The International Steam Pages
The (Railway) Relics of Colombo, Sri Lanka, 2010
Since this was posted Nalin Abeysinghe, a local enthusiast, has sent information about the steam locomotives within the port area, which has been added to the report (5th January 2011), supplemented with two pictures (26th January 2011). If you are interested in historic pictures of Sri Lankan steam in the 1970s, check out my "Those were the days" feature on the island.
I have since added a February 2013 update from Clive Hepworth 12th March 2013).
James Waite writes:
Thomas Kautzor and I made a very brief trip to Colombo in late January 2010 to visit some of the numerous railway relics there - primarily the large number of narrow gauge locos and railcars which are stored at Dematagoda running shed in the eastern outskirts of the city. Many of these are in good condition, at least cosmetically, even though itís a good ten years or so since the conversion to broad gauge of the last stretch of the Kelani Valley narrow gauge line where the countryís well-known Sentinel steam railcars and big Hunslet 4-6-4Tís had run. Dematagoda shed is also home to several broad gauge steam locos and was the operating base for the small fleet of working locos until steam working came to what will hopefully be only a temporary end in 2008. Weíd made contact in advance with Priyanka Rodrigo, an enthusiast living in the city who was immensely helpful and hospitable and arranged the necessary permits and introductions for us. Thanks to all his efforts our visit was hugely successful and enjoyable.
Dematagoda is a ten-road shed which opened in 1908. Eight of the roads are broad gauge with two narrow gauge ones at the southern side of the building. Itís survived the dieselization of the Sri Lankan railways well and must be little changed from how it was in its steam days apart from the lifting of most of the narrow gauge track within the yard. Itís very much a working place and is home to the 13 survivors of the M2 class of broad gauge diesel electrics. These venerable locos built in Canada between 1955 and 1961 and were supplied to the country under the Colombo aid plan. Most of them carry the names of Canadian provinces and cities. Despite their age theyíre widely regarded in the country as superior to all its more modern diesels. One of them, no. 591 ďManitobaĒ, was the loco which was swept off the track with its train on the coast line south of Colombo by the December 2004 tsunami. By then it was 48 years old but nonetheless it was considered worthwhile to rebuild it and to put it back into service. Its paint scheme includes waves to commemorate its involvement. The fourteen somewhat angular-looking M6 class locos built by Henschel in 1979 and 1980 and the fifteen M7 class built by Brush in 1981 and 1982 are also based there.
We were made most welcome at the shed by Lalith Fonseka, the Chief Loco Foreman. Heís a most hospitable person and clearly attaches great importance to the conservation of the islandís railway heritage. The survival of so many steam locos at the depot is due in no small part to his determination to look after them. His latest project is the preservation of no. 560, one of the M1 class diesels built as a joint venture by Brush and Bagnall in 1953 and the countryís first main line diesel class. No. 560 now stands at the north eastern end of the shed within sight of Mr. Fonsekaís office window.
The oldest narrow gauge loco, K1 class 4-4-0T no. 106, stands out in the yard surrounded in overgrowth. Itís in pretty derelict condition with much of its platework rusted through and, more fundamentally, is missing its front wheels and axles. Itís one of two of the class which outlived their sisters and were kept for the making of the film ďThe Bridge on the River KwaiĒ in the 1950s. The other loco, no. 104, was the one which crashed off the bridge at the filmís climax (after the crew had abandoned it, of course) and was destroyed in the process. No. 106 was the backup loco. Presumably the crash sequence worked the first time around and so its services werenít required! Itís now officially preserved.
No fewer than eight J1 and J2 class 4-6-4Tís are stored more or less complete on the two narrow gauge roads inside the shed out of the fourteen which were built. Of these no. 220 has been steamed in recent years though itís not in very sound mechanical condition. It stands, looking very clean and shiny, at the south western end of the shed alongside V2 class Sentinel steam railcar no. 331 which is also probably in working order. Unfortunately no. 331 has acquired some lining out and other adornments which it certainly didnít carry towards the end of its working life and which I suspect arenít authentic. Next to them are examples of the three types of diesel loco which have worked on the narrow gauge over the years. Close by is no. 332, another of the Sentinel cars which lacks some of its mechanical parts but still looks quite good from the outside. Unlike no. 331 it retains its 1970ís unlined brown livery. Itís somewhat hemmed in by other stock and photography isnít easy. Several broad gauge 4-6-0ís, the one surviving 4-6-0T+T and 0-6-2T, several 0-4-0STís from the Colombo Port Commission and a handsome steam breakdown crane occupy the adjoining broad gauge roads along with some historic carriages and vans.
