There are very few books in the literary world that offer you worthwhile reading about the history of Ceylon Railways. Fewer still; books written in English by Sri Lankan authors with hands on experience on this particular subject.
Among them, there are two books that comes to any railway expert’s mind; ‘The Viceroy Special’ and ‘The Uva Railway – Railway to the Moon’. Both provide comprehensive insight into the golden age that marked the genesis of Ceylon Railways, written by renowned Sri Lankan Author Hemasiri Fernando who is also the current Chairman of People’s Bank, Sri Lanka.
This article focuses not on those two paperbacks but ushers into the limelight his third installment (or the second sequel) in the highly successful book series that Hemasiri Fernando authored to pay homage to Ceylon Railways. The new book, freshly printed is aptly titled as:
‘ESSAYS ON CEYLON RAILWAYS (1864 – 1964)’
Enriched with hundreds of rare, high quality photographs taken in Ceylon during 60’s and 70’s by leading railway enthusiasts around the world, followed by ancient maps that are digitally reproduced in an expert manner to preserve their authenticity, ESSAYS ON CEYLON RAILWAYS is an awe-inspiring masterpiece that creates an ideal virtual world for any railway lover can only dream of.
It consists of twelve thrilling chapters that teleports the reader back to the time of post-colonial rule when British were in complete control of the entire island and had established the Ceylon Government Railway (CGR) to develop the transportation system of the new colony. In a comprehensive manner, the book also subtly explains the chain of events that led to the rise of rails in Ceylon with the importation of British Engines.
Among the beautifully written essays in the ESSAYS ON CEYLON RAILWAYS, an entire chapter is dedicated to ‘Railway Signaling and Safety’ in which the author throws light upon a range of little-known railway signaling systems used by the British – including banner repeater signals, shunting signals, ground signals and semaphore signals. The essay is also supplemented with detailed photographs to assist the reader to comprehend how these signals were used in real life.
With his characteristic thoughtfulness evident in all his previous work, Hemasiri Fernando has not failed in including a separate chapter to pay tribute to each and every one of the Director Generals and General Managers who managed the administrative affairs in Ceylon Government Railways during the span of hundred years from 1864 to 1964.
Last Chapter is the most breathtaking one, where the author guides the reader around the unforgettable landmarks in railway history captured by best cameras at the time whilst providing computer generated aerial views that explain the layout of those once thriving railway workshop and stations.
Appropriately aligned to his flow of words, the author adorns his literary content with spectacular snapshots of the relevant sites in a manner that captivates the hearts of any railway nerd.
After Dr. David Hyatt, who is believed to have embarked on the most comprehensive research on CEYLON RAILWAYS, Hemasiri Fernando, as an author, has made – arguably – the best literary contribution to the Sri Lankan railway industry by launching the ESSAYS ON CEYLON RAILWAYS, his third book dedicated to the Ceylon Railway.
Review by : CHINTHAKA NANAYAKKARA