Sri Lanka opens first railway to former war-torn north

COLOMBO, May 14 – Increasing access to the former war- torn north, the Sri Lankan government on Tuesday opened the first phase of a 650-million-U.S. dollar railway after 30 years of suspension and pledged to continue infrastructure development in the region, an official said.

Minister for Economic Development Basil Rajapaksa, together with Transport Minister Kumara Welgama, inaugurated the long- awaited train services on the Medawachchiya Madhu segment of the Northern Railway Track.

Railway services to the north were suspended in 1983 after Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) blew up key railway bridges connecting the northern peninsula to the mainland.

Since the war ended in 2009, the Sri Lankan government has set in motion plans to reconnect the north via rail and invited assistance from foreign countries.

In 2010, the Indian government agreed to fund the project under a credit line extended to the Sri Lankan government.

The reconstructed track is a 43 km long segment in the Northern Railway Line project covering a total length of 252 km, which was constructed at a total cost of 81.3 million U.S. dollars.

“The railway tracks were completely destroyed during the devastating civil war, with train traffic being terminated for the last 23 years. The government of India has extended its support to the government of Sri Lanka to rebuild these tracks according to modern specifications. The total length of reconstruction is 252 km at an envisaged cost of 650 million U.S. dollars, which will be completed in phases,” IRCON International (Railways) General Manager S.L.Gupta told media at the opening ceremony.

The second phase of the track is to be completed in July, he added.