A bus ride on rails! There’s something you won’t get to experience every day. However, if you live in the region from Kosgama to Maharagama, you will now be able to experience just that. This was after Sri Lanka Railways (SLR) launched a new ‘Rail-Bus’ service along the Kelani Valley line from Kosgama to Maharagama from January 18. Operating four times a day, the railway bus service aims to strengthen the transportation system along the Kelani Valley line, which according to the Ministry of Transport, is the railway line with the most number of daily commuters.

According to the Ministry of Transport, after the widening of the Kelani Valley line, only S8 and S12 trains are used along the line to transport passengers and 90 percent of the trains are operated as office trains in the mornings and evenings. Only one or two trains are operated on any given day in the intervening period.

According to Additional General Manager (Operations) of SLR, Nalaka Bandara, the main reason for SLR to put the rail buses into service along this particular stretch of the Kelani Valley line was because the line served several areas situated away from High Level Road and lacked adequate transport facilities.

Areas such as Padukka, Kosgama and other areas in the vicinity lack adequate transport facilities but it is too costly and unproductive for SLR to deploy additional trains along this route during non-peak hours, Bandara pointed out. “As such, this rail bus service is the perfect alternative,” he noted.

Homagama is the main government hospital that serves the entire region while the National Cancer Institute in Maharagama is also a place that is visited by many. In addition, Kottawa is a fast developing town while Paddukka has a main market every weekend as well as having an economic center. Sri Lanka Railways hopes that the rail buses would help commuters from areas situated away from the main roads to travel to and back from these places more conveniently. It will also be a big help to school students from these areas as they would be able to use these rail buses to get home easily, Bandara said.

SLR stated that the rail bus would stop at every railway station between Kosgama and Maharagama and again from Maharagama to Kosgama on the return journey. Commuters will be charged the same standard fare of a rail ticket they purchase for the particular destination.

The department has deployed two rail buses coupled together for the Kelani Valley line, meaning it can carry a maximum of 120 passengers at any given time.

When queried whether SLR expected to expand its rail bus service, Bandara pointed out that it was difficult to put the rail buses into service along congested railway lines, and stated “They have to be on railway lines that do not have that many trains running along non-peak hours and in areas that are situated away from main roads, making regular transport difficult.”

The Department of Railways currently has six of these rail buses. Three were already in service prior to the two that were deployed along Kosgama to Maharagama. Accordingly, a rail bus service is in place along the Trincomalee-Batticaloa stretch, Anuradhapura-Vavuniya stretch, and also in Puttalam.

Minister of Transport Nimal Siripala De Silva rides the rail bus   | (Pic courtesy:  Transport Ministry)
Minister of Transport Nimal Siripala De Silva rides the rail bus | (Pic courtesy: Transport Ministry)
(Pic by  Gamini Sarath Gunawardene)
(Pic by Gamini Sarath Gunawardene)