History of Sri Lanka Railway – Building the Railroad
Building the Railroad
Before the end of the year 1858 Mr. Doin & his crew finished their planning. The Governor made a statement on the 8th of December 1858 to the legislative council that the constructions of the first phase (13 miles) has already been started & about thousands of workers are engaged in constructions. Out of those workers only about 100 were local Sinhalese.
Mr. Doin realized that Captain Moorsoms’ estimates were incomplete. The cost for the railroad including bridges & tunnels was not less than 2214000 pounds. But the budget accepted by the colony was only 1200000 pounds. Therefore Mr. Doin made another estimate but it was also exceeded this amount.
People didn’t like this expenses & they requested to cancel the contract with the Ceylon Railway Company on the 30th July 1859. Then British government asked Ceylon to send Mr. Doin back. Ceylon government appointed a committee consist of 3 members to report on this. According to their report they said that the contract should be cancelled. Mr. G. W. Brown who was a member of that committee stated that if things go on this way recommended budget will be over before finishing the constructions.
After considering all these facts legislative council announced on the 15th September 1859 that the contract should be cancelled if the company cannot build the railroad under a budget of 1500000 pounds. The government informed this decision to the railway company. Then the company decided to obtain feasibility reports from Brassay & Co. & Wearing Brothers companies. They made a report in 4 months & railway company call up tenders using these reports. Due to many reasons Ceylon Railway Company came to an end.
After the failure of the Ceylon Railway Company government idea was either the railway up to Kandy should be constructed under a cost of 1500000 pounds or it should be given up.
- L. Molesworth acted as the local agent of the company. He made new discoveries with the sponsorship of the government. This route was easier than the previous plans. The estimated expenditure was 1439117 pounds.
The new plan of construction was a Tram car road to Kandy. The planners expected to pull these cars on rails with the help of bulls. But this plan was rejected. Government couldn’t stay quiet due to the agitations of planters. A quick solution was needed to solve the transport problem. Coffee cultivation was spreading fast in the hill country. Therefore the government appointed another committee to solve this problem. Their recommendation was as follows.
- Constructions of the half-built railway should be started again with the help of a contractor. The value of the contract should not be more than 1500000 pounds. Railway should be finished within a given period of time.
- Tenders should be called up in London as quickly as possible & they should be presented to the legislative council for obtaining permission.
- Current constructions & equipment should be accepted under a given value.
By July 1862 6 tenders had presented to the council. They were as follows.
- F. Faviell – 873039 pounds
- R. Ritson – 1024881 pounds
- N.J. Pickering – 1058436 pounds
- Harmond & Co. – 1199436 pounds
- Weston & Co. – 1403000 pounds
- Moate & Co. – 1356000 pounds
These values should be added another 509000 pounds for the equipment of the company. This contract included track maintenance for 7 years. After considering all facts the tender of Mr. Faviell, who had the experience of building Indian railways was accepted.
Selection committee understood that a resident engineer is needed to make the project successful. G. L. Molesworth was the best person for this & we should consider that his report was the base for the constructions.
The committee granted their permission on 22nd November 1862.Mr. Faviells’ contract got legal rights under the legislative council statute no.1. Following officers were appointed by the colony secretary to supervise the contractor.
- L. Molesworth : Chief Engineer
- Chief assistant officer
- 6 Assistant officers
First Phase up to Ambepussa
Faviell arrived in Ceylon on 5th March 1863 & construction work was started few days later. It is said that about 3000 workers were on duty & about 1100 of them were Indians.
The most difficult task was constructing the road on the Kelani river marshals. At the end of 1863 laying rails was finished up to Ambepussa. Remaining tasks were ballasting the road & constructing a permanent bridge across the Kelani River. Tunnel no.1 which was near Ambepussa too had not finished. Constructions was easier & quicker than expected because the failed railway company had finished all the basic tasks like levelling the ground. First locomotive was imported to Sri Lanka in 1864 & it was used to transport supplies.
Constructions up to Ambepussa were finished in 1864. Maiden journey was dedicated to the heir of the throne of Belgium, Duke Brubant. The royal train hauled by the locomotive called Leopold was driven by G. L. Molesworth. Duke joined the journey from Veyangoda & he travelled up to Ambepussa & returned Colombo by the train.
Mr. Faviell fell ill after this construction due to the hardworking & he went back to England on the doctors’ advices. The efficiency of the workers reduced after his departure & the first accident of Sri Lanka Railways took place in this era at Gongithota.
