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Proposal for a shorter alternative route

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Improvements to Kelani Valley Railway:

By Dr Janaka Ratnasiri

The writer’s article on the above which appeared in The Island of 09.11.2020 brought some responses among which is reference to the Megapolis Transport Master (MTM) Plan released in November 2016, prepared by the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development under the former regime. This Master Plan has forecasted future demand for transport in the Western Province up to 2035 and proposed ways and means of meeting the demand by road, rail and water transport systems.

Though the terms of reference for undertaking the feasibility study of the Colombo Suburban Railway Project (CSRP) discussed in the writer’s above mentioned article said “Collect and review all available relevant studies, reports, materials, documents, and information including findings from the project preparatory team”, it appears that no reference whatsoever has been made to the MTM Plan in the CSRP Feasibility Study.

NEW RAILWAY LINES PROPOSED IN THE MEGAPOIS MASTER PLAN

The MTM Plan has proposed two new railway lines in the Western Province, one from Kottawa to Horana and a second from Kelaniya to Kosgama linking with the KV railway line. Regarding the first, the Plan says “The detailed design and implementation of Kottawa–Horana new rail line (22km) is planned to be commenced after six months and before three years to be completed on or before 2020. The estimated project duration for the whole project is three years and the cost is estimated to be USD 309 million”. Once completed (if at all), this railway could draw passengers now using the 120 bus route for travelling from Horana to Colombo. The proposed Ruwanpura Highway will also have an exit at Horana which will be an alternative route to travel from Horana to Colombo via the proposed elevated highway from the New Kelani Bridge to Athurugiriya via Rajagiriya. This could affect the forecasted traffic expected to use the railway from Horana.

The more relevant new railway line is the second option, that is from Kelaniya to Kosgama. The MTM Plan has marked out this railway line shown as a crow-flying path, touching Sapugaskanda and Biyagama Export Processing (BEP) Zone. About the line, the MTM Plan says “The Kelaniya to Kosgama via Biyagama, and Dompe (30km) to be constructed which gives access to the proposed plantation city at Avissawella. This project is to be commenced as a long-term intervention. A feasibility study needs to identify the demand and finalize the trace. This can be either electrified or use the locomotives that are taken out due to electrification on other lines”. It will be necessary to build a bridge across Kelani River close to Pugoda for this railway line.

 

ECONOMIC BENEFITS OF THE PROPOSED NEW RAILWAY LINE

The railway line from Kelaniya to Kosgama targets both passengers as well as freight transportation. The line passes the Sapugaskanda oil refinery which makes it possible to use it for oil transportation as well. As a matter of fact, a railway line up to Sapugaskanda was planned several decades ago, and land acquired, but the project was abandoned and the land slowly got occupied by encroachers.

The present refinery built in 1969 meets only 25% of the country’s oil requirement, producing about 1.6 Mt of refined products annually (Petroleum Ministry website). Presently, the refinery is served by two pipelines built in 1969 to transfer crude oil from the Port and refined products to the Kolonnawa Petroleum Storage Complex (PSC). However, the design life span of these petroleum pipelines is only 25 years and hence these need replacements. However, with problems of land and environment clearance, laying of new pipelines is no easy task. Efforts to replace leaky pipelines from the Port to Kolonnawa PSC have been planned for over a decade but still nothing could be realized for various reasons.

As an alternative to a new pipeline, transport of oil to and from the refinery in bowsers could be considered. Assuming one road bowser could hold 20,000 litres, transfer of 16 Ml of oil a day will require 800 bowsers a day. However, if rail wagons are used for transporting oil, using 50,000 litres capacity wagons, a day’s output could be transported in about 320 wagons. If all this oil is transported to the Kolonnawa Complex by pipelines or wagons it will saturate the storage capacity there. Instead, it will be more convenient if this amount could be transported directly to consumer points.

 

PLANS FOR EXPANDING THE REFINERY CAPACITY

Plans for the expansion and modernization of the refinery were made over the last decade, and according to Petroleum Ministry’s Performance Report for 2012, the cost of such modernization was estimated to be USD 500 million in 2010. However, the matter was not pursued that time as the technology offered when bids were called was found unsuitable. It is very likely that the cost of the project with the latest technology would exceed USD 1 billion today. The Cabinet approval was granted on 02.11.2020 to call for fresh bids for modernizing the refinery and expanding its capacity to 100,000 barrels (16 Ml) per day or 5.0 Mt per year. This is about three times the present capacity. However, it appears that authorities have not given thought to the optimum way to transport away the expanded output of the refinery.

Currently, the Corporation maintains 11 bulk depots island-wide out of which 10 are built adjoining railway stations, and oil is transported to them from the Kolonnawa Complex by railway. If a railway line is available to the refinery, refined products could be transported direct to regional depots from the refinery itself. This could be done by using several trains each carrying about 20 wagons. This will ease the congestion at the Kolonnawa Complex in handling the entire oil distribution to the country by itself. The proposed railway link to the refinery will meet this requirement.

In addition, the containers presently transporting goods from the Biyagama EPZ as well as Seethawaka EPZ on road vehicles to the Port for export, could use this railway line after building suitable facilities for loading containers on to the railway carriages at the Zone. This will ease the congestion on highways presently experienced when a large fleet of containers use the highways through the city.

 

AVAILABILITY OF A NEW RAILWAY TRACK TO AVISSAWELLA

A more significant factor is that the new route proposed in the MTM Plan will reduce the distance to Kosgama from Maradana by at least 17 km compared to the route via Padukka. If the Kelaniya–Kosgama trace is taken as a base line, the route via Padukka appears to be a semi-circle. So, naturally, it is about 50% longer. The British moved the original trace via Padukka because a direct route via Hanwella would be over flood-prone land. In building the High Level Road, considerable amount of land filling had to be done to avoid inundation by floods.