To the south of the running shed is a repair shop known as Shop 26. More narrow gauge diesels are dumped in the long grass outside the shop along with the shell of no. 333, the third of the Sentinel steam cars. For many years the dual-gauge traverser outside this shop was steam powered but unfortunately an electric drive was installed in 1983. The shopís treated as an outlying part of Ratmalana works and doesnít fall within Mr. Fonsekaís jurisdiction. Security is tight there on working days and itís unlikely youíll be allowed access then.
Although no steam locos have run since 2008 two of the broad gauge 4-6-0ís, noís 251 and 340, are in working order and regarded as officially still in stock. Theyíre noted as such on the daily roster board on the wall in Mr. Fonsekaís office. AndÖ steam is still not quite dead as the boiler of no. 211 is still in use as a stationary boiler and was fired up while we were there.
Other steam sites around Colombo include Ratmalana works in the south of the city. We werenít able to make a visit here but itís reported that one of the countryís two surviving broad gauge Garratts is in store along with a 2ft6in gauge electric loco converted from one of the Kawasaki diesels and a 1ft 6ins gauge 4-6-0 miniature loco numbered 001 and three carriages. I did get to the Sri Lanka German Railway Training Centre, also at Ratmalana, where 2ft 6in gauge L1b class 0-4-2T no. 203 was stored outside in very poor condition. Itís the sole surviving loco from the Ude-Pusewalla line, the countryís only other public narrow gauge railway apart from the Kelani Valley line. Happily itís now reported to have been moved for restoration. Close by is a shed containing two Robey steam lorries, rare beasts indeed as only four are believed to survive anywhere in the world. One of them is a unique articulated machine.
Nearer the city centre thereís a 600mm gauge Simplex loco stored in the grounds of the Colombo National Museum which came from the Ceylon Salt Corporation in the north of the island. Unfortunately itís not in good condition. The museum itself is well worth visiting. Itís housed in a splendid colonial-era building completed in 1876 and has an impressive collection of artefacts dating both from ancient times and from the Portuguese, Dutch and British colonial periods. The museumís open from 9am to 5pm but is closed on Fridays and public holidays. The salt loco isnít visible from outside the site and so is only accessible during opening hours. Admission for non-Sri Lankans costs Rs500 (about £2.80). The museum lies in the Cinnamon Gardens district. It stands in the large open space bounded by Horton Place on its northern side and Albert Crescent to the south.
On the opposite side of Horton Place is whatís now officially known as Viharamahadevi Park but generally still called Victoria Park, its old name. Some years ago a 2ft 6in gauge pleasure railway was built in the park but sadly both the railway and most of its stock are in a sad state of decay. Faring rather better than the rest of the equipment is Hunslet 0-6-0DM no. 527 which is stored under trees the eastern end of the park. A couple of blocks to the north west of the park is the Gangaramaya Temple at the corner of Hunupittiya Lake Road and Sri Jinaratana Road, one of the cityís main Buddhist temples. Parked on the verge outside are the bodies of two SLR broad gauge motor trolleys, noís 816 and 817 together with a steam roller. The trolleys are dilapidated but still carry their SLR paint scheme. Over the road thereís a London Routemaster bus. The templeís basement houses a de facto car museum. Its inmates include an early 1950ís Riley tourer, a Pininfarina-style Wolseley saloon, a Rover 90, a Bedford truck and two Morris Minors along with several continental models. Clearly the powers that be here are transport enthusiasts! The temple itself is full of interest and is the home of the only elephant that we met during the trip.
Keith Smith has written some excellent notes on the new National Railway Museum, housed in the old Colombo Terminus station on the south side of Olcott Mawatha, the main A1 road east out of the city, roughly mid-way between Fort and Maradana stations. Thereís little that I can add save that the museum is still in its infancy and there are plans to install more of the locos currently stored around the city as time and funds permit. Currently itís home to two locos from the Colombo Port Commission, 0-6-0T no. 2 (Hunslet 1408/1920) and 0-4-0ST no. 10 (Hunslet 689/1899) together with SLR broad gauge Y1 class diesel no. 727, home-built in 1971. The museumís opening hours are between 10am and 4pm but like the National Museum itís closed on Fridays and public holidays. Unless you live on the island access will cost you another Rs500.
