'It was in 1895 that a commission was appointed to fulfill the growing need for railway operations for the north. Accordingly, train services commenced from Kurunegala to Anuradhapura from November 1, 1904.
It was on September 15, 1902 that train services commenced between Kankesanthurai and Chavakachcheri.
Whilst a train service named Yaalpaanam Express was in operation in 1955, it was in the year 1956 that a train named Yal Devi with a diesel engine, was put in place.' - Newsfirst-
Thus with this motion, the north and south were united; that is until the 30 year war that ravaged the island halted Yal Devi's operations. Tamil Tiger terrorists bombed the Yal Devi train at Kokavil on January 19, 1985 killing 34 people and destroying the train tracks. The attack effectively ended the north-south rail transport. 24 years later in October 2014, Yal Devi was once more put back on the tracks enabling the general public to travel from Colombo to Jaffna and vice versa.
Dubbed the 'Queen of Jaffna' by President Mahinda Rajapaksa Yal Devi rumbled her way from Palai across the island as her services were resumed to auspices and religious observances, welcomed warmly by the new constructed Jaffna train station and its people. Adorned brightly in floral garlands, she was boarded by His Excellency and distinguished guests on her first journey in more than two decades further strengthening the island's post-war recovery process. Sri Lanka has been developing in leaps and bounds from infrastructure to tourism ever since the war ended in 2009 and this growth has been phenomenal with a visible change in the country; the President also opened railway stations at Kodikamam and Nawakkulam along the way.
Railway Superintendent L.A.R. Ratnayake said that four trains from Colombo to Jaffna and four trains from Jaffna to Colombo will be in service daily.
The Railway Superintendent further stated:
"Starting from 14th of October, Tuesday, the general public will be able to travel from Colombo to Jaffna and vice versa. Four (4) trains will travel from Fort, Colombo to Jaffna and four trains will travel from Jaffna to Fort, Colombo on a daily basis. On Saturdays, one train will travel from Matara to Jaffna while the same train on Sunday will travel from Jaffna to Matara. Of the four trains which will travel from Fort, Colombo to Jaffna, two will be intercity express trains while one will be the Yal Devi and the other will be a night mail train service. Of the two intercity express trains, one will be fully air-conditioned which will be priced at Rs.1500 per seat."
Whilst this is a rather steep price for the more frequent traveler on this route that includes the financially constrained populace of the island, the following rates were released for a more economical choice. First class seats will be priced at Rs. 900 rupees while booked second class seats will be priced at Rs.800 rupees. Commercial Superintendent Sisira Kumara went on to say that a booked third class seat will fare at Rs.500 rupees and an ordinary third class seat will be Rs.320.
The re- instigation of Yal Devi as a mode of transport goes beyond merely facilitating travel opportunities in the island. It symbolizes unity, diversity and the resilience of a nation after the crippling effects of war. Jaffna is yet an unexplored gem, one that has remained off bounds for a majority of Sri Lankans and one that is fast growing as continuous streams of journalists, photographers, artists, historians, writers etc. have been trickling in in order to gauge a better idea of this city that carries with it dark history.
This historic occasion marks a significant turn for the positive taking into account the island's booming tourism industry. With more routes opening up, travelers both local and tourists are able to access the island and its previously unexplored regions giving way to avenues of never before examined opportunities and excursions. A different face of the island, one that is necessary in understanding the diversity of Sri Lanka's population has been opened up along with Yal Devi's journey. One could indulge in the train's air-conditioned facilities, take in some sights and upon reaching 'Yal' (Jaffna in Tamil) gorge on an authentic 5 spices Jaffna curry so delicious yet so spicy it will make your eyes tear! Delight your taste-buds with Rio ice-cream which though now has been spread across the island, was essentially born in Jaffna and to this day remains one of the main attractions there.
It is time to explore Jaffna so make sure you include a 'Yal Devi' ride in your itinerary!