Government’s Infrastructural Programmes talked up by Spin-doctors

Shirajiv Sirimane, in The Sunday Observer, 25 March 2012

A year ago, during a tour of Malaysia with some Sunday Observer staffers, I took a luxury bus to the Genting Highlands Adventure Park from the Kuala Lumpur Central Bus station. I said to myself that Sri Lanka would not build a modern bus stand such as the KL Central within the next two decades.

The KL bus station had escalators and electronic time tables; a bus station like that in Sri Lanka was far beyond our wildest dreams. However, almost a carbon copy of the KL Bus Station was built by the Ministry of Economic Development in Negombo, which even had toilets equipped with automatic flushing systems, proving that Sri Lanka is adding infrastructure of a global standard.

Last month, after flying Sri Lankan Airlines to Frankfurt, I had to take a five-hour train journey to Berlin to cover the ITB, the world’s largest travel show where over 100 Sri Lankans participated. I took the tube train from the Frankfurt airport to the railway station and when the ticket counter staffer informed me that the train to Berlin would leave at 8.23 am from platform number 39 and reach Berlin at 12.54 pm I thought he was joking.

When I inquired again, he reconfirmed the time and true to his words, the Intercity Express (ICE) left from platform number 39 of the underground station and reached Berlin at the stipulated time. In the luxury train, when I asked the conductor as to why trains were leaving at odd times, he said it was because so many trains were using the same track. “This is beyond Sri Lanka’s wildest dreams,” I thought again.

However, this too would soon be a reality as a Malaysian company is hoping to invest around Rs. 60 billion to build a speed rail track from the Colombo Airport to the Fort. The train would be powered by electricity, thus minimising the environmental impact. The speed train project would be the biggest private sector investment to the country to date. KMPG India has been entrusted with the task of carrying out the feasibility study which would be completed in around six months.

‘Rapid-transit’ systems have been introduced worldwide to provide high-capacity public transport. A rapid transit system is an electric railway, characterised by high speed and rapid acceleration.

A ‘Metro’ is a form of ‘rapid transport’. Metro or metropolitan railway refers to an urban, electric rail transport system with high capacity and a high frequency of service. Metros are separated from other traffic. They operate in tunnels, on elevated structures, or at surface level, but with physical separation from other traffic. This type of transportation system functions well within urban areas with high levels of transport congestion generated by ad-hoc urban planning and unavailability of space.

The proposed speed train would reach the Fort from the airport railway station in just 25 minutes and the biggest attraction of the project is that it would be ready by the end of 2016!The train would start from inside the Colombo Airport, enabling passengers to push their baggage trolleys right up to the train door. The train would have special seating with adequate space to store luggage. It would also have special seating for disabled passengers.

Electronic tickets would be issued where the passenger would have the facility to even pay by credit card. The journey to the Fort would cost a Sri Lankan passport holder just Rs. 500 and a foreigner, US$ 50. The well-planned project has a separate rail station planned for the Fort which would be a 34-storey complex with several platforms to many destinations in Sri Lanka.

Due to the heavy population in the Gampaha district, the investors have decided to extend the train to Gampaha in the next stage and along the coastal line up to Mount Lavinia.

The viewing tower

The railway tube station in the Fort would be a first in the SAARC region, providing all entertainment facilities under the sun, attracting a transit passenger to come to Fort and enjoy these luxuries before catching the flight.

Railway route: The proposed railway route would go along the Airport road, cross the Negombo Main Highway and the Negombo lagoon and connect to the new Katunayake Expressway. It will then run parallel to the main Expressway along its 30-metre reservation area for a distance of 30 kilometres till it reaches the town of Wattala. Here it will cross the Negombo main road yet again and from the Hunupitiya railway station travel alongside the existing railway line until the cross-over at the Kelaniya River.

At the Colombo city limits, the new railway track would be extended across the river on a modern bridge and will reach its final destination, the ‘Fort Lotus Terminal’ after 15 minutes of travel time.

The Lotus Terminal would be at a site with amazing potential for urban integration. With two scenic water bodies bordering the teardrop-shaped site on either side, and a direct visual link running across its central axis, would be the historic Fort Railway Station Terminal, one of Sri Lanka’s precious heritage buildings.

The Lotus Terminal site will comprise an architecturally modern and versatile 32-storey tower, which would function as a city centre for the local or foreign business person, who would be spending a few days in the capital city.

The terminal tower would comprise a hyper-mall, multiplex cinema, casino, a spiral viewing tower, city hotel, a conference and convention centre, food courts, bowling alley, game arcades and a health centre which consists of spas, salons, saunas and massage centres and its very own Ayurvedic garden.

Sky bridges or underwater tunnels will link the terminal tower to the Fort Railway Station, main bus terminals and the two main roadways leading to the Fort.

To provide short-stay tourists an overall taste of the City of Colombo, a shuttle bus service will commence from the new railway terminal which would link all main hotels, popular upmarket shopping centres and other places of interest within the city.

Doing the impossible

Shopping arcade

As Governor Central Bank, Ajith Nivard Cabraal once told me, Sri Lanka is now doing the impossibles. It built an Expressway from Kottawa to Galle and next year would extend it to Matara. Early next year, the Colombo-Katunayake Expressway would also be opened and would be linked to the Matara highway through an outer circular road.

He said the results of these infrastructure investments are already evident as the quality of life of the people has improved with their buying power also increasing. “Just take any Sunday paper and see the number of hospitality advertisements and outbound tour advertisements. Five yeas ago, there were only five TV channels; today we can watch over 80.”

He said a motorbike is sold every minute and a three-wheeler once every three minutes and there are over six million cars. “How many super-markets are being opened every week?” he asked. Sri Lanka’s cosmetics market was worth five billion rupees last year. “This clearly shows that the people’s buying power has increased.”

Sri Lanka’s per capita income would be the highest in the region in three years. He said the present US$ 2,399 would reach the US$ 4,000 mark in three and a half years. Speaking to the Sunday Observer , Cabraal said the target of $ 4,000 was set for 2016, but with the present healthy economic trend it could be achieved by 2015. The Governor also said that inflation has come down to 6.8 percent and the economic growth rate is very healthy at around 7.8 percent.

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