The International Steam Pages

Steam in Java 2003

2002 saw my 21st visit to Java and I led my 14th tour. Despite my pessimism, everyone agreed that there was still more than enough activity to satisfy the first time visitor and I was back again in 2003 with my 15th tour (actually rather more when you allow for the years I have run two). However, it has been overclouded by matters beyond my control which have further discouraged visitors to Indonesia, a situation which seems likely to continue for the indefinite future.

This is the 2003 report, click here for a brief summary of the main news, other reports are available:

In 2002 I produced a series of pages containing photographs of the best steam action then, it's well worth a look but very little of it is still possible in 2010.

Click here for the Mill Index or Mill Map or choose the area you want:

West Java Mills 
(1st August 2003)

Central Java North Coast Mills 
(26th September 2003)

Central Java South Coast Mills 
(26th September 2003)

Madiun area Mills 
(26th September 2003)

Kediri area Mills 
(1st August 2003)

Far Eastern Mills 
(26th September 2003)

Private Mills 
(1st August 2003)


The mills are arranged from West to East, North Coast then South Coast with the Private Mills at the end. Click on the mill in the Index below (mills with no link no longer use steam, but may have locos stored on site):








De Maas














Ketanggungan Barat










Pakis Baru














Tasik Madu

Tersana Baru





Mill location map

The numbers are those used in the reports.

The Main News in Brief Contents

  • With one noticeable exception (Trangkil) 2003 will not have been much worse than 2002.
  • Tersana Baru and Sindanglaut worked as in 2002.
  • Further along the north coast, Jatibarang, Pangka, Sumberharjo and Sragi worked much as in 2002.
  • Tasik Madu worked as in 2002.
  • The Madiun mills worked as in 2002.
  • Trangkil has closed all its field lines, steam is in use around the mill.
  • Olean is working normally as is Asembagus.

Prospects for 2003 Contents

This is an updated version of what I wrote in September 2001 (click here for the original).

  • The long term prospects for the sugar industry (and its remaining steam locomotives) are very poor. A few large (and relatively efficient) mills will survive, but what is left of their railways will almost inevitably be dieselised. The only question is one of timing. Since the end of the 1997 season, nine sugar mills have ceased operation and, equally important, (steam) field operations have been abandoned at three more. Although the Government has repeatedly stated its intention to shrink the industry instead it seems content for 'natural' economic events to occur whereby mills will close because farmers have chosen not to plant cane. This is very much the traditional Indonesian way of doing things. 
  • The short term prospects for the industry are tied to the Rupiah/US $ exchange rate. In 1997, U$1 bought Rp 2500. Within a year it was more than Rp 10000, before dropping back to around Rp 7000 in 1999. By mid-2000, the underlying value was about Rp 8000. Further political uncertainties caused it lose further value to around Rp 11200 in mid June 2001, but it recovered to Rp 9000 by August 2001 before weakening again. By June 2002 it was stronger again at Rp 8600 and in June 2003 it stood around Rp 8200 (a largely illusionary gain owing to the weakness of the U$ itself).  Sugar imports have been liberalised since 1999 and the local sugar price broadly reflects world prices. In 2001 the sugar industry was just about competitive but since then world sugar prices have collapsed, even Cuba has decided to cut capacity...
  • Labour shortages are again evident in some areas which confirms that the Javanese economy continues to recover strongly. Few people want to cut cane for around U$2.50 a day or less and much cane is now 'ratooned' (= grown again in the same place as opposed to making part of a rice/sugar cycle).
  • The Government would like to close more mills, but the (Government owned) sugar corporations are naturally opposing this, not least on the grounds of the social upheaval it would cause in some areas (especially around Situbondo). They seem able to 'burn' cash to keep this uneconomic industry going and frustrate the free marketeers.  There is so much excess capacity built into the system that many of the smaller mills could be closed if circumstances allowed it... 
  • Will I be back running a tour in 2004?  (I shall be back because I will be researching sugar mill machinery.) It is too early to say, but it would be nice to think so, but it will probably need a change in the international climate to encourage the visitors to come back  Add to the sugar steam, the possibilities of special trains at Ambarawa and Cepu, together with visits to the sugar mills themselves with their ancient steam powered machinery and you can have a steam trip which has no equal in the world today. In 2002 I ran two tours, in 2003 just one, which combined the best of steam with visits to Java's other tourist attractions - the volcanoes, antiquities and cultural centres. There is not enough steam left to do otherwise without cutting back the time spent on the island and thereby increasing the proportion of time spent travelling. Java has far more to offer than just steam...   Please Email me for details

Perhutani Bojonegoro Contents

This under-publicised 1067mm gauge industrial railway uses vintage diesels to bring in teak logs. I paid a brief visit on 26th June 2002. You can read what I found...  I had hoped to go back to explore it properly in 2003, but it took two days of probing and an aborted charter before the authorities admitted that it has effectively closed..

PT Keretapi News Contents

I ran 2 specials at Ambarawa in July 2003 using both B25 and E10 as usual. With the collapse in international tourism, I guess the railway will have to rely largely on local charters this year.

In 2001, the Government of Central Java allocated money in its budget to restore the line north from Ambarawa to Tuntang. This line is flat but scenic along the lake, Rawa Pening. The track was more or less unobstructed after being closed for 25 years, some (illegal) buildings had to be demolished and in places the low embankment was eroded. In practice only half a job was done - the line is passed for light 'loris' but not steam locos....

Click here for the unofficial Ambarawa Railway Museum website.

These are pictures of 2003 trains. First E1060 at Jambu:

Here is B2503 during a late afternoon runpast.

Cepu Forest Railway Contents 

Regular logging trains ceased some time ago and much of the system has been lifted. The only way to see this unique operation is to organise your own special logging trains which I did again twice in July/August 2002 and again in July 2003. However, the political anarchy which is taking over the country has seen large parts of the forest devastated and in September 2001 Perhutani lost its Smartwood accreditation which has stopped legal exports of teak from Indonesia to Europe. They were planting on an 80 year cycle but cutting on a 10 year cycle, now all (legal) logging has been stopped in Java. We didn't load much wood but we still got some good pictures. There is a full illustrated report of one of the 2002 trips available, the pictures below are from 2003.

Rob and Yuehong Dickinson