The International Steam Pages

Sawahlunto Narrow Gauge Relics, 2012

This is part of our report on our visit to West Sumatra in late 2012.  You can read about the rest of it from the links below.

Thomas Kautzor's report from 2010 gave an overview of the railways of West Sumatra. In it he mentioned the 600mm electrified narrow gauge system which was certainly still active on my very brief visit in 1975. My camera was malfunctioning at the time but I do know that my late friend Peter Michie photographed a Polish mining locomotive. By 2012, there was little trace remaining here, just to the right of the main complex is what appears to have been a tunnel, the second picture shows what may have been connections for the overhead wires inside it. The chains refer to the apparent method of keeping the miners on the job in the early days of mining operations.

In the nearby workshop is some track set in the floor and I found one complete wagon, although there are several bodies in the open outside:

During our stay we commuted along the road to Talawi 20 km north of Sawahlunto that suffers from subsidence following 100 years of mining. On one occasion we took the old road which runs a little to the east and to my surprise we went past a second deep mine, apparently connected internally to the main mine and, of course, also closed. However, in the yard, there was more substantial railway remains, some of which it is to be hoped will find their way to Sawahlunto.

Standing in the open was a less than complete Polish electric locomotive, the plate shows it dates from 1964. It has been part painted, maybe for preservation. Indeed Gerard de Graaf tells me (December 2013) that it has now been finished and moved with some wagons to the front of the old office on Sawalunto.

There were half a dozen more such creatures in a nearby shed. Noticing a hole in the wall I quickly ducked inside, ripping my shirt in the process. It would have been a lot easier to go through the door which I later noticed was unlocked! I saw no identification on any of them except for one incomplete plate although as I was under pressure to rejoin our hosts in the car, I can't be sure this is so.

The two at the back (08 and 09) were similar to the one outside (10):

There was a third similar without a cab and I did not record any identification. The three smaller locomotives carried 00, 01 and 03 and this is 03 from above.

This is the plate on 01.

00 look to be a smaller locomotive, it is not impossible that some of these were powered by batteries...

I was fascinated to learn that there had been a line from the mine for several kilometres down to the power station at Salak on the opposite bank of the Sungei Ombilin, apparently it closed around 1982. I was shown where the track ran next to the road, but no trace remains and I wouldn't have guessed its existence from what I saw. The power station there subsequently closed, the original Dutch building is on the left and its later Indonesian replacement on the right.

Today, a new power station operates one kilometre upstream, being fed from opencast mines in the hills next to the river just below Salak. Inevitably, they are not things of beauty, the land is left badly scarred and on the south side at least some of the spoil seems to be conveniently finding its way into the river... It's probably a lot safer than the previous system but there are other costs to be paid by a later generation. Apparently PT Bukit Asam is the mining company which explains why they still have a presence (offices and workshops) in Sawahlunto - of course their major operation is in South Sumatra at Tanjung Enim. This had a 600mm electrified railway in 1984 but it had disappeared without trace by 1992.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson