The International Steam Pages


Steam in Java

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. 


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).. 


Sugar Steam

First here are some key links for Java's sugar mill railways:

After reading the reports you may wish you had joined one of my very special Java tours, if so, sorry, it's too late 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. 

Olean 2003 Asembagus 2003

In 2002 I produced a series of pages containing photographs of the best steam action in Java. Trangkil is now history, since when Sragi has lost its field lines, Asembagus has gone green and occasional and field working at Olean is now only possible by special (paid) request. Even at Tasikmadu, the smaller locomotives now work in their theme park.

The Cepu Forest Railway
The Trangkil Roster
The Sragi Roster

The Tasik Madu Roster
Steam Action at Olean
An afternoon at Asembagus

Visiting Olean in 2015? Need some help with arranging steam trains?
Please contact Zaenal Combo vidicombo@hotmail.com

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:

2004 Annual Report (20th September 2004) David Longman's visit (8th September 2004)
2005 Annual Report (4th October 2005)
2006 Annual Report (1st October 2006) LCGB tour pictures 10th September 2006
Late season Olean report (1st October 2006) David Longman's visit (29th April 2007)
2007 Annual Report (31st December 2007)
2008 Annual Report (12th August 2008)
2009 Annual Report (2nd September 2009)
2010 Annual Report 
2011 Annual Report 
2012 Annual Report 
2013 Annual Report 
2014 Annual Report 

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:

Pakis 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 are now in the UK.

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).

Ambarawa

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 condition,

C1218 October 2002

Solo (C1218)

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.

C1218 Solo September 2009 C1218 May 2010

West Sumatra

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 May 2008).


Rob and Yuehong Dickinson

Email: webmaster@internationalsteam.co.uk