The parliamentary Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) has recommended to the Secretary to the Ministry of Transport to promptly prepare a program to improve freight transportation by rail in Sri Lanka.
The Committee emphasized the importance of streamlining the transport of goods by rail to minimize the entry of large containers into the road, considering issues such as traffic congestion and environmental pollution.
It was revealed that from 1867, when the railway service was started, to 1934, 57 percent of the total Railway department revenue was from freight transport and it has decreased to 9.3% in 2017, 8.5% in 2018 and 7.1% in 2019.
Accordingly, it was revealed that the freight transport has now moved away from its role in the Railway Department and it has been identified as a major cause of losses.
The COPA meeting chaired by State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekara considered the special audit report on the evaluation of the use of railways for the transportation of goods.
State Ministers Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Duminda Dissanayake, MPs Tissa Attanayake, Prof. Ranjith Bandara, Dr. Upul Galappaththi, BYG Ratnasekera, Niroshan Perera, Weerasinghe Weerasumana, Dr. Harini Amasooriya and many other government officials were also present.
The importance of taking steps to minimize the losses incurred by the Railway Department to make the service at least not a heavy burden on the General Treasury was discussed.
The General Manager of the Railways Dilantha Fernando said that the railway service is currently mainly engaged in passenger transport and the existing infrastructure for the transport of goods should be further developed.
It was revealed that although there were three agreements with a major cement company for the transportation of cement by rail, due to the lack of infrastructure development in the Railway Department, only the agreement to transport limestone from Aruwakkaru to Puttalam is currently in effect.
The Committee, observing that main railway customers have been lost in the recent past, instructed to discuss with the relevant stakeholders considering their needs and re-establish contacts with them while taking steps to retain existing customers.
The committee also drew attention to the lack of a proper scientific plan for freight rates and recommended that a formal plan be drawn up.
The Committee discussed at length that the Department of Railways has a large amount of unused resources including land and equipment and a large amount of wasting debris and it is a matter of great regret that they have not been properly identified and utilized for the betterment of the institution. The COPA instructed the Secretary to the Ministry of Transport to look into the matter and submit a report immediately.
It was revealed at this meeting that 32% of the fuel transportation by the Petroleum Storage Terminals Company is currently done by rail and it is expected to increase it to 40% in the future.
The Petroleum Storage Terminals Company pointed out the need to enter into an agreement with the Railway Department to increase this to 40% without any hindrance such as strikes.