The International Steam Pages


Those were the days, Sri Lanka in the 1970s, Part 1

James Waite's resumé of extant steam relics in Sri Lanka in 2010 and one or two responses it elicited have finally stirred me into action to fulfill a long- expressed promise on my website to provide some archive pictures of real working steam in the country. The pictures are mine (RD) except where noted, the other photographers being John Tillman and Basil Roberts, alas neither is with us any more. This page covers 'broad gauge' items including the Robey Steam Wagons of BCC. Part 2 covers 'narrow gauge' items including the very broad gauge Dematagoda steam powered traverser.


I (RD) went to Sri Lanka with my family early in 1976. We flew from (I think) Trichi in Tamil Nadu to Jaffna – a trip which ceased to be possible many years ago as Jaffna became the centre of the country’s prolonged civil war. While we were waiting for the train south B1 4-6-0 no. 249 "Sir William Anderson" was sitting in the station there doing nothing very much.

Steam observations during the visit were a complete hit and miss affair, but when I was in the Kandy area, I was tipped off that steam still worked out of Nawalapitiya, further up into the hills. There was time in my tight family schedule for just the briefest of morning visits and I found E1 0-6-2T 265 as pilot. Also in steam was C1 2-8-2 + 2-8-2 Garratt 345 but it was not expected to go out on the line for a couple of days - this ranks among my greatest gricing failures ever - looking back I had my priorities very badly wrong! That picture appears on the 'Garratts in Asia' page of this website.

Basil Roberts took this picture of B2 4-6-0T + T 212 in the hills in 1973, probably at Peradenya the junction near Kandy.

Similar B3 class 22 was captured in the same location 10 frames later the same day... 

In between the last two pictures, Basil found B1 289 on a short local passenger train.

Like me, John Tillman found a Garratt (347) in steam at Nawalapitiya though unlike me he chose a cloudy day. I suspect the picture was taken in the early 1970s. 

To the best of my knowledge, Basil Roberts never had a wife to distract him. Judging from the variations in the 'consists' of the trains in the slides of his which I scanned he must have been in the Nawalapitiya area for days rather than a single hour. This is C1a 2-8-2 + 2-8-2 344 at the head of a long mixed train in 1973.

The nearest I ever got to seeing a Sentinel steam railcar at work was one of the broad gauge specimens which had been converted to diesel power. This picture of 321 dates from January 1976:

The Colombo Port Commission had a collection of tank locomotives. Most of them were 0-4-0ST’s built by Hunslet in the last years of the nineteenth century which looked like broad gauge versions of the North Wales quarry locos they were building at much the same time. I got one of their newer 0-6-0T’s steamed specially in June 1979 but CPC 6, a 0-4-0ST dating from 1894, which it pulled out of the shed was a far more interesting beast. Even by then, all the regular work was in the hands of diesels. More than 30 years later no. 6 is one of two of these locos which still live in the loco shed in the port area.

The BCC (British Ceylon Corporation) was still using a couple of Robey steam lorries to run down to the port with drums of coconut oil for export in June 1979. There were no security issues in those long off days and my entire family piled into one of them for an unrepeatable journey. Both of these survive locally and are now looked after by the state railway at the Sri Lanka German Railway Training Centre at Ratmalana.


Rob Dickinson

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