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History of Railways in Indonesia

February 9, 2012
Tulisan ini cukup menarik, saya ambil/kutip sepenuhnya dari mohon maaf jika kurang berkenan.

In June 17, 1864, Governor-General Mr.   L. A. J. W. Baron Sloet van Beele broke ground for the first railway line in   Java, which was then part of Netherlands East Indies. The line belonged to   the Nederlandsch-Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij (Netherlands East   Indies Railway Company), and the first line in operation was between Semarang   and Tanggung, opened in August 10, 1867.

The line was then unprofitable, so the   company turned to the government for help in completing the rest of the 166   km long main line to Yogyakarta through the Vorstenlanden. The great   cost involved in the building was partly caused by the decision to build the   tracks at the standard gauge (1435 mm/4′ 8½”). This also resulted in the   selection of a narrower gauge for most of the later construction, after a   1869 report by J. A. Kool and N. H. Henket showed the economy and suitability   of 1067 mm (3′ 6″) gauge. In fact, the law allowed only the construction   of 1067 mm gauge railways, except for some 600 mm gauge feeder lines.

The first of the narrow gauge line was   also built by the NIS, connecting Jakarta (then Batavia) and Bogor (then   Buitenzorg). It was opened in January 31, 1873 after two years of   construction. The line was quite profitable, but as it was isolated from the   rest of the NIS lines in Central and East Java, it was later sold to the SS   in 1913.

The state then began to get involved   directly in the construction of railways, after a rather lengthy period of   hesitation, since the Liberal government in the Netherlands would rather have   private enterprise creating the railways. Anyway, state railways were   considered necessary for strategic purposes. In May 16, 1878 the first line   of the Staatsspoor- en Tramwegen in Nederlandsch-Indië (State Railway)   was opened between Surabaya and Pasuruan. Three years later, construction was   begun on a line from Bogor to Cicurug in West Java, with the intention to   reach Cilacap, an important port in the southern coast of Java.

In 1884, the SS lines from the east   reached Surakarta, on the NIS main line, and in 1888, the western line   reached Cilacap. A continuous railway line was in place between Jakarta and   Surabaya in 1894, with the completion of the last section, between Maos and   Cibatu. The journey between the two points took three days, with the actual   travel time being 32½ hours, because trains did not run at night, and the   presence of different gauges required passengers and goods to be transferred   at both Yogyakarta and Surakarta. Yet it was a great improvement over the   horse-hauled carriages, which took up to two weeks for the trip.

The Samarang-Joana Stoomtram   Maatschappij received the concession to build a light railway (“tramway”)   between Semarang and Juwana in 1881. It was the first of the 15 tramway   companies in Java. The tramways were usually related to agricultural   developments, especially sugar plantations and factories, tobacco and rubber   plantations, and forestry. The lines also acted as feeder to the main lines.   These tramways were built according to certain standards, allowing some   exchange of rolling stock with the state railways, and some lines were indeed   later upgraded to main-line railway standards.

Railway and tramway companies in Java, Madura and Sumatra




in 1939


Nederlandsch-Indische     Spoorweg Mij

West Java,     Eastern Central and East Java


855 km

Staatsspoor-     en Tramwegen in Nederlandsch Indië



2761 km

West     Sumatra


263 km

South     Sumatra


661 km



512 km

Deli     Spoorweg Mij

North     Sumatra


554 km

Javasche     Spoorweg Mij

Tegal-Balapulang,     Northwest Central Java


(24 km)


Bataviasche     Ooster Spoorweg Mij



(63 km)

To SS 1898

Samarang-Joana     Stoomtram Mij

Semarang-Cepu,     Northwest Central Java


417 km

Semarang-Cheribon     Stoomtram Mij

Semarang-Cirebon,     Northern Central Java


373 km

Oost-Java     Stoomtram Mij

Surabaya     area


36 km

Serajoedal     Stoomtram Mij

Maos-Wonosobo,     Serayu River Valley


126 km

Poerwodadi-Goendih     Stoomtram Mij

Purwodadi-Gundih,     Central Java


(17 km)


Pasoeroean     Stoomtram Mij

Pasuruan     area, East Java


32 km

Probolinggo     Stoomtram Mij

Probolinggo     area, East Java


41 km

Kediri     Stoomtram Mij

Kediri-Jombang,     East Java


121 km

Malang     Stoomtram Mij

Malang     area, East Java


85 km

Madoera     Stoomtram Mij

Bangkalan-Kalianget,     Madura


213 km

Modjokerto     Stoomtram Mij

Mojokerto     area, East Java


78 km

Babat-Djombang     Stoomtram Mij

Babat-Jombang,     East Java


(71 km)


Solosche     Tramweg Mij

Solo-Boyolali,     Central Java


(27 km)


Sumatra had its first railway by 1876, a   4 km line between the port of Ule Lhee and Banda Aceh (then Koetaradja),   built for military purposes. This line used the 1067 mm gauge. As the Aceh   War raged on, the lines were expanded (and suffered from sabotage attempts)   along with the Dutch military advances.

