2002 saw my 21st visit to Java and I led my 14th tour. Despite my pessimism, everyone
agreed that there was still more than enough activity to satisfy the first time visitor
and I was back again in 2003 with my 15th tour (actually rather more when you allow for
the years I have run two). However, it has been overclouded by matters beyond my
control which have further discouraged visitors to Indonesia, a situation which seems
likely to continue for the indefinite future.
This is the 2003 report, click here for a brief summary of the main news,
other reports are available:
In 2002 I produced a series of pages containing photographs of the best steam
action then, it's well worth a look but very little of it is still possible in
Click here for the Mill Index or Mill Map or choose the area you want:
The mills are arranged from West to East, North Coast
then South Coast with the Private Mills at the end. Click on the mill in the Index below
(mills with no link no longer use steam, but may have locos stored on site):
The numbers are those used in the reports.
The Main News in Brief
- With one noticeable exception (Trangkil) 2003 will not have been much worse than 2002.
- Tersana Baru and Sindanglaut worked as in 2002.
- Further along the north coast, Jatibarang,
Pangka, Sumberharjo and Sragi worked much as
- Tasik Madu worked as in 2002.
- The Madiun mills worked as in 2002.
- Trangkil has closed all its field lines, steam is in use around the mill.
- Olean is working normally as is Asembagus.
Prospects for 2003
This is an updated version of what I wrote in September 2001 (click here for the original).
- The long term prospects for the sugar industry (and its remaining steam locomotives) are
very poor. A few large (and relatively efficient) mills will survive, but what is left of
their railways will almost inevitably be dieselised. The only question is one of timing.
Since the end of the 1997 season, nine sugar mills have ceased operation and, equally
important, (steam) field operations have been abandoned at three more. Although the
Government has repeatedly stated its intention to shrink the industry instead it seems
content for 'natural' economic events to occur whereby mills will close because farmers
have chosen not to plant cane. This is very much the traditional Indonesian way of doing
- The short term prospects for the industry are tied to the
Rupiah/US $ exchange rate. In
1997, U$1 bought Rp 2500. Within a year it was more than Rp 10000, before dropping back to
around Rp 7000 in 1999. By mid-2000, the underlying value was about Rp 8000. Further
political uncertainties caused it lose further value to around Rp 11200 in mid June 2001,
but it recovered to Rp 9000 by August 2001 before weakening again. By June 2002 it was
stronger again at Rp 8600 and in June 2003 it stood around Rp 8200 (a largely illusionary
gain owing to the weakness of the U$ itself). Sugar imports have been liberalised
since 1999 and the local sugar price broadly reflects world prices. In 2001 the sugar
industry was just about competitive but since then world sugar prices have collapsed, even
Cuba has decided to cut capacity...
- Labour shortages are again evident in some areas which confirms that the Javanese
economy continues to recover strongly. Few people want to cut cane for around U$2.50 a day
or less and much cane is now 'ratooned' (= grown again in the same place as opposed to
making part of a rice/sugar cycle).
- The Government would like to close more mills, but the (Government owned) sugar
corporations are naturally opposing this, not least on the grounds of the social upheaval
it would cause in some areas (especially around Situbondo). They seem able to 'burn' cash
to keep this uneconomic industry going and frustrate the free marketeers. There is
so much excess capacity built into the system that many of the smaller mills could be
closed if circumstances allowed it...
- Will I be back running a tour in 2004? (I shall be back because I will be
researching sugar mill machinery.) It is too early to say, but it would be nice to think
so, but it will probably need a change in the international climate to encourage the
visitors to come back Add to the sugar steam, the possibilities of special trains at
Ambarawa and Cepu, together with visits to the sugar mills themselves with their ancient
steam powered machinery and you can have a steam trip which has no equal in the world
today. In 2002 I ran two tours, in 2003 just one, which combined the best of steam with
visits to Java's other tourist attractions - the volcanoes, antiquities and cultural
centres. There is not enough steam left to do otherwise without cutting back the time
spent on the island and thereby increasing the proportion of time spent
has far more to offer than just steam... Please Email me for details.
Perhutani Bojonegoro Contents
This under-publicised 1067mm gauge industrial railway uses vintage diesels to bring in
teak logs. I paid a brief visit on 26th June 2002. You can read what
I found... I had hoped to go back to explore it properly in 2003, but it took
two days of probing and an aborted charter before the authorities admitted that it has
PT Keretapi News Contents
I ran 2 specials at Ambarawa in July 2003 using both B25 and E10 as usual. With
the collapse in international tourism, I guess the railway will have to rely largely on
local charters this year.
In 2001, the Government of Central Java allocated money in its budget to restore the
line north from Ambarawa to Tuntang. This line is flat but scenic along the lake, Rawa
Pening. The track was more or less unobstructed after being closed for 25 years, some
(illegal) buildings had to be demolished and in places the low embankment was eroded. In
practice only half a job was done - the line is passed for light 'loris' but not steam
Click here for the unofficial Ambarawa Railway Museum
These are pictures of 2003 trains. First E1060 at Jambu:
Here is B2503 during a late afternoon runpast.
Cepu Forest Railway Contents
Regular logging trains ceased some time ago and much of the system has been lifted. The
only way to see this unique operation is to organise your own special logging trains which
I did again twice in July/August 2002 and again in July 2003. However, the political
anarchy which is taking over the country has seen large parts of the forest devastated and
in September 2001 Perhutani lost its Smartwood accreditation which has stopped legal
exports of teak from Indonesia to Europe. They were planting on an 80 year cycle but
cutting on a 10 year cycle, now all (legal) logging has been stopped in Java. We didn't
load much wood but we still got some good pictures. There is a full
illustrated report of one of the 2002 trips available, the pictures below are from