Sri Lanka opens China-financed railway line

Sri Lanka has opened a new railway line, built with China’s assistance, connecting its coastal city of Matara and Beliatta in Hambantota, a move that will boost passenger traffic into the island nation’s deep south.

The 26.75-km long Matara-Beliatta railway extension is the first to be constructed in Sri Lanka since 1948, and it passes through the country’s longest and second-longest railway bridges, China’s Xinhua agency reported. The new line was declared open on Monday in the presence of Sri Lanka’s Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera and other parliamentarians.

The railway extension was financed by the Export-Import Bank of China and the contract was awarded to the China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation. According to Sri Lankan media reports, the cost of the project was $278 million.

China on Tuesday praised the opening of the railway line in southern Sri Lanka.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang termed it as a major Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project in Sri Lanka. “The railway line is the first railway project contracted by Chinese company in Sri Lanka under the BRI and it is indeed the first railway built after country’s independence,” he said, adding that it will make regional transportation more convenient and facilitate local economic and social development.

Sri Lanka has been the major recipient of Chinese loans and investments in recent years, totalling over $8 billion. The heavy borrowing has raised concerns over Sri Lanka’s ability to repay, after Colombo handed over the Hambantota port to Beijing for a 99-year lease in 2017 as a debt swap.