In the story 'Going Back on a Tramcar Ride' (January 4), Tissa Devendra's nostalgic journey is marred by several 'clangers' that are louder than the clanging of a tramcar bell.
First he states: "The driver steered the tramcar while standing. Steering was by an impressive metal tiller with a shining brass knob as a handle."
Because they run on rails - just like trains - tramcars do not need to be steered. That "tiller" to which Tissa Devendra refers is, of course, the controller, or regulator, or electric version of a throttle or accelerator that varies the amount of electricity to the drive motors, thus controlling the speed of the tram. A second handle operated the brakes. Neither handle had anything to do with steering.
Then he goes on to state: "For some inexplicable mechanical reason tramway lines/rails were not above ground but embedded below the road surface."
The reason is, in fact, quite 'explicable', and has more to do with common sense and practicality than anything "mechanical". Imagine what would happen if tram rails in city streets were laid above ground level - like railway lines - and the mayhem they would have caused, in old Ceylon for example, to other vehicles like bicycles, bullock carts, rickshaws, etc; not to mention being a safety (tripping) hazard to pedestrians.
Finally Mr. Devendra says that "Somewhere in the 1950s, for some mysterious reason, the Municipality decided to scrap Colombo's trams."
For starters, Colombo's trams stopped running in 1960, although I concede that the decision to shut down tram services was in all likelihood made "somewhere in the 1950s". However, there was nothing "mysterious" about the decision - it was simply a matter of operating economics and logistics, with trolley bus services having already replaced most if not all the original tram routes. Strangely, nowhere in Devendra's article is there even a single mention of the trolley buses, which were also operated by the Colombo Municipal Council.
Toward the end of the article the writer adds: "Let this brief piece be a requiem for a charming mode of transport". Importantly, the online version of this article - which also appeared in another Sri Lankan newspaper on January 11 - could be picked up by the many knowledgeable tramway and trolley bus buffs around the world who regularly scan the Internet for stories relating to their subject of interest. What sort of "requiem" it would leave in their minds about the author's knowledge of tramcars can only be guessed at.
It was only a nostalgic piece!
Roger Thiedeman has risen to the bait of my frothy piece of nostagia. All I wanted to do was to tickle the imaginations of more people about the dear old trams of my boyhood. Instead RT hammers away, with heavy sarcasm, at my technical ignorance. I freely admit that, unlike RT, I am a totally un[or non]-mechanical chap who has been driving cars for over 50 years without the faintest idea of what's under the bonnet !
I presume RT's "facts" are true. But my article was not a thesis on CMC transport, nor did those ghastly trolley buses ever interest me. I had long left Colombo during their brief reign. Sadly, RT is not the witty Carl Muller of trams I had hoped for. The shadowy "controller" of my phantom tram must be having a ghostly cackle at my attempts to raise its shade from its rusty graveyard.