Boost for Northern transport
The North is entering the country's socio-economic
mainstream after almost three decades. The Northern people,
always industrious and persevering, are restarting their
vocations and rebuilding their lives.
It will not be long before the North attains its pre-war
glory. However, the rebuilding and restoration of all
infrastructure facilities is essential in this exercise. The
terrorists destroyed almost all the infrastructure facilities in
the province, including the Northern railway line, many bridges
and roads, telecom facilities, the electricity network and even
health facilities. These have to be rebuilt almost from scratch
and this is exactly what the Government's acclaimed Northern
Spring program aims at.
It is in this context that we welcome moves by the Transport
Ministry to streamline public transport in the North to provide
a better transport service to the civilians there and for the
benefit of visitors from other parts of the country. The lack of
a coherent transport system in the North impedes the closer
integration of the North and the South.
The new plan includes the combining of transport facilities
provided by the Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) and private bus
owners as well as the opening of driver training schools in
Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu and Mannar. This will provide gainful
employment to thousands of youth in the North. More State and
private buses should be deployed in the region for the benefit
The other good news is that bus services from Kilinochchi to
Colombo, Batticaloa to Kilinochchi, Trincomalee-Kilinochchi,
Mannar-Trincomalee, Mullaitivu-Colombo and
Mullaitivu-Kilinochchi are to be started soon, in addition to
the existing Jaffna-Colombo service. These services will link
not only the North and the South, but also the North and the
East, the other province which suffered heavily in the conflict.
This step will have an immense impact on the economy of the two
regions and on the lives of the residents.
More fuel/service stations and repair facilities will have to
be established in the North for the smooth functioning of these
bus services. The Government has already announced plans to open
a filling station in Kilinochchi and the other major centres
will also get filling stations soon. The recent reduction in
fuel prices in the North will also act as a catalyst for
Northern transport services.
All these services should be reasonably priced, considering
the economic hardships faced by the Northern people for so long.
Private operators willing to start services in the North and the
more remote areas in the East should be given incentives and
concessions where possible. The roads should be repaired to make
bus travel easier.
Work on the Northern railway line is proceeding apace. Now
that the authorities have an opportunity to build it anew, they
should opt for the 'build back better' model, which will enable
the use of faster trains. This is already being tried in the
South. Hopefully, we could be looking at a Colombo-Jaffna travel
time of 4-5 hours with a fast express train.
Meanwhile, the Railways Department has launched a new 'rail
bus' service between Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa under the
Eastern Resurgence program.
This is an ideal, comparatively low-cost (around Rs eight
million per unit) solution. It has helped save millions of
dollars in foreign exchange, as dedicated railway carriages
imported from foreign manufacturers are very costly.
Under this initiative, several buses gifted by the Indian
Government had been converted into rail buses suitable for local
conditions at the Railway workshop in Ratmalana.
This is an ideal solution, because the lower passenger
density on this stretch does not warrant the deployment a
full-scale train. This model should be adopted for other
low-volume areas in the North and the South.
We need more such inspiring solutions from local companies
and engineers to meet the increasing demand for goods and
passenger transport countrywide. A local manufacturer is already
manufacturing world class buses. The authorities should
encourage the SLTB and more private operators to opt for these
buses, which will save foreign exchange. Many components needed
for buses and rail carriages can also be sourced locally.
Moreover, a number of local contractors have proved their mettle
in building superb roads and bridges. Local expertise and
solutions must be relied upon whenever possible and feasible in
addressing transport concerns.