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Canadian warrior completes fifty glorious years

1953 was the year, when a new chapter in railway history was made. The Ceylon Government Railway ordered the first ever diesel locomotives to its mainline passenger service. The unforgettable Brush Bagnalls were purchased. Then in 1954 under Colombo Plan, the Canadian Government gifted five locomotives.

The locomotives were called as G12, in Canada and in the United States. The Ceylon Government Railway classified them as M2. ('M' denotes as Mainline).

The Ceylon Government Railway bought another batch of Canadian locomotives in 1975, however for the ordinary train traveller M2 is the 'Canadian Locomotive'. It also can be called as a warrior comparing to other locomotives in the Sri Lanka Railways locomotive fleet. Reason why this is so appropriate is, this unique locomotive completes 50 years, of uninterrupted services to Sri Lanka Railway by 2004.

It is written in the Sri Lanka Railway history, during the locomotive handing over ceremony; then Chief Mechanical Engineer B. D. Rampala has whispered something to Sir John Kotelawela, then Minister of Transport.

The message was to increase the number of gifts. The message was conveyed Sir John's way. Result was, the Canadian Government increased the gifts from five M2 or G12 locomotives to 14 locomotives.

The gifts what the railway received were invaluable. The locomotives rendered 50 years of uninterrupted services to the railway. The railway men regard this locomotive as the most reliable locomotive in the Sri Lanka Railway's whole fleet. The Canadian M2 locomotive is one of the most beautiful locomotives in shape like the British built M1 locomotive. The sound is majestic. After fifty glorious years, the original trumpet horn still sounds the same.

The General Motors Canada's most popular diesel electric locomotive models ever built was the G12 (M2). The production started from 1954 and ended in 1970. They were fitted with V12 engines with 1425 HP. The locomotives were sold to most parts of the world.

Countries included were Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Columbia, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Niger, Indonesia, Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Sri Lanka. Due to its low cost and multi-purpose usage, it generated buying interest of above countries.

The original idea was to build a versatile, economical, multi gauge multi-purpose simple locomotive. The General Motors achieved it by producing the G8 and G12.

GP12 had the wheel arrangement in A1A - A1A or Bo Bo. In the railway glossary, A1A means, four wheels powered and the middle, two wheels idle. In Bo Bo version, all four wheels powered.

The naming of locomotives also had a very interesting story. During B. D. Rampala's visit to Canada, before the arrival of M2 locomotives, the engineers at General Motors presented him with a memento. The memento was a pillow that had the inscription of all the Canadian provinces.

The Government of Ceylon wanted to show her appreciation towards the generosity shown by the Canadian Government. When one of the subordinates of B. D. Rampala noticed the pillow and suggested they should name the locomotives with Canadian provinces.

The first batch arrived in 1954 and were named as (locomotive) No 569 as 'Ontario', 570 as 'Alberta', 571 as 'Saskatchewan', 572 as 'British Columbia', and 573 as 'Quebec'. Wheel arrangement A1A and classified as M2.

The second batch arrived in 1956 and were named as locomotive No. 591 'Manitoba', 592 as 'Nova Scotia', and 593 as 'New Brunswick'. Classified as M2A and had the wheel arrangement A1A. The third batch in 1958 and named No. 594 'Prince Edwards Island' and 595 as 'New Foundland'.

Classified as M2B and wheel arrangement as A1A. In 1961 locomotive No. 626 as 'Montreal' and No. 627 as 'Vancouver' were in the fourth batch. Classified as M2C and only locomotives with Bo Bo wheel arrangement. 'Montreal' and 'Vancouver' was exclusively used for Badulla run even up to now.

Finally, in 1966 the Canadian Government delivered her last two locomotives, which completed the generous gift. The last two locomotives were named locally. Locomotive numbers 628 and 629 were named as 'Kankesanthurai' and 'Galle' respectively.

During their long services to the railway, the M2 locomotives only had few changes mechanically. Earlier each passenger compartment had its own power supply mechanism to provide electricity. In later versions the locomotive, transmitted electricity to the carriages. For this purpose, an alternator was fixed to the M2 locomotive.

Out of fourteen locomotives, the only casualty was locomotive number 571 'Saskatchewan'. The locomotive was destroyed due to a bomb blast in the war torn northern sector in 1986.

Recently, high officials from the railway hinted, the most efficient locomotive M2 also should be removed from the service due to its age. If the age is their concern, the entire locomotive fleet up to M7, should be removed. The concern should be based on the efficiency of the locomotive not the age.

In United Kingdom, especially the steam locomotives and some diesels were named after royalty, and the famous personalities. They even practised this tradition in their colonies. In then Ceylon the steam locomotives were named after the British Governors.

The locomotives were treated like humans. It is indeed a great achievement by the Canadian M2 locomotive to run 50 long years. Like the British do, the Sri Lankan Railway also should honour this unique locomotive, at least by issuing a commemorative stamp and repainting the entire M2 locomotive fleet.

The railway men who had a very special likeness to this M2 locomotive 'The Canadian Warrior', looked after them for almost fifty years. Hope this will continue for the next fifty years.

- Ravi Fernando

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