26th August 2001
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B.D. Rampala and the unforgettable 'M1' locomotive 

The thirty-year haul

By Ravi Fernando
When the Ceylon Government Railway started dieselization in 1953, the first locomotive that was introduced was classified as "Class M1". It was built by Brush Bagnall of Great Britain. Satisfied with the initial locomotive, the CGR placed an order for another 25 locos.

The engines had beautiful red bodies, weighed 88 tons, and were fitted with 1000 hp Mirlees V12 engines. These locomotives were initially used to pull passenger trains all over the country. For upcountry runs, these locomotives were double headed. The M1 loco is synonymous with Mr. B.D. Rampala, the much respected chief mechanical engineer, and later the first Sinhalese General Manager of the CGR. He held this post from 1955 to 1970. Those who were associated with him recall the way he maintained discipline in CGR.

When M1 was brought to Ceylon, Brush Bagnall did not carry out proper test trials due to a different gauge being used in the UK. It is said a locomotive engineer of Brush Bagnall accompanied this locomotive without any operating manual. He was reluctant to start the engine and did not allow anyone else to do so. When Mr. Rampala heard about this, he ordered his subordinates to start the locomotive.

Fortunately, his assistant Mr. A.R.P. Wijesekera when he was in London some years earlier had obtained a drawing of the control panel of the M1 loco. The two of them checked all the circuits, fuel system etc. and readied it for the test run. Mr. Rampala took over the controls with a full 500-ton load behind him. He started slowly on the slower speed notches and after reaching Kelaniya Railway Station, shifted the notch to higher speed. 

Suddenly a loud noise was heard behind. The drawbar had broken. Mr. Rampala knew the solution. He summoned his most experienced electrical foreman and worked out an innovation which was very simple and effective. In a few hours the loco was on the move with the load. 

When the engineer in charge of the M1 locomotive controls, at Brush Bagnall, Mr.C.E. James, visited Ceylon to observe the modifications done by Mr. Rampala, a trial run was arranged to Galle with a passenger train. They reached Galle without incident.

However, after lunch the engine could not be started for the return journey. A battery contactor had got stuck. The short circuit had heated the control wires and set off a chain reaction along other circuits. As usual Mr. Rampala did not panic; he separated the wires of each and every circuit, held the wires apart with coir ropes and was able to bring the locomotive back Colombo. 

These are incidents which indicate the spectacular innovations introduced by Mr. Rampala who gained world recognition when he presented papers on the M1 locomotive at an Engineers Conference in London in 1956. 

The Class M1 locomotives ran from 1953 to 1983. There are still some locomotives lying at the Rampala Workshop, corroded and beyond use. Fortunately there is one locomotive in the Dematagoda Running Shed in a fairly good condition. Railway enthusiasts think this locomotive could be rehabilitated. We hope, as a mark of respect to Mr. B.D. Rampala, the Minister of Transport Dinesh Guna-wardena will initiate this project.

Inconsistent defence Thoughts from London

Two Sundays ago this newspaper reproduced a lengthy article by Marie Colvin, the journalist from The Sunday Times, London who was wounded by grenade shrapnel when she was crawling back from Tiger -held territory somewhere in the Wanni last April.

I wonder how many readers had the opportunity of reading all three articles written by her on her Sri Lankan adventure. Had they been able to, they would have been struck by the historical inaccuracies, inconsistencies, untruths and tendentious reporting.

When I wrote to her newspaper, The Sunday Times, London in the hope of setting the record straight, this Rupert Murdoch owned paper refused to publish my letter, prompting me to take the issue before the Press Complaints Commission.

The initial reaction of The Sunday Times was that it was unable to respond in detail until Marie Colvin fully recovered, implying that she had to be asked for her side of the story.

I am sure most readers would commiserate with her for having lost the sight of an eye. But these are the risks journalists take when they cover conflicts or make clandestine journeys across battlelines.

Marie Colvin has done this before and taking such risks is not a new experience to her. But a few things about her writings, about the attitude and approach of The Sunday Times that sent her, have worried me from the time I read her first article in that paper on April 15.

I kept pressing the PCC to inquire from The Sunday Times when it hoped to reply. The PCC is a creature of the British newspaper industry. 

When it seemed rather obvious The Sunday Times was procrastinating I asked the PCC once more to find out when it would respond to my complaints of inaccuracy and the refusal to grant an opportunity to reply which are violations of the Code of Practice of the PCC to which The Sunday Times is a signatory. In reply to a PCC letter dated July 11, the Managing Editor of The Sunday Times wrote that Marie Colvin was still recuperating. 

At the time the Managing Editor wrote that letter she appeared to be quite recovered. On July 15, she had written this lengthy article which was reproduced in Colombo in which she describes how she was interviewed the previous week by the BBC and how she had been socialising, attending receptions. Only the Managing Editor seemed to have been out of touch with her. 

I promptly pointed this out to the PCC which contacted the newspaper and subsequently got a reply on August 10, rejecting my complaint that it had violated the Code of Practice on two counts.

The reply defends Marie Colvin and the newspaper against incompetence, inaccuracy and refusing me a right of reply. But it does so, so sloppily, that it further strengthens public concern over the plummeting standards of British journalism and journalistic principles.

In rejecting complaints of inaccuracy etc, The Sunday Times gets further mired in inaccuracy. It says I challenged Ms Colvin on two points. Wrong. I challenged her specifically on one point and The Sunday Times on the other. 

The reply challenges me on the use of the word ambush in relation to the way she sustained the injury and quotes the Oxford dictionary in defence. According to Marie Colvin's published description of the events it was hardly an ambush. "Bursts of gunfire began across the road about half a mile away.The search and destroy patrols had come out. I heard soldiers on the road talking and laughing. One fired a burst from an automatic weapon. If I didn't shout now they would stumble on me and shoot. I began to shout 'journalist, journalist, American, USA'. The soldier sighted on the sound and fired'.

Have you ever heard of an ambush where soldiers are talking and laughing, where the fear is they would stumble on you and not you on them, where the soldiers fire only as a reaction?

In her first article on April 15, Ms Colvin says she spent two weeks in the Tiger-held area. In her second on April 22, this becomes "a week". How inconsistent for an award winner losing a whole week somewhere in the jungles!

On April 15, she says the war has cost 60,000 lives. On July 15, the death toll had dramatically risen to 83,000. Within three months Ms Colvin has singlehandedly vanquished 23,000 Sri Lankans.

Before closing, I must point to this.

In the article reproduced two Sundays ago Colvin says : "we came across the footprints of tigers and the spoor of elephants".

Footprints of tigers? Must be the two-legged ones she'd been consorting with and lost one week...

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