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Protecting historic Slave Island Railway Station


Situated in the hub of commercial activity, the Slave Island Railway Station, better known as the Kompanna Vidiya Railway Station, stands strong as one of the oldest legacies of our British heritage. The area got its name during the British occupation and originates from the Portuguese and Dutch period of administration when slaves, mostly African, were brought here. Since then, the area has evolved into a commercial locale with business establishments, hotels and shopping centers, making it a fitting central Railway Station location.

“The architecture of the Slave Island railway station was similar to that of the stations on the Liverpool-Manchester line and the London-Birmingham line at the time”, states Mr. Sirisena Rajapkashe, author of The History of Sri Lankan Railways. This colonial influence in architecture made the Slave Island Station the first of its kind in Sri Lanka, making it truly special. Built under the Governor Gregory regime, it was latterly the first station on the Coastline route to have a double platform, following the duplication of the coastline from 1913 onwards. 

The Coastline rail track, initially constructed from Fort to Moratuwa in the 1870's, was subsequently and gradually extended to Matara. The track was originally designed across Galle Face, but due to requests by the public to avoid the promenade, an alternate route through Slave Island was decided upon. The Slave Island Railway station was built shortly after the construction of the track, on a grander and more elaborate scale than its precursors, the stations at Colpetty and Wellawatte. This station boasted a magnificent structure which was larger, more spacious and architecturally superior to any other station in the country. Contracted to the Francis Dawson Mitchell of Ceylon Contractors, the station was modeled typically on the Victorian style British Railway Stations.

The station was and still is famed for its architectural worth, embedded with colonial and historical value. It remains an emblem of Victorian art, displaying stylish arches, intricate woodwork, neo-modern metal installations and the signature mixing of iron and stone, standing as a striking example of refined technology. Founder of ‘The Model Rail Road Club of Sri Lanka’ and Committee member of the National Railway Museum, Mr. Vinodh Wickremeratne believes that the station also “possesses delicate Teutonic and Gothic characteristics, which are unfortunately unappreciated by the majority of rushing commuters, but succeed in making the station truly different”.

It is in this light that John Keells Holdings stepped in to refurbish and maintain this social, economic and commercial treasure, while preserving its colonial architectural value. Commencing in 2002, the project aimed at restoring the station to its original splendor and enabling modern facilities to compliment the age-old architecture by refurbishing and modernizing the level crossing, bridge and other amenities within the station. Working on the basis that the station should not be just another amenity to the people who pass by, but more so, clean and user friendly, JKH ensures daily maintenance of the station. Other aspects of renovation include the reconstruction of the overhead bridge with additional roofs to the two sides, which has proved to be immensely useful for commuters during the rainy seasons. In addition, all benches have been repaired and painted so that they could be fully utilized during peak hours, the ceiling at the main entrance / ticket counter fully redone, the building re-painted, and all necessary lights replaced, ensuring that there is a pleasant appearance on entering the station. The next phase will involve paving the concrete blocks and erecting a gate at the side entrance to facilitate the rush hour workers. JKH hopes to continue maintaining the station at a high standard on a long-term basis. Project work (including all repairs and routine maintenance of the building and service areas) is sponsored and implemented by John Keells PLC under the guidance of John Keells Foundation.

The Station Master of the Slave Island Railway Station Mr. M.A.C. Gunawardene, expressed his complete satisfaction with the repair and maintainance of the station, carried out by JKH. “The facilities and appearance of the station has improved drastically as a result of this project. For instance the reconstruction of the overhead bridge along with additional roofs to the two sides, as well as the benches used by the commuters being repaired and painted, is extremely helpful to the commuters. Also, the entire premises been painted, with the station being given two new name boards, while the restrooms in the station are maintained on a regular basis, under this project as well.”   

Now famed as one of the oldest and cleanest stations in Sri Lanka, it has become a national and social icon, frequently featured on many television advertisements and popular culture.