The track-laying commencement of the first phase of the China-built Matara-Kataragama railway extension project has been held in Matara in southern Sri Lanka.
The first phase of the project includes constructing a railway service from Matara to Beliatta, in the south of the island country.
Sri Lankan State Minister for State Enterprise Development Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said during the ceremony on Friday that the Sri Lankan government was hoping to finish the first phase of the railway project in the coming months, which will benefit the public and tourists.
"On behalf of the president and the Sri Lankan government, I would like to thank the Chinese government for this historic event. The extension is a historic development which will hugely benefit the public transport sector as well as the country's tourism sector," Abeywardena said.
"Successive governments in the past have tried to implement this project. Due to the assistance of the Chinese government and the Chinese company, this project will soon be a reality," the minister added.
The Matara-Kataragama railway project is the first new railway line constructed in Sri Lanka since the island country gained independence in 1948.
The project, funded by the EXIM Bank of China on a concessional loan, is being constructed by China National Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CMC) in consultation with the Sri Lankan Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation and the Central Engineering Consultancy Bureau.
Vice President of CMC Zhao Jun said the railway extension project, which was under the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, is a key project closely related to the development of Sri Lanka, since in future the railway will connect many industrial areas in the south of the country.