The Ceylon Government Railway was formed in 1862 after representations made by planters to build a Railway to the Hill Country for the transport of tea and coffee to the Colombo Port. Bullock carts could not cope up with the production. Six alternative routes were proposed due to the difficult terrain from Rambukkana to Kadugannawa. Capt. W. S. Moorsom surveyed them and the route proposed by G. L. Mobsworth was accepted. The contractor was W. M. Faviel. Facing many odds the Broad Gauge Railway (5'6") was planned to the highest altitude at Pattipola, the highest a Broad Gauge Railway reached in the world. Since then there had been improvements like replacing light rails with heavy section rails. Europeans held the higher posts in the Railway. The last English General Manager left in 1948. Mr. Kanagasabai was appointed General Manager. He was the first Ceylonese to hold this post. Being from the operations section he could not implement much infrastructural development.
Mr. Rampala who joined the Railway as a probationer Engineer in 1934 was appointed the first Ceylonese Chief Mechanical Engineer in 1949. During this period world Railways were changing over to Diesel powered Locomotives and Mr. Rampala made his proposals for dieselization. The Government gave the green light and the first batch of Diesel Locomotives arrived in 1953 from Builders Brush Bannar in U. K. They hauled long distance trains two locomotives coupled and did well on the upcountry Railway. With the passage of time some of these Locos developed trouble, but Mr. Rampala was able to detect the causes and made some modifications which put them right. He was in contact with the builders and when they came he gave his versions and they were not challenged. The Institution of Locomotive Engineers in London requested him to prepare a paper on his observations. He could not personally present the paper as the Prime minister ordered him not to leave the country because of the General election in 1956. The paper was presented by Mr. C. E. James an associate member of the Institution. There was full praise for the paper and it was read at number of centres in England. He was recognized as the best Diesel Engineer East of Suez. The second batch of locomotive's was a gift from the Canadian Government under the Colombo Plan. They were named after the various provinces in Canada. Some of these locomotives are still in service and it is the opinion of all Railway employees that these Locomotives are the most suitable for our country.
Having access to train charts Mr. Rampala plotted a graph line maintaining the speed in force to run a train to Kankasanturai in seven hours and come back to Colombo. The trial train was arranged and with the Heads of sub departments and other staff on board. Mr. Rampala was at the controls and took the train keeping to schedule. It was a success. People of Jaffna were overjoyed on hearing this news, because all this time they had to languish for twelve hours for the journey. The working time table in 1956 was something different to the earlier ones with fast Express trains to Kankasanturai, Badulla and Matara christened 'YALDEVI' 'UDARATAMENIKE' and 'RUHUNUKUMARI'. Every Railway man who had some thing to do with the running of these trains had to be on his toes to ensure the trains kept to time. The timings of these trains must be on his table every morning and causes of any delays must be probed by the Heads of sub Departments and corrective action to prevent any repetition.
Colour light Signaling
The most revolutionary change in the Railway came with the introduction of colour light signaling. The lock and block signaling system was out dated and could not cope up with the operational changes. The lock and block system could allow only one train between two stations in the double line territory, whereas the colour light system provided more blocks and every three minutes a train could move. With the provision crossovers using 1-20 angled crossings and Express train could over take a slow train maintaining the same speed. Points that were mechanically operated from cabins were motorised and connected to CTC control panel at Maradana. The day Maradana station was connected to colour light signaling. Mr. Rampala walked in saying that Maradana station can be made a ticket agency as the stationmasters who were responsible for operational work were relieved from all responsibility. Major alterations were carried out to yards Maradana west, Mt. Lavinia, Moratuwa, Panadura, Ragama, Gampaha and Veyangoda.
I was involved in the yard alterations and up grading of track on the coast line. Mr. Rampala visited the work sites at least once week to check the progress The conversion to colour light signaling was in stages and he personally checked all movements in contact with the CTC control room before the section was handed over to the operating Department and discussing with the signal Engineer he fixed up the date for the completion of the next section. Though he was a Mechanical Engineer he had a good knowledge of Electrical Engineering which enabled him to find solutions to problems on Electric Circuits.
It was during this period that new stations more spacious with better facilities such as retiring rooms, canteens, long platforms with roof covers came up in Anuradhapura, Jaffna, Kandy, Nawalapitiy, Galle and Trincomalee which were given priority. Lengths of Rail tracks on the Northern and Batticaloa lines were converted into easier curves resulting in reduced running times. There were four Express Trains operating on the Northern line.
The Trincomalee and Batticaloa Railway which was with light Rails was relaid with heavy section rails and strengthened making it possible for Diesel Locomotives with higher axle loads and Horse power. He had the unstinted cooperation of Messers N. A Vaithyalingam Chief Engineer, L. S. de Silva Deputy chief Engineer Upali Senevrathne chief signal and telecommunication Engineer and A. Chamugaraja operating Superintendent. These achievements were possible because of the high standard of discipline maintained among all railway employees. Dr. N. M. Perera a schoolmate of Mr. Rampala at Ananda college, once remarked in Parliament that Railway was a government within the Government. Transport Ministers never interfered with his work. There was transparency in his administration. I feel highly privileged as I could also contribute even in a small way in the development programme carried out during this period which has gone into the Railway history as the "Technical leap forward" The dedication and commitment displayed by Mr. Rampala should be a beacon to the present and future Engineers and Administrators.