I feel it is a great privilege to write about an Engineer who made Ceylon proud among the Engineering circles in the world. He had his secondary education at Nalanda and Ananda Colleges under the tutelage of Ven. Heenaliyana Dhammaloka Thero, Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maithree, Messrs. G K W Perera, J N Jinendradasa and Cyril E Seranga. Travelling in the narrow gauge train from Homagama, observing the working of the steam locomotives he would have been inspired to become a locomotive Engineer. Having passed the London Matriculation and Inter Science Engineering he joined the Railway as a probationary engineer in 1934 Senior Supervisors used to relate how he crept under the steam locomotives donning an overall and helmet with hammer in hand tapped at the bolts and nuts to prepare his reports. He was the Deputy Chief Engineer when we were Special Apprentices under going training. Three Engineers who were directly under his training were able to take up top seats in the Ceylon Transport Board, Hardware Corporation and the Institute of Engineers. They were Messrs. A R P Wijesekera, Ramsay Wettermuni and Wimal Premaratna.
The History of the Ceylon Railway commenced with the running of the first train to Ambepussa in 1864. Rail Tracks were laid to Kankesanturei, Badulla, Matara, Batticaloa, Puttalam, Opanaike and Ragala by the British and trains were running at an average speed of 30, 35 in p.h. Mr. B D Ramapala was appointed first Ceylonese Mechanical Engineer in 1949. All this time it was steam locomotives that were hauling the trains World Railways were changing over to Diesel powered locomotives. Mr. Rampala made the proposal for Diesel station. The government gave the green signal and first diesel locomotive was imported in 1953. British Banner in UK were the builders. They were put on the long distance trains and two locomotives coupled were successful hauling the trains in upcountry on a gradient of 1 in 44 negotiating sharp curves of 5 chains radius. Train travelers were happy as they had a hazzle free journey sans smoke coming out of the chimneys. Some of these locomotives developed trouble but, Mr Rampala was able to detect the faults and put them right doing some modifications. He was in contact with the builders and when their representative came here he gave his version and there was no challenge. The Institute of Locomotives Engineers England wanted him to prepare a paper on the subject. He could not personally present the paper as the Prime Minister wanted him to be in the country as the general election was round the corner in 1956. The paper was read by Mr. C F James as associate member. There was full praise from the members and it was read at various other centers in England. Mr. Rampala was recognized as the best Diesel Locomotive Engineer east of Suez.
Having access to train charts, Mr. Rampala plotted a graph line to run an express train from Colombo to Kankesanturai with limited stops in seven hours and come back to Colombo. Mr. Rampala was at the controls with the heads of sub departments in the train. This was the birth of ‘YALDEVI’ of which there is much talk. The time table in 1956 was something different to the previous ones with express trains christened ‘YALDEVI’ RUHUNU KUMARI and UDARATA MANIKE timing of these trains must be forwarded to him every morning. Any delays must be probed by the head of sub departments and any recurrence avoided.
The Colour light signaling system in a Railway is all important for a faster service and to increase the number of trains. The Signaling system of our Railway was outdated and only one train could be within two stations in a double line area. Mr. Rampala wanted the colour light signaling system introduced. The plans and specifications were drawn and world wide tenders called. The successful tender was Erricson from Sweeden. The first stage was to introduce the system between Panadura, Veyangoda and Negombo. Work commenced in 1959. All operations were from Maradana Centralised Traffic Control (CTC). More blocks were provided and every three minutes a train could move. Major track alterations were carried in Maradana West, Mount Lavinia, Moratuwa and Ragama. Trains could be moved in any direction and fast train could overtake a slow train. I was involved in this work from Bambalapitiya to Panadura. With all the heavy load of work in the office Mr. Rampala visited the worksites and discussed about the progress and found any solutions to any snap. Though he was a Mechanical Engineer he had good knowledge of Electric Engineering. Handing over of one section, to the transport section was done under his personal supervision. Discussing with the Chief Signals Engineer he fixed up the date for completing the next section.
It was during this period, that new stations were built at Anuradhapura, Jaffna, Nawalapitiya, Galle and Trincomalee with rest room facilities, long platforms, platform roofs and underground passages. Rail tracks where there were speed limits due to curvature, were flattened or straightened, resulting in reducing running time. The most notable change was the relaying of Batticaloa and Trincomalee lines with heavy rails (80lbs), which enabled the running of diesel locomotives and relaying of the Bangadeniya, Puttlam line and the extension to Periyanagavillu to move the requirements of the Cement Factory to transport lime stone. He was tainted as an anti trade unionist by some unions. But it was far from the truth. At the annual general meeting of the way and Works Technical Officers union, Hon S W R D Bandaranayake Prime Minister was the Chief Guest and Mr. Rampala was the Guest of Honour Mr. Rampala showered praise on the membership for restoring the rail tracks that were damaged, in a very short time which even baffled the other Engineering departments. I was a member of the deputation that met him. He gave a fair hearing and got solutions for our problems. He was a man of principle. He maintained the traditional upbringing at a Sinhala Buddhist home. He kept in touch with his village taking an interest in paddy cultivation. He made Maldives fish for home consumption. The Minister of Transport never interfered with his administration. There was transparency in his administration. I understand Amara Hewa Madduma (retired SLAS) who is compiling a book giving the life stories of five hundred personalities in Sri Lanka who have contributed their knowledge for the well being of the nation, had selected. Mr. Rampala’s name for this book.
By B B Perera: Retired Civil Engineer Railway.
Source: The Island