Matara, January 14 (Sunday Observer/Xinhua): A railway line beyond Matara in the southern tip of Sri Lanka, has been a dream for over a century. It became a reality only now on Friday.
The Sri Lankan State Minister for Public Enterprise Development, along with other dignitaries associated with the project tightened the stays on the first length of track laid by the China National Machinery Import & Export Corporation (CMC) to signal the start of the track lying work.
The project to construct a railway line beyond Matara, first got off the ground in December 1991 with then Minister of Transport Wijepala Mendis laying the foundation stone and turning the first sod.
The foundation stone for Nilwala Railway Bridge was laid in 2006. But every time the Southern railway extension project got off the ground it could not be completed due to lack of funds until the Chinese Government agreed to fund it.
On October 31, 2013, the construction of Phase I of the Matara – Beliatta section of the proposed Matara – Kataragama Railway Extension line with stations at Kekanadura, Bambarenda, Wewurukannala and Beliatta and two sub-stations at Piladuwa and Weharahena was awarded to the China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation, a Chinese government entity.
The project costing US$278.2 million was funded by China Exim Bank.
President Maithripala Sirisena is keen on commencing phase II of the Southern railway extension project once the Matara – Beliatta railway line is operative,” the Minister of Public Enterprise Development Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said at the inauguration of the works.
Abeywardena said during the ceremony on Friday that the Sri Lankan government was hoping to finish the first phase of the railway project in the coming months, which will benefit the public and tourists.
“On behalf of the president and the Sri Lankan government, I would like to thank the Chinese government for this historic event. The extension is a historic development which will hugely benefit the public transport sector as well as the country’s tourism sector,” the minister said.
“Successive governments in the past have tried to implement this project. Due to the assistance of the Chinese government and the Chinese company, this project will soon be a reality,” he added.
The Matara-Kataragama railway project is the first new railway line constructed in Sri Lanka since the island country gained independence in 1948.
Phase I, the 26.75 kilometre Matara Beliatta railway extension comprises four stations and two substations covering a total floor area of 24,000 square metres, 66 culverts, 12 bridges totalling 3,789 metres in length, two tunnels totaling 882 metres in length and 3.4 million cubic metres of earthwork.
The 615-meter long Nakuttiyagama tunnel will be the longest railway tunnel in the island while the 1.5-kilometre long Wattegama Bridge will be the longest railway bridge as much as the 15-metre tall Weralagoda Bridge will be the tallest railway bridge.
Phase two of the Southern railway extension project is from Beliatta to Hambanthota, a distance of 48 kilometres.
“We are privileged to be associated with the southern railway extension project as its consultants,” said Eng. G D A Piyathilake Chairman of the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau.
“The CECB will cooperate with the main contractor to complete phase one within this year. The Southern railway extension project will be a landmark project when it becomes operative” he added.
The Vice President of CMC Zhao Jun said the railway extension project, which was under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, is a key project closely related to the development of Sri Lanka, since in future the railway will connect many industrial areas in the south of the country.
(Photo :Courtesy Xinhua)