Fort Railway Station: Travel may be ‘cheap’, but what about the hassle? I had been wanting to write this piece for a long time about the Colombo Fort Railway Station. An archaic building of the British period, it is not only the building that looks archaic, but inside its workings too are also archaic. Is [...]


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Fort Railway Station: Travel may be ‘cheap’, but what about the hassle?

Fort Railway Station: Where the workings are as archaic as the building. Pic by Amila Gamage

I had been wanting to write this piece for a long time about the Colombo Fort Railway Station. An archaic building of the British period, it is not only the building that looks archaic, but inside its workings too are also archaic.

Is the Station really in Fort? The shops alongside and opposite bear the address Olcott Mawatha, Colombo 11. That is Pettah, or would someone kindly correct me?

Of late I have been travelling from Hunupitiya to Fort on a season ticket since it’s convenient and cheap. But to purchase a season ticket is a hassle. Most often the season ticket counter staff request you to get it from the ticket counter as they only issue for travel beyond Fort. When I went to get my season ticket at Fort Railway Station, I was taken aback when the person at the counter said I would have to get it only at Hunupitiya, and when I asked why, he said since my travel is from Hunupitiya to Fort, so my purchasing station is Hunupitiya. Subsequently I read a newspaper article where a gentleman had complained that there was no email facility at Fort Station.

At the Fort Railway Station there is a poster which proclaims “travel by train, it’s cheap comfortable and safe”. But what they don’t say is that to buy a ticket or to get a seat is not easy. To get into the train is tougher – train travel is taboo for the weak and feeble. For those on crutches or on a wheelchair it is out of the question. For the blind it’s impossible – there are no guide lanes, and platforms are not on level with the floor of platforms 1, 2 & 3. If one is close to the speakers it’s impossible to know what is being announced because of the vibration. Platform numbers are changed several times, ranging from 5 to 10 times, before the arrival of the train. Then there is a mad scramble, as there is no marking to say where the train will stop, even on the dead-end platforms 1 & 2. That is left to the sole discretion of the engine driver. He must be enjoying the sight of people running to board the train for they don’t know where it will stop.

Funnily, there is a notice to say, “It is dangerous to get in or out of a train before it stops”. There is a large digital display board in Platform No. 3 as you enter the main gate, which faces the overhead bridge. It gives a clear picture of all destinations, platforms, No., time of arrival & departure in a very precise manner. For some months it was not functioning but thankfully it is now working. It is a boon to travellers local and foreign alike.

Toilets are found only on platform no. 1, as far as I know. No name boards or direction arrows are necessary as the stench will guide one.

There are a few things I don’t understand:

Why is it that the trains don’t keep to time? Arrivals and departures are often late and sometimes early. Clocks at stations differ. I expect the time in the Station’s Master’s watch and that of the engine drivers and clocks at all the stations and those employed by the Railway Dept. to be synchronized. We don’t have different times in this island. The arrival of a train is mentioned with the train number. For eg, an announcement is made that train No. 1234 to Kandy will arrive at platform No. 3 in a few minutes. Within that said period, a few trains pass up and down on platform No. 3. So people standing on platform No. 3 do not know or recognize the Train No. 1234 which was announced as there is no destination board seen on any train that passes by.

If I can recall correctly there are four exit points in Fort Railway Station. One is near Platform No 1. This gate is opened as and when required. It also serves as an exit and entrance point as there is a ticket counter on the outside, the two exit points on either side of the overhead bridge close to the two canteens. The fourth which is found in the continuation of the overhead bridge serving platforms 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, & 3 continues to an exit point beyond platform 3 to the road outside. It was closed during the high security period and thankfully is open now. Especially when trains from the south stop at platforms 3 & 4.

To add to train travellers woes, with the rain it becomes a water world.

M.A. Sallay   Wattala

Appalling state of our international airport!

I happened to visit the arrivals and departure areas of our international airport a few times recently. I was appalled at the situation that prevailed at the departure area.

There were two long lines extending out of the departure area to both sides. It was drizzling and passengers were getting wet. All passengers and persons with passes have to enter through two gates and get their baggage and themselves screened. There were no airport staff regulating the lines. Line breaking by persons who seemed to be in a hurry was causing much heartburn among others. People leaving the country should be able to go through security without any delay. The airport authorities should take necessary action to ensure that.

The wash rooms for females in arrivals and departure areas are in a very poor state. In one there was no staff. In the other the two staff ladies were chatting away without any concern about the passengers. They would not even listen to complaints. The toilets were unclean and their floors were wet especially in the ground floor. There was a shortage of toilet paper. The hand washing area did not have soap dispensers fitted to the wall. One soap dispenser was being passed round.  The hand dryers were not working properly. Some passengers were openly complaining.

To keep the toilets of the airport dry all hand bidets should be removed and enough toilet paper should be provided. Our wash rooms have to be brought up to international standards.

Nimala Jayasuriya   Rajagiriya

H.C. P. Bell was a paid employee of the state

I refer to Dr. R.P. Fernando’s recent letter titled ‘H.C.P. Bell: Little recognition of a man who did so much’.

Dr. Fernando seems to fail to recognise the fact that Dr. Bell (with all due respect to him) was the Commissioner of Archaeology – a paid employee of the state. In researching and publicising the findings, he was only carrying out his official duties entailed in his appointment, using those facilities provided to him by virtue of his employment.

As such, I see no exception in the work that he has done – the fact that he was appointed Archaeological Commissioner is granting him due recognition of the duties he was expected to perform.

Dr. Ranjen Fernando   Walana, Panadura

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