Ceylon Railway Company

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The Ceylon Railway Company was formed as a joint stock company in 1847 to establish and operate a railway line from Colombo to Kandy in the British colony of Ceylon (today the state of Sri Lanka), principally to facilitate the local planters. Construction commenced in 1856 but, after not a great deal of progress, concerns were voiced as to the economic viability of the enterprise (whether the 5% guaranteed return was disproportionate to the escalating cost of construction) [1]

1847 Survey

A line of railway had been surveyed between Colombo and Kandy by the ‘Ceylon Railway Company’ in the year 1847, after which the project seems to have fallen into abeyance. This survey had been undertaken by a Mr Drane, a young assistant Engineer at the time he surveyed this Line “He deserves credit for having selected the best general tract for his Line that the country afforded between the rivers Kalany and Mahavilla. Mr. Drane acted well in the position of a Surveyor; but to place the Line in the hands of a Chief Engineer who had never seen the country, and knew nothing personally of the material to use, and the resources to apply in that country, was a gross error of principle from which the Company may be thankful they have escaped” [2].

1856-57 Survey

In Dec 1856 Captain William Scarth Moorsom , Chief Engineer of the Corps of Royal Engineers was instructed by the Governor of Ceylon, Sir Henry George Ward, to undertake a survey and produce a Report on the provision of a rail link from Colombo to Kandy. This Report dated May 1857 examined six possible routes and recommended the adoption of Route No.3 via the Parnepettia Pass, with a total length of Railway line of 79 miles(126km), and a ruling gradient of one in 60, with a short Tunnel. The summit at this pass is 1,780 feet(540 mtr) above sea level [2].


The ‘Ceylon Railway Company’ (CRC) in Oct 1857 started construction of the broad gauge (BG) line under the supervision of the William Thomas Doyne, Chief Resident Engineer but in 1859, differences having arisen with the Consulting Engineer, Doyne was recalled, and eventually the Company was dissolved, and the construction of the railway was undertaken and completed by the Colonial Government[3].

In 1859, Guilford Lindsey Molesworth was appointed as Engineer and Locomotive Superintendent to the’ Ceylon Railway Company’, then under construction [4].

However it was found that the costs involved were far higher than Capt. Moorsom’s estimate. The Secretary of State for the Colonies subsequently annulled the contract and took over all the company’s assets and liabilities and the Company was dissolved in 1862. Once the Ceylon Government had taken over the company’s assets it set about fulfilling construction of a railway system for the island by inviting tenders from interested building contractors and taking over three existing contracts, one with Robert Stephenson & Co., locomotive engineers. [1]

Further Information

See Ceylon Government Railway(CGR)