The International Steam Pages

The West Sumatra Coal Railway, 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 fabulous (part) rack railway in August 1973. There is a map of the system at the end of the article.

At the time of our visit in 1973 it seemed that the main freight commodity was coal. Not the sort of coal trains that we are used to seeing in Australia these days with many locos and wagons stretching for hundreds of metres into the distance. The coal trains we saw mostly had just a handful of wagons and were hauled by smaller tank engine type steam locos. I still wonder what percentage of coal hauled was burned by the steam locos hauling the trains. The steam locos used on the steep rack sections of the network were built up to as late as 1967 which was quite recent for steam loco construction.

From Padang (the main town in the area) the railway travelled over low level coastal plains as far as Lubukalung. The railway then began a gentle ascent to Kayutanam. From there, the countryside changed dramatically as the railway climbed rapidly into magnificent forested mountain country and beyond to open undulating countryside.

I begin with photos of the locos we saw and some of the passenger rolling stock. Diminutive tank engine C3323 arrives at Padang on a small mixed train of what appears to be fairly modern passenger cars. 

Larger tank engine C3092 is taking on water at the end of the platforms.

The 23 C33 class 2-6-0T locos were built between 1891 and 1904 by Esslingen in Germany. The 48 members of the C30 class 2-6-2T locos were built during 1929 and 1930 by four different European firms.

The trainload of coal wagons arriving at Padang behind C3325 seems unbelievable for such a tiny loco even though they are empty.

C3092 is seen between Padang and Kajutanam on a train of empty coal wagons.

During our afternoon of train chasing out of Padang we came across this mixed train that included three well loaded 4 wheel carriages. An incredible sight, even as far back as 1973.

The following two photos show one of the later E10 class 0-10-0T steam locos that were constructed between 1920-28 (25) and 1964-67 (17). Some of the second batch were built in Japan by Nippon Sharyo. 

E1061 has reached the top of the grade at Kota Baru and is being turned for the descent to Bukit Tinggi.

E1061 being watered at Pasar Rebo. The extra cylinders and motion for engaging the rack between the rails is clearly visible.

We now back track to Kayutanam where the rack section began and where locos were changed over.

Once leaving Kayutanam, the railway began a rapid climb up into the mountains. A special carriage was provided for our trip and on the rack section it was placed at the very front of the train, away from the pushing rack loco.

E1061 leaving Kayutanam with our carriage leading.  

A couple of stations later, we persuaded our accompanying railway officials that we really would like our carriage to be placed next to the engine and that the noise etc was just what we wanted to be next to. Our request was granted and the remarshalled train is shown below. The locals had their views and we had our loco.

E1061 pushing hard out of a tunnel on the climb towards Padang Panjang.

E1061 on the largest viaduct on the line, it then left us behind.

We had several photo stops on our trip, after one there was a mix up and our train departed with us photographers left on a road far below a large bridge. Once we determined it wasn’t returning there was no option but for us to start walking towards Padang Panjang. It was a very hot humid day and the road was very steep. After trudging for some 2˝ kilometres a truck stopped for us to scramble up into the back of. Thankfully it took us to the station where the other passengers were relaxing under big fans in the refreshment room. I recall having a drink of hot tea in a glass not unlike those that were once used in railway refreshment rooms in Australia for ice cold beers. It was the best tea I have ever tasted without any doubt whatsoever and how I wish I could have another glass of that beautiful brew. I remember that the woman who served me grabbed a handful of tea, threw it in the glass and added hot water. No fancy teapots there!

We continued on to Bukit Tinggi. By now (see above) the loco had been placed at the front of the train at Kota Baru and we have picked up some petrol tankers.

Heading downhill towards Bukit Tinggi.

The next morning we headed off by bus to chase trains in the direction of Solok.

A first series of E10 class loco, E1018 at Batutabal on empties waiting to pass a train heading for Padang.

E1067 climbs away from Lake Singkarak.

E1018 beside Lake Singkarak.

Next morning we spent more time photographing trains, this time back in the forested mountainous area.

 On the way we passed a freight coming up from Padang Panjang towards Kota Baru.

Trains between Padang Panjang and Kayutanam. 

Early that afternoon we boarded a train for another trip over the rack section from Padang Panjang to Kayutanam. My final photo in this series was taken out of the back of the train and shows the excellent condition of the track at the time.

Postscript. By the late 1970s, the adhesion sections were dieselised, SLM rack diesels arriving in 1982/3. They were not a great success as by then the rack rails were in poor condition and within 10 years almost all were out of use and a further set ordered. Fortunately within another 10 years the mine was worked out and closed because by then SLM would no longer have been able to supply parts let alone new locos! E1016 survives at the Jakarta Railway Museum and E1060 spent some time at Ambarawa in Java but has now been sent back to the mining museum at Sawahlunto where it works occasionally to Muarakalaban. Several C33s survive, one in Jakarta, the rest in Sumatra. None of the three West Sumatra C30s survive although C3065 from South Sumatra is at the Jakarta Railway Museum. RD

Rob Dickinson