Infrastructure Upgrade Essential for Competitiveness, Says Ambassador Blake

Address to the Chamber of Construction Industry Presentation on Transportation Solutions for Rapid Economic Growth

Full Text of Speech Delivered by Ambassador Robert Blake Jr on June 11, 2007:

Thank you for inviting me today. It is an honor to speak to the Chamber of Construction Industry and I look forward to hearing Dr. Walter Wickramasinghe speak on a very important and timely issue — transportation. First, permit me if you will, to ask you a trivia question: Can anyone here name the U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka in 1987? In a moment, I will return to this question — that will give some of you time to rack your memories.

As you know, to compete effectively, in both global trade and investment, countries must have modern, reliable infrastructure. Transport infrastructure in particular is essential for an island state that must move goods efficiently to and from its one major port. Moreover, a safe, secure and efficient transportation system can bind the nation closer together, by making it easier and faster to visit relatives, see unfamiliar parts of the country, or travel for business meetings.

Sri Lanka has an urgent need to connect, upgrade, and extend its rail, air, port, and road infrastructure. I’m reminded of this daily as I look out my office window at the trains chugging along Colombo’s coast every 15 minutes. This brings me back to my trivia question, because I am told that some of those trains are the same ones that plied the tracks when Ambassador James W. Spain represented the United States here 20 years ago. Excuse me for saying so, but that is not a good sign for Sri Lanka’s competitiveness.

[A Colombo bound train from south is packed with the commuters. Most of the people travel by train to Colombo from other parts of the country to avoid traffic – File Photo Courtesy of HumanityAshore.org]

And speaking of trains, one of the biggest laughs I have drawn in nine months of public remarks here is when I told the Sri Lanka America Society a few months ago that my family and I had returned to Colombo from a trip to Nuwara Eliya by taking the train! It seems we were the only ones who were surprised when we discovered that our driver had made it back to Colombo two hours before we did. I will say though that, despite the crawling pace, the lack of service, and the unswept floors, it was a very scenic train ride. These are only one of many examples of the critical need for Sri Lanka to overhaul its transport sector.

The good news today is that, with the efforts of your Chamber and the expertise of Dr. Wickramasinghe, I am optimistic that one of my successors decades from now will overlook a bullet train along the coast and will himself enjoy a smooth one-hour train ride home from Nuwara Eliya.

[Source: US Embassy News, Colombo, Sri Lanka]

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