Thousands lined up on both sides of the renovated railway track between the southern coastal cities of Galle and Matara as for the first time in Sri Lankan railway history, a train crossed the 100 km per hour mark.
The 38-minuted journey for a distance of 42 km also marked the completion of an Indian project in post-war Sri Lanka. The journey earlier took more than hour.
This was the first phase of a project undertaken Indian Railway’s international arm, IRCON, to modernise old railway tracks across Sri Lanka. The rail lines were damaged during the 2004 tsunami.
The first train was inaugurated by Sri Lankan Minister of Transport Kumara Welgama and the Indian High Commissioner of Sri Lanka Ashok K Kantha. They also travelled on the train, which is made in China, to Matara.
The inauguaral function took place amid a boycott call by a railway union who questioned why Indian engineers and labour were employed for the project and not Lankan expertise. The boycott call, however, did not get response and the first train on the newly laid track was packed with passengers.
``Only Indian engineers were employed. The labour was from Sri Lanka,’’ IRCON general manager, SL Gupta, told Indian reporters. He added that the track was laid at a much a lower cost, $36 million, than offered by other companies.
A line of credit of $167.4 million has been extended by India for the rehabilitation of the Colombo-Matara rail link. The second phase is likely to begin in March.
A credit line of more than $800 million has been extended for repairing and laying down new tracks in the war-ravaged northern districts.