Transport Minister Arjuna Ranatunga was greeted with protests when he arrived in Matara today to launch the first train as part of a test run on the newly constructed Matara-Beliatta railway line.
Supporters of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa staged a protest when Ranatunga arrived to launch the train saying the project was initiated by Rajapaksa.
An angry Ranatunga then launched the train by tooting the horn and left without travelling in the train as was initially planned.
Journalists who were taken from Colombo to cover the launch were also not allowed to travel on the train.
The 36 kilometer extension of the southern coastal rail line from Matara to Beliatta is the first stage of a 113-kilometer railway line from Matara to Kataragama.
The project is to be completed in three phases and the Matara to Beliatta segment is the first phase of the project.
The second phase of the project is the 48 kilometer segment from Beliatta to Hambantota and the in the third phase the track will be extended another 39 kilometers from Hambantota to Kataragama.
Construction of the Matara to Beliatta section at a cost of US$ 278 million was carried out by a Chinese company with the funding from China Exim Bank. Supervision is being carried out under the guidance of the Central Engineering Bureau.
Main stations have been constructed at Kekunadura, Bambarenda, Wevurukannala and Beliatta. Two sub stations have been setup at Piladuwa and Veherahena.
About 10 percent of the railway track has been built as flyovers. A flyover of one kilometer was built from Matara to Kekunadura. The flyover from Bambaranda to Vavurukannala is the tallest and the longest railway bridge in Sri Lanka.
Picture by Lalith Perera