Chugging along memory track as he hits the rails for one last timeView(s):
Pix and text by Palitha Ariyawansha
As Badulla Station Master Nivanga Weligama and his staff looked on Mr Sugathadasa, bowed down in respect before the engine of the goods train from Badulla to Bandarawela before he boarded it for his final journey.
Mr Sugathadasa was retiring on turning 60, after a long career at the Railways Department. Of his 38 years on the rails, 23 were along the upcounty routes considered the most challenging as well as the most scenic.
He was greeted with bouquets of flowers at several stations he had to pass.
Mr Sugathadasa reminisces a long journey with many an experience, some quite nerve-racking like driving through earth slips, misty conditions, heavy rains, fallen trees on the track and even forest fires beside the railway line.
Mr Sugathadasa who was educated at Batapola Maha Vidyalaya, Ambalangoda told the Sunday Times he had to undergo a five-year training period before he could make his maiden journey.
His long career is not without its harrowing including 39 deaths associated with people taking their own lives on the track or being knocked down.
“It is very sad when a person is hit by a train,” he said adding that it is very difficult to bring a train to a sudden halt in the face of such unforeseen incidents.
“In one of the incident a girl of about 18 years old wearing a school uniform came up to me at the Bandarawela station and asked me, ‘Uncle is there a train to Diyathalawa’. I told her a train would be arriving in a short while. After a brief stop I took off and in less than a kilometre away the girl jumped in front of the train. That was one of the most harrowing moments in my life. My daughter too was around that age,” he said sadly.
“In another, a cab that was crossing the level cross at Nawinna, Maharagama on the eve of Avurudu in 1994, was hit by the train. A husband, wife and two children were hospitalised and sadly the husband succumbed to his injuries. When I appeared for the coroner’s court inquiry the distraught wife tried to strangle my neck blaming me for the death. I applied brakes and the train derailed. It is very difficult to avoid such accidents,” he recalled.
He also said during the height of the conflict and the LTTE’s presence in the East some people were killed by the LTTE and his wife didn’t want him to make the dangerous trip. However, of the six engine drivers five were Sinhalese and they decided to continue with Army protection and an assurance from the LTTE that they will not be harmed.
The best way to say that you found the home of your dreams is by finding it on Hitad.lk. We have listings for apartments for sale or rent in Sri Lanka, no matter what locale you're looking for! Whether you live in Colombo, Galle, Kandy, Matara, Jaffna and more - we've got them all!