The International Steam Pages

Gunung Kataran, North Sumatra, Indonesia, August 1973

Some readers may have a copy of the book "Steam Up, Indonesia and Thailand" by John Joyce and Allan Tilley which resulted from a tour of Australian railway enthusiasts in 1973. Bob Wilson was on it and has provided this account of a visit to this delightful stone railway on 15th August 1973.

This 600mm gauge  line was about 5 kilometres long, in two sections separated by a cable worked incline. It was used to take river rocks to a transhipment siding on the branch line between Tebing Tinggi and   Pematang Siantar on the former Deli Railway which was now part of the state railway system (PNKA at that time).

The little railway utilised one of two Du Croo and Brauns built 0-6-0T steam locomotives on the top section of the railway and one Orenstein and Koppel built 0-6-0T on the lower level.

OK 0-6-0T 105 (9323/1920) on the lower level of the railway near the foot of the incline.

The cable worked incline:

Once loaded wagons reached the top of the incline, they were taken to an unloading point nearby as shown below:

My recollection of the form of crushing the rocks was that it was done by people and not machinery. I believe those people were women! The rocks were reloaded into wagons and trains ran to the exchange sidings, passing through an oil palm plantation. Ever present children line up for a photo in front of the little loco.

Two more photos of the DB locomotive (96/1926) appear below.

The oil palm plantation made a lovely setting for such a quaint little railway to pass through as the two photos below prove. Back in pre digital times, I would usually have two Pentax cameras with me, one with colour slide film and the other with black and white film. Three of the following four photographs are in the latter category.

Once the wagons of rocks reached the main line sidings they were unloaded again, prior to being loaded once more into larger wagons. The photo below shows the loco climbing up to the main line sidings. Most of the rocks in the little wagons are far too large for use on the track as ballast so perhaps they were destined for other purposes, either beside the railway or elsewhere.

At the interchange sidings on the Gunung Kataran railway.

It was an inefficient operation by western standards but it probably provided employment of sorts for many people. I doubt it lasted for much longer after 1973 but how lucky we were to witness such a lovely little railway in such a beautiful setting.

To answer a few of the questions posed above: 

By the time I (RD) got there two years later in 1975, operation had ceased.

Colin Garratt describes his own visit to the railway a little later in his book 'Iron Dinosaurs'. At that time, the rocks from the river were being transferred to a raft and whence basket by basket to the wagons. At the transhipment point to the main line a stone crusher had been installed, he adds this was 'a recent improvement since two years ago crushing was done manually by gangs of women and boys wielding tiny hammers'.

Rob Dickinson