Sri Lankan rail tracks are popularly known for being one of the most scenic rail routes in the world. Traveling by train is probably the most comfortable and affordable way to trip and explore the beauty of Sri Lanka, particularly because the wonderful surroundings. Although may be a little time consuming, a train trip will never disappoint a traveler who wants to experience some breathtaking sceneries across the country.
A Bit of History…..
Railway history runs back to 1864 which was initially introduced as a means of transporting coffee from plantations in the hill country to the port of Colombo. With the gradual rise of the tea industry and other agricultural developments, it is said that the railway tracks were eventually developed to facilitate the needs of the agricultural industry, like transport of labour, machinery, food, etc. in the coastal regions and other parts of the country.
All information relevant to a traveler, such as the train schedule, ticket prices, reservation methods can be found on the Sri Lanka Railways website here.
The following are the most popular train routes.
- Colombo – Kandy – Hatton – Nuwara Eliya – Elle – Badulla
- Colombo – Galle – Matara
- Colombo – Galoya – Polonnaruwa, Batticaloa, Trincomalee
- Colombo – Anuradhapura – Talaimannar/Vavuniya – Jaffna
- Colombo commuter- Negombo, Mt Lavinia, Kalutara, Puttalam, Avissawella
Most Inter-city trains offer varying comforts. They offer express service between main cities such as Colombo-Kandy, Colombo-Vavuniya and Colombo – Batticaloa.
First class seats can always be reserved, usually before 30 days and you will be guaranteed a seat. Your ticket will display the seat number. There are several categories of First class seats.
- 1st class sleeper- Carries sleeping-berths and are provided on a few overnight trains.
- 1st class observation saloon- Available mostly on daytime trains to hill country, Colombo – Kandy – Elle – Badulla route. The observation car has wide mirrors on either side enabling travelers to enjoy the breath taking sceneries.
- 1st class air-conditioned seats- Available mostly on inter-city express trains
The most common type of train seats are Second class and Third class. Second class seats are available in both reserved and unreserved category. For some long distance trains Second class seats can be reserved in advance. Unreserved Second class seats and third class seats are heavily crowded during office hours on weekdays. So if you are lucky and one of the first to get in, you will find a seat, otherwise you can simply stand, ideally near the doorway to enjoy the sceneries.
If unreserved, the tickets can be bought from the ticket office on the day of the journey and are usually made available few hours before departure. You may find several ticket offices at main stations like Colombo Fort and Kandy, which are designated for separate routes.
Tickets for reserved trains for popular routes such as hill country, like the Kandy-Ella stretch or Colombo-Jaffna, are often sold out very fast during the school holiday season, in the months of April, August and December. Usually the 1st class observation saloon and 1st class air condition, should be booked months before the peak seasons.
Luggages are not weighed before boarding, so you can simply carry your luggage inside the train and load in one of the racks above your seat. But it is advisable to keep any valuables closer to you. It is best to carry your own food but usually you find vendors wandering around with soft drinks, bottled water, delicious hot tea/coffee, and various tasty food items.
A Little Extra Information: Freight Services
You can also transport goods and parcels through Sri Lanka Railways.
Goods Transportation Services – Fill in the application on their website and send or hand it over to the Sales Marketing Manager of Railways at Railway Headquarters during weekdays.
Parcel Transportations services – All Railway Stations accept parcels to be transported by trains on weekdays. Ensure to pack the items properly to avoid any damage. A bill will be issued to you confirming the handing over. The collector has to present this bill and his/her National Identity Card to the Station Master. Charges will be applicable depending on the value of the parcel and the type of the train used to transport.