The stretch between Padukka and Kosgama is special in that there is no roadway parallel to the railway line along this stretch. Hence to cater to the villagers living in this area, Sri Lankan Railways (SLR) operates a rail-bus service from Padukka to Kosgama at regular intervals. This is an ingenious system developed by a SLR engineer, comprising two normal road buses coupled back-to-back with the road wheels replaced by rail wheels and driven by the normal bus engine. This is a much cheaper system apparently not to the liking of fellow engineers who preferred more expensive conventional locomotive system.

Under the project undertaken for the improvement of the Kelan Valley Railway line as a part of CSRP, it is proposed to build an elevated double track electrified line from Maradana up to Makumbura and from Makumbura to Padukka, build a double track electrified line at grade. The segment from Padukka to Avissawella will be a single track at-grade following the existing line with certain improvements. The total distance of the existing line from Maradana to Avissawella is 58 km. On the other hand, the proposed new track from Maradana to Avissawella via Kelaniya, Biyagama, Dompe and Kosgama will be about 41 km, thus saving 17 km.

 

AMENDING THE PROPOSED IMPROVEMENTS TO KV RAILWAY LINE

The development of the KV railway line up to Padukka may be undertaken as proposed in the CSRP. The stretch between Padukka and Kosgama could remain as it is with slight improvements where necessary to be serviced by rail-buses as done presently. If necessary, the frequency of this service could be increased with additional units introduced. It will be cheaper to use these than using diesel multiple units (DMU) at higher costs. However, if the rail-buses are not fast enough, DMUs may be introduced.

Under the CSRP, a passenger travelling to Avissawella from Maradana will have to alight from the electric train at Padukka and get into a diesel train to continue his journey to Avissawella. The entire journey is expected to take about two hours, excluding the waiting time at Padukka while changing trains. This does not look attractive enough for a bus passenger to shift to a train ride. The SLR also proposes to extend the KV line from Padukka to Nonagama via Ingiriya, Ratnapura and Embilipitiya. Hence, the KV line up to Padukka may be developed with this plan in mind rather than as a continuation of service to Avissawella, which could be serviced by the new line from Kelaniya to Kosgama.

 

ADOPTION OF A NEW RAILWAY LINE TO AVISSAWELLA

It is proposed that the Government adopts the new track via Kelaniya, Biyagama and Kosgama as the main railway line to Avissawella and include it in the SLR programme as a priority project. It is the shortest route with a distance of only 41 km compared to 58 km via Padukkaka. People will not want to waste their time travelling in a railway going on a circuitous track. This area North of the Kelani River has less population and less traffic flow than those covered by the present KV line. The new track between Maradana and Kosgama via Biyagama could be double track and electrified, but need not be elevated and hence built at lower cost.

The stretch between Kosgama and Avissawella could be developed as a part of the development of the new line proposed in the MTM Plan up to Kosgama. The topography of the area does not allow moving the track away from the present track very much as the A4 highway runs close to the railway line along this stretch and also the presence of hilly terrain. Also, the railway line crosses the A4 highway at four places and this should be avoided either with flyovers or re-laid tracks as decided by experts after studying the terrain.

If the new line up to Kosgama is built with double tracks and electrified, it is necessary to continue this system up to Avissawella, so that passengers will not have to change trains at Kosgama. The distance between Maradana and Avissawella along this new line being about 41 km and with a fewer number of stations, EMUs will be able to cover this distance in about an hour compared to two hours via Padukka even after improvement. If trains are available in short intervals, people will not hesitate to take a train ride rather than a bus ride to travel to Colombo, even if the fare is slightly high. The freight trains could be operated at night time when there is less demand for passenger transport. Spurs could be laid to link with the refinery for transport of oil as described previously and with the Biyagama EPZ as well as the Seethawaka EPZ enabling transport of containers between the EPZs and the Port or the Airport. This will ease the congestion of traffic on the highways.

 

CONCLUSION

It is a pity that the CSRP Feasibility Report has not looked at the MTM Plan prepared during the previous regime which had proposed a shorter track from Maradana to Kosgama via Biyagama. It will reduce the travel time from Avissawella to Colombo to about one hour compared to two hours with the trains proposed in the CSRP, and has the advantage to be able to distribute the oil production from the expanded refinery and transport containers from the EPZs at Biyagama and Seethawaka. The Government may give priority to develop this railway line and limit developing the present KV railway line under CSRP only up to Padukka.

The Western Region Megapolis Transport Master Plan was developed encompassing all aspects of transportation to provide a framework for urban transport development in Western Region up to 2035. It included recommendations for improving the bus transport system, railway electrification of main, coastal and KV lines and introducing the light rail transit system.

It is unfortunate that this master plan developed at great cost by local experts appears to have been discarded in favour of a plan developed by foreign consultants costing hundreds of millions of Dollars, yet found unsuitable for reasons described above. This just is one example where plans developed by one regime at great cost are discarded by the succeeding regime despite the fact that some of them have merit. Naturally, the country cannot show any progress if this is the accepted practice.



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BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7

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It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.

The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’

It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.

At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.

However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.

The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.

There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”

The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.

Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.

What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.

In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.

However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.

Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.

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Queen of Hearts

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She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.

Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”

Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.

The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’

She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.

“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”

A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.

“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”

Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.

“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.

“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”

What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.

“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”

The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.

Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.

And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.

We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.

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Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue

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KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1

by Harshana Rambukwella

In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.

However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.

Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.

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