Coast Line Express & Mountain Railways

Broad Gauge Steam in Sri Lanka: 06/02 – 17/02/2020

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - photo charter trains

Sri Lanka is a tropical island in the Indian Ocean. Its volcanic origins created mountains up to 2,524 metres (8,281 ft) high in the centre of the island. In the era of the British Empire the island, then called Ceylon, was developed with the help of the railway. One of the broad gauge lines climbs steeply from the lowlands high into the mountains. They call it their main line, whose purpose was initially to reach the tea gardens growing on steep terraces on the side of the mountains. We will explore this particular line with its wonderful array of spectacular and scenic sections. In addition, we will steam at speed along the shore on the coastal line through lush vegetation.

I first tried to organise a tour to the former Ceylon before the civil war reached Colombo in form of a terrorist attack. Then the Tsunami washed away the plans for the second attempt. When I revived them for the third time, many operational changes had been implemented on the railways. There was now a ban on the use of two axle wagons on the main line. The railways had tightened their safety systems, making run-pasts more difficult, e.g. restrictions on making run-pasts on gradients; problems with taking a diesel loco off a train before a run-past. etc. All these hurdles were overcome during difficult negotiations between 2012 and 2015. They finally consented to make a tour of “our style” possible and we came to a cordial agreement. In February 2016, we finally ran steam charters of freight and mixed trains over the ultra-spectacular mountainous broad gauge railway line, with all the old British signalling system (levers, linkages and semaphores), under the continued threat of modernisation, still in place.

After the successful tour, we continued with our repeated requests for them to allow us to reutilise two of the once typical Rajagopal passenger coaches. With just two coaches, one Rajagopal and one combined brake coach, it will be possible to re-create a 100 percent authentic looking passenger train of the 1970’s, when steam was still in use. Many steam hauled passenger trains in the fantastic mountainous area carried no more than just two coaches. In 2018 we were able to run an authentic passenger train with even three coaches. We are working on more to even top this for the tour in 2020!

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - photo charter trains

From the general manager of Sri Lanka’s railways, we have it in writing that he will allow the use of the “prohibited” four wheel cars for our tour. This will allow us to offer a good range of authentic looking trains with several four wheel and some elderly bogie wagons, which were withdrawn from line service or restricted to shunting yards several years ago. Our train will become, again, a treat for the eyes of the railway enthusiast!

As a result of how successful the two previous tours have been, we can now extend the program and included the coast line. This will allow us to use the freshly overhauled B1a 251 “Sir Thomas Maitland”. Therefore, we should see all three serviceable locomotives in front of our trains. To help ensure that there are no outstanding technical problems with the locomotives, we will send an engineer’s team to Sri Lanka well ahead of the tour. Please see the January 2019 newsletter for more details.

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - photo charter trains






Flight from Europe/America/Australia to Colombo, flight tickets can be purchased via FarRail Tours


Arrival in Colombo, hotel in Colombo


We start full steam ahead. With the freshly overhauled B1a 251, we will haul a passenger train from Colombo to Galle, which will always be in the vicinity to the shore. The line is more than 110 km (70 miles) long. Hotel in Galle


Today we will return from Galle to Colombo with the same train formation. Hotel in Colombo


To avoid the rush hour in Colombo with its enormous traffic jams, we will start in the early morning and leave by charter buses for Rambukkana, where our steam train is waiting for us. With a freight train plus combined van/passenger coach class TV, we will steam steeply uphill to Kandy. In the afternoon, we have the gantries in Peradeniya and Kandy on the agenda. For this train we want to use class B1D number 340. In the evening we will continue by charter bus to our hotel in Nawalapitiya.


Time for the Nanu Oya class, B2B 213. In the early morning we will board our train and will make the steep climb through the tea plantations from Nawalapitiya to Nanu Oya, from there by charter buses on to our hotel in Nuwara Eliya


In the early morning, we will roll back from Nanu Oya to Great Western to start our steep climb via Nanu Oya and Pattipola up to the summit (6226 ft) and beyond. After we have passed the summit at an altitude of 1,898 metres above sea level, we will roll down to Bandarawela, passing the amazing edge of the ridge at Idalgashinna. Hotel in Bandarawela


In the early morning we’ll send our train, this time consisting of mixed passenger and freight stock, down to Demodara. To avoid another early morning call, we will go to Demodera by charter buses. On the way back to Bandarawela, we will have several photo stops, starting at the spiral, followed by the “Nine Arch Viaduct”. In the afternoon we’ll continue to Nanu Oya, passing the summit of the line again. Charter buses will transfer us to our hotel in Nuwara Eliya.


In the morning our charter buses will bring us down to Talawakele. Our train will already be here. On the uphill section from Talawakele to Hatton, we will run a long, double headed train. From Hatton we will continue to Kandy, where we will arrive in the early evening. We will continue by charter bus to our nice hotel in Kandy.


Downhill: We will return to the station and photograph the gantries of Kandy again, before rolling down to the lowlands. Our loco will be B1D 340. On the way we will stop at the famous “Lion’s mouth”, a rock face hanging over the railway line. Once we have reached Rambukkana, we will head straight for Colombo, where we will say goodbye to our train crew. Hotel in Colombo


After breakfast, charter bus to the airport and return flight to Europe/America/Australia


Arriving at home


Line description

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - photo charter trains

Sri Lanka is a large island in the Indian Ocean. The lowland near the capital, Colombo, is served by double tracked main lines. These lines are mainly modernised with colour light signals. But, a major part of the island is mountainous. The railway in the mountains is often still looking as it did in colonial days. Some stations have a forest of semaphores, traditional gantries, signal cabins, platform shelters and so on. It’s all very British looking. The scenery is also breathtaking with rock tunnels, sharp climbs, tight curves and tea plantations. Sometimes the countryside opens up and you can have outstanding views far away over several mountain ranges. There are stone arched viaducts, s-curves and palm trees. In short, the railways are fantastically scenic and once you have seen the stations like the Great Western (this is the station’s name) with towering rock faces you will want to stay longer than anyone’s budget usually allows.

The coast line leads through the suburbs of Colombo along the shore and then, never far from it, through lush vegetation and more built-up areas. There are many palm trees, which gives the line its tropical look. Some bridges will be crossed and occasionally you can see the beach. The big joy will be our authentic train with the Bayer Peacock built B1a 251. We will run fast over long sections with traditional Rajagopal coaches behind steam. Even on the flat section, the speed will require a hard working locomotive, something which is now a very rare experience on broad gauge railways these days.

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - photo charter trains

We will probably see locos:

in use. All three are beautiful British engines, which were in use until the end of steam in the 1970’s. Designed as passenger train locomotives, they could also be seen in front of mixed or freight trains as well.

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - photo charter trains

These locomotives are from the “Viceroy Special” stock allocation, but without, of course, carrying the “Viceroy Special” plate on the smokebox door. Instead, we have requested that they are not polished for at least a month before our tour. The last two times it worked just as we wanted. Sri Lanka’s steam locomotives were mostly kept clean pretty well up to the end of their service life. Cleaning a loco, which is not nice looking, will take you two hours. Converting an oily, shiny circus horse into a real locomotive may take weeks or months. Our locos will look authentically “clean but used”.

Sri Lanka has much more to offer than railways. If you want to bring along your partner who is not interested in our railway activities and is not taking pictures of our charter trains, please do so and we will arrange a special programme to see all the highlights available along our route. This could include visits such as:

These extra trips will be arranged in advance if requested by early August 2019. The price reduction for non-photographing partners is £315.

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - photo charter trains

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - photo charter trains


Small print


Particularly in the outskirts of large cities, there’s poverty, misery, dirt and unhygienic conditions. We will not visit these parts of the cities, but you never can be sure that you won’t see people who have to live in such sorry surroundings. If you have no travel experience in countries like Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh and so on, it would be wise to read a general guide book about the culture, the religion and the political development of our host country. In addition, don’t forget the chapter on how to behave with beggars. With this knowledge you will see and understand more of the country and its inhabitants, for sure.

However, you shouldn’t be too concerned about unpleasant circumstances. We’ll visit the most beautiful and peaceful parts of the country. We’ll move generally in safe and quiet places (although I wouldn’t count Colombo as a quiet place …).

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - photo charter trains

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - photo charter trains


Sri Lanka has a tropical climate. Even in the dry period, you may have clouds and even rain. February is in the season when the chances for sun is best. In Colombo and Kandy, February is the best time to travel, while the driest month in Bandarawela is June. Please be prepared for 35° Centigrade and sunshine and also for 20° Centigrade and rain. Both are usual all year round in different parts of the country. Morning temperatures in the mountains can be fresh, so please do not forget to bring something warm to wear. The humidity can be tropically high in the lowlands.

