
One excuse he gives against elevated line is that elevation “requires the provision of escalators and elevators for stations in the elevated sections required to be maintained, and in case they are not maintained, the general public will suffer when they have to climb 7m (the height of two floors of a building) to the station platform”. Escalators are used world over for mass transport of people between different elevations, though the former Railways GM thought they are not good enough for Sri Lanka. That may be the reason why none of our railway stations have any escalators installed.
Some experts are of the view that the electrification of sections on the main and coastal lines should have been given priority rather than developing the KV line. See http://www.themorning.lk/railway-project-on-hold-rs-40-b-dent-on-state-coffers/. The lobby against the project is so strong that they were trying to influence the ADB which certainly does not sound ethical for professionals. A more appropriate course of action would have been to get it sorted out internally (http://www.themorning.lk/after-jica-govt-removes-adb/). It appears that these moves have resulted in getting the project stalled.
A loan of USD 160 million from the ADB has enabled the SLR to study modernization of its suburban railway lines including their electrification which has been long overdue. Under this project the KV line up to Makumbura North will be elevated, with double tracks up to Padukka. The track beyond Padukka up to Avissawella will remain single track without electrification but with improvements. Detailed designs are being carried out including resettlement of displaced families. It is expected that the project will be implemented soon despite objections raised by some professionals on frivolous grounds.
It is also important to hand over the operation and management of the new railway to an experienced and competent party until such time the local personnel are trained and ready to take over. With objections raised against the project by certain quarters, it is sincerely hoped that the government will not abort the project, the way the Light Rail Transit project was aborted recently. It is expected the government will be able to secure funding for the project through offers made by foreign ambassadors from friendly countries and various visiting foreign dignitaries for assistance to develop the country.
Hair Growth and Thickness
LOOK GOOD – with Disna
Oiling is an old home remedy for hair growth and thickness. Oiling is also used for the strength, shine, and length of hair, from ancient times. The use of coconut oil, especially, is very effective when it comes to the amplification of hair health. Additionally, there are many essential oils for faster hair growth which you can use, too.
* How to Use: Generally, hair oiling works best when applied overnight. You could use this therapy every night, or after each night, then wash your hair, in the morning, before heading for studies, or work.
* Aloe Vera:
Aloe vera has long been used as a home remedy for hair growth, thickness, and treating hair loss problems It contains vitamins A, C, and E. All three of these vitamins are known to contribute to cell turnover, supporting healthy cell growth and shiny hair. Plus, vitamin B-12 and folic acid are also included in aloe vera gel. Both of these elements can keep your hair from falling out. Aloe vera plants can be easily grown indoors. A leaf can be plucked, occasionally, and cut open to reveal its gel. This gel needs to be applied on the scalp, basically, to provide nourishment to the roots.
* How to Use:
Rub this gel on your head properly, leaving no area dry; wash after half an hour or so. Keeping this massage as a part of your weekly routine will eventually make your hair thick and long.
* Green Tea:
Green tea is often consumed as a home remedy for weight loss. Surprisingly, it has many other benefits, including hair-related benefits.
* How to Use:
Consuming green tea once every day can add to the strength and length of your hair. If your body is extremely comfortable with green tea, then you may even consume it twice every day.
* Onion Juice:
A bi-weekly application of onion juice can relieve you of your tension, regarding hair health. The smell can really torture you, but divert your attention in doing something else for a while, like making a puzzle or washing the dishes. From an early age, onion juice has been used as a home remedy to control hair fall. Research has shown that onion juice has been successful in treating patchy alopecia areata (non-scarring hair loss condition) by promoting hair growth .
* How to Use:
Take half onion and blend it. Apply the mixture on every nook and corner of your scalp and let it sit for some 60 minutes, or so. Shampoo it off when it’s time for the hair-wash.
Fun-loving, but… sensitive
This week, my chat is with Nilu Vithanage. She is quite active, as a teledrama actress – having done four, already; her first was ‘Pavela Will Come In The Cloud, Mom’ (playing the role of a nurse). Then Came ‘Heavenly Palaces’ (student), ‘Black Town’ (a village character Kenkaiya), and ‘Wings Of Fire,’ currently being shown, with Nilu as a policewoman. You could checkout ‘Wings Of Fire,’ weekdays, on Swarnavahini, at 7.30 pm. Nilu is also active as a stage drama artiste, dancer…and has also been featured in musical videos.
And, this is how our chit-chat went…
1. How would you describe yourself?
Let’s say, I’m a bit on the playful side, and I like to have a lot of fun. But, I do find the time to relax, and, at home, it’s dancing to music! Yeah, I love dancing. Oh, I need to add that I’m a bit sensitive.
2. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I get angry quickly. Fortunately, that anger doesn’t last long – just five to 10 minutes. But I wish I could get rid of anger, totally from my system!
3. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
Nope, can’t think of anything, in particular. Everything is fine with us, and I’m proud of my only brother, and I feel safe when he is around. Or, come to think of it, if I did have another brother, I would feel doubly safe…when going out, in particular!
I did my studies at two schools – C.W.W. Kannangara Central College, and Panadura Sumangala Girls’ School for my higher studies. Representing my school, I won first place in a speech competition and dance competition, as well.
5. Happiest moment?
When my husband comes home, or talks to me on the phone. He is stationed in Hatton and those calls and home visits are my happiest moments
6. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I really find a lot of happiness feeding the fish, in ponds. I love to see them rush to pick up the tidbits I throw into the pond. That’s my kind of happiness – being close to nature.
7. Are you religious?
I would say ‘yes’ to that question. I like to go to the temple, listen to sermons, participate in meditation programmes, and I do not miss out on observing sil, whenever possible. I also find solace in visiting churches.
8. Are you superstitious?
A big ‘no.’ Not bothered about all those superstitious things that generally affect a lot of people.
9. Your ideal guy?
My husband, of course, and that’s the reason I’m married to him! He has been a great support to me, in my acting career, as well in all other activities. He understands me and he loves me. And, I love him, too.
10. Which living person do you most admire?
I would say my Dad. I truly appreciate the mentorship he gave me, from a young age, and the things we received from him
11. Which is your most treasured possession?
12. If you were marooned on a desert island, who would you like as your companion?
A camel would be ideal as that would make it easier for me to find a way out from a desert island!
13. Your most embarrassing moment?
One day, recently, with the greatest of difficulty, I managed to join a one meter distance queue, to withdraw money from an ATM. And, then I realised I didn’t bring the card along!
14. Done anything daring?
I would say…yes, when I ventured out to get involved in teledramas. It was a kind of a daring decision and I’m glad it’s now working out for me – beautifully.
15. Your ideal vacation?
I would say Thailand, after reading your articles, and talking to you about Amazing Thailand – the shopping, things to see and do, etc. When the scene improves, it will be…Thailand here I come!
16. What kind of music are you into?
The fast, rhythmic stuff because I have a kind of rhythm in my body, and I love to dance…to music.
17. Favourite radio station:
I don’t fancy any particular station. It all depends on the music they play. If it’s my kind of music, then I’m locked-on to that particular station.
18. Favourtie TV station:
Whenever I have some free time, I search the TV channels for a good programme. So it’s the programme that attracts me.
19. What would you like to be born as in your next life?
Maybe a bird so that I would be free to fly anywhere I want to.
20. Any major plans for the future?
I’m currently giving lessons to schoolchildren, in dancing, and I plan to have my own dancing institute in the future.
Snail-napping sets the stage for CGI road trip
The SpongeBob Movie:Sponge on the Run
By Tharishi hewaviThanagamage
Based on the famous and one of the longest-running American animated series that made its debut on Nickelodeon in 1999, created by marine science educator and animator Stephen Hillenburg, ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run’ is the latest addition to the SpongeBob movie franchise, coming in as the third installment after ‘The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie’ (2004) and ‘The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water’ (2015).
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