Steam and Pagodas

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar/Burma

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar (Burma) 06.01. – 17.01.2018

It took us nine years of hard work to be able to offer authentic steam trains in Myanmar. The way to our first tour was difficult. You can find some aspects of it in the trip report from January 2017. With the help of Buddha, this tour was a great success. And the help of Buddha was necessary: if the state railway, Myanma Railways, had followed their plans for modernisation, the traditional infrastructure would have been gone already. In the very near future, however, they will start to modernise at least the main line from Yangon to Mandalay. All the semaphores and gantries will be replaced by colour light signals, the track bed, the bridges, the signal cabins will all be replaced and are changing the appearance enormously. Then the railway will look different and even the most authentic train will look out of place. Hence there is no time to lose. We must use the little remaining time to take pictures of authentic trains in a traditional environment.

The pictures shown here were almost all taken on the January 2017 tour. If you look for differences between pictures taken in the last decade of steam operation and those taken now, you can barely find any. And this is precisely our target. This time, we’re paying the state railway to overhaul even more suitable wagons to form a really authentic train composition.

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar/Burma: Bago

top

Itinerary Steam & Pagodas

Date

Itinerary

6.1.

Flight to Yangon (Rangoon)

7.1.

Arrival in Yangon by 13.00 hrs. Charter bus transfer to Naypyitaw (ca. 4½ to 5 hours), hotel in Naypyitaw

8.1.

Near Pyinmana there was a sugar mill which received a major part of its cane from three loading points on the state railway. However, long ago the railways lost the transport contract to road transport. Those cane trains were hauled by steam until the mid 2000s. We want to re-create this time and will take an empty cane train over the main line to Ela. Around noon we’ll return tender first to Pyinmana. In the afternoon we’ll run another cane train on the branch line to Kantha. Ela and Kantha were stations where cane was loaded onto trains. In the evening we’ll go by charter bus to our hotel in Bago.

9.1.

Almost to the very end of steam in Burma, the Nyangkhashe passenger, a mixed train, was hauled by steam. We’ll run a train, looking like this mixed train, as far as Abya. Beyond Abya the track is in a condition unsuitable for locomotives. In the afternoon we’ll continue with a short freight train to Mokpalin. Hotel near Kyaikhto

10.1.

Today, we’ll haul the regular passenger service No.85 with steam! This train leaves Bago in the early morning and has a scheduled departure from Mokpalin at 07.20 am. As far as Mokpalin, the train will be hauled by the regular diesel, but then steam will take over. We’ll follow this train by bus. Hotel in Moulmine

11.1.

In the morning we’ll visit the depot in Mottama. For our group, they’ve rebuilt the triangle to turn our locomotive.  Afterwards we’ll take a boat and travel to Hpaan. This journey takes about six hours and goes through beautiful countryside. From there we’ll go by bus to our hotel in Thaton.

12.1.

Around noon we’ll go by charter bus to Zingyaik, where stone is loaded onto trains in the traditional way. Our train won’t be loaded, however, as they don’t trust the ability of the steam locomotive any more. Because the light conditions are best in the afternoon, we’ll run our train during the best hours of afternoon light. Arrival in Thaton after sunset. Hotel in Thaton.

13.1.

Our stone train leaves Thaton in the early morning. We’ll follow it for the whole day and reach Kyaikhto in the evening. Hotel near Kyaikhto

14.1.

In the morning we’ll start from Kaikhto towards the north and later to the west/southwest. It’s likely that we’ll reach Waw by sunset. The rest of the way to Bago our train will continue in the darkness. Hotel in Bago

15.1.

“Semaphore-Festival”: They’re still in existence - the original British gantries and semaphores of Bago. With a passenger train and the YC we’ll celebrate different positions between all the signals and the signal cabins. Around noon, we’ll turn the locomotive on the turntable in Bago which has been overhauled for our group. We’ll then head tender first to Payagya. Here our loco runs round the train and we’ll return chimney first to Bago. One of the best spots on the main line can be found just after the departure from Payagyi, a golden pagoda. In the evening, we’ll reach Bago again, hotel in Bago

16.1.

We’ll return to the airport of Yangon. You can book your return flight from 13.00 hrs..

17.1.

Arrival in Europe or America.

top

Steam & Pagodas – Line description

The sugar cane trains to Pyinmana were operated chimney first to the south and west. That means the empty cane trains to Ela and Kantha went chimney first. On the line to Kantha you’ll find many palm trees which make it particularly scenic, while on the main line to Ela you have the double tracked main line and a British bridge, from the very beginning of the railway, shortly before Ela.

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar/Burma

Bago (the town was previously known as Pegu) was one of the last steam sheds of Burma. They served two lines, the first of which headed to Mottama, southeast of Bago. Initially it is flat but not without photographic potential. Beyond the bridge over the Sittaung River (photography prohibited, but we’ll see …), hills appear. At Mokpalin, there is a small, barely used shed with a turntable, overhauled for our group. Locos can take water here and minor repairs are still possible. Further down, the railway comes closer and closer to the mountains and between Thaton and Mottama the line becomes very scenic. There are no steep gradients, but the scenery is outstanding, especially in the afternoon with the light from the "right" side. Mottama itself used to have a small loco shed. After the opening of the bridge to Moulmine this shed was almost shut down but still hosts a crane and an armoured railcar. They’ve rebuilt from scratch for us the long time out of use triangle to enable us to turn our locomotive there.

For our trains, we have requested and paid for the Myanma Railways to overhaul a number of wagons and re-paint the passengers coaches we want to use.

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar/Burma

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar/Burma

You might wonder why we’ll spend so much time with an afternoon train just in the section from Zingyaik to Thaton. The reason is that around Yinnyein are some of the best positions of the whole line, so this way we’ll make sure we don’t miss these positions in the best light and have chartered an afternoon stone train.

The second line Bago based locomotives covered, was the main line, Yangon – Bago – Pyuntaza, and beyond. On some trains, the locomotives from Bago could appear as far north as Taungoo. The southern part of the main line has little photographic potential. However, there is one spot not to be missed, with a huge pagoda in the backdrop. In addition, the signalling system is still in the traditional British style, after the first attempts to modernise it died in the floods of the last monsoon. There is a plan to equip the line with colour light signals, of course, but it will not happen before the end of 2019, at least. So the fantastic gantries from British times will still be there and form a superb backdrop for our steam trains over the main line.

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar/Burma

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar/Burma

The rarely used locomotives have a reduced boiler pressure and so can’t handle the same weight as before. In addition, it is not certain that the locos can manage all the way without any trouble. Crews are not skilled anymore and the overhaul was a very cheap one. But the intention was to have them ready for light passenger trains only, with around three to a maximum of five coaches. So please expect delays not only from the operational perspective (they are very common in Burma), but also from a technical point of view. It cannot be guaranteed that anything will work exactly as planned and paid for. To reduce the risk we’ve ordered two different locomotives at Bago. The second loco can help out if the first fails. But there is still no guarantee. We’re there a decade after the last fire was dropped!

We have three serviceable locomotives, which we hope to use. There are two 2-8-2 Mikados of class YD and one 4-6-2 Pacific of class YC. We’re still negotiating about a fourth locomotive, another 4-6-2 Pacific. Whether or not these negotiations will be successful – and when – is unpredictable.

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar/Burma

top

Small Print

A chartered tour bus will follow the steam trains. Occasionally we’ll board the train to get to some photo spots, but in the negotiations it turned out that Myanma Railways sees a problem with this – although it was never a problem in the years before 2007. To get permission to run the tour, we agreed to follow the train by charter bus. The trains will stop at stations for some time, so we have the chance to overtake the train. Be assured that some things will change once we’re in Myanmar. After some additional negotiations on our recent tour, we were able to travel on the train all the time to get easy access to the most scenic parts of the line. It worked out fine, and the people in the headquarters do not need to know every detail …

Train 85 will be followed by bus – just as railway photographers used to do in regular steam days. If you want to travel on the train you can do that, but photographing it requires that you follow it on the charter bus.

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar/Burma

All in all, the technical condition of the railway and its equipment is not suitable for us to guarantee anything. The steam locos of Myanma Railways haven’t been used for a long while and haven’t been fully overhauled. They’ve just been made serviceable again. It might be possible that some parts of the programme cannot be operated as planned and need to be skipped without replacement or compensation. Paid money will not be refunded by any of the Burmese officials or railways, even if they can’t offer what we have paid for. I even had to sign a paper which stated this. However, we don’t expect serious difficulties in this matter. On all the recent tours the contractors in Burma tried very hard to fulfil all our wishes.

Time keeping in Myanmar is nothing you should bank on. There might be hefty delays. However, our charter trains in the past have departed almost always exactly on time.

Charter buses (mostly with air conditioning), local airplanes, trains and accommodation represents the standard of our host country, which may seriously deviate form European, Australian or North American expectations. While we will try to avoid long walks, some photo positions may require a bit of an extra effort. The first part of the itinerary is designed especially for photographers and video filmmakers. To make the most out of it, we may change our route or hotels/guesthouses without any notice in advance. This does not apply for the Golden Land tour where we’ll focus not only on photo spots, but also on a certain level of comfort and relaxation.

Usually our hotels are good, but occasionally the standard of hotels in smaller places may be well below a Polish youth hostel! Please be prepared. After you have seen and felt the quality of the roads, you’ll understand why we don’t go long distances just to get to a better hotel.

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar/Burma

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar/Burma

Please note that morning trains have a higher priority than a breakfast in the hotel. So breakfast will be served as a packed box if necessary. Lunch and dinner are planned according to the situation with the steam train timetable. If necessary we’ll buy some papayas, bananas and oranges instead of risking missing some good pictures because of a time-consuming restaurant stop. Excellent lunches, with local fruit and rice and curries are usually available in the small stations along the railway too. Beverages are not included in the tour price.

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar/Burma

Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation in Burma fall short of EU, Australian or North American safety standards. Always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks. For instance, if you can’t walk on dark streets in the night please take a strong torch with you. Neither the local operator, Myanma Railways, nor FarRail Tours can be held responsible and will not accept any liability whatsoever in the case of any accident, damage or bad effect due to delays etc. We suggest you take out a comprehensive overseas accident and health insurance policy.

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar/Burma

We recommend that you take some US dollars with you. To change some money at the airport for souvenirs or beverages, other currencies such as British Pounds are ok as well. With about $250 US you should easily be able to cover all expenses.

Charging rechargeable batteries in the hotels is not a problem. Sometimes there’s a power cut, and the hotel’s generator set is not able to deliver the same voltage as the country’s network. Therefