After its inception in 1864, Sri Lankan railways gradually started phasing out its steam locomotives in early 1950s. The G1 shunter was the 1st ever diesel locomotive to enter the country in 1934.The first notable diesel electric locomotives to enter the service were the famous M1 Brush Bagnalls which were imported in batches from UK in 1953. One year later, under the Colombo plan, the government of Canada donated five new engines to Sri Lanka which were grouped under the category named “M2”, beginning a new era in the country’s railway.
What is a Diesel Electric engine?
In this type of an engine, a diesel engine creates the power that is used to run a generator which in return creates electricity. This electricity is transmitted to the “Traction motors” that are connected to the wheels of the locomotive, enabling it to move ahead.
These locomotives known as G12s which were built by the General Motors were the most popular diesel electric locomotive models of Canada at that time. This highly successful series of engines had a V12 two stroke diesel electric engine, which packed 1425 horse powers. The engines were named after the provinces and cities of Canada as a gesture of goodwill to the Canadian Government.
The locos were assembled at the General Motors Electro-Motive Division assembly line at London, Ontario, Canada and the first CGR loco was named “Ontario” to resemble this fact. All the locos were part of an aid package for the “Colombo Plan”. This information (“Colombo Plan Aid from Canada”) can clearly be seen on the name plates which are fixed on either side of the long hood.
EMD G12 Engine characteristics
|Builders||General Motors Electro-Motive Division (USA),General Motors Diesel (Canada)
Clyde Engineering (Australia)
|Total production||B-B version: 670 A1A-A1A version: 300|
|Locomotive weight||107 MT|
|Fuel capacity||2,840 liters|
|Cylinder size||8.5 × 10 in (216 × 254 mm)|
|Power output||1310 or 1425 HP|
M2 573 before being shipped to Ceylon -at the factory, London Ontario Oct. 1954
Source – http://emdexport.railfan.net/asia/srilanka.html
M2s loading to the ship in a port in Canada
Photo courtesy – Mr Mano Navarathnam
The first batch of five locomotives arrived in Colombo in 1954 and they were named locomotive No 569 as ‘Ontario’, 570 as ‘Alberta’, 571 as ‘Saskatchewan’, 572 as ‘British Columbia’, and 573 as ‘Quebec’. The wheel arrangement of the initial M2s was A1A. It is speculated that these locomotives were painted with green and red livery. Later the entire M2 fleet was painted in a distinctive color scheme of silver, light blue and dark blue with a yellow “speed whisker” and red buffers and cowcatchers.
The livery of the locomotives of Sri Lanka (Green or Blue)
The locomotives imported to Sri Lanka during the rule of the United National Party are painted in Red and Green livery where as the locomotives imported in the reigns of the Sri Lanka Freedom party is painted in Blue and Yellow livery. These colors depict the colors of the respectful parties.
|M2 569 Ontario
Source – Sri Lanka Railway Forum – http://www.slrfc.org/
|M2 569 Ontario at Dematagoda
Source – Sri Lanka Railway Museum – http://www.railwaymuseum.lk
The second batch of locomotives arrived in 1956 and was named as locomotive No. 591 ‘Manitoba’, 592 as ‘Nova Scotia’, and 593 as ‘New Brunswick’. Classified as M2A they had the wheel arrangement A1A.
The third batch arrived in 1958 and named No. 594 ‘Prince Edwards Island’ and 595 as ‘New Foundland’. They too had the wheel arrangement of A1A.
In 1961 locomotive No. 626 as ‘Montreal’ and No. 627 as ‘Vancouver’ arrived in the island as the fourth batch. Classified as M2C, they were the only locomotives with Bo-Bo wheel arrangement, which was ideal for the upcountry track. These locomotives were able to be operated in the most demanding upcountry track beyond Nawalapitiya, where the sharp curves limited any other type of M2 locomotive to be operational successfully. These two locomotives were the only once to be named with Canadian cities, since the rest of the fleet consisted the names of provinces of Canada.
The final batch of two locomotives bearing No 628 and 629 arrived in the country in 1961 completing the fleet of M2 locomotives. These two locomotives were named locally as Galle and Kankasanthurei because they were primarily used for the duties of the Cement Factories situated at the two above mentioned cities. The main difference of these locomotives was that they were manufactured in the General Motors locomotive works at La Grange Illinois USA. Another distinct feature of these two locomotives was that they packed a slightly lower power compared to their predecessors, at 1310 horse powers compared to the original 1425 horse powers of the rest of the fleet. Moreover these two were the only locomotives purchased by the CGR of the current fleet of M2s. This factor is visible, when the name boards of these locomotives are observed. (Mentioning about the Colombo plan donation is missing here)
|M2d 628 Kankasanthurei in Jaffna running shed with a M4
Photo Courtesy – Mr N.Senthilkumaran
|M2d 629 Galle
Source – Sri Lanka Railway Museum – http://www.railwaymuseum.lk
During their long services with the Sri Lankan railways, the M2 locomotives had only few alterations. Earlier, each passenger compartment had its own power supply mechanism to provide electricity. Later an alternator was fixed to the M2 locomotive, to transmit electricity to the carriages. The Cowcatcher of some of these locomotives was replaced with the same equipment of the scrapped W1 locomotives. The headlights of the locomotives had come under several changes to suit the Sri Lankan terrain too. These locomotives are extensively used around the country except the Mathale and KV Lines.
There is a speculation that the legendary general manager of CGR, Mr B.D Rampala who went to Canada to inspect the locomotive as the Chief Mechanical Engineer had initiated the idea of naming the locomotives after being presented a pillow containing the names of the 10 Canadian provinces. He requested Sir John Kotelawela, the transport minister by that time, to ask the Canadian Government to increase the number of engines from five to 14 G12 locomotives so that the names of all Canadian provinces could be utilized .The tactic worked and the Canadian government donated us 14 locomotives.
They were able to extend the generous gift to 14 locomotives, other than the intended five.
After entering the active service since 1954, these locomotives still run strong, after completing 50 years of undisputed record. With their majestic horns sounding all across the country, the M2 has gained the reputation of being the most reliable locomotive of the SLR roster. Even after the initial design has been discontinued in production, and a no way of obtaining any spare parts to repair the locomotives, the CGR has taken an immense effort to even mold some parts of this beasts to keep them running.
The unlucky Saskatchewan
571 Saskatchewan is the 1st locomotive to be landed in the Colombo port. The ship that carried the four locomotives to Colombo had two locomotives in the upper deck including Saskatchewan enabling it to be the lucky one to have set foot in the island first. Moreover “susky” is thought to be an unlucky figure due to the fact that it had an unfortunate number with it (5 + 7 +1 = 13). This was highlighted when 571 was blasted and completely destroyed by a land mine, which was planted by the terrorists near Mollipothana in the Trincomalee line in 1985. 571 was the only non running M2 locomotive up to date. It arrived 1st to the country and faced an untimely demise to be retired first too. It was the locomotive that inaugurated the first journey of “UDARATAMENIKE” on 24.04.1956.
M2 571 Susketchewan unloading from the ship to the Colombo Harbor (This is the only picture that I have ever seen of 571)
Photo Courtesy – Mr Mano Navarathnam
The battle torn Alberta
M2 570 Alberta was a significant companion of the fleet. 570 Alberta was the 1st M2 locomotive to carry the inaugurated “YALDEVI” express train on 24.04.1956. Tragically it had the chance of hauling the last train to the Northern Province in 1990 too. The No 69 night mail which left Colombo on the 12th of June 1989, consisted the proud Alberta which was stranded in Jaffna, the terminus of the Nothern railway, due to the damage to the railway track that was caused by the terrorists. The army engineers ensured that the locomotive was welded to its rails to make sure that it was not moved elsewhere. It is speculated that the terrorists who captured Jaffna, used the generator of the engine as a mean of generating electricity. When the army recaptured Jaffna in 1995, the engineers played a vital role in providing facilities to transport the stranded loco back to Colombo. After returning back to C.M.E. Ratmalana by ship in 1996, it was completely rebuilt. It was again subjected to harassment, when it was damaged by a bomb blast in Punani Baticaloa, but was soon repaired.
|M2 570 Alberta at Dematagoda running shed
Photo Courtesy – Akila Ariyapperuma
|M2 570 Alberta stranded in Jaffna in 1990s
Source – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVSjR6Rjwxw (Video from ITN news)
The hardy Manitoba
One of the most prominent locos of the M2 fleet is M2 591 Manitoba. It was the loco that carried the unfortunate train no 50, that caught in the deadly ways of tsunami on the 26th of December 2004. The gigantic waves hit the train that toppled the 80 Ton loco, which resulted the death of the engine driver, his assistant and more than 2000 passengers. The engine which was completely destroyed was restored in the Rathmalana railway workshop. After 4 years of work, the Manitoba came to life again in 2008, hauling the train no 50 again on the 4th anniversary of that unfortunate incident. The crew had painted few blue waves in the body of the locomotive after its restoration to resemble this event.
|M2 591 Manitoba
Photo Courtesy – Sanath Kodikara
|M2 591 Manitoba
Photo Courtesy – C.M.B Dissanayake
Wheel arrangements of the locomotives
All the M2 category locomotives, except M2c had the wheel arrangement of A1A-A1A. M2c had the wheel arrangement named Bo-Bo, which suited the track of the hilly terrain with sharp curves. In the railway glossary, A1A means, four wheels powered and the middle, two wheels idle. In Bo Bo version, all four wheels powered.
|A1A Wheel arrangement
Photo Courtesy – Akila Ariyapperuma
|Bo-Bo Wheel arrangement
Source – http://www.silumina.lk/2010/10/31/_art.asp?fn=av1010319
The tsunami disaster
On that fateful date of 26th of December 2004, the number 50 train from Colombo to Mathara was hauled by M2 591 Manitoba. The deadly tsunami waves were wrecking havoc on the coastal areas of the country, when the train approached Paralia a small coastal hamlet near the city of Hikkaduwa. At that time, there was no way of the central control room to directly communicate with the drivers of the locomotive. When the message was received at Ambalangoda, where the train had its last stop, it had already left. The fateful train arrived at Peraliya, when it was already submerged with 1 feet of water. The occupants of that area, who were fleeing due to the devastating tidal waves, got in to the train as well. The train was hit by a gigantic wave which toppled it completely. The engine driver Mr Janaka Fernando and his assistant Mr ….. were killed while more than 2000 people perished. The locomotive was toppled and when the rescue workers arrived at the scene about 10 hours later, they had to dig under the locomotive the retrieve the slain body of the engine driver. After the site was cleared, the determined CGR employees arrived at this unfortunate location where they dismantled the engine and brought it to the Rathmalana workshop. It took them four years to painstakingly rebuild the entire loco and the inaugural journey of the newly built locomotive took place in 26th of December 2008, exactly 4 years after that fateful day. To resemble this chain of events, M2 571 Manitoba has a characteristic set of blue waves painted in its body. It has to be noted the role of Mr HLR Fonseka who was called upon to the restoration of this locomotive. He has worked with these locomotives for more than 20 years and contributed immensely to the smooth functionality of all these lovely machines.
Launch of three prominent trains in 1956
After the initial batch of M2 locos were imported, the CGR made an initiative of introducing three long distance express trains. The trains were named Ruhunu Kumari, Udarata Manike and Yaal Devi destined respectively to Mathara, Badulla and Jaffna. All three trains were inaugurated on the24th of April 1954 and were hauled by the newly arrived M2s.
M2 569 Ontario carried the 1st ever “RUHUNU KUMARI” train whereas M2 571 Susketchewan hauled the first journey of “UDARATA MENIKE”. M2 570 Alberta was the proud engine to carry the 1st “YAAL DEVI”, to the northern areas of the country. The legendary M2s were used again in 2006, when these three majestic queens completed their 50 years of service.
|Launching of the 3 new trains using the M2s – 1954 – A Rare paper advertisement
Photo Courtesy – Mr Sanath Kodikara
|Udarata Manike with a M2 clebrating it's 50 years of service
Photo Courtesy – Mr Zackey A Reyal
|The special painting to commemorate the golden jubilee of the M2s
Photo Courtesy – Mr Thurya Owitipana
Glossary of the locomotives
|594||Prince Edward Island||M2b||1958|
Special thanks goes to
- Mr Vinod Wickremarathne
- Mr Ifthar Rizvi(http://srilankanlocos.com)
- Mr Thilak Srilal
- Mr Suren Rajasooriyar
- Gihan Chandika (http://locolanka.blogspot.com/)
- Zackey A Reyal
For providing the information for this article.
- Mr Tajmal Wickramasinghe
- Mr Ifthar Rizwi (http://srilankanlocos.com)
- Mr Thurya Owitipana
- Mr Mano Navarathnam
- Mr C.M.B Dissanayake
- Mr Akila Ariyapperuma
- Mr N.Senthilkumaran
- Long hood – The longer section of the locomotive from the driver cabin