History of Sri Lanka Railway – Origin of SLR
There were 2 reasons for the birth of railways in England. First one was producing coal & transporting them. Second one was the insufficient transportation methods for that. A background like that was developing in Sri Lanka. There were few primary level roads in coastal areas in the era of Portuguese & Dutch but there were no roads in the up country because people used to undergo simple & prosperous economy. Some people said that it’s very difficult for a vehicle to reach Kandy through forests & inclines. Therefore traveling along these up country routes were very dangerous. Essential items were transported by men themselves. Palanquins, horses & elephants were used for the journeys of nobles. Ordinary people traveled on foot
After Sri Lanka or Ceylon became a colony of Great Britain in 1815 the attitudes about roads were completely changed. A respectable road was built between Colombo & Galle at the end of 1814. The necessity of roads aroused after the rebel of 1818.
Governor Edward Barnes’ era (1820) was the most effective era in terms of roads. The constructions of Colombo Kandy road was started in 1820. Kurunegala road was also divided from this road. Constructions of both these roads finished by 1825. The road to Kandy from Kurunegala across Galagedara was finished in 1821. From Kurunegala to Dambulla & from Kandy to Matale roads were opened in 1827 & 1832 respectively. In 1832 Kandy-Matale road was extended up to Dambulla. The Kandy-Nuwara Eliya road which started on 1827 took 10 years to finish. Boats were used to cross rivers.
The Horse Train
Out of the roads which were built till 1858 only Colombo-Kandy road was the respectable road. Even though the constructions were finished in 1821 it was developed by paving gravel & other things in 1831. After that the First Mail Train of the Asia was started between Colombo & Kandy. It ran on all the days of the week except on Sunday. It left Kandy at 5.30am & reached Colombo at 3.30pm. It stopped at Mahara, Gosrupei, Kalagedihena, Wewaldeniya, Ambepussa, Ballapaana, Kandapanei, Hingula & Ilukwatte to pick up mail. 2pounds & 10shillings were charged from a passenger. There was a Mail train service between Colombo & Galle too.
Coffee Plantation & Transportation
Coffee plantation was expanded along with the primary transportation method mentioned above. After the Kandyan Kingdom was owned by the British in 1815 its fertility impressed English planters & they brought the coffee plant to the up country which was limited to lower parts of the island. They appealed the government asking for up country lands for coffee plantation.
To fulfill the appeals of the British planters colonial government brought the 1841 no.9 Wasteland Act by using their legislative power. According to this act local farmers were asked to prove their ownership of the lands they cultivate. But the farmers didn’t have any proof that the government expected. Then the final result was the disposition of that lands to the government & the government sold them for planters for 5shillings per acre. Planters had to pay about 10% of the real value & surveyor charges were paid by the government.
Coffee was expanded in up country areas very quickly. About 2650lbs of coffee was exported in 1806-1813 period & in 1820-1833 it increased to 2061400lbs. Governor Edward Barned who was appointed in 1824 did a great service in expanding coffee cultivation. The road development project conducted by him effected directly for this expansion. He started a coffee plantation by himself in 1825. At that time there were no legal barrier for government servants to engage in private businesses. The 5% tax for coffee exporting & the tax for agricultural equipments were removed.
There was another external factor which affected the development of coffee plantation. In 1835 coffee was very popular in countries like Belgium & France. Productions in Jamaica & Dominica who supplied cheap coffee fell down quickly due to the nullification of slavery. Therefore the demand for Sri Lankan coffee raised. R.D.Tyler who was an expert in south Asian plantations invented new methods to cultivate coffee. The dream of the governor Barnes became a reality step by step. Production increased with the price. The amount of land which was sold for planters also increased frequently. It was 258072 acres in 1843. Investments of British planters exceeded 100000pounds & there were 130 large-scale coffee estates in central province.
There were two factors against the coffee plantation. They were the transportation difficulties & the lack of workers. Locals didn’t like to be a slave for foreigners. Therefore colonial government had to bring south Indian workers. More than 250000 workers arrived Sri Lanka between 1840-1850. Transportation conflicts got increased due to the increasing of population in the hill country. Carts were not enough to transport products to the Harbour.
Although the problem of workers solved transportation problem kept increasing. In some regions products were transported using workers & their charges were unbearable. However coffee plantation was successful till the 1848 rebel. In 1850 Governor John Anderson cut the funds used for the development of roads to reduce the expenditure of the colony. In 1857 Ceylon Planters Association was formed to despite this decision. Governor Henry Ward who was appointed after John Anderson listened to the planters. He proposed a railroad also. From 1852 to 1868 plantations expanded from 57000acres to 160000acres. At the end of 1866 2247038pounds was collected from exports.
Selling lands & making roads was the responsibility of the government. But the geographical features of up country made this a hard task. Government had to spend 15% of the income to maintain roads which got feeble day by day. Planters stated that constructing a railroad is the only solution for this.
Ceylon Railway Company
Planters made a strong foundation to fulfill the requirement of a railway & they collected statistics for it. At that time constructions of a railway in India was commenced. Planters were swift to make some foundation with their friends in Britain. Amid these tendencies The Ceylon Railway Company was registered in October, 1854. Its ambition was to construct a railway from Colombo to Kandy. Philip Antruther, a former colonial secretary was appointed as the chairman of the company. Directors’ board was consisted of 20 members. Most of them were company owners in Sri Lanka & England. No.08 in Broad Street, London was named as the temporary office.
Functionality of the Company
The mission of the company was to start & maintain transportation in Sri Lanka. They described Sri Lanka as an island which most foreigners liked due to the mild climate & fertile soil. The expense they predicted for the railway was 6000pounds per mile. When considering geography most of the lands were flat & floods & other natural disasters were minimum. After concluding all these facts they estimated the total cost as million pounds.
About 79000 loaded carts travel between Colombo & Kandy annually. Normal charge of a cart was 2pounds & 10shillings. The company calculated the transportation charges per annum as 179000pounds. And they stated that train is more efficient than bull hauled carts & the income can be increased by hauling freight, passengers & mail by train. They presented many statistics & reports in benefit to start a railroad in Sri Lanka. Apart from that they appointed a committee to act locally. Local nobles were selected for that committee.
On 3rd of December the local committee was formed with 9 local members. Major C.T.Park was the chairman & they had the power to issue stock for colony. But there were no natives in the committee. Few stocks were sold to natives & burghers under the recommendation of the local committee.
Primary Examinations on the Route
The first step of the company was examining the route. They appointed & sent Mr.Drane, an experienced engineer to fulfill this task. He arrived Sri Lanka in May, 1846 & started measuring for the Colombo-Kandy railroad. He paid attention to 3 entrances Hingula valley, Alagalla & Gandessa. But he was most interested in Hingula Valley entrance & he left the island after handing over a complete report on that entrance.
Obtaining permission from colonial government was not quick as expected. The local committee & Ceylon planters association met Government Secretary to speak about this. But the final decision was in the hands of British Government.
Meanwhile Baron Torrington was appointed as the governor of Ceylon & he was a businessman with the experience with South Eastern Railway, England. He has talked with the Ceylon railway company before he arrived in Sri Lanka & he had some idea about Dranes’ researches. But building of the railway had to be postponed due to the low economic level & he promised that he’ll commence the constructions as soon as the economy gets neutral.
Reorganization of the Ceylon Railway Company
According to Dranes’ report the cost of the railroad was 1.8million pounds & the company understood that the government will not approve this high cost project. They decided to build only a part of the railway. Capital of this project was 300000pounds but the assets of the company was only 1000000pounds. Therefore the reorganization was required. These proposals were offered to Baron Torrington & he introduced the first proposal to the legislative council on 30th October 1847. He stated that the first section of 32 miles should be built quickly. But the economic depression in Europe & Up country rebel affected this project badly & it was postponed again.
The era which started in 1850 under the governor George Anderson wasn’t a good time period for the railway project. He focused to a policy to minimize the expenses of the colony. Therefore he rejected to spend the income of the colony for this project.
Businessmen & planters got fretful due to the slowness of the project. They organized a meeting on 2nd February 1855 & they decided to enforce the export tax for coffee back to collect funds for the railway company. Fortunately government accepted that proposal. Then planters sent a letter to British government stating that they are ready to bear the responsibility for the damages happen due to the constructions of the railway.
Henry Ward Era
Sir Henry Ward became the governor of Ceylon in May, 1855 & his decision was railroad should be constructed up to Kandy. British government gave permission for a bail of 50000pounds on the recommendation of a committee including Baron John Russell.
After considering all facts British government asked the company to present their plans on 12th December 1855. After a few rounds of discussion a contract was presented as a draft to the Ceylon government & it was nominated after the company finished their measuring works. Captain Moorsom was appointed by the government secretary for the measuring purpose. He arrived Sri Lanka on March, 1857 & he recommended 6 entrances. 5 of them was parallel to the line discovered by Mr. Drane. Other line was an entrance to Kandy from Ambagamuwa. It was 79 miles long & the incline was 1:60. Railroad was marked on Ganethenna area which was 2100ft high. After considering all these routes he also proposed Mr. Dranes’ route as the best route. His estimation was 856557pounds. It included the cost for levelling the ground, building stations & other buildings & locomotives & carriages. Government accepted the Moorsom report & gave permission to start constructions. 40000pounds were allowed to deposit in the British bank as the capital &the government gave power for the Ceylon government to purchase shares up to 50000pounds & to appoint a native to the executive committee.
Arrangement of the Plans
A staff including W.D.Doin were sent to Sri Lanka to quicken the constructions of the Ceylon Railway Company. According to the plan railroad should be constructed up to the Heart of Coffee plantation, Kandy where 1700ft high & surrounded by mountains. Railroad had to be constructed between peaks of these mountains. The entrance to the highland was 400ft above the sea level & the route from there was through mountains. Overcoming these natural barriers was not an easy task.
Mr. Doin selected an area near the Beira Lake as the starting point & he marked a distance of 34 miles. First half of 1858 was taken for the planning purposes. The ceremony to start constructions was scheduled to 3rd August 1858.
The Ceremony of Turning the First Turf
The moment of turning the first turf of Ceylon Railways by Sir Henry Ward was scheduled at 5.30pm on that day. The arrival of the governor was announced & he was welcome by Ceylon Rifle Army. The reporters of the Observer newspaper was ready to cover this ceremony & the photographing this historical event was assigned to Mr. Parting who introduced photography to Sri Lanka.
At the auspicious time Sir Henry Ward turned the first turf & placed it on the prepared wheelbarrow. But Mr. Parting was unable to capture this event because a lady came in front of the lens at that moment. A painting of this event was published on newspapers instead of the photograph. According to the Observer about 6000 visitors were at the ceremony & about 400 of them were Europeans.