While a heated debate has emerged over the exorbitant cost of constructing the northern railway and other highways, the Railway Track and Bridge Managers’ Union said it had submitted a proposal in 2011 to the government urging the authorities to use their skills instead of importing skills for these mega projects In a series of [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Railway union said in 2011 that northern/southern railway tracks could have been done much cheaper


While a heated debate has emerged over the exorbitant cost of constructing the northern railway and other highways, the Railway Track and Bridge Managers’ Union said it had submitted a proposal in 2011 to the government urging the authorities to use their skills instead of importing skills for these mega projects

In a series of articles appearing in the Business Times, economists and railway experts pointed out that the cost of building this infrastructure is several times less than charges by foreign contractors. The railway upgrading and reconstruction of the northern part was given to India while the southern part was given to China.

File picture of Indian contractors on the northern railway.

In a July 11, 2011 letter to the Transport Ministry Secretary, the railway union urged the government to review the facts regarding the Galle-Matara – track upgrading, mainly matters focused on the 100 kmph speed. The letter was sent to the Business Times last week by union officials saying no one took their concerns seriously.

It said the new track had been laid over the existing track bed as no facilities were available to introduce flat curvatures. “What we are made to understand is that a survey of topography was not considered and the same track trace had been used with the 100 kmph target being a presumption only. Ultimately the whole project was only a one-to-one material replacement.”


Pointing out the shortcoming, the union said that it was deeply concerned and disappointed regarding the way Phase I of the Coast line rehabilitation (Galle – Matara) was carried out and managed.

Here are extracts of the letter:

“We regret to inform you that the project has not been properly conceived, evaluated or implemented, leading to a financial loss to the economy as well as the expected final quality of product not realised. This track was rehabilitated by the officers and workers of the Railway Department (SLR) with high efficiency, low cost and shorter duration after the tsunami and the total cost of rehabilitation to our knowledge was less than Rs. 450 million for the entire damage rectification in 2005. Considering this fact, we could have easily upgraded this track at much lesser costs and saved a lot of money to our country while drawing financial benefits to our workers as well. We wish to submit our dismay that the track construction was handed over to an Indian company incurring very high costs, without considering any of these possibilities.

Track rehabilitation work carried out by IRCON between Galle-Matara has not been done to the best technical practices, as far as we understand. We bring the following few examples to your attention: A single Curve was not realigned to a higher radius between Galle and Matara; hence the speed could not be improved and material replacement caused removal of temporary speed restrictions. Only five minutes gain in time was made possible for the fastest train incurring Rs. 4 billion which is a notable loss to the poor country.

Some 19 .35 kilometres of track out of the total 44.80 km (more than 44 per cent of the total track length) are still under 19 Nos speed restrictions after completion of the whole project. This proves that the expenditure made is an utter waste when the travel benefits are considered.

Majority of highway level crossings between Galle and Matara are not within safe parameters. Technically certain upgrading needs to be implemented again. One reason is that the level crossings have not been properly considered in designing the project. No proper track strengthening.

The strengthening of the track formation was not attended evenly and to a required standard and in the long run the SLR will feel the repercussions. Two advance track maintenance machines (MTT) and track motor car which were purchased at a high cost and deployed for this project caused notable maintenance issues.

From the union, we vehemently oppose this nature of procedures and practices. Hence phase 11 of the PHASE Galle-Kalutara project should eliminate these issues; otherwise this project by IRCON would become a failure.

“We would like to bring to your attention that how we successfully restored tsunami devastated coast line track in remarkable period just within 56 days of time under tough conditions. We are confident that our officers are well capable and are experts to undertake this nature of projects at much less expenditure.”The union sent a set of proposals which were:

(a) Proper survey has to be programmed in advance to identify curves which could be increased to a higher radius,

(b) Track bed strengthening to be arranged to standard parameters.

(c) Probabilities to facilitate the double line between Kalutara and Alutgama should be considered on a priority basis. This will result in minimum crossing at stations and result in less travel hours.

(d) Usage of SLR resources should be minimal as far as possible. If not inland track maintenance will be badly affected. (e) Reconsider the decision to fully close down the track from Galle to Kalutara.

SLR engineers competent

The union said that SLR engineers and members of the union have successfully completed the double tracking of the Ragama-Seeduwa, Polgahawela-Rambukkana, third line from Maradana to Ragama, fourth line between Maradana and Colombo Fort by themselves. Broad-gauging the Kelani Valley line, the new construction of the Mihintale line and the line up to Omanthai are other examples which were achieved under extremely difficult conditions.

In addition, SLR engineers have constructed the double track between Panadura and Kalutara at very economical costs.

“Therefore, we, as a union of track construction and maintenance officers, cannot understand why our skills and strength are not used for this new rehabilitation of the coastline and also the new works in the north and the south of the country. We strongly object to the present practice of getting these jobs done at high cost from foreign companies by which our members are seriously affected. Also, we consider it an insult to the SLR, to the members of our union, and to the engineering profession of our country, that these contracts are now given to foreign companies at many time the expenditure, despite the statement in Mahinda Chinthana that a national economy will be established.”

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