Now row over Indian railway engines

By Chris Kamalendran

A new diplomatic row is developing between Colombo and New Delhi over the latter’s supply of railway engines under an Indian credit line.

Transport Ministry Secretary Dhammika Perera has written to the resident Colombo Deputy General Manager of RITES (Railway Infotech and Technical Engineering Services) on March 16 asking him to suspend imports of Indian-built DMU train sets. However, two more DMU sets have arrived in Colombo in the meantime.

Transport Minister Kumara Welgama told the Sunday Times “we suspended the import of 15 power sets with immediate effect after the detection of technical defects. We have lodged a complaint with the Indian High Commission in Colombo and the Indian company.” He said he was awaiting a response from both.

“It is only after I get a report from India that I could comment any further,” he said. Sri Lanka Railways (SLR) General Manager A.G. Ahangama told the Sunday Times that before the imports took place, a team comprising 13 persons, including engineers from the SLR and an academic from the University of Moratuwa visited India. They recommended the import of the Indian train sets.

“The very first day we operated a train set, we experienced a technical defect when the train reached Hikkaduwa. Our railway engineers rectified the defect. Thereafter, we reported it to the Ministry,” he said.However, other railway and technical sources said that after the imports had taken place, there had been modifications done by the local technicians.

“Usually, in each train set there are six carriages. However, the technical persons had added four more carriages resulting in a power short circuit,” these sources said.

An Indian High Commission spokesperson said an official response to the Ministry of Transport import ban would be made ‘in the next few days’.Indian sources said that inspections of the train sets were done in January this year. They included trial runs from Chennai to Arkonam and back. After the arrival of these sets in Colombo on February 9, and their subsequent transfer to the Railway Workshop in Ratmalana, commissioning work was undertaken by the Integral Coach Factory, the manufactuers, specially flown in for the purpose. They point out that during commissioning, field trials were conducted on each of the three train-sets individually on the Colombo-Matara section. After successful trials, the train sets were commissioned and made ready for service.

These sources also said that RITES had earlier recommended that standard six-car formation should be used for running train services as this would avoid frequent uncoupling and coupling of mechanical and electrical couplets that would be inevitable with a 10-car or 12-car formation. The repeated coupling/uncoupling may lead to response problems in electrical circuits.

These sources denied that the Integral Coach Factory built train sets were second hand with poor exterior finish. “This perception is without any substance as ICF does not manufacture second-hand passenger coaches. Officials of the Sri Lanka Railways have seen the DMU coaches at various stages of manufacture at the Integral Coach Factory and have also witnessed trials,” these sources pointed out.

In another development, the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) backed All Island Railway Workers’ Union claimed that 600 railway workers and trade union members were hosted by the Indian company during trips to India within the last two months.

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