Saturday, April 27, 2013

Northern Line gets ready for Yal Devi

If there was a symbol to represent the strong bonds of friendship between the Southern people and the Northern people of Sri Lanka, it was the Yal Devi train. Therefore, it is the Yal Devi train that gets affected first if there are strained relations between the North and the South and the incidents during the three-decades-long terrorism proved this fact beyond any doubt.
Work at the site

In the same way, restoration of that broken down train service between the North and the South is one of the first things, the people in the North or the South, would embark on once the differences between the North and the South are resolved.
Therefore, re-establishing the Northern rail track and restarting the Yal Devi train service is a landmark in the communal harmony of the country in the process of reconciling the communities after ending terrorism.
The Railway Department under the Ministry of Transport and with huge financial assistance from the Indian government under the Indian Line of Credit has embarked on this massive project of restoring the Northern rail tracks to restart the train services connecting the Northern town again to the South through rail links.
People are eagerly waiting to see the train services from the South to the Northern town of Kankesanthurai and to Talaimannar start for the Southern people to visit the North and for the Northern people to visit the South in a relaxed journey while improving their cultural ties in a mutual way.
The Railway officials made the first step towards restoring the train services in the newly re-laid tracks on the Medawachchiya-Talaimananar line, after successfully completing the trial run from Medawachchiya to Madhu Road on April 23 as 96 percent of the track upto Madhu has been completed with the hope of starting the train services upto Madhu Road by the end of next month. Therefore, people would be able to see the recommencement of the train services to the Northern towns within this year.

Commissioned for traffic

According to Chief Engineer Way and Works and Project Director Northern Rail line from Omanthai to Pallai Priya Fernando, nearly 80 percent of the construction work of the Omanthai to Pallai section has also been completed as of now with the focus on completing the first phase of the project upto Kilinochchi by September this year.
The railway line from Medawachchi to Kankesanthurai in the northern most part of the country was constructed and commissioned for traffic on September 10, 1905 and the rail line was destroyed by the LTTE several times and the train service completely ceased operations after June 13, 1990.
Completed section of the rail track

"The project to construct the rail track from Omanthai to Pallai commenced on March 24, 2011 and it has to be completed by September 24, 2013.
"The construction of the rail track and fixing of bridges and culverts will also be included under this project at a cost of US$ 185 million", he said.
The Indian Railway Construction Company Limited (IRCON) has undertaken the construction work as the key contractor of the project.
"This section of the track is having crossing stations and sub-stations at Puliyankulam, Mankulam, Murikkandi, Kilinochchi, Paranthan, Elephant Pass (Halt) and Pallai. The existing railway stations will be redeveloped to facilitate the project", Fernando said.
Although the former track was constructed with a design speed of 80 kilometres per hour, the new track will have a design speed of 120 kilometres per hour. "That means the trains can run at a speed of 100 kilometres per hour", he said.

Straightening bends

When constructing the new track, steps have been taken to straighten the bends in the earlier track, making it possible to increase the speed of the train. "We can say 90 percent of the earth formation has been done, seven kilometres of the track and 1.25 kilometres of the rail lines have already been laid. Through that process we have completed the most difficult part of the project to facilitate the laying of the track", he said. "We are focusing attention on completing the track upto Kilinochchi at the first phase and to complete the second phase from Kilinochchi to Pallai later", he said.
Project Director for the Northern Rail Line from Pallai to Kankesanthurai section S.G. Premkumar said the construction work of the second phase of the project which has also been undertaken by the Indian Railway Construction Company Limited was also commenced on June 14, 2012.

"We have cleaned the surface of the track and a detailed survey on all the bridges, culverts, level crossings has been done. The rails required have already been brought. Now the contractor is going ahead with the construction work at different stages at different places", he said.
The trial run from Medawachchiya to Madhu Road on April 23

There are seven crossing stations between Pallai and Kankesanthurai and the stations are located in Kodikamam, Chavakachcheri, Navatkuli, Jaffna, Kondavil and Chunnakam. The 11 sub-stations are at Elthumadduval, Mirusavil, Meesalai, Sangasthanai, Kachchanthoppu, Punhankulam, Kokuvil, Lunuvil, Mallakam and Thelippallai. "This section of the project costs US$ 149 million. According to the schedule, the project has to be completed by June 13, 2014 and the contractor is working on that", he said. "The main challenge we faced in this project is the supply of gravel. Since the project comes within the Jaffna peninsula where gravel is not available, the gravel needed for the project has to be brought from the Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu districts.
"Therefore, we have to pay a good amount as transport cost for the gravel", he said.
"The other challenge we face is the number of level crossings. Mainly 111 level crossings are there within 65 kilometres and that is not healthy for the speed of the train. However, we have found that one third of those level crossings can be eliminated because they are connecting each other. Therefore, we have presented this case to the Government Agent in Jaffna. Now things are going on little by little and again we will be meeting the Divisional Secretaries with the details of the real roads and connecting roads and to explain to them that there are ways of reducing the number of level crossings", he said.

Newly developed stations

According to Premkumar, only a few of the earlier stations are available at present and they are trying to make use of the existing ones as a part of the newly developed stations. "There were some unauthorised settlers on the rail track, but they were shifted from the track. I must say they shifted without any protest.
Now, only a temple in the university premises is left and I think that issue will also be settled soon without much problem", he said. Project Director, Medawachchiya Madhu and Madhu to Talaimannar Railway Line Development N.P. Lalith N. Peiris said that they are hoping to complete the track from Medawachchiya to Madhu Road by the end of May as they have already completed 96 percent of the work.
"A trial run was successfully conducted on April 23", he said. "We started construction work of this section of the rail track on March 23, 2011. The cost of the project from Medawachchiya to Madhu is US$ 81.31 million", he said.
The construction site

No sign of tracks

By the time the construction work started, there was no sign of a track and the rails and sleepers had been removed for the construction of bunkers. There are three stations, between the 43 kilometre stretch between Medawachchiya and Madhu Road and they are Nellikulum, Chettikulum and Madhu Road.

"Now the track is completed and the building work is also about 80 percent completed. By the end of May, the entire section from Medawachchiya to Madhu will be completed if there are no other problems", he said. He said about 50 percent of the construction of the rail track between Madhu Road to Talaimannar is also completed with the aim of completing the project by September."Most of the rails and sleepers have been imported from India to facilitate the project. These things have been designed under Indian railway standards and they are very similar to Sri Lankan standards", he said.
The US$ 149.74 million project of laying the rail track from Madhu to Talaimannar include the construction of the Talaimannar pier. "Since the project also includes the pier the contractors may not be able to complete the entire project within the given time frame", he said.
There are three major bridges to facilitate the project and there will be a 100 foot three span bridge, and a 100 foot two span bridge. The Talaimannar pier is 960 feet in length. Five crossing stations and three sub-stations will be there between Madhu Road and Talaimannar.
The five main stations will be Murunkan, Mannar, Pesalai, Talaimannar and the Taliamannar Pier. The other three halts are located at Manthottam, Thiruketheeswaran and Thoddaweli. "The rail track has a design speed of 120 kilometres per hour, but normally a train can run at a speed of 100 kilometres per hour. That means within one and a half hours you can travel from Medawachchiya to Talaimannar", he said.
The completion of the Medawachchiya, Talaimannar rail track along with the Talaimannar pier will pave the way to create the shortest link between India and Sri Lanka with the starting of the ferry service between Talaimannar and Rameswaran."This is very good for Sri Lanka and India, and it will be a good opportunity for tourism as well. The Northern people will find that it is the shortest and the cheapest way of travelling to India", he said.


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