The International Steam Pages


Those were the days, Sri Lanka in the 1970s, Part 2

James Waite's resumť 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 'narrow gauge' items. Part 1 covers 'broad gauge' items including the Robey Steam Wagons of BCC.


I (RD) paid a brief second visit to Sri Lanka in June 1979, on my way 'between jobs' in Malaysia and Kenya. There wasn't enough time to do everything I wanted properly and in the end I had to arrange a visit to the port and a second visit to Dematagoda to get a steam railcar pulled out for the same morning. It was a disaster. I waited for ages for the mixed gauge traverser to be ready and then it became 'meal break time' and I abandoned the idea, making me very late indeed at the port. No doubt I travelled from one spot to the other in one of the (then) ubiquitous Morris Minor taxis.

In the Colombo area, the main point of interest was the narrow gauge Kelani Valley line which has since been converted to broad gauge. Diesel loco no. 564 was on a well laden  commuter train in 1973 (Basil Roberts). Today only the shell of this loco survives, dumped in derelict condition at Dematagoda

L1b no. 203 was found preserved on the outskirts of Colombo along the Kelani Valley line in June 1979. This is another loco which has degenerated into utter dereliction but now comes welcome news that itís at last being restored. The plan is to plinth it outside the CMEís headquarters at Ratmalana works.

On the same trip K1 106 was found 'in store' or more likely simply dumped at Dematagoda. More than 30 years later itís still there.

Hunslet J2 174 in action on a commuter train in 1973. Either the locals preferred the diesel version or this was further up the line (Basil Roberts).

In 1979, there was a short working in the late morning part way along the Kelani Valley line, J2 160 was photographed at Baseline Road, just a short distance from Dematagoda shed. As I recall the J2 locomotives were older and had slide valves. The later J1s were superheated with piston valves.

This is J1 292 with a mixed train in the rural upper part of the line in 1973 (Basil Roberts).

I have Basil Roberts's wonderful picture of Sentinel steam railcar 331 in action reserved for our eventual CD-ROM, but here, for the time being, is sister 332 in 1973 (Basil Roberts).  Itís preserved more or less in working order at Dematagoda shed but, alas, no longer has anywhere to run.


Rob Dickinson

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