Best of British rail, and still going strong.
Both Trincomalee and Batticaloa are firmly plugged in to the creaking but characterful Sri Lankan railway network. Both offer overnight sleeper services to and from Colombo, a fine way to travel – although you won’t get the benefit of all that magnificent scenery if you travel by night!
Over in Colombo, where there are lots of trains, the signalling systems have been modernised, but on the east coast time has stood still, at least it has in railway terms. The technology in use here is British made, and was first patented way back in 1896. For the station master at Trincomalee, Mr T Saryeswaram, operating his 100-year-old Tyers Patent Tablet is second nature, and he’s happy to explain its principles to visitors if he isn’t too busy. The machine looks like a cranky old cash-register, and it only co-operates if you can feed a huge brass coin – the tablet – into its mouth.
Mr Saryeswaram, surrounded by hand-written logbooks and registers, is well aware of the system’s shortcomings. Not being in any way computerised, his station can’t sell us a ticket starting from anywhere other than Trincomalee. He’s a Tamil, of course, and some day – he smiles at the idea – he’d like to be the stationmaster at the brand new station in Jaffna, when the line to the north finally reopens.
Article by Andrew Eames, video by Tom Armstrong.