Transport in Sri Lanka is based on its road network, which is centred on the country's commercial capital Colombo. A rail network handles a portion of Sri Lanka's transport needs. There are navigable waterways, harbours and three international airports: in Katunayake, 35 kilometres (22 mi) north of Colombo, in Hambantota, and in Jaffna.

CKE at night
Colombo Airport


Roads account for about 93 percent of Sri Lanka's land transport. In 2022, there were 12,255.401 kilometres (7,615.153 mi) of A- and B-class roads and 312.586 kilometres (194.232 mi) of expressways. The main modes of transportation in Sri Lanka are bus, motorcycles and passenger cars (including taxi service).


Two-lane road
Single-carriage B-Grade road
Four-lane city street
Dual-carriage A-Grade road

Sri Lanka's roads are graded E, A, B and C.

Grade Description Speed limit
E High-speed, high-traffic expressways duplicating heavily travelled A-Grade routes 100 km/h (62 mph)
A The national highway network 70 km/h (43 mph)[1]
B Major provincial roads used as feeders for A- and E-Grade roads 60 km/h (37 mph)
C Local residential roads 50 km/h (31 mph)


E-01 Expressway
Dual-carriageway E-Grade road

The Colombo–Matara Expressway is a 126-kilometre-long (78 mi) motorway linking Colombo, Galle and Matara which was built in 2011 to develop the economy of the Southern Province. The Colombo–Katunayake Expressway, Colombo-Kandy Expressway and Outer Circular Expressway (Colombo bypass road) are under construction, and a Colombo–Padeniya expressway has been proposed. The Sri Lankan government has proposed three elevated highways connecting the three main expressways:[2]

Number Name Start End Length (km) Lanes Cost (USD) Cost/km (USD)
 E01  Colombo–Matara Expressway Kottawa Matara 126 4 (provision for 6) 765.4 million 6.07 million[3]
 E02  Outer Circular Expressway Kottawa Kerawalapitiya 29 6 1.12 billion 38.6 million[4]
 E03  Colombo–Katunayake Expressway New Kelani Bridge Katunayake 25.8 6,4 (provision for 6) 291 million[5] 11.28 million
 E04  Colombo–Kandy Expressway[6] Kadawatha Katugastota 98.9 4,6[7] 4.5 Billion[8] Under construction
The-Expressway at Ja-ela

National highways

Road with marker, with a horse grazing in the background
Marker on the A5 highway in Nuwara Eliya

Main article: List of A-Grade highways in Sri Lanka

Main article: List of B-Grade highways in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka's national highways are graded A or B. A-Grade roads are subdivided as AA, AB or AC.

Road grade Length
A 4,221.37 kilometres (2,623.04 mi)
AA 3,724.26 kilometres (2,314.15 mi)
AB 466.92 kilometres (290.13 mi)
AC 30.19 kilometres (18.76 mi)
B 7,943.65 kilometres (4,935.96 mi)
Total of A- and B-grade roads 12,165.02 kilometres (7,558.99 mi)[9]

Road density is highest in the southwest, particularly the area around Colombo. Highways are in good condition, with a smooth bitumen surface and road markings; however, some rural roads are in poor condition. Heavily travelled roads are being upgraded and repaved. Public transport is widely available in many rural areas.[10]


Red bus on a rural road
Sri Lanka Transport Board bus

Buses are the principal mode of public transport. Service is provided by the state-run Sri Lanka Transport Board (SLTB) and privately owned buses. The SLTB has urban and rural routes; in many rural areas, it provides service which would be unprofitable for private operators.[10]

Colombo has an extensive, bus-based public transport system, with the Central Bus Stand in Pettah as its hub.[11] The city's road network consists of radial links (or arterial routes), which link the city and district centres, and orbital links intersecting the arterial routes. Most bus routes are on the radial links, without dedicated bus lanes due to high peak traffic volume.[12] A BRT system for Colombo has been proposed but not yet implemented.[13][14]

Luxury blue bus
Privately operated luxury bus

Inter-city routes connect many of the country's major population centres. Some service is available on the E01 and E03 expressways, with modern Lanka Ashok Leyland buses.[15]

