Demodara Loop – The Railway Engineering Marvel of the Colonial Era (දෙමෝදර රේල් ගැටය)

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During the long weekend commencing Poya day 20th September large numbers of people in private buses, vans etc, were going towards the hill country. I too along with our crowd went by van. A trip I had accomplished after more than a quarter century. The new road from Kandy through Randenigala to Badulla and back via Nuwara Eliya was our main route. Hakgala Gardens was chock’a-block’ with visitors.

Being quite familiar with the area, we went to Demodara which is in the Uva Province covered with hectares and hectares of the green carpet, tea. The Demodara railway line is a well known masterpiece of engineering feat. From the station the railway line winds its way and comes directly under the station through the tunnel which has been excavated inside a mountain.

Bridge After the Demodara Loop - Badulla End
Bridge After the Demodara Loop – Badulla End
Photo by : Asela Kulathunga

It is said that the idea of this loop was a sudden inspiration that occurred to the engineers who masterminded the railway line, when they observed the Kangany who was supervising the workers, undo his ‘talappa’ (head gear) and re-tie it round his head. We walked along the railway line in front of the station, through the tunnel, climbed up a rugged foot path which is almost perpendicular to the railway line and ended at the Spring Valley Road opposite the Demodara Railway Station. Water is dripping from the Tunnel, some of the Railway sleepers are loose and inside the tunnel it is somewhat dark even at noon with the blazing sun.

End of the loop
End of the Demodara Loop
Photo by : Asela Kulathunga

It is a great pity it is neglected. The Demodara tunnel and railway entrance is called the Demodara Loop and is of historic significance. It would be a major tourist attraction.

During the latter part of the 19th century, large numbers of Tamils from South India in the Pudukkottah areas came to the estates in Uva.

There is a school of thought that the name Demodara originated from ‘Ten Madhura’ in South India. In fact there is a reference to ‘Ten Madhura’, by S.L. Gunasegaram. S.L. Gunesegaram M.A (Lond), an outstanding scholar had devoted much to research. It is said of him that he was ‘one of the most prolific contributors to the Letters to the Editor column’ and a vigilant defender of what he held to be true.

On page 52 of his book ‘Selected writings’ published in 1985, it is stated, “In old Tamil literature ‘Ten Madura’ of pre-Christian times was not situated on the same site as the Madura of today. In old Tamil literature ‘Ten Madhura’ or Southern Madhura referred to Madhura, a sea-port still further south, a well known ancient capital of the Pandyas and a centre of Tamil culture. It was destroyed by sea erosion and the site of new city was shifted further north.’

There is evidence of large-scale settlers from the Pudukkottah (New fort S. India) area in the estates in and around Demodara and even in areas beyond. In fact the Murugan Kovil situated in Haputale Town has granite rock pillars brought from India, where the names of the donors, the ‘Theavar’ clan from Pudukkottah are inscribed. It is visible even today although done in or about 1900.

By S. THAMBYRAJAH- Colombo 3
Daily News, 16 October 2002

Also See

Map of  Demodara Loop

Please click on the button below to load the Dynamic Google Map (ගූගල් සිතියම් පහලින්)

The map above also shows other places of interest within a approximately 20 km radius of the current site. Click on any of the markers and the info box to take you to information of these sites

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Traveling Directions to Demodara Loop

Route from Bandarawela to Demodara Loop (Demodara Railway Station)
Distance :15 km
Travel time : 30 mins
Driving directions : see on google map

‘Demodara looping the loop’ marvel

Dalily FT – March 15, 2014

What has been accepted as a marvel in railway construction is the theme of a recently released set of two stamps (both of 5 rupees denomination.)  Categorised as ‘Civil engineering marvels of Sri Lanka Railway,’ the stamps depict the spiral railway track at Demodara and the Noine arch viaduct at Gotuwala. The diamond format stamps are a rather rare shape.

Demodara railway station on the Main Line is located between Ella and Uduwara railway stations in Badulla district in Uwa province. It is 277.71km away from Colombo Fort railway station with an elevation 912.50 m high above mean sea level. The station has only one platform with a crossing loop.

Popularly known as ‘Demodara loop’, the spiral railway is recognised as one of the most fascinating colonial railway civil engineering marvels in Sri Lanka. The need for its construction was to transport the production in tea estates in the Uva region down to Colombo.

A broad gauge line was being constructed and the engineers and surveyors found that elevation of hills apart at Demodara was too much for the track to negotiate from one side to another. With maximum inclination allowed in the CGR (Ceylon Government Railway as the department was known) being one foot per 44 feet (1/44) an innovative track design had to be devised.
According to folklore, when the engineers were wondering how to they could proceed beyond Demodara, a farmer had suggested to them to build the track similar to the way his turban had been tied. This suggestion had got them thinking and of course, whether they actually followed his advice is not known.

However, they cracked open the problem and the final design enabled them to take the track to a higher elevation as required for it to reach the height to the point where it could ascend to the central hills keeping to the specified gradient.

The Demodara Loop is where the track passes under itself, going around the loop and emerges from the no 42 tunnel. The Loop is 441 feet long. The station is situated exactly over the tunnel.  Also that’s the centre of the crossing point of the loop. This type of loop is known as the ’spiral loop’ or ’circular loop’. It is also known as ‘Demodara looping the loop’. It is considered the only loop in the world with a railway station situated exactly over a tunnel at spiral loop.

Among the better known loops are the Septemvri-Dobrinishte two tunnel loop in Bulgaria and the one tunnel Tehachapi Loop in California.

The station, the spiral railway line, the tunnel below and the ‘Black Bridge’ across the Baulu Oya were complete and commissioned in 1921.

The bridge in the sky

The second stamp features the nine-arch viaduct at Gonawala. Also known as ‘arch bridge,’ ‘nine heart bridge’ and the bridge in the sky,’ it was a popular and commonly used method in yesteryear railway engineering prior to the development of more advanced bridge-making designs. In spite of the more modern and hi-tech designs and new types of materials, these old solid bridges are yet in use.

The 100-feet high viaduct between Ella and Demodara railway track has been built entirely of solid rocks, bricks and cement without using a single piece of steel.  It has survived for 94 years. At the time of construction this was considered to be the longest viaduct in the East.

First day Cover of 2014 stamp celebrating the engineering marvel of Demodara Bridge and Nine Arch Bridge at Demodata
First day Cover of 2014 stamp celebrating the engineering marvel of Demodara Bridge and Nine Arch Bridge at Demodata

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