The first line of economic significance   in Sumatra was laid by the Deli Spoorweg Maatschappij in 1886, between   Labuhan (the erstwhile port) and Medan. This line served the fertile Deli   region, and later served Besitang, Tanjungbalai, Rantau Prapat and Pematang   Siantar. The last section of the line to Rantau Prapat was completed in 1937.

The Aceh line was later regauged to 750   mm (2′ 5½”), and was completed to Besitang, 520 km southeast of Banda   Aceh, in 1917, where a junction was made with the DSM line from Medan. The Atjeh   Staatsstoomtram was transferred from the military to the SS in January 1,   1916. Even then, the situation in Aceh was not exactly peaceful, and the line   kept its military importance up to the end of Dutch rule – even into   independence days!

The government constructed a line in the   Minangkabau region in West Sumatra between 1891 and 1894, between Teluk Bayur   and the coal mine at Sawah Lunto. The 158 km-long line had to clear the Bukit   Barisan range, climbing up to 773 m, and requiring a 43 km-long rack section   between Kayutanam and Batu Tabal. It was the only rack line of a significant   length in Indonesia. The line also went to Bukittinggi (then Fort de Kock)   and Payakumbuh, both relatively important regional centers.

In the southern part of Sumatra, the   government constructed a railway line from Panjang (then Oosthaven, the ferry   port for Java) to Kertapati (across the River Musi from Palembang), and to   Lubuklinggau, serving also the coal mine at Tanjung Enim. The construction   began in 1914 and was completed in 1932.

The only public railway in Indonesia   outside Java, Madura and Sumatra was opened in July 1922 in South Celebes.   The line went from Ujung Pandang to Takalar, a distance of 47 km. It was   closed in 1930 due to lack of traffic.

The railway service improved gradually.   By 1899, a third rail was installed on the standard gauge line between   Yogyakarta and Surakarta, although through passenger trains only began   operating in February 1, 1905. The opening of the new line through the   Priangan mountains in May 2, 1906 allowed the introduction of a much faster   passenger service between Jakarta and Surabaya, requiring only 23 hours of   travel time, but the actual journey still took two days.

In December 31, 1912, the law allowing   the construction of the Cirebon-Kroya line was passed. The First World War   stagnated the construction, but it was completed and opened in January 1,   1917. This line allowed trains to avoid the long, heavily graded (2.5%)   original line through Bandung, and shortened the distance between Jakarta and   Surabaya by 44 km. In 1918, the banning of running trains at night was   lifted. The passenger train from Jakarta to Surabaya then took 17 hours.

The Semarang-Cheribon Stoomtram   Maatschappij, a tramway stretching along the north Central Java coast,   was an important one: it served 27 sugar mills. Beginning in 1914, its main   line was improved to higher standards, allowing greater speeds and heavier   trains. It became a significant partner to the SS in the Jakarta-Semarang   passenger trains.

The fiftieth anniversary of the SS in   1925 was marked by the inauguration of an electric line connecting Bogor to   Jakarta and its suburbs. The electrification was at 1500 volts DC.

In May 1, 1929, a 1067 mm line was   completed between Yogyakarta and Surakarta, finally allowing much faster   schedules between Jakarta and Surabaya. The best time was cut to 13½ hours,   and then gradually to 11 hours and 27 minutes, in 1939. The train,   Eendaagsche-Expres, had an average speed of 71.7 km/h on the Surabaya-Jakarta   run.

Later, in November 1, 1936, another   express service was introduced: the Nacht-Expres (Night Express). It   was slower (between 21.00 and 05.00, the speed was limited to 60 km/h) than   its daytime counterpart, but was more comfortable, for the passengers would   not be affected by the tropical sun heat.

Railway map of Java, circa 1930

The Great Depression came in 1929, and   the economic difficulties that resulted caused the cancellation of several   projected extensions, for example, a railway line connecting the Southern and   Western Sumatran SS lines to the DSM line, a line in West Borneo from   Pontianak to Ketapang, and another in South Borneo, and a line in North   Celebes. A number of unprofitable lines were closed, including the   Tulungagung-Tugu and Jatibarang-Karangampel lines (both closed in 1932), Warungdowo-Purwosari   and Warungdowo-Ngempit lines (1933), Tanahmerah-Kebanyar (1936) and   Pamekasan-Kalianget (1937).