In 2011, the SLTB began introducing new buses to replace part of its aging fleet. The Volvo 8400 buses, from Volvo India,[16] run on major routes in Colombo.[17] The most popular model is the Lanka Ashok Leyland Viking, which is operated by the SLTB and several private companies.[18]


Sri Lanka modern transportation dates back 120 years, to 1902. When the first ever car entered Sri Lanka 8 HP single cylinder Rover brought down by Edgar Money, a local British businessman. Roads at the time were barely built and linked only a few key towns around the island. Prior to the 1960s, British and European car brands such as Ford, Mini, Rolls-Royce and Rover dominated the post-colonial Sri Lanka automobile market. Purchasing an automobile was once a luxury reserved for the upper crust of society, as vehicle imports was closely regulated, and taxes exorbitant. In the 1960s, there was an abrupt halt to the influx of vehicles to Sri Lanka when the Government banned all imports in order to fix a foreign exchange deficit. However, there have been various car assembly efforts since the 1980s. Upali Corporation assembled Fiat and Mazda vehicle. However, by the mid-1980s, it was finished.[19]


Main article: Sri Lanka Railways

Modern commuter train
Class S12 DMU commuter train in Colombo
Rail map of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka's rail network

Sri Lanka Railways consists of an intercity network connecting major population centres and commuter rail serving Colombo commuters. Sri Lanka Railways operates the country's railway network, which includes about 1,450 km (901 mi) of track. Colombo is its hub. Trains connect the main cities of the country's nine provinces.

Most of the railways were developed during the British colonial period, with the first line (from Colombo to Kandy) opening on 26 April 1867. The railway was introduced as an economical means of transporting goods produced on the tea, rubber and coconut plantations to the main port in Colombo. After the 1950s, the Sri Lankan economy became focused on industry rather than plantation agriculture. The road network also grew; with the introduction of lorries, a faster means of transporting goods, the amount of goods transported by rail declined. Since their network is more focused on plantation areas than on population and service centres, the railways have generated large losses.

Their potential for expansion was demonstrated when Minister of Transport Leslie Goonewardene extended the coastal line from Puttalam to Aruvakalu in 1974 to serve the cement factory there.[20] The railway is modernising and extending that line to facilitate faster trains and improved efficiency.[21] Electrification of the network's busiest sections was proposed in 2010 to improve energy efficiency and sustainability,[22] but no work was done. The railway is extending the coastal line from Matara to Kataragama via Hambantota.[23]

The Sri Lankan rail network passes scenic landscapes—particularly the Colombo-Badulla main line, which hugs the country's steep highlands. The railways connect the cities of Kandy, Galle, Matara, Jaffna, Kankesanturai, Mannar, Anuradhapura, Gampaha, Negombo, Kurunegala, Avissawella, Kalutara, Polonnaruwa, Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Badulla, Gampola, Nawalapitiya, Matale, Vavuniya, Puttalam and Chilaw with Colombo.

The narrow-gauge Kelani Valley Line, from Colombo to Avissawella, was converted to 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) broad gauge. The other narrow-gauge lines, from Nanu Oya to Nuwara Eliya, Avissawella to Yatiyantota and Avissawella to Ratnapura and Opanayaka, were dismantled due to financial losses. In 2007, the Sri Lankan government announced plans for Matara-Kataragama (113 km), Padukka-Hambantota-Ratnapura (210 km), Kurunegala-Dambulla-Habarana (80 km) and Panadura-Horana (18 km) lines by 2014.[24]


SriLankan Airlines

SriLankan Airlines is Sri Lanka's national airline. Founded in 1979 as Air Lanka, the airline changed its name when it received partial foreign ownership in 1998. It operates to Asia and Europe from its base at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo; the airline's main office is in the Airline Centre at the airport. The airline was scheduled to join the Oneworld alliance in 2013.[25]

SriLankan Airlines flies to 62 destinations in 34 countries.[26]


As of 27 March 2022 the oldest airport and the first international airport which is Ratmalana International Airport at Ratmalana resumed international travel and declared open for the public after 55 years. The Colombo International Airport which is in Katunayake, north of Colombo is the second international airport which was declared open for the public after Ratmalana International Airport ceased international travel in 1967 and was the only international airport in operation for 46 years. The airport was renamed in 1995. Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport is in Mattala, north of Hambantota was the third international airport declared open for the public in March 2013. Jaffna International Airport became Sri Lanka's fourth international airport on 17 October 2019 when it was declared open for the public.

