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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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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development

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There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka

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By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?

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Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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