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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Yal Devi resumes chugging to Jaffna ...

Trains are fascinating – not only to travel but also to observe and write about as observed from a friend of mine. Indian Trains have Names besides the Numbers. Indian trains are named after Gods, rivers, important places in the origin or destination – ……. and regularly more get added to the long list. From 2010, trains  have 5 digit numbers – earlier they were 4 digits. It follows a clear pattern - the first digit indicates the type of the passenger train (many have just prefix of 1 to the former 4 digit code)  

A famous train ‘the Boat Mail’ which existed century ago. It was not simply a train – it was train and steamer ferry service between India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka, as it then was).  Earlier the  route was from Madras to Tuticorin. At Tuticorin, passengers embarked on a steamer to Colombo. The Boat Mail was one of the early trains to get vestibuled carriages.  After  the Pamban Bridge was built, the train's route changed and it went from Madras to Dhanushkodi. A much shorter ferry service then took the passengers to Talaimannar in Ceylon, from where another train went to Colombo. ….and the interest continues in Lanka too…

Much like our IR – there exists SLR (Sri Lanka Raiwlays) – the primary operator of trains in Srilanka.   There too, the railways were introduced by the British colonial Govt and in 1864.  The objective of developing railway lines was to transport tea and coffee from the plantations of the hills to Colombo.  Interestingly, in early times Lankans referred to the trains as the Anguru Kaka Wathura Bibi Duwana Yakada Yaka (the coal-eating, water-drinking,  sprinting metal devils)

This post is about resumption of a Special train … it is ‘Yal Devi’ (யாழ் தேவி)– a daily express on the Northern line running between Colombo Fort and Vavunia / Jaffna / Kankesanthurai,  traversing more than 250 kms.   The Train passes through important historical cities such as Kurunegala of the North Western Province, Anuradhapura and Mihintale of the North Central Province. Since 1990, the service  had  to terminate at intermediate stations, due to the Sri Lankan civil war. (photo credit : Dinamalar) --

Now a report in The Hindu states that the  iconic Yal Devi Express from Colombo to Jaffna will resume its run on October 13, some 25 years after the link was suspended during the height of the Sri Lankan civil war. IRCON, an Indian Railways subsidiary, restored a section of the line from Omanthai to Pallai in the Northern Province, damaged during the war, with a $800-million line of credit from India. Nearly 4,000 people, 400 of them skilled labourers from India, have been working on the project for over four years. Connecting the south to the north, the 339-km line, inaugurated in 1894, is the longest on the island.
News and photo credit : The Hindu

After the war ended in 2009, the line was gradually restored section by section, first to Omanthai, then further north to Kilinochchi, and then to Pallai, 40 km short of Jaffna. Now, IRCON plans to extend the line to Kankesanthurai, the northernmost tip of the island. The report states that the  first train from Colombo to Jaffna on the northern railway line of Sri Lanka ran over a century ago in 1905, with the journey taking 13 hours.

The iconic Yal Devi Express, introduced in 1956 and now being restored, reduced travel time by almost half to six hours. Passing through many important stations, the train ran full for many years until different militant groups attacked the service through the 1980s, raising fear among passengers. As the civil war intensified in 1990, the train ran only up to Vavuniya, as areas north of the town came under the control of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The Jaffna station, which is now getting final touches, was bombed to a shell in 1990 by the Sri Lankan Air Force. The aerial attack killed eight people and damaged six carriages, even as 40 families that took refuge there had a narrow escape.

 “There were many challenges in rebuilding the line,” said S.L. Gupta, project director, pointing to the de-mining efforts that preceded the actual reconstruction, when IRCON recently took journalists along the restored section to Jaffna. Those involved in the construction found at least 10 unexploded bombs in the former war zone as they began work, he said. Gravel shortage and encroachments were other challenges along the way before the much-awaited stretch was completed. Some of the required land in this segment is currently part of the Sri Lankan Army’s high-security zone.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
7th Oct 2014.

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