This page contains more detailed information and links on the steam scene in
Java than the main Indonesian
section. Now read on for my very personal perspective on a very special island in a
very special country.
There were no separate reports from 2015 owing to ever
diminishing activity. Now (4th June 2021) comes news that Purwodadi has
'finished' which rings down the curtain on real conventional steam in Java.
Pagottan is still using its firelesses, but the status of those at Semboro is
Since this page was last updated, the 2015 'giling' or harvest
has been and gone. For steam lovers it was a disaster, virtually every mill
using 'real' steam in 2014 saw no steam activity except for the odd charter and
only Purwodadi offered a traditional operation throughout although Kanigoro did
start with one locomotive. 2016 seems to be much the same and I do not propose
to make further edits. Please read this as a historic document and no more,
check elsewhere for the current situation. (24th August 2016)..
First here are some key links for Java's sugar mill
After reading the reports you may wish you had joined one
of my very special Java tours, if so, sorry, it's
now. China, Java and maybe the Balkans are the last places in the world
where the independent traveller can experience real working steam in sufficient
quantity to make a special expedition worthwhile. Elsewhere real steam is
marginal or steam however attractive and authentic it might be is just simply
'plastic'. Most steam enthusiasts do not have sufficient patience or
understanding of the value of real steam and seem to prefer theirs laid on a plate, porno style
which is rather sad. On the other hand it does keep the numbers of visitors to
Java down and as a result, you can visit Java as an
independent traveller and expect to receive a warm welcome and no demands
for money save the official entry fee charged for access to most of the mill
areas which are not in the public domain. Cuba and China it definitely is
not and I am proud that in the 20 years I ran tours here between 1991 and 2010,
it never became a circus with the staff 'on the make'. Now that the level of
reliable daily real steam has reached the level that cannot support a further
tour in a way I would feel comfortable with, it's time to quit. My 2010 group
ended up paying for guaranteed steam in too many mills and that is a path I
would not want to follow again. It's not the cost which is actually moderate,
it's the principle; I don't listen to the siren voices which say it doesn't
matter because in a few years it will all be gone anyway, most of them come from
tour operators who sold their souls to the Devil many years ago in the name of
making a living.
These pictures at Olean and Asembagus date from 2003 and are 100% natural and
real. We saw something very similar in 2010, but it wasn't totally real any more
and much less satisfying.
This is my country - the best kept steam secret in the World today. The main
sugar season runs from June to mid-September although
some mills start earlier and others finish later. Many years ago when I
first visited them in the 1970s there were 55 or so mills, with over 40 using more than 200 narrow
gauge steam locomotives. With various closures etc, the
figures in 2003 were about 45 mills of which 20 used just around 70 locomotives,
since when no mills have closed and the corresponding latter figures in 2005 were probably
15/45. Since when things have got rather worse. Here are links to the reports
for recent years:
Out of season, things don't look so good, read about the
'Sleeping Beauty' (23rd May 2008) but Tasik
Madu has found a way to run steam 52 weeks a year (23rd May 2008).
If you don't make it soon then perhaps this is what you will see
when you finally see the error of your ways:
Baru's roster of historic steam locomotives has been put up for sale.
Prospective purchasers will need a big cheque book - click
here for more information (4th September 2004). Graham Lee bought Trangkil
4, (which is now effectively a rich man's toy rather than the historic item it
should be) and Pakis 1 and 5 in 2004. He has since bought Sragi 1 and 14 (6th
June 2005), Ceper 5 and Jatibarang 9. All went to the UK although Ceper 5 was
later sold on to Barbados.
How to do it and how not to do it.
If you are mad enough to know a little of what I get up to away from my
tour group, then I added a page of pictures
(27th September 2002). For a very welcome alternative view please read Jan Willem van Dorp's account of Java 2001
(added 19th November 2001) - a lot of thought provoking stuff here. David
Longman's 2006 report contains a lot of practical information too.
Most visitors here seem to have some appreciation of traditional Javanese manners.
Others (Harald Nave, Alfred Luft, Dietmar Kramer, some other Germans and several Japanese)
clearly have a lot to learn. (8th August 2001).
There are very few steam
powered rack railways still operating outside Europe. The Ambarawa Railway Museum in
Central Java has operated charter trains for more than 25 years, over the line south-west
to Bedono. 2002 saw the centenary of two of the operating locomotives (B2502/3). I have
now established an
unofficial web site for the railway and the museum. The future here looks brighter than it
has for a long time with the provincial government supporting the reinstatement of the
line in the opposite direction to Tuntang along the lake Rawa Pening which was re-opened
for light traffic on 4th March 2002 and may see steam trains by the end of 2010.
A small group of us helped
preserve C1218 (below) by moving it from Cepu to Ambarawa in 2002 and by August
2006 it was back in working order, seen here working a special train for the
LCGB party. Since this wasa first written B5112 has been returned to operational
Now C1218 has gone to Solo where it launched a
tourist service on part of the Wonogiri branch commencing 17th September 2009 (12th
September 2009). Below left is C1218 on a test run on 13th September 2009 (15th
September 2009), the picture by Yuda Nugrahadi was originally uploaded to
the Yahoo Keretapi Group, click
here for more pictures (19th September 2009). I have now ridden
the train myself, fulfilling a 35 year old dream (15th
May 2010), see below right. The street running down the main drag, Jalan Slamet
Riyadi, is challenging for photographers and especially videographers, but we
featured a charter here during
our 2010 Java tour.
Yes, I know it's another island but E1060 from West Sumatra was at Ambarawa (but only working
on the flat) for 10 years between 1998 and 2008 and has now returned to its
former haunts for the new Sawahlunto Railway Museum - where the coal mine for
which the railway was built was sited (30th November 2008). Click
here for more outline information on developments in West Sumatra (5th
March 2009), but for a comprehensive report, read Thomas
Kautzor's account of a visit in June 2010 (15th July
2010). Here are a couple of pictures of it from its time at Ambarawa:
Cepu Forest Railway
The other preserved steam
operation has been on the Cepu Forest Railway, a great day out especially when the tourist coaches
are left behind and and something resembling a 'real' train operates. Up to 2005
this worked pretty reliably - see my report of one such
visit (21st August 2002), but since 2006, the railway has suffered from
intermittent closures owing to rainy season damage but despite an organisation
which is best described as shambolic, the railway has managed to operate charter
trains for visiting enthusiast groups in 2008/09/10.
Other Surviving Steam Locomotives
There are large numbers of steam locomotives
preserved in Java:
Here are a couple which were not know about until
relatively recently. An extraordinary find was the
discovery of B1602 at the former steam locomotive works at Madiun (29th
August 2008). Similarly in Yogyakarta a sectioned standard
gauge locomotive at a technical school north of the main station, these pictures
of 1901 Hanomag 0-6-0T 107 are courtesy of Hery Nugroho (25th