Coastline rail tracks in peril!

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The famous coast line rail tracks are in peril due to coastal erosion and rising sea levels. Last week, a substantial amount of sinking of the coast along the Moratuwa-Koralawella railway line resulted in significant damage and the closure of various sections of the tracks.

The Coast Conservation Department, however, later took action to rivet the bund, which included the existing beach area. Sea erosion, which has been occurring over time and going unnoticed, is creating a huge impact to those living close to the beach. The sad thing is even though sea erosion is causing a severe impact, many have not realised the gravity of the issue.

Trains departing from Moratuwa-Koralawella were now being driven carefully and at very low speeds. Residents warned that a major catastrophe could happen if the Railway Department and the Coast Conservation Department do not act to resolve this issue fast and find a permanent solution.

What happened?

The Coast Conservation Department has now realised that being one of Sri Lanka’s oldest rail tracks, the Moratuwa-Koralawella stretch was at risk of being washed away.  Moratuwa Area Engineer (Colombo South) Eng. (Dr) T.L.C. Vinodh said despite the coastline being known to be prone to sea erosion, the Coast Conservation Department did nothing about it because of the stretch being used for extensive fishing by fishers living in the area.

He said last week officials of the Coast Conservation Department visited the area after railway authorities warned them about severe erosion impacting the area. Dr. Vinodh agreed that erosion that had already taken place was hazardous and measures had to be taken to rectify it.

The Department has now started working to rehabilitate the area. But what about the other rail tracks along the coast? Are they secure enough for train travel is the question many train commuters ask.

Sea erosion effects

According to the Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Department, shoreline changes brought about by erosion were processes that occur over a period of time. Soil erosion could occur on a smaller scale due to storms, regular wave action, tides, and winds or on a larger scale when glaciation or orogenic cycles that may significantly alter sea levels and tectonic activity which cause coastal land subsidence or erosion occur.

Many coastlines are therefore naturally dynamic, and cycles of erosion are frequently a key aspect of their ecological character. Wind, waves, and currents are also powerful natural forces that can quickly shift the position of the shoreline due to their ability to easily move loose soils and unconsolidated sand in coastal areas. 

Speaking further, he added that, if human involvement were to be excluded, these processes would just be examples of natural evolutionary occurrences.

Are trains at risk?

When contacted, General Manager of Railways Dhammika Jayasundara stated that although trains operating along the coast typically move very slowly, they had to slow down even more due to last week’s damage caused by the ground sinking in Koralawella.

He said to draw tourists and provide them with a better scenic view, rail tracks were erected in the past close to the coastline. When travelling in a train along a shoreline, the sea glistens and laps against the shore as the train passes the few eager spring surfers and sunbathers. The train line passes by the shore so closely that at times it seems as though one is riding the ocean.

Department sources claimed that the Koralawella -Moratuwa coast was slightly unstable. Some of the coastline’s change has been attributed to the development of the Koralawella -Moratuwa coast as a tourist destination. Additionally, according to some, erosion in the Bay has been brought on by the construction of the fishery harbour in Koralawella.

According to some, the development of highways and railways linking these towns resulted in the concentration of residential areas along the coast. They added that these roads may have been situated far from the beaches during the planning and building phase.

“However, roads too have eroded as a result of progressive coast erosion, as seen in the instance of the Main Colombo-Galle Road. Construction of structures as an emergency measure has occasionally been damaging to the overall preservation of the coast. The expense anticipated in the Master Plan for Coast Erosion Management already includes a sizeable portion of the cost of maintaining these roads and railway lines,” they said.

The risk of a train falling in a shoreline owing to marine erosion, according to station masters, is largely improbable. But they say train compartments derailing is the most likely hazard to occur.

Nature vs. Man

Due to the south-west monsoon two weeks ago, local fisherman and residents in the southern region had to deal with a minor tsunami. It was not typical for the sea to hit land during that time and there have been greater impacts on other days. Despite the fact that sea erosion and the ground sinking in the Koralawella area being unrelated to the south-west monsoon, Sri Lankans may soon have to deal with the impact of climate change.

It is clear from past experience that if no steps are taken to curb sea erosion, it is sure to take a hold in the west and southwest coasts, and the ecology will suffer in all coastal areas. These losses include road damage, rail tracks, and communication infrastructure, as well as the loss of land, residences, and other buildings.

BY Thameenah Razeek