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Colombo to Badulla on the Udarata Menike Express
Why do you need to buy a newspaper before travelling on this train?

by Gyan C. A. Fernando


The railway line from Colombo to Badulla is a spectacular railway line which, over a distance of 180 miles, ascends from sea level to 6500 feet and then descends in to the Uva valley (or Uva Basin as it is usually called) to terminate at Badulla at 2000 feet. The railway was built by the British in the latter part of the 19th century primarily for freight.(Guage: 5ft6in, 1676mm) Since then very little has been changed. The gradients are steep and the tight curves prevent the use of modern rolling stock. Because of the rugged terrain earthslips are common. There are 46 tunnels on this line and one complete spiral (at Demodera). There are only two trains in any one direction each day which run the whole distance. One is the Night Mail Train the other is the "Udarata Menike" (Hill Country Lass). The Udarata Menike takes at least 9 hours to do the journey (on a good day!) and the Night Mail takes near 12 hours!


In the sixties and seventies the trains on this route were hauled by EMD G12 locos--The so called "Canadian Engines". (see below) Rear "helper" locos were needed for the Night Mail on certain sections, notably at Watawela and Rozella and after Nanu-Oya. Later the Henschel locos were introduced but they proved to be unreliable and certainly appeared to lack the kick of the EMD G12s. Before the advent of the G12s, Garratt articulated (steam) locos built by Beyer Peacock were used on this line (see below for links on Garratts).

The Locomotives
The EMD G12 were diesel-electric locos built by the ElectroMotive Division of General Motors, London, Ontario and were meant for export.They either had 12 cylinders and a usual wheel arrangement of A1A A1A (see below for links to other EMD loco sites). The Ceylon Government Railways G12s were painted in the colour scheme shown right. As most of the locos were part of the "Colombo Plan" aid package from Canada, they were named after Canadian provinces and cities. Later purchases were named after Srilankan towns and mountains. They are generally known as the "Canadian Engines" and were notable for the loud exhaust note and triple airhorns. Later models were fitted with dynamic brakes housed in the short hood. In keeping with tradition and road conditions all had "cowcatchers".


The only way to travel on the Udarata Menike in relative comfort is to get a seat in the only first class carriage, the Observation Car, which is the last carriage of the train. As Government Servants we were entitled to three journeys a year in the observation coach or the Sleeper of the night mail. Rest of the time we travelled third class.

The train starts off from the Colombo Fort Railway Station at approx 9 o'clock in the morning. By the time the train arrives at the platform, the platform is usually heaving with passengers. A mad scramble ensues and often passengers climb in through the windows! If you are unlucky and do not find a seat you can lay down your newspaper on the dirty floor and sit down (Remember the journey lasts for at least 9 hours!) There is a buffet car at the rear of the train (close to the observation car) but if you are in third class you may not be able to get there if your carriage doesn't have a connecting vestibule. In any case the food consists of stale sandwiches and rolls which seem to have done the journey from Colombo to Badulla and back many times and it is probably best to bring your own food. By the way toilets are pretty filthy and lack loo paper and that's where the newspaper comes handy again.

After the usual distorted announcements over the public address system (in three languages by the same bloke!) and considerable flag waving and whistle blowing by the Station Master (followed by a similar performance by the guard), a rousing fanfare is let off from the triple air horns of the loco. Vacuum brakes hiss. The loco thunders and struggles a bit, wheels slip and thick black smoke emerges from the exhaust. Late passengers rush down the platform and jump on the moving train. Guard blows whistle and gesticulates at the idiots who try to scramble aboard. Passengers who just miss the train hurl insults at the guard.

The train moves slowly through Maradana Railway Station and the Dematagoda Railway Yard through what used to be called Loco Junction.....Rusting relics of old steam locos, some sprouting vegetation from smoke stacks, pass by...... This is the Dematagoda Yard. Very soon you are rattling merrily on the non-welded track, clackity clacking to the words of "Udarata Meniketa Pata Kuda Dheka Dheka" (Sorry, not easy to translate!). Frequent Country 'n' Western style blasts emerge from the loco horns to warn cattle and humans walking on the track.

Inside the crowded carriages sweaty bodies are in abundance. It is hot. Usually above 30 degrees celsius. Passengers manoeuvre for position. There is gentle and polite pushing followed by apologies. Feet smell. Strong body odour from the men. Faint smell of sandlewood from the young women. People fart silently. Some chew Betel leaf and spit out of the windows. Others smoke.. Some clear their nasal passages/sinuses or decide that it is a good time to clear their bronchi ..violent bouts of coughing follow.... both processes involve spitting...Some decide to have their breakfast. Body odour and the smell of curry blend. Some discuss politics. Others play cards.

"I allowed myself to be squeezed into a carriage. It was like entering a mangle. I must have exchanged germs with at least 300 people. As the trains accelerated along the tracks, our bodies were flung together and tumbled about until we were a homogeneous mass of sweat-soaked, joggling flesh....." Srilankan Railways? No.The Tokyo Metro system!
From "The Erotic Review", Feb 2001.

The first part of the journey is on good double track with color light signals and on the level. The train does a good 60 miles or so per hour. Boring....Train passes through Gampaha, Mirigama, Alawwa and Polgahawela. Eventually the double track ends and and the first climb begins from about Polgahawela.The train slows down and the loco struggles a bit. Wheels slip. The passing scenery becomes interesting. Men working in paddy fields, women bathing in rivers, muddy fast flowing rivers....The train passes through the spectacular Balane Pass and Kadugannawa and eventually arrives at Peradeniya Junction.(The British invaders were nearly defeated at Balane pass!) Passengers open lunch packets. Local hawkers sell stale food...Beggars appear and beg for food..continued..CLICK HERE THE STORY CONTINUES...

The first railway in Srilanka (then Ceylon) was from Colombo to Ambepussa (58 miles) opened on the 2nd of October 1865 and was of 5ft 6in guage...

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