Sri Lanka has not a vast network of railways, but it will do to serve several main cities and places of interest for tourists. The railway system comprises a network of almost 1,600 km and is run by a government owned company, Sri Lanka Railways (SLR). Colombo Fort Station is the main hub for all train connections in Sri Lanka with destinations in all directions of the country.
Traveling by train is an interesting experience and a way to observe and meet Sri Lankans in their daily life, traveling to work, to relatives or just going on a trip.
During rush hours the trains are mostly overcrowded, but in the off hours you will most probably be able to find a seat. There are 3 classes, but most trains only have second and third class compartments. The Mainline, from Colombo to Badulla in the mountains, has first class wagons with a few observation saloon seats. However, it might be difficult to get a seat, so advanced reservations should be made to guarantee your seat in this compartment. There is a special Tourist Information centre at the Fort Station in Colombo where you can get all information you want about traveling by train.
Since 2012 two private companies, Expo Rail and Rajadhani, have introduced special air conditioned luxury coaches to some intercity trains on the major railway lines in Sri Lanka. They offer LCD screen entertainment, comfortable reclining seats, hostess service, clean toilets, WiFi and snacks & beverage facilities. Reservations can be made online, which is advisable for the lines Colombo – Kandy and Colombo – Badulla (the mountain area).
For all railway information and timetables you can check on the website of Sri Lanka Railways: http://www.railway.gov.lk.
The ‘Viceroy Special’ is a luxury train, pulled by an antique steam locomotive. It consists of two coaches, a restaurant car with a fully equipped kitchen and a bar. The train is only available as a charter for special events, operated by J.F. Tours. The most popular routes are the Mainline through the scenic mountains, the Colombo to Kandy line and the Coastal Line.
In May 2013 a new railway connection was inaugurated between Medawachachiya and Madhu Road, a branch of the Northern Line in the direction of Mannar in North Western Sri Lanka. It is operated by a vehicle which is neither a train, nor a bus, or you could call it a rail bus.
The Sri Lanka Railways Network
On the entire network, Sri Lanka Railways operates passenger services in various classes on the following lines:
Main Line : Colombo – Badulla (mountain area)
Matale Line : Peradeniya Junction – Kandy – Matale
Northern Line : Colombo – Kurunagale – Anuradhapura – Vavuniya
Batticaloa Line : Colombo – Polonnaruwa – Batticaloa (east coast)
Trincomalee Line : Colombo – Habarana – Trincomalee (north east coast)
Coastal Line : Colombo – Galle – Matara (south coast)
Kelani Valley Line : Colombo – Avissawella
Puttalam Line : Colombo – Negombo – Puttalam (coastal area north of Colombo)