On the right TRACK
More than 1500 old London Transport buses have been exported to Sri Lanka over the last 30 to 50 years, and a number have been converted to operate on busy rail lines
In the mid-1960s, a huge transfer of double-deckers took place, with 729 RTLs, 280 RTWs and 266 RTs exported to Sri Lanka from the United Kingdom. Single-deck exports included 50 T-class Regals and 100 TD Leyland Tigers, and a bunch of Routemasters were also shipped out from the UK to Sri Lanka in the late 1980s.
This one in particular (pictured) and, in fact, many others like it that I encountered on my travels through Sri Lanka have been converted into trains that are being used in the city of Kandy to this day.
The driver informed me in his limited English that it takes 25 days for a team of ve to convert a single cab and that the amount of work to be done on the undercarriage is considerable.
It seemed amazing to me that this would be used to transport locals and tourists to and from the lovely Kandy Botanical Gardens just across from Kandy Station, where these unique British import bustrains operate daily.
On the inside of the bus you can see just the sheer number of welding patches and the force of labour required to convert what is very clearly a bus on the inside and out into a bus on the rail tracks. And, most astonishingly, one that actually shares a line with fully edged longdistance passenger trains.
The rst of these buses arrived in 1952 and from 1958 the entire bus operation on the island came under the wing of the Ceylon Transport Board (CTB), a government agency set up to nationalise all services. Subsequently, this became transferred to a workercontrolled operation renamed the Central Transport Board.
It seems, on inspection of the interior, that the whole cabins of these buses have been gutted to make way for a roomy driver’s area that barely resembles a bus or coach cabin. The whole front of this ‘ bus on tracks’ seems to have been removed entirely and replaced with a train driver’s rig.
Public transport in Sri Lanka today is chaotic. A tractor and trailer is quite adequate and can be seen in common use as a local kind of ‘ bus’ transport.
But by far the most common in India and Sri Lanka, at least, is the beloved tuktuk (also known as a good Sri Lankan bus driver’s worst enemy).
The two main local bus manufacturers are Tata and Ashok Leyland – or the Sri Lankan licence-built version, the Lanka Ashok Leyland, which is made near the capital city Colombo.
Anyone ever remotely connected with the bus industry in Australia or any other fully developed nation would be amused by the way locals catch the bus … with gusto. Simply get one foot on the entry step and one hand on the grab-rail and hoist yourself up. The bus doesn’t even come close to a stop, yet you’re on board. Indiana Jones eat your heart out.
It takes 25 days for a team of five to convert a single cab
Left: the unique Lanka Ashok Leyland on tracks; Right (top to bottom): The cabin has been rebuilt; Still looks like a bus inside; The links have to be built tough