Domestic flights

Domestic operators are Cinnamon Air, FitsAir, Helitours, Senok, and Simplifly. Sri Lanka has 19 airports.

Airports with paved runways
Length Number
Over 3,047 metres (9,997 ft) 2
1,524 to 2,437 metres (5,000 to 7,995 ft) 6
914 to 1,523 metres (2,999 to 4,997 ft) 7
Total 15
Airports with unpaved runways
Length Number
1,524 to 2,437 metres (5,000 to 7,995 ft) 1
Under 914 metres (2,999 ft) 3
Total 4


Sri Lanka has 160 kilometres (99 mi) of inland waterways (primarily on rivers in the southwest), navigable by shallow-draught boats.

Ports and harbours

Colombo Port

Large ships with many multi-coloured containers
Container handling at the Port of Colombo

Sri Lanka has deep-water ports at Colombo, Hambantota, Galle and Trincomalee. Colombo has the highest cargo volume, with an estimated capacity of 5.7 million TEUs. The port began a large-scale expansion project at a cost of US$1.2 billion in 2008 to increase its capacity and capabilities.[27] The project, headed by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority and built by the Hyundai Engineering and Construction Company, was expected to be completed by 11 April 2012. It consists of four new 1,200-metre-long (3,900 ft) terminals which can accommodate three berths each, alongside a depth of 18 m (59 ft) (which can be deepened to 23 m [75 ft]). The channel width of the harbour will be 560 metres (1,840 ft) and its depth 20 metres (66 ft), with a harbour-basin depth of 18 metres (59 ft) and a 600-metre (2,000 ft) turning circle. The project was expected to increase the annual container-handling capacity to about 12 million TEUs and accommodate 12,000-TEU container vessels.

Hambantota Port

Construction of Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port (also known as the Port of Hambantota) began in January 2008. It will be Sri Lanka's second-largest port, after Colombo. The port will serve ships travelling along one of the world's busiest sea lanes: the east-west route running 6 to 10 nautical miles (11 to 19 km; 6.9 to 11.5 mi) south of Hambantota. The first phase of the port will consist of two 600-metre (2,000 ft) general-purpose berths, a 310-metre (1,020 ft) bunkering berth and a 120-metre (390 ft) small-craft berth.[28] The port will also contain a bunkering facility and tank farm, which will include eight tanks for marine fuel and three tanks each for aviation fuel and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). A 15-floor administrative complex will also be constructed as part of the project. Later phases will raise the port's annual capacity to 20 million TEUs, making it the largest port constructed on land in the 21st century.[29]

Dikkowitta Fishery Harbour

The Dikkowitta Fishery Harbour, near Colombo in Wattala, Gampaha, Western Province, will cost an estimated $73 million and is projected to be Asia's largest fishing harbour. With unloading and packing facilities meeting the requirements of fish-importing countries (the EU, Japan and the US), it will be an alternative site for the Mutwal fishery harbour. Facilities will include a southern basin for export-oriented fishing vessels, a northern basin for local fishing vessels, a service facility for boat repairs, cleaning and lifting and a fish-processing facility with three cold rooms.[30]

Kankesanthurai Port

The harbour at Kankesanturai, north of Jaffna, is navigable by ships of relatively shallow draught and was inactive during the civil war. The port is being restored and deepened with Indian aid.[31]

Merchant marine

In 2010, Sri Lanka had 21 ships (1,000 gross tonnage (GT) or over), totalling 192,190 GT and 293,832 tonnes deadweight (DWT): four bulk carriers, 13 cargo ships, one chemical tanker, one container ship and two petroleum tankers.


In 1987, Sri Lanka had 62 kilometres (39 mi) of pipelines for crude oil and petroleum products.