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - photo charter trains

Health / Fitness

There is a minor risk of Malaria in most parts of the country that we will visit. Although our hotels often offer air conditioning, you should think about carrying a mosquito net with you. In the evening hours you should wear long trousers and long sleeved shirts to avoid contact with mosquitoes. There is no need for special vaccinations. You should carry some tablets against diarrhoea and a common cold with you.

Hygienic and environmental standards in Sri Lanka do not conform to Central European, Australian or North American expectations. Carrying some toiletries in your photo bag is hence advisable.

Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation in Sri Lanka falls short of EU/US safety standards. Always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks.

To reach some photo positions, a certain level of fitness is required, as some step hills and rough terrain we need to be tackled on foot. Make sure that you are wearing appropriate footwear. We will be constantly alighting and boarding the train in areas where no platform is available directly on to and from the ballast.

However, it’s not really needed to climb up every hill you see for good photographic results. And we will carry a step ladder with us to ease boarding from the line.

Charter buses will always run parallel to our charter trains in case anybody needs to take a break.

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - photo charter trains

Food / Accommodation

We have ordered full board. However, it can not be guaranteed that there will be the chance for a proper breakfast or lunch. Sunrise is around 6.20 am, sunset around 6.20 pm, and those are the main facts for the day. While breakfast and lunch might be delivered as packed meals, dinner is often sumptuous. Sri Lanka is famous for its tea, so you should at least try it.

There are some good and stylish hotels of the upper middle class. However, please consider that service standards and – in particular – security equipment cannot compete with European standards, especially in smaller places. Tourist groups book their hotels very early in advance, while railway enthusiasts are used to book only a couple of months, weeks or even days before a tour starts. Hence, we can’t block large consignments of rooms beforehand and need to take what is available at short notice. In some places the group may be split between two or three hotels of a very different quality. Some who book late might find themselves in a hotel, which saw its last renovation in 1932 and with only a cold shower available.

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - photo charter trains: Kandy


The number of possible run-pasts is limited by the time we have and the regular traffic, which we need to consider. We can’t block the line for too long and cause delays to the normal traffic. We have to take a diesel locomotive with us on the mountain line and, only for the run-pasts, will they allow us to uncouple it from the train. Hence, this will take up some time. But, after two tours the railway men are now used to it and act fast. In some sections of the railway, for instance on parts of the double tracked main line and on steep gradients, for safety reasons they will not allow us to set back the train. This means we will have to spot the photo position in advance and then walk to it. This also requires some time and only with the discipline of the group, will it be possible to make the most out of those limitations. The railway men will usually co-operate and sometimes set back even in steep sections. Be assured that we will get some fantastic pictures from the train in a stunning countryside.

Some of the photo spots will not accommodate as many photographers and video film makers as we would wish to place there. Usually we will repeat the run-pasts as often as it takes to make everyone happy. However, you should be very congenial and understanding to make the trip successful for everyone. Most of the participants will be used to squeezing into the tiniest spot, just occupying the space of their lens. Huge video tripods might not be possible in such circumstances. Most of the photo positions offer plenty of space for a large group, but a few don’t. Please keep in mind that our behaviour will be remembered. If we fight each other at the first tight spot, it will have a certain influence on our opportunity for the next photo spot.

We must get the agreement from the railway management for all of our positions. They will decline them for “safety” or “timetable” limitations if they consider that our behaviour is detriment to not only our safety, but theirs as well. If we are simply taking too long a time over them, then the number of run-pasts will simply be fewer than planned.

So, keep in mind what your mother told you on your first day at school - “Keep your nose clean and don’t annoy anybody”. Everyone wants to get the best results out of the tour!

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - photo charter trains


We have three locomotives and some very aged rolling stock. Technical problems might occur, and there is no substitution, refund or any other compensation possible. This is the general risk of such tours, and you must agree to accept this if you want to take part.

Neither FarRail Tours Club, the state railway, nor the local agency JF Tours can be held responsible for or accept any liability whatsoever in the case of any accident, damage or delay. We suggest that you take out a comprehensive overseas accident and health insurance policy, as well as a trip cancellation insurance policy.

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - photo charter trains



Sri Lanka
Coast Line Express & Mountain Railway 36 to 44 participants £3,570
06.02.2020 – 17.02.2020 26 to 35 participants £3,890
  Single room surcharge £520
Registration Deadline: 06.11.2019

The price reduction for non-photographing partners is £315.

The price includes:

Not included are:

A picture of a freight train on the Coast line in 1974 - an emergency tender, five four wheel wagons and one combined break van/coach.

Broad gauge steam in Sri Lanka - historical picture


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