As a child walking on the rail tracks was one of the exciting activities I enjoyed, but I was not allowed to do it. My mother would warn me of safety. Trains were a dream for us, probably because we had less chances of travelling by train then.
Our childhood was focused on playing with toy vehicles especially cars and trains. Many of us would bring our hands together to our mouths and make a hooting noise just to play tooting trains. The trail tracks were also a playground to many a child in the bygone days, though it was not the safest place to play. The trains services and rail tracks in Sri Lanka dates back to 1864 when the first stretch of rails tracks were laid from Colombo to Ambepussa. Initially built to transport goods especially coffee and tea from the hill capital, train services in the country are now responsible for transporting over 300,000 persons a day with more than 300 trains plying daily.
When writing of trains, I recall, peeping out of the window of a moving train, to grasp a view of the lovely scenery of green fields that passed by, the huge mountains that moved back and forth with the locomotion of the train. The ride over the mountains and past green paddy fields, through the tunnels were simply exciting as children. It did take a little time for me, personally, to realize that it was actually a childhood reaction or desire that I had carried through the years to this very day, maybe due to the limited opportunities for train rides, the urge to look out of the window and admire the surroundings has not passed away.
The very first purpose of the train service was to transport coffee and tea from the hill country to the commercial areas: mainly Colombo. This explains the significant number of rails tracks in the hill country, including Kandy, Nuwara Eliya and Bandarawela and other areas where there are vast fields of tea lands. When tea estates and trains are spoken of, it is a beautiful sight that never leaves the mind, of trains noisily moving through the lush green tea estates of the hill country. This is so mainly in Nuwara Eliya and adjacent areas and can be seen up to this day. The train services have been improved with new additions and reconstructions of the rail tracks.
There must be cherished memories associated with the Kandy railway station for the many people who have made their way through its gates and purchased tickets at the counters. The trains that reach Kandy especially during the long weekends are the hardest to catch unless seats are reserved early. Many prefer the train ride, and wait till they can grab the opportunity to travel in one.
Starting at the very wee hours of the day, trains leave and enter the Kandy Railway Station, mainly to and from Polgahawela, Colombo, Rambukkana, Matale, Badulla, Hatton, Nawalapitiya, Peradeniya, and Matale. There are several other trains too that pass through the Kandy station.
Walking through the compartments was another experience for many of us as children and for me still is, as is having a little snack from the canteen. The numbers that travel via trains is also increasing by the day, as there are many people who depend solely on trains for transport particularly to travel daily to work and most do so to come to Colombo.
Among those who enjoy the train ride are the tourists, who mostly travel on first class or the observation compartment where there is more space to admire the beauty around while enjoying a comfortable ride, even though the ride can sometimes get bumpy. New additions have been made in the train service in the country where new compartments, new facilities, power sets etc have been added to facilitate larger numbers of commuters on trains.
Apart from the Podi Menike, Udarata Manike and the express trains and the intercity train there is another that makes a daily visit to the Kandy station, that is the luxurious Expo Rail Train. For those commuters who prefer a comfortable ride, in an air conditioned compartment, the expo rail service is ideal. The Expo Rail leaves Colombo at 7 in the morning and reaches Kandy at 9.30 and there is another leaving from Kandy to Colombo at 3 in the afternoon which reaches Colombo at 5.30 pm. This train fills up on special occasions such as the Bradby Rail, when both past and present students from both schools travel to attend the leg played in Kandy. These are pre arranged rides the expo rail service has been providing since its launch in 2011. The journey is filled with hospitality and service excellence, and also adds glamour and colour to an already pleasurable train journey. Those travelling to and from Kandy to desired destinations, most of the time, reserve their tickets prior to travel for fear of not being able to grab a seat which is the real situation especially during the long weekends.