See also


  1. ^ Gamini Gunaratna, Sri Lanka News Paper by (LLC)- Latest Hot News from Sri Lanka (2013-01-25). "Sri Lanka : Sri Lanka to introduce new speed limits on roads". Retrieved 2014-02-14.
  2. ^ "Sri Lanka to construct three elevated highways to ease traffic congestion". 2012-01-12. Archived from the original on 2013-11-09. Retrieved 2014-02-14.
  3. ^ Wijesundara, Janaka (27 November 2011). "Sri Lanka's first highway, Southern Expressway opens". The Nation. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
  4. ^ "Outer Circular Highway". Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 28 Oct 2013.
  5. ^ "Sri Lanka President opens Chinese funded expressway linking Katunayake airport to capital". colombopage. 27 Oct 2013.
  6. ^ "Govt. To Finalize Colombo-Kandy Highway In Two Months | The Sunday Leader". Retrieved 2014-02-14.
  7. ^ "Sri Lanka News | Online edition of Daily News - Lakehouse Newspapers". 2011-09-12. Archived from the original on 2011-09-30. Retrieved 2014-02-14.
  8. ^ "Hiru News Official Web Site - Most visited website in Sri Lanka".
  9. ^ "National Highways in Sri Lanka (Class "A" and "B" Roads)". Archived from the original on 2016-04-28. Retrieved 31 Oct 2013.
  10. ^ a b "Sri Lanka Transport Board to import 2,000 single door buses for rural transportation". ColomboPage. 2011-12-05. Retrieved 2011-12-06.
  11. ^ "Transport in Colombo". Lonely Planet. Lonely Planet Publications. Archived from the original on 2009-03-03. Retrieved 2009-04-28.
  12. ^ Cader, Fathima Razik (23 January 2004). "One-way streets in Colombo". Daily News. The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. Archived from the original on 9 November 2010. Retrieved 2009-04-27.
  13. ^ Mushtaq, Munza (2006-07-05). "Sri Lanka to get a Bus Rapid Transit System courtesy Japan". Asian Tribune. Retrieved 2011-12-14.
  14. ^ BRT Planned or Under Construction in Asia
  15. ^ Perera, Chaminda (2012-01-03). "Toning Southern Expressway: Luxury bus service starts today". Ceylon Daily News. Archived from the original on 2013-02-19. Retrieved 2012-01-04.
  16. ^ Volvo Buses (2011-07-13). "Volvo City Bus Trial Begins in Colombo - press releases India". Volvo Buses. Retrieved 2014-02-14.
  17. ^ "More luxury buses in Colombo". Archived from the original on 2014-02-22. Retrieved 2014-02-14.
  18. ^ "Sri%20lanka%20bus - Bing images".
  19. ^ "Upali's fascination with numbers | The Sunday Times Sri Lanka". Retrieved 2022-10-18.
  20. ^ "Transportation in Sri Lanka". Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 27 Oct 2013.
  21. ^ "Dailymirror". No trains between Galle and Kalutara South. 2011-04-23. Archived from the original on 2011-10-04.
  22. ^ "Daily News". IESL proposes railway electrification project. 2010-12-25. Archived from the original on 2012-03-08.
  23. ^ "Rail Finance: Sri Lanka south railway financed by US$278mn China credit". Lanka Business Online. 23 August 2012. Archived from the original on 9 October 2012. Retrieved 28 September 2012.
  24. ^ "Pointeers". Railway Gazette International. 2007-02-01.
  25. ^ "SriLankan Airlines to join Oneworld Alliance". Retrieved 28 Oct 2013.
  26. ^ "Flight Routes". Retrieved 28 Oct 2013.
  27. ^ "South harbour to be best hub". Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 27 Oct 2013.
  28. ^ "Development of Port in Hambantota". Sri Lanka Port Authority. Archived from the original on 2010-03-06. Retrieved 2010-03-10.
  29. ^ B. Muralidhar Reddy (2010-11-18). "Hambantota port opened". THE HINDU. Retrieved 2010-11-20.
  30. ^ "About Harbour / Main Objectives / Main Facilities / Berthing Facility / Servicing Facility / Fish Processing Facility". Archived from the original on 30 October 2013. Retrieved 27 Oct 2013.
  31. ^ R.K. Radhakrishnan (2011-07-21). "India, Sri Lanka MoU to re-build port". THE HINDU. Retrieved 2011-07-27.