Using the oficicial Sri Lanka Railways website, I have sucessfully booked a journey from Colombo to Matara, but so many stretches do not seem to be possible.

Whenever I try, I get this result, no matter which date:

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I tried Ella to Kandy, Kandy to Jaffna and Jaffna to Colombo, all without success. Why is it not possible to book these journeys? How can I do it?

  • Can it be that those trains are booked solid already? Or like some trains in Poland years ago, the reservation system does not allow all seats to be sold so that the train guards can sell them for cash (and not hand that in.)
    – Willeke
    Dec 30, 2022 at 19:12
  • @Willeke I highly doubt it is a matter of fully booked trains. I tried a wide variety of dates. It seems to me that certain routes are just un-bookable.
    – Fiksdal
    Dec 30, 2022 at 19:14

2 Answers 2


Because that train likely only has unreserved carriages, for which you can only buy a ticket in person and on the day of the departure

The Man in the Seat 61 states

...for reserved cars

What is a reserved car?

Many important longer-distance trains have a designated 2nd class reserved car and sometimes a 3rd class reserved car, in addition to the many unreserved cars. Some trains have a 1st class car and 1st class seats are always reserved. 

Seats in these reserved cars can be booked up to 30 days in advance - increased from 10 to 45 days in 2013, then reduced to 30 in 2016.

If you buy a ticket for a reserved car you are guaranteed a seat, and a specific seat number will be printed on your ticket. The reserved cars are jealously guarded by an attendant, indeed he may lock off some exterior & gangway doors to control access, and there are no standees allowed - so reserved cars aren't crowded.

Demand for reserved seats exceeds supply...

Tickets for the reserved cars often sell out, so it's a good idea to buy tickets in advance before you get to Sri Lanka as explained in the next section.

Seats in 1st class observation cars & the air-con 1st class car on the blue trains from Colombo to Kandy & Badulla usually sell out almost as soon as booking opens as do 1st class sleeping berths on all the Night Mail trains. 2nd class reserved cars also sell out well in advance on the Hill Country trains from Colombo to Kandy & Badulla, so book ahead.

If you can't find it on any sites, this is a unreserved-only train :

Sri Lanka Railways 2nd & 3rd class unreserved cars cannot be booked in advance. 

Tickets are only sold on the day at the ticket office, sometimes from only an hour before departure. Turn up, buy a ticket and hop on, it's easy. Tickets cannot sell out.

Virtually all trains have unreserved cars. The unreserved cars are often crowded, whether you get a seat depends on whether you're joining at the starting station or en route, and how busy that day or time is. If all seats are taken you stand, ideally wedged in an open doorway with a breeze wafting in and great views...

  • I shared some first hand experiences in an answer of my own, you may find them relevant to this one.
    – Fiksdal
    Jan 20, 2023 at 9:19

I'm in Sri Lanka now, and I found out that the reason for the troubles with the journeys to and from Jaffna is that the stretch from Anuradhapura - Jaffna is temporarily closed for maintenance. So Anuradhapura is temporarily the final station of the Colombo - Jaffna line.

So what I ended up doing was booking tickets to and from Anuradhapura and traveling the remaining distance to/from Jaffna by other means.

The Anuradhapura tickets were easy to book online, and I did that. I'm on the train as I'm writing this.

Please note that even with an online booking, one still needs to collect a paper ticket in the counter on the railway station prior to boarding.

Regarding the trip from Ella to Kandy, I'm not sure why I wasn't able to book that online. A travel agency was able to book reserved seats for me. So there were reserved seats (and plenty were empty) so I'm not sure why they weren't bookable online.

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