Any traveller who takes a train journey along the coast line would come upon a station with a unique name. Instead of carrying the name of the place where the station is located, the name on the sign reads ‘Train Stop No. 1’. The story behind the name is just as unique as it is entertaining. It was the unusual solution to quite an unusual, not to mention comical, conflict that took place over the naming of the station.
The actual incident took place decades ago, but the legacy remains. There exists no explicit clash between the residents from the two villages. However, they tend to be hostile towards whoever wants to know the story behind the name and even go so far as to threaten the Weekend Nation journalist and photographer not to publish anything about the station. It was conveyed that they still keep a watch on the name of the station and any attempts at changes to the existing name. It was implied that in the case of a name change, the conflict would reignite, creating yet another war for the station’s name.
Station Master, Nalin Abeysinghe recalls the incident,that took place in early 1950s.
During that time, there was a need for a station between Kalutara North and Wadduwa, due to the popularity of the area. The station was built on the village of Pothupitiya, bordering Waskaduwa. “Since the village of Waskaduwa was better known than Pothupitiya, the authorities decided to name it the Waskaduwa station,” he says. This gave rise to a conflict between the two villages. It started from a competition between occupants of each village to name the station after their respective village.”
People from Pothupitiya removed the sign which said Waskaduwa and hung a plaque which read Pothupitiya instead. Following this, Waskaduwa occupants hired masons to elongate the platform towards their village,” says Abeysinghe. From here the dispute amplified into a major conflict between the two villages where both parties were more than willing to attack each other with knives.
“At this point, the Survey Department intervened to settle the dispute by using maps to prove that the station was located in the exact boundary between Waskaduwa and Pothupitiya,” explained Station Master Abeysinghe. However, they weren’t successful in convincing the occupants from either villages. Even a board that jointly carries both names were not agreed upon.
The incident took place at the time John Kotelawala was the Prime Minister. “BD Rampala, who was the then General Manager of Railways (GMR), proposed that the station would be named as ‘Train Halt No. 1’, as a temporary solution to the dispute. This was meant as an inside joke where the area was privately referred to as the place where ‘number one’ Nommara eke people lived.”
Abeysinghe says that even today when people buy tickets to Train Halt No. 1 most of them ask for tickets to either Waskaduwa or Pothupitiya. “Very few actually ask for a ticket to Train Halt No. 1,” he says.
Another station that has two names in its name board is the station of Heendeniya-Pattigoda. Retired Station Master, WL Nihal de Silva says that Train Halt No. 1 was actually established as a ticket agency or a train halt, referred to as a sub-station in modern day language. “There are two theories as to how the name actually came about. Some say it was Rampala who suggested the name while others say it was Colonel Hernu, the then permanent secretary at the Ministry of Transport.”
In his book, Lankave Dumriya Sevaya, Paripalana, Meheyum, Wanija (2016), Nihal Silva narrates the incident with slightly different facts. It was in 1958, the Train Halt No. 1 was opened, in order to facilitate train travelling between the stations of Wadduwa and Payagala North, which has a distance of 13 kilometres between them. At the time, there were no other train stops in between, and a new train stop was built along the coast line, 38 kilometres away from the Colombo Fort station, on the boarder of Waskaduwa and Pothupitiya.
“Railway Department ceremoniously opened the station with the name Pothupitiya, which did not please the villagers of Waskaduwa. This gave rise to the conflict which developed into a violation of civil rights,” he says.
According to de Silva, the station operated with no name board for a time due to the conflict. Then one night, the Department fixed a plaque over night, which read ‘Train Halt No. 1.’ The occupants from the two villages agreed to this name and the dispute was thus settled. De Silva insists that the decision to name the train stop as Train Halt No. 1 was that of GMR, BD Rampala.
In the book Adventure of Railwaymen (2013) by HU Thibbatumunuwa, he has said that the decision of the name was taken by Colonel Hernu, the permanent secretary of Ministry of Transport at the time.
However, the most popular belief is that the name is the suggestion of BD Rampala, due to his head strong personality. It is wildly known that during his tenure as the GMR, he did not let anybody interfere with Railway matters, not even the then Transport Minister. It is no secret that the then Minister of Transportation addressed Rampala as ‘Sir’.
(Pics by Eshan Dasanayaka)