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The Friends of Ambarawa Railway Museum

Click here for the main unofficial Ambarawa Railway Museum Home Page


A small group of regular visitors to Java have have become in effect 'Friends of the Ambarawa Railway Museum. The following notes prepared by the late John Tillman set out how (and why) such a group might operate. (In practice the Friends are now 'resting', ask anyone who has to work with the Indonesian system, why! I ahve left them here as a tribute to John's foresight.)

"The Ambarawa Railway Museum has excellent potential to become a world class museum and a World Heritage site. Not only are there many static locomotive exhibits, there is also the train ride to Bedono and in the future to Tuntang and Losari. The section from Jambu to Bedono is one of the approximately nine surviving steam operated rack railways in the world. The station buildings are also part of the museum's railway heritage. To realize its potential however, the museum's maintenance backlog needs to be eliminated, and an exhibition hall built at Ambarawa to protect and display the static locomotives, coaches and wagons etc. Vintage equipment from elsewhere on PTKA needs to be collected and assigned to the museum including some of the steam locos stored elsewhere. Also to be able to present the continuing railway story, representative modern equipment needs to be represented at the museum as and when it is withdrawn from service.

The museum needs to attract an increased number of visitors but the leisure market in Indonesia is highly competitive. Therefore the presentation in the exhibition hall and other activities including the train ride would be designed to provide a fun family day out. Reopening the line to Tuntang and to Losari will enhance the train ride experience and Tuntang has many things, including a boat ride on the river and lake, to attract the day visitor from Semarang as well as the domestic and international tourist.

Eventually a longer-term plan could be developed to reopen the line from Tuntang to Kedungjati. This would not only add to the attractions for visitors to Tuntang, it would also enable PTKA excursion trains to link up with Ambarawa museum trains.

The museum staff has made heroic efforts to operate the museum on very limited budgets. Neither the Indonesian government nor PTKA have the resources to fund the developments needed for the museum to reach its potential. However the central Java provincial government in recognition of the museums tourist and heritage importance has provided funds to start the process of reopening the section to Tuntang. Despite this, the museum urgently needs to attract alternative sources of funds from (i) commercial sources such as visitor revenues and other activities such as filming, and (ii) from civil society and corporate sponsorship.

In the year 2000 a handful of interested foreign visitors and concerned people in Semarang began thinking about how to put the museum on a more sustainable footing. The informal Semarang group/Friends of Ambarawa have begun the process of working with the museum to fund a few modest items such as a stringer to cut the grass around the locomotive plinths, repairs to Jambu station and to the loco shed, and reprinting a booklet about the museum. Funds have come from the Friends and from collecting donations from domestic and overseas people riding the train on charters that the Friends and the group have been associated with. It is hoped that assistance can be provided for restoring locomotives at Tegal and Cepu and their movement to Ambarawa and also the repair of a wooden coach from Poncol for its use ultimately on the Tuntang section.

But much more is needed not only to reverse the years of limited maintenance but also to develop the museums potential. The static exhibits need to be protected from the rain and sun by putting them in an exhibition hall which would also facilitate their interpretation to tell the story of the railway and its socio-economic role and impact. Other rolling stock and artifacts such as signaling systems would also be displayed in the exhibition hall. The exhibition hall would if possible be a dismantled train shed from a station in Java where the station was being redeveloped. This is a long-term project and will likely require corporate sponsorship, as would reopening the Kedungjati section.

If the museum is to thrive, a suitable institutional and organizational structure for the museum is needed that can facilitate corporate sponsorship and civil society support for the efforts of the staff at Ambarawa and the essential PTKA role in the museum railway operations. The marketing and promotion of the museum needs to be expanded and modern interpretation of the railway story introduced. Education and training programs for schools and colleges are also needed. The Semarang group and the Friends are beginning to take an active role in promoting these developments for example the November 2001 conference arranged by the Semarang group "Railway Heritage: Past, Present and Future." Further initiatives are planned.

The Friends have prepared this web site on the Ambarawa museum.


The Friends in action:

These pictures show Jambu station with storm damage in 2001 and after the repairs which were funded by the Friends.

Late 2001:

Jambu - with storm damage

Jambu - with storm damage

January 2002

Jambu - post repair

Jambu - post repair


John Tillman

John was the moving force behind the establishment of the Friends of the Ambarawa Railway Museum. He had established all the contacts with the Semarang Heritage Society and the railway authorities in Semarang and over the last couple of years had devoted a significant amount of time and money in helping make influential Indonesians aware of the value of their transport and industrial heritage. As this web page was nearing completion, news came in of John's death (January 2002). He had been a good friend of mine for over 25 years and it came as a terrible shock to me. My daughter described him as a 'lovely, lovely man', an epitaph I could not better.

John Tillman 2001


Click for pictures and further information about the museum:


Click here for a full list of preserved Indonesian main line steam locomotives.


Rob Dickinson

Email: webmaster@internationalsteam.co.uk