Plans to renew the locomotives of the   railways were also affected. In 1931, only the SJS bought new locomotives,   which became the last order by any of the Indonesian railways until after the   Second World War. The SS, facing competition from autobuses and aeroplanes,   but unable to buy new locomotives, rebuilt many freight locomotives, enabling   them to run at higher speeds, resulting in faster schedules.

Generally, on the SS in the 1930s,   passenger train speeds and frequencies were raised. As an example, the   Jakarta-Bandung expresses numbered only two in 1934, taking 3 hours and 40   minutes. In November 1, 1934, the frequency was doubled, and the timing   became 2 hours and 45 minutes, later to be cut down further to 2 hours and 30   minutes. The trains were commonly known as the Vlugge Vier (The Four   Fast [Trains]).

Vlugge Vier schedules (1934)

Tandjong     Priok





Tandjong Priok





Compare   to present-day Jakarta-Bandung schedules.

Not only on the SS in Java, but also in   South Sumatra there was an increase in speed limits, allowing a maximum of 75   km/h on the South Sumatran main line (in 1940), and also 50 km/h on some   lines in West Sumatra. It was also in this period that the SCS upgraded its   line to a maximum of 75 km/h, resulting in faster express schedules between   Jakarta and Semarang.

It might be interesting to note that the   fastest speed in the SS days was not reached by a 1000 class 4-cylinder   compound, but instead by an older 700 class. In fact, the 1000 class (“duizendjes”)   was considered a failure, and had the Depression not intervened, the class   would have been rebuilt into 2-cylinder simples.

The Second World War broke out in   September 1939, affecting the railways once again. NIS’ plans to obtain   several diesel-electric railcars from Beijnes and high speed streamlined   standard gauge steam locomotives from Werkspoor were cancelled, because The   Netherlands was occupied by Germany. For strategic purposes, the NIS standard   gauge line from Solo to Gundih was fitted with a third rail, allowing narrow   gauge trains to travel from Semarang to Solo via Gambringan.

Japan invaded Netherlands East Indies in   1942, and occupied it, taking two weeks to do so. The occupation resulted in   the unification of all railways in Java under the military administration,   known as Rikuyu Kyoku. The system was then handed over to a Japanese   civilian administration, but were later administered by the military again in   the latter part of the war. The Sumatran lines were similarly administered by   the military occupiers, geographically separated into three systems: Kita   Sumatora Tetsudo (North Sumatra including Aceh), Seibu Sumatora   Tetsudo (West Sumatra) and Nanbu Sumatora Tetsudo (South Sumatra).

Under Japanese occupation, further lines   were pulled up, including the whole standard gauge line, which was regauged   to 1067 mm. In March 1943 the last standard gauge line was converted, leaving   only one small standard gauge harbor line in Semarang. Many less important   tramways were removed. A number of rolling stock were sent to other Japanese-occupied   territories (Manchuria, Burma, Malaya, Siam and Indochina). Although none of   the standard-gauge locomotives were taken elsewhere (many survived rusting in   Yogyakarta works to the 1970’s), almost 40 1067 mm gauge locomotives were   sent abroad. Of these, some of the former NIS 381-400 series (renumbered into   the C52 class) were returned later, but were scrapped immediately as they   have been regauged to metre gauge.

It was during the Japanese occupation   that the worst railway incident in Indonesia occurred. On Christmas Day 1944,   200 were killed and 250 were injured when a train lost its brakes and ran   away in the Anai valley in West Sumatra.

Many prisoners of war and impressed   locals (commonly known as romushas) were forced to build new lines in   Japanese-occupied territories, those in Indonesia being the Saketi-Bayah (in   Banten, West Java) and Muaro-Pakanbaru (in Sumatra) lines. The latter line   was only completed when the Japanese almost capitulated, and was therefore   never used. The locomotives, many of which were already old and worn out,   were further worn due to lack of maintenance and spare parts. Many romushas   and railway employees were sent abroad to “help” the railway operations in   Siam and Burma, and the majority never returned.

Indonesia declared independence in   August 17, 1945, and in September 28, 1945, the Japanese railway   administration was forced to hand over the railway to Indonesian freedom   fighters, a day celebrated as Hari Kereta Api. The railway lines in   Java was administered as Djawatan Kereta Api Repoeblik Indonesia, and   those in South and West Sumatra Kereta Api Negara Repoeblik Indonesia.   In North Sumatra it was Kereta Api Soematera Oetara Negara Repoeblik   Indonesia. When the Dutch returned to Indonesia, they created the Staatsspoorwegen/Verenigd   Spoorwegbedrijf (SS/VS) as a temporary administration, starting on   January 1, 1946. It managed all public railway lines in Java, except the   Jakarta tramway lines, and lines in South and West Sumatra.

Many battles between Indonesian freedom fighters   and Dutch soldiers occurred over the railway, in fact, the lines often became   the demarcation line between Dutch-held and Republic-held areas. The railway   and railway workers did many heroic acts. In February 3, 1946, a special   train including two inspection cars (saloons) evacuated President Soekarno,   Vice President Mohammad Hatta and their entourage from Jakarta, which was   becoming unsafe, to Yogyakarta. Trains were also used to smuggle firearms and   transport freedom fighters. On the other hand, the Dutch also used trains to   transport prisoners of war in atrocious conditions, sometimes resulting in   fatalities, such as the incident on November 23, 1947, in which 46 of 100   prisoners were killed when they were pressed into three closed goods cars and   transported without food or drink for 13 hours.

While the struggle raged on, the railway   service was kept. Passenger trains were ran between significant cities and   towns of the Republic (Cisurupan, the HQ of the DKARI; Yogyakarta, capital of   the republic; Malang and others), and some of the lines removed by the   Japanese were restored, such as between Kutoarjo and Purworejo. The SS/VS   also did the same, running trains in the Dutch zone of control.

As the War for Independence raged on,   most railway lines were controlled by the Dutch. The SS/VS did cooperate with   the DKARI on the Jakarta-Tangerang line and several other lines, but in   general, there was an atmosphere of war. Sabotages on VS lines were almost   daily occurrence.

After Indonesia’s full independence in   1950, the railway was at an appalling state. Ten years of neglect and war has   resulted in destruction or damage to the rolling stock, trackage and other   structures. The railway was rebuilt: 100 general purpose steam locomotives   were ordered, tracks torn up during the troubles were relaid, new structures   were built replacing those destroyed in the “scorched-earth” moves   in the war, and new rolling stock were ordered.

The D52 class was actually ordered by   the SS/VS, but was delivered to the Indonesian DKA. It might be noted that   the former railway and tramway companies retain their paper existence, some   up to the 1970s. The DKA owned the assets of the former SS, but had to pay   for the use of the private railway’s assets.

The early-independence years were not   without its share of troubles. Rebellions flared up in several areas, and the   railway was inevitably affected. As an example, DI/TII rebels in West Java   sometimes mined trains or loosened track spikes, causing derailments,   sometimes with loss of life, such as when train no. 8306 was attacked between   Warungbandrek and Malangbong in February 2, 1953. Other examples were when   Cangkring station, near Cirebon, was burned down in August 23, 1951. Trains   passing through rebel-infested areas were piloted by an armoured car, and the   train itself was to push an armoured car and several flatcars weighed with   tracks, to detonate any present mines (so the mines did not damage the   train). The armoured car itself was a relic of the War of Independence, built   by the Dutch for the same purposes.

The 1950s and 1960s were “survival   years” in the words of the Indonesian Railway’s official historian. The   railway required subsidies to keep operations, many lines could not be run at   a profit, obtaining sufficient spare parts for locomotives was a major   problem and condition of the trackage was deplorable.

But those years were not totally wasted.   Dieselisation came in 1953, in the form of 27 Co-2-Co locomotives from the   United States, and between 1957-1967, around 250 diesel locomotives went into   service, displacing steam from most main line and long distance passenger   trains. New passenger stock were also introduced in the same period, although   these were limited for main line trains, and older equipment remained in use   for the lesser trains. New vacuum brake-equipped freight wagons were also   obtained, for the overnight fast freight service between Jakarta and   Surabaya.

In 1963, all public railways in   Indonesia were unified under a new administration, Perusahaan Negara   Kereta Api. Previously, the Deli system in North Sumatra was separately   administered after its nationalization in 1958. Further administrational   changes occurred in 1973, when the PNKA was renamed PJKA (Perusahaan   Jawatan Kereta Api).

The “survival years” saw the   railway service generally worsening. The political turmoil in Indonesia in   the mid-1960’s resulted in serious problems, as many railway workers were   members of the communist-affiliated union, and were purged in the aftermath   of the failed coup d’etat. There was also the aphocryphal tale of railway   workers sawing off the driving rods of a West German-built diesel, for being   Western. However, this might be an urban legend.

In the early 1970s, however, efforts   were made to increase the speed of the prestigious Jakarta-Bandung expresses,   back to 2 hours and 30 minutes, as it was in the late 1930s, from more than 3   hours. It succeeded, but the high track maintenance costs caused the speed to   be reduced again.

Also in the 1970s, ex-tramway lines   began to be abandoned, as they were no longer economically viable: not enough   paying passengers (trains were always loaded to capacity and more,   though). The victims included the whole Aceh and Madura systems and most   branch lines in Java. Presently, the Purwosari-Wonogiri line (ex-NIS) is the   only proper tramway (it runs through the city center alongside the main   street) still in operation. All other tramway lines have been removed. As the   lines were removed, the steam locomotives serving on those lines were also   retired, a process completed by the mid-1980s. Or perhaps, it was the   run-down of the rolling stock which resulted in the abandonment of the   railway lines.

Even in the early 1970s, many steam   locomotives were already disused. The governor of Central Java, Soepardjo   Roestam, promoted a locomotive museum in Ambarawa, in the station area. Later   on, as all steam locomotives were retired, many remaining steam locomotive   were preserved in another museum in Jakarta. Many others were also preserved   individually elsewhere. More than sixty steam locomotives are preserved now.

The dieselisation and abandonment of   most unprofitable lines improved PJKA’s financial position, but it continued   to require subsidies from the government. Also, it did not try creating new   sources of income, the most obvious being the lack of launching of new   trains.

In 1991, PJKA was reformed into Perumka   (Perusahaan Umum Kereta Api). It was intended that the Perumka would   begin to cover its costs, by “cross-subsidy”: launching new,   comfortable and fast trains with higher fares to subsidize the low fares of   economy class trains, whose fares cover only 70% of the running costs.

The new management, led by Soemino   Ekosapoetro, was successful. In 1994, Perumka made profits of about 3.88   billion rupiahs (then about 8 million US dollars), the first ever profit that   a post-independence Indonesian railway made. In 1997, Perumka’s profits   reached 23.2 billion rupiahs.

In August 10, 1995, after several years   of upgrading track to enable higher speeds, coinciding with the Golden   Jubilee of Indonesia’s independence, the Perumka launched the first two of   the Argo trains. These trains were extra-fare, all executive class,   high speed passenger trains. These trains do not only bring great profits to   the railway, but also create a new image: previously, trains were thought as   “dirty, slow, uncomfortable” mode of transportation, unsuitable to   the growing middle-class in the Indonesian society.

In Java, passenger trains were much more   important than freight trains. But in South Sumatra, the Bukit Asam coal mine   in Tanjung Enim is an important customer of railway services: to haul the   mined coal to the port of Tarahan. In West Sumatra, the Ombilin coal mine   also uses the railway’s service to carry coal to the Indarung cement factory   in Padang.

The economic crisis which hit Indonesia   in mid-1997 was somewhat comparable to the Great Depression in 1939: It   resulted in both difficulties and opportunities. The fall of the rupiah   against the US dollar resulted in the reduction of new locomotive orders,   reduction of profits and increased maintenance expenses. Express passenger   speeds were reduced again, although the reduction was insignificant.

The opportunity came in the form of   increasing demand for passenger trains: airplane fares, calculated in US   dollars, became too expensive, and the customers, especially the middle   class, who have always used airplanes, began to look at trains as an   alternative. The Perumka responded by launching new passenger trains, many of   them executive class-only or executive and business class trains, such as the   Dwipangga, Mahesa and Sancaka.

Perumka’s management was further   reformed in June 1, 1999, when it was renamed PT (Persero) Kereta Api   Indonesia. However, in the recent years the Indonesian Railway has faced   tough challenges. The continuing economic crisis has resulted in a severe   maintenance backlog for the rolling stock and trackwork, and many trains were   running in less-than-top condition, or not running at all.

In the recent years the Indonesian   Railway has faced tough challenges. The railway’s safety record in the last   years is not one to be proud of, its passengers, especially commuters, demand   greater comfort and reliability, and the economic constraints has only made   the situation more difficult. However, the Indonesian Railway has succeeded to   survive, and is certain to prosper at a future time.

Jan de Bruin, Het Indische spoor in oorlogstijd: de spoor- en tramwegmaatschappijen in Nederlands-Indië in de vuurlinie, 1873-1949
A.E. Durrant, Lokomotip Uap
A.E. Durrant, PNKA Power Parade
H. de Jong, De Locomotieven van Werkspoor
Michiel van Ballegoijen de Jong, Spoorwegstations op Java
Ir. Krijthe, De ‘Bergkoningin’ en de spoorwegen in Nederlands-Indië 1862-1949
J.J.G. Oegema, De Stoomtractie op Java en Sumatra
Sejarah Perkeretaapian Indonesia, Volumes 1 and 2


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