Return of the Queen

Return of the Queen

By Arthur Wamanan

The Yal Devi is a story of its own. It was the only train which connected Colombo and Jaffna until the war between the Army and the LTTE intensified, resulting in its services being limited to Vavuniya. The Yal Devi traveled to Jaffna for the last time in 1990. That was the last time the people of the North heard the final sound of her horn.

Many things had happened since the last time she visited Jaffna. There was a time when all links to the peninsula were cut off and the only way people could gain access to the South was via sea.
There was a brief period of three years, when war was temporarily halted thanks to the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) signed in 2002. By this time, most part of the railway tracks beyond Vavuniya was either damaged, or missing. Beyond a certain point, while traveling along the A9, one could see only the pathway which indicated that there was once a railway line there.

Even after the CFA was signed 2002, no steps were taken to re-establish railway links to the North since no one was sure whether peace would continue or hostilities would resume. The CFA was looked at as only a mechanism that resulted in a temporary cessation of the war.

However, things changed during the latter part of 2005, when claymore mines started going off, targeting military convoys in the North. These isolated incidents then snowballed into a fully-fledged war within months, resulting in renewed turmoil in the Northern Province.

The little hope of connecting the North and the South also died with the resumption of the war. However, the A9 Road continued to be open for transportation for a certain time. Then, on August 11, 2006, the Muhamalai entry-exit point, on the other end of the Wanni, was closed indefinitely owing to shell attacks. Since then, until the war ended in 2009, the North was virtually cut off from the rest of the island.

One of the main focuses of the Government, post war was to re-establish railway lines to Jaffna. The move was then made possible with the assistance of the Indian and Chinese Governments.
The line which was functional only up to Vavuniya was extended up to Thandikulam in June 2006. Train services were later extended up to Omanthai after the opening of the railway station there in May 2011.

Construction of railway tracks continued further, and the line between Omanthai and Kilinochchi was opened on September 14 last year, while the line between Kilinochhi to Palai was opened on March 4 this year.
A couple of years ago, the Jaffna Railway Station was  a site, which in a way summarized the tragic story of the peninsula. For years, it had stood as a symbol of the war. During these five years, it even served as a resting place for domestic tourists and small time traders who visited the peninsula.

The station once again came to life last week when its ‘Queen’ revisited her old destination after a period of 24 years. The Yal Devi traveled towards Jaffna on September 22 on a test run. Reconstruction of the Jaffna Railway Station is expected to be completed soon, officials stated that they hope to commence operations at the Jaffna Railway Station by mid-next month.

(Published in The Nation on September 28, 2014)


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