The willingness of the Indian government to lay a new railway line in Sri Lanka, connecting Trincomalee in the Eastern province with Medawachchiya in the North Central, has prompted a demand for including Batticaloa, another important city in the East, too under the proposed rail network.
This project was discussed last week when Sri Lanka’s Minister of Development Strategies and International Trade Malik Samarawickrama held discussion with India’s Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha in New Delhi.
Welcoming the current proposal of $300 million, K. Vigneswaran, former secretary of the once-merged North-East province and who worked briefly in the Sri Lanka Railways as a civil engineer, says that instead, a new line be laid between Gal Oya (also in the North Central) and Medawachchiya. “As there are existing lines covering Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Gal Oya, you just need to extend train services.”
Dr. Vigneswaran, who holds Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of Waterloo in Canada, asserts that his proposal will cost less, say around $ 200 million. “You can save some money too.” He also wants the Indian authorities to upgrade the existing lines of Gal Oya-Maho, Gal Oya-Trincomalee and Gal Oya-Batticaloa.
Explaining the rationale behind his suggestion, he says that now, people in the Eastern province are not using trains to go to the North as they find it circuitous and time-consuming. There are no direct train services too. Roughly, 12 hours have to be set apart for such a train journey.
Dr. Vigneswaran points out that not much private land would have to be acquired to implement his proposal as state lands, essentially coming under the forest category, can be utilised.
Similarly, he suggests that the Polgahawela-Maho section be improved with double lines, considering the fact that Maho is a vital junction for all trains coming from the North and the East to Colombo.
IRCON International, a public sector undertaking under the Ministry of Railway of the Indian government, is planning to take up projects worth $468 million. It has drawn up projects to upgrade Anuradhapura-Omanthai stretch and Maho-Anuradhapura section.
Already, $ 150 million remains unspent in India’s first line of credit of $800 million, sanctioned immediately after the civil war, for the railway projects in the Northern Province.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to Colombo in March last year, he had announced another line of credit for $318 million for Sri Lanka’s railway sector.
Thanks to the recent work of the IRCON International in the North, the long-awaited rail link between Colombo and Jaffna materialised and the Yal Devi Express recommenced its services with the opening of the Pallai – Jaffna section in October 2014. Three months later, the stretch from Jaffna to Kankesanthurai was inaugurated and the final segment (Madhu Road to Talaimannar) of the Northern Railway project was completed in March last year. Totally, railway lines for 265 km were reconstructed. (Courtesy The Hindu)