Asian Railway Heritage

Sri Lanka

© John Raby, Feb 2000 (Trip report added April 2000)

Tidied up May 2005

Sri Lanka Railways are fully dieselized although they have steam available for the Viceroy Special and other special trains. All services are on broad gauge tracks although one section of dual gauge (broad and narrow) still exists. Ongoing internal problems mean that the lines are truncated north and east at Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa.

An early diesel survivor: Brush-Bagnall Traction class M1 of 1952 dumped at Dematogoda Shed.

The latest model: Indian Railways diesel built at Varanasi seen from the swimming pool deck of the Mount Lavinia Hotel, Colombo

The signal gantry at Kandy station. This was the best set of signals I saw.

The end of the line at Avisawella. The narrow gauge once extended onwards from here in 2 directions. Only the broad gauge track is in use now.

Homemade loco at Ratmalana Works was made from scrap parts.

M2 class diesel from GMD, Ontario looks remarkably young but was built in 1956.

Narrow gauge coaches at Dematogoda Shed have no work as the narrow gauge is finished.

Observation coach on the back of an up express at Rozella on the mountain line.

Indian and German diesels line up at Mount Lavinia.

M4 class diesel from Montreal Locomotive Works in 1975

M5 class from Hitachi in 1977 are mainly stopped awaiting new engines.

M6 class diesel electrics from Henschel 1968 are common on all lines.

M7 class from Brush 1981at Mount Lavinia.

The oldest working rail car power units are class S3 from MAN 1959. They work local trains either side of Galle.

S6 Hitachi power cars 1974 work the mixed gauge to Avisawella.

S8 power cars Hitachi 1991 work south from Colombo Fort. This train is painted all over to advertise Signal toothpaste.

Trilingual sign above the station master's office at Mount Lavinia.

Trilingual 'Trespassers will be prosecuted' sign doesn't stop people using the railway as a footpath.

Old British time clock at Dematogoda Shed.

M2 627 Vancouver (GMD, Ontario 1961) at Pattipola the highest station in the country.

W2 class from VEB 1968 work suburban trains south of Colombo.

Y class shunters from Hunslet in 1968 do what little shunting is required at Demotogoda, Kandy and Galle.


A video of Sri Lanka railways is available. Email me for details  
All of the pictures above are digital stills from this video.


The Locomotive Club of Great Britain runs a roughly annual trip to Sri Lanka and charters special steam trains over sections of the network. All participants in the tours must be LCGB members. Contact them for details.


 Lanka Sportsreisen

My trip was arranged quickly, efficiently and inexpensively by Mr. Dharma Dharmapala. He will be pleased to arrange your trip, too.

Everything that I know about Sri Lankan diesels comes from p92-95 of 'Indian Locomotives Part 4 1941-1990' by Hugh Hughes, The Continental Railway Circle, 25 Woodcock Dell Avenue, Kenton, Harrow, Middlesex HA3 0PW, England. Further sources of information welcomed. Email me.

Sri Lanka Trip Report

Visit to the Locomotive Depot. Dematogoda Loco shed, Colombo

With an official letter of permission, this was a friendly place to visit and they let me wander freely. They have a bg garratt derelict, assorted small bg tanks from industrial concerns as well as on of the first bg mainline diesels dumped around the yards and various boilers (one in use). The running shed has both bg and ng tracks but there is no further ng work as all tracks are now broad or dual gauge. On the ng side, the working steam railcar plus one other derelict are accompanied by various ng tanks all out of use. On the bg side, the 3 working steam locos were all there as there is no coal for them to work the Viceroy train. Also on shed were 2 classes of bg diesel.and small Hunslet diesels shunting. There were lots of dumped ng and bg coaches. There appeared to be another diesel runnning shed the other side of the main line.


The town was once on a ng railway from A to O and the trackbed is still visible. Ratnapura Station is being turned into a bus station/shopping center. The old station building and platform canopy has been retained. GR (King George V?) postboxes, 1st WW Clocktower and British style red postboxes in the town which is the gem mining centre.

Embilipitiya/Udawalawe National Park

We were due to drive past the sugar factory but the road was reported as not suitable as a through road from Embilipitiya to Udawalawe National Park by jeep drivers at both ends. Details of mill equipment unknown.


Up the hill again. Made contact with the railway. Goods train due from Badalla around 1 pm crossed mixed to Badalla. Overnight at Nuwara Eliya. Sundowners at the Lion Pub in ne, it's raining!


11:30 at Pattipola the highest station on CGR videod Canadian diesel 'Vancouver' heading east on a mixed.


