Railway journeys are memorable moments in Sri Lanka !
Sri Lankan Railway (formerly CGR – Ceylon Government Railway) is today one of the best preserved aspects of British rule that tourists would appreciate on the island. The railway network was initially laid out in the 19th century during the British rule to transport tea from the island’s hills for export from Colombo Port and carry inland imported products from England to inland towns.
Today, SLR has undergone great many changes after neglect, civil war and the tsunami. Between 2010 and 2012, SLR upgraded the track on the southern coast that was damaged in the 2004 tsunami allowing trains to travel at higher speed (we are talking about a top speed of 100 kilometres per hour, not more!). In September 2014, the Yal Devi train from Colombo to Jaffna resumed service after 24 years of interruption due to the civil war.
Most inter-city trains come with a range of comfort. Be warned, 3rd class compartments can get very crowded and have very basic services. Adventurous backpackers can try 2nd class. 1st class tickets offer either sleeping-berths on a few overnight trains or in observation cars on certain daytime trains that provides wide views of the scenery.
The most popular route among tourists is the train from Colombo Fort to Badulla as the train goes through tea plantation and very scenic hilly landscapes. The train leaves Colombo Fort and starts a wonderful climb to reach Peradeniya Station. From here the train passes through Hill country towns like Gampola, Hatton, Thalawakale, Nanu Oya before reaching Nuwara Eliya. From there on, it continues its ascent up to Pattipola summit at 6,226 feet above sea level past places like Haputale, Ella and Demodara before reaching Badulla.
Other scenic routes are from Colombo to Kandy, Colombo to Batticaloa and Colombo to Galle.
For those wishing to taste a bit of extra comfort, Rajdhani Express and Expo-Rail are two privately run luxury trains with on-board butler service, catering and impeccable hospitality. If you want to journey down memory lane and travel in style, you can also opt for the Viceroy Special, the only steam-engine heritage train in operation in Sri Lanka complete with fittings from the 19th century, restaurant and bar.