Saturday, 26 April 2014


A Brief History on the Indonesian Railways

Ever since the Dutch Government took over, they extracted so many natural resources of Indonesia (what was then called the Netherlands East Indies). They began to extract the natural resources drastically since the era of General Governor Van Den Bosch during the 1830’s, when he was put to power and trusted to rescue the Netherlands East Indies from bankruptcy due to the many wars that had taken place previously, such as the war with the Javanese Prince Diponegoro and a war with their neighbouring country, The British Malaya (now called Malaysia).

A map of Netherlands East Indies, taken from, date unknown.
Anyway, fast forward some 30 – 40 years later, this new law came to interest to many business tycoons in Europe to set up companies in the Netherlands East Indies in which they are offering ways to process these natural resources into finished goods and export them, in order to bring profit for themselves and also indirectly profit to the government of Netherlands East Indies. So they built so many manufacturing industries during those times in order to process the natural resources into finished goods.

Just like any other manufacturing industries today, one of the crucial things amongst others is the supply and chain and of course, logistics. In those days, the roads weren’t as good as today, and the only means of transportations they had was the traditionally horse drawn, donkey drawn or cattle drawn carriages, which were very inefficient, unreliable, and could take a very long time to transport goods from one place to another. Then came along George Stephenson, the man who invented the first steam locomotive in 1814. This later attracted some European business tycoons in the Netherlands East Indies who had some capital to set up the first railway in Netherlands East Indies. This was meant to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of bringing logistics from one place to another, bringing them at a faster time in more reliable way.

By the 1860’s, a company named Nederlands Indies Spoorwegen Maatschappij (The Netherlands Indies Railway Company, or shortened as N.I.S) was set up and built the first railway in Netherlands East Indies. Although it was first underestimated by most business owners and almost went bankrupt, the government of the Netherlands East Indies later gave them concession in order to fund and promote the new means of transportations by using railways. The government of Netherlands East Indies also built railway of their own, with a state owned company named Staatsspoorwegen (The (Netherlands East Indies) State Railway, or shortened for SS) and with a different gauge. The railway that was built by N.I.S used a 4 ft 9 in standard gauge track, whilst the one built by SS used a 3 ft 6 in cape gauge. Ever since SS helped N.I.S built miles of railways and promotions of their new business, every business and factory owners began to see that railway is the most effective and efficient method of transportations in Netherlands East Indies. Not only that, but more and more private railway companies began to emerge and built their own tramlines which are branched from the mainline railway, using the same gauge as what SS originally built, the 3 ft 6 in gauge. SS also built their own branch tramlines as well, just as the same time when the private companies are expanding their railway lines.

A photo of the Samarang N.I.S Railway Station located in the Northern Area of Samarang, Central Java, dated 1901 courtesy of KITLV Photo Collections. Samarang N.I.S was the first station ever to be built and set up in the Netherlands East Indies by the Nederlands Indische Spoorwegen railway firm. Most people are mistaken, thinking that it was Kemidjen Station that was the first railway station to be built and set up in the Netherlands East Indies, but infact, it was Samarang N.I.S. Notice also in the photo that the tracks are quite wide in comparison to what almost every railway lines in Netherlands East Indies. This proves that the first railway that was built in the Netherlands East Indies used the standard gauge 4 ft 9 in rather than the cape gauge 3 ft 6 in, which eventually all the railway lines were uniformed to 3 ft 6 in cape gauge by the Japanese during their invasion from 1940 to 1945.

During the turn of the century, came the new era of decauville railway lines. These are narrow gauge railway lines, built as a means of bringing raw materials into the nearest production areas, such as factories, gold deposits, etc. More and more plantation and mining companies since then started to build their own decauville railway lines as a means to replace the old traditional way of using carts and carriages drawn by animals. After the ‘decauville virus’ hit the Netherlands East Indies, decauville railway lines became a trend and it stretched miles and miles connecting plantation fields and mining sites to the nearest factory and mining deposits.

A photo of one of Orrenstein & Koppel branch offices in Netherlands East Indies located in Soerabaja, East Java, dated 1890 courtesy of KITLV Photo Collection. Orrenstein & Koppel was the company who pioneered building decauville railway lines, including in the Netherlands East Indies, when they built miles and miles of decauville railway lines almost everywhere. Later, not only they built decauville railway lines, but they also manufactured, supplied and sell steam locomotives at the same time, before other companies started manufacturing their own steam locomotives. Later the office was moved, but where to in the Netherlands East Indies is still unknown. However, this photo tells us that by 1890, the decauville 'railway virus' has already hit Netherlands East Indies.

Since 1900, the railway building maniac era began, and reached its peak in 1930, and came to a steady progress until 1935 due to the Great Depression that hit the Netherlands East Indies. When the Japanese invaded the Netherlands East Indies in 1940 until 1945, they shortened the lengths of the railway lines by ripping apart some of Netherlands East Indies’ railways and use them to build railways overseas like in Myanmar and Philipines. After the round table conference in 1949 when the Indonesians had their full rights to take control of their own country, the shares of the railway companies and plantations and mining companies which were owned by the Dutch were bought by the Indonesian government and nationalized them, turning them into state owned companies.

The railways that were built and left by the Dutch still survived until the late 1960’s, when the closure of railway lines began. In the late 1960’s, the electric tramlines in Batavia (now Jakarta) and Soerabaja (now spelt as Surabaya) began. Then came the closure of the steamtram branchlines in the 1970’s and at the same time, the closure of the decauville plantation railway line of Kebon Agoeng Sugar Mill that goes Northwards through the city of Malang, East Java. The late 1990’s until now, sees the closure of more and more decauville railway lines that are owned by plantation industries. Ever since the fall of President Suharto, farmers just do not want to be ruled and being told to plant canes and palm oils anymore, because they see that planting canes and palm oils do not bring them a huge amount of money for their daily life incomes. Another factor is the sugar mills of Java and the palm oil mills in Sumatra thought that it is very inefficient of using railways as part of their transport since they have to spend a huge amount of money to maintain them, replacing and renewing stolen parts such as screws, plates, sleepers, and some rail bars. They thought that by using trucks, all they have to do is pay the truck owners in which then the truck owners will take care of their own drivers and will take care of their own truck maintenance. They do not have to take care of the roads as well, since road maintenance is done by local city/province governor.

Purpose of the Blog
The purpose of me writing this blog is to trace back and see what has happened to the remains of some of the shutdown railway lines, just to give the readers a reminder and flashback of the great history of the Indonesian railways. Another purpose is to see what the shutdown railway lines has transformed into, so that readers more information on the current condition of the shutdown railway lines and where the railway lines start and end. Readers of the blog will also be taken through a step by step walkthrough from the beginning until the end, through every single locations in as much details as possible.

So here are the lists of the railway lines in which I have traced back and uncover :

Miscellaneous or other things regarding Indonesia's Railways or Indonesia's Dead Railways

Also visit my other blog :
Alternatively, if you want to know more about my documentations and reports on the Indonesian Railway, which mostly are narrow gauge, you might want to check out my Youtube Playlist or you might also want to check out my Flickr Photostream. Other things you might want to check out is I've managed to compile some old photos of Indonesia from many different sites with their names and copyrights written on them, right here.

Other non historical, non railway related blogs. BEWARE!!, this blog may contain explicit and offensive materials.