Sri Lankan train derailed by war chugs back into service


COLOMBO // The “Queen of Jaffna”, a once-popular train linking the ethnic Tamil’s northern heartland to the rest of Sri Lanka before a bloody civil war cut the link 24 years ago, chugs back into service this coming week, reinforcing the government’s authority in a region once controlled by Tamil rebels.

For the old, it is a nostalgic piece of the Indian Ocean island nation’s past. For the young, the train represents something novel and opens opportunities to explore the north. For the central government, the resumption of the “Yarl Devi”, as it is known in Tamil, marks a step towards restoring national unity five years after the Tamil separatists were defeated to end the long war.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa will inaugurate service along the 400-kilometre route between Jaffna and Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, in a ceremony on Monday. Rebuilding the railway, stretches of which disappeared as rebels and residents used the rails and sleepers to build bunkers and houses, is one of the government’s big infrastructure projects to contribute to the economy in the north and win over ethnic Tamils, many of whom are still estranged after the war.

Like the old version, the new “Queen of Jaffna” is not a luxury train, although some of its coaches will have air conditioning, internet access and televisions. The new track will make for a faster, smoother ride, allowing the trip to take about six hours. More info

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