Close by, on the corner of Main Street, Dam Street and Bodhiraja Mawatha is the old town hall museum. It has no railway exhibits but thereís a fine Sentinel steam lorry which worked for the city corporation (very appropriate for a city whose main attractions include the narrow gauge Sentinel railcars!) and what looks at first glance like a steam roller but is in fact one of the worldís earliest heavy oil-powered rollers. The museum building is another fine colonial structure.
Itís a short walk from here to Fort station which must be the largest station in the country. Cross over to its southern side (the far side from the main buildings) to find B9 class 4-6-0 no. 135 (Hunslet 972/1908), very well restored and kept alongside the southern approach road off whatís now officially called D.J Wijewardina Mawatha but seems generally still to be known by its old name McCallum Road. The loco is hemmed in on its southern side and the lightís probably best here late in the afternoon. Then head eastwards along McCallum Road for a few hundred yards until the road bears quite sharply to the right. Thereís a hole in the railway fence here on the left side of the road and beyond the fence is what looks like an uncompleted loco shed but is in fact what was intended to be a museum building until the project was abandoned. It contains B8c class 4-6-0 no. 237 (Hunslet 1552/1927), somewhat tired and with an alarming amount of what looks like loose asbestos lagging exposed to the elements.
We were told that two further Colombo Port Commission steam locos may survive at a loco shed in the port area but that security had been particularly tight at the port on account of the countryís long civil war and no enthusiast visits had been permitted in recent years. We had an excellent view over the port from the restaurant on the top floor of the Grand Oriental Hotel where we stayed Ė but photography from the restaurant window was strictly forbidden! Now comes news from Nalin Abeysinghe, a Sri Lankan enthusiast, that he was able to visit the loco shed there on 16th December 2010. He confirms that two more 0-4-0ST's, no's 6 (HE 1894) and 9 (HE 1899) are indeed still there along with several elderly diesels and that no. 9 is still in working order. Now that the war is over maybe things are easing up a little. Nalin's list is at the end of the list of other locomotives.
Several of the cityís stations must be little changed from how they were in colonial times. Slave Island station, the second stop south from Fort on the coast line, is in particularly good condition. We called in here a little after dusk as a northbound train was approaching. The glare of its headlamp and the shadows and reflections that it cast off the stationís elaborate cast iron awning supports as it slowly rumbled through made an especially atmospheric sight. Another unexpected relic to which Priyanka introduced us was an old wooden coach body, excellently restored and now serving as the pavilion at a sports ground belonging to the old pupilís association of one of the cityís main schools. Other relics certainly survive in and around the city including a narrow gauge coach body at a tea estate up in the hills.
This loco list is based on details kindly supplied by Vinodh Wickremeratne, one of the islandís most knowledgeable enthusiasts and Iím most grateful for his help. There are some discrepancies between the list and the numbering of the narrow gauge 4-6-4Tís at Dematagoda; this is due to uncertainty over the identities of some of the locos and thereís a distinct possibility that the numbers carried by some of the locos are wrong rather than any error in the list. One of the 4-6-4Tís was missing altogether but because of the numbering discrepancies itís not possible to say with precision which one this was. Suffice it to say that the shed contained eight of them. Subject to this and except where marked we saw all the locos in the list except those in the port area..
SLR narrow gauge locomotives
SLR broad gauge steam locomotives
Colombo Port Commission steam locomotives outside the Port
These pictures of 09 and diesel 17 (added on 26th January 2011) are from Nalin Abeysinghe. The former is inside the running shed, the latter on shunting duties on "Trains and Goods office Shunting Yard" near Jaya Container Terminals, inside the Colombo Port
Here are just a few of the many pictures sent with the report..
Pride of the narrow gauge fleet but with nowhere to go these days, J1 220 and railcar 331:
Railcar 331 and its interior:
If you want a 4-6-4T, they've got some to spare...
Two sad rusty steam locomotives, 106 and 203 - the latter at least is now undergoing some kind of restoration:
Half-centenarian diesel 591 Manitoba and preserved 4-6-0 135 at Fort station - the latter looking a lot smarter than when I (RD) saw it in the 1970s:
The two active members of the island broad gauge steam fleet, 251 and 340:
4-6-0 237 inside the (first) museum that was never completed and a very old 4 wheel coach at Dematagoda.
Below are some of the many non-railways items noted above.
The two Robeys - pictures of them at work in the 1970s are now available on this site.
More steam powered road transport,
Oil powered road transport: