The tribute to the legendary Railway Engineer by a colleague B.B. Perera (Island 20/7/2010) was not merely inspiring but also brought forth to memory and focus an era in a more united land when we had public officials who placed their work and country before all else. Here was a man who virtually provided “legs” to our railway and made it the pride of the region. Zealously dedicated to take his country to the modern world he virtually single-handedly succeeded in causing the coming of the Diesel engine to Ceylon years ahead of its time. Colour signal lights and many other were products of his fond dream so that our people travelled comfortably, well and faster conquering distance within the land as never before.
Benefits to commerce, social cohesion and mobility have all flown from his altruistic thoughts. While the two major communities remain emotionally divided today, it was the railway at the turn of the 20th century that is credited to have enabled the movement of people in large numbers from the North and the East to the South and vice versa to facilitate the Colonial economy which, in turn, brought many benefits to the country that we enjoyed since. His name will be remembered along with the immortal Yal Devi for a long time to come.
While this mass human mobility may engage the attention of commentators of various hues, I believe in the present environment when we are assured rapid and meaningful steps are on to re-unite the fractured nation it will do well if a high-profile event – preferably organized by the Tamils – dedicated to the memory of the late B. D. Rampala is held in celebration of a truly national son. If such an event does see the light of the day we might as well remember the British, who also gave us the railway, with gratitude.
If we are to go by the reality of today and if Rampala had not headed the railway, the Yal Devi possibly would not have travelled North and the enterprise itself would have cost several times more than what the manufacturer would have billed for.
By I. S. Senguttuvan