Train times at Ambewela 1 station west are:

Up to Badulla

3:23 night mail, 5:38, 10:36, 13:31 podi menike, 16:11 udarat menike, 19:46

Down to Colombo:

9:00 udarata menike, 12:18 podi menike, 21:02. 22:29

Down to Kandy:

12:18 podi menike , 16:35

Estimated times at Nanu Oya

Up to Badulla

(2:53 night mail, 5:08,) 10:06, 13:01 podi menike, 15:41 udarat menike, 19:16

Down to Colombo:

9:30 udarata menike, (12:48 podi menike, 21:32. 22:59)

Down to Kandy:

(12:48 podi menike , 17:05)

Plan for my 49th birthday train bash. We will vaguely follow the Udarata Menike express destination Colombo (not Kandy) from Nanu Oya via Great Western and Hatton (route 7) to Nawalipitiya on a minor road through to Gampola and then route 5 and route 1 to Kandy. En route we should see at least 4 up trains. From Perideniya (rail and road junction) there may be more trains on the Colombo - Kandy route. Estimated arrival in Kandy by 15:00 just as the daily rain starts.

Expected motive power is class M2 GMD from Canada (delivered up until 1961) and class W1 Henschel (delivered up 1968-9) Apart from Y class shunter (Hunslet 1968), these are the only classes seen in use so far. Newer Japanese diesel can be expected somewhere.


Walked to the railway and town. Kandy is both a terminus and a through station and has a great semaphore signal gantry. Photted a passenger train departing downhill and then walked into town.

The rush hour air pollution was awful until the rain cleared the air. This is the first big town of the trip. Even so, it is dominated by small shops and stalls.

After a birthday success (I got money from an HSBC ATM machine using my UK cash card), I am having a beer in a quiet pub (says LP) next to the restored Queen's Hotel. This may be as close as I get to the Temple of the Tooth. Walked back to the Riverdale Hotel in the rain.

Kandy to Mount Lavinia

The Kandy - Colombo road is crowded but we took the back road to Avissawella from Warakapola (a nice cross country route) to see the mixed gauge line (broad replacing narrow). The narrow gauge is not in use but the broad gauge trains are formed interesting Hitachi power cars with carriages and a driving trailer for push-pull working.

Mount Lavinia - Galle

ÎAfter breakfast leave for Unawatuna. En route visit places of interest, engage in railway photography and bird watching and sight seeing Overnight at the Unawatuna Beach Resort. hotel: Unawatuna Beach Resort Hotelâ

Actually Koggala Beach Hotel which is an awful full-package hotel. These places may be value for money if you have the magic wristband and get everything for free. From experience in Cuba they are overpriced for anyone not on the deal. Ate out in disgust at the seafood restaurant next door. The trip is coming to an end and I look forward to spending time with friends after having only my driver/guide to talk to for 12 days.

Ratmalana Works

*Day 12 26/2 --------- slow return to Colombo birdwatching, railway photography, sightseeing visit to Ratmalana Works of the railways to see Robey steam road vehicles and any railway locomotives under repair En route visit places of interest including the Railway Workshop at Ratmalana, engage in railway photography and bird watching and sight seeing.

The works has No. 251 in for boiler replacement and this is due to be finished in 1-2 months but they crew have other responsibilities which slow them down. There are several loco boilers in use around the plant. A Garratt is dumped. There could be other dumped steam on this huge site. The works has built a freelance kerosene fired 4-6-0, 17 inch rail width, to be used for special events. There are also 3 open passenger carriages. They have also produced a bg 4 wheel diesel from spare/recovered parts. Many diesel locos of all active types are being fitted with new engines from GM or Caterpillar, Germany. One loco has a recent refurbishment plate from Adtranz. The current active diesels are British (Hunslet shunters), Canadian, German, Japanese and Indian with railcar driving units from Germany and Japan. New diesel multiple units are on order from China. Push-pull and multiple units make good sense with journeys from Colombo via Galle and Kandy requiring locos to run round and (in the case of a Canadian loco seen at Galle) turn on the turntable, too. However, a few trains run as mixed and locoshaulage is required for these trains. No dedicated freight trains were seen. The local all-station stopper is usually the mixed.


The hotel tonight, The Blue Oceanic Hotel, is good. I had a hair cut in the village ($3) and stocked up on tea, toothpaste and shampoo. Packing is going smoothly. With spare Rupies, I have splashed out on Jumbo Prawns. To bed shortly after dinner.