Due to these circumstances Mr. Faviell returned to Sri Lanka without considering about his health issues & the constructions were continued without any problem. The constructions of the road was finished in June 1865 but the maiden journey had to be postponed due to the late arrival of the ship with locomotives, coaches & other equipment.
The Maiden Journey
The maiden train heading Ambepussa left Colombo Fort at 7am on the 2nd October 1865. The train consisted with 10 carriages with 84 passengers & 69 of them were 3rd class passengers. Income was 31 pounds, 1 shilling & 11 pennies. The Colombo Fort Station Master was G. H. Twynam & Ambepussa SM was J. Haffman.
Train services were available for public from 2nd October 1865 from Colombo to Ambepussa. From 1st January 1866 Mail was delivered by the train & they were transferred to the horse train at Ambepussa. Mahara (Known as Ragama now), Henarathgoda (Known as Gampaha at present) & Veyangoda were the stations between Colombo & Ambepussa.
Hill Country Railway
Even though the contract duration of constructing a railroad up to Kandy was 4 years government extended the duration after considering some facts. The biggest barrier after Ambepussa was ‘Maha Oya’ river. The structure of the bridge was 352.5 feet long it was 25 feet high from the river. About 10000pounds were spent for this construction & many workers got injured.
The railway beyond Maha oya was built parallel to the river bank. On the 1st November 1866 the railway up to Polgahawela was finished & opened for the public. There was not much difficulty to construct the road between Polgahawela & Rambukkana. But the greatest barriers were beyond Rambukkana which was the door to the hill country. It was 313 feet high from the mean sea level & there was an incline of 1:45 from Rambukkana to Kadugannawa. It was decided to construct the railway through the ‘Alagalla’ mountain.
The rail road across the inclines of the mountains was full of curves & the diameter of the curves were about 10 chains. Workers had to excavate 11 tunnels. The constructions of the Moragalla tunnel which is the second longest tunnel of Sri Lanka (1050 feet) is another special fact. This was 1300 feet high from the sea level & it located in the Kadugannawa pass. It was excavated from the both ends. Constructions were started from Kandy & Colombo side in July & September 1863 & finished constructions in March 1866. There are some other special tunnels in this route. The tunnel at 59th mile post is 726 feet long & it starts & finishes with bends.
Dekanda bund is a massive construction in the Kandy line. This bund which is 90 feet high & 540 feet long was constructed by filling 220000 cubic feet of rock pieces & clay. Dekanda river flow through the 20 feet wide arch at the bottom.
The road beyond it was constructed on a brow. This brow was 400 yards long & 18 feet wide & construction was very dangerous. The Lions’ Mouth which is on the Moragolla Mountain near Kadugannawa was a great construction. It’s like a tunnel but exposed from a side, like a roof. It looks like an opened mouth of a lion when observing from a distance. It is the last climb of the Kadugannawa pass & it concluded the most dangerous & difficult constructions.
The railroad reached Mahaweli River along the coffee plantations of Sir Edward Barnes & the Dorson which was constructed for Captain Dorson who constructed the Kandy highway. It cost 9000 pounds to construct the bridge over the Mahaweli River at Peradeniya. Constructions of the railroad from Colombo to Kandy finally concluded in 25th April 1867 & a service train arrived Kandy.
Kandy Railway station was built on the place called Deiyange Wela, which is 1680 feet high from the mean sea level & 74.5 miles away from Colombo. The maiden train from Colombo to Kandy ran on the 30th April 1867 & this whole line was open for public from 1st August 1867.
At the beginning there were 2 Kandy bound trains along with 2 Colombo bound trains & a train took 4.5hrs to reach its’ destination. Colombo, Kelaniya, Mahara (Ragama), Henarathgoda (Gampaha), Veyangoda, Ambepussa, Polgahawela, Rambukkana, Kadugannawa, Peradeniya & Kandy were the stations along the route. Apart from the 1st, 2nd & 3rd class tickets there were an economic class for estate workers.
Though this railroad was completed many workers of Mr. Faviell fell sick & many of them died due to different accidents & diseases. The contractor took every action he could take to keep the spirit of the workers higher. According to the records they have been working all day sometimes.
The contractor, Mr. Faviell himself faced many problemss both in health wise & economy wise.Government paid an extra of 58302 pounds for his losses & presented him a souvenir worth 600 pounds. Following is what it stated.
William Fedric Faviell Esq.
All Classes & Races of the Public of Ceylon
As mark of the high appreciation in which he held the successful termination of the contract for his construction of the Railway from Colombo to Kandy under considerable difficulties and dis couragements and with the hope that a return to his native land may prove the means of his restoration to health and lead to further success in works for which he has proved himself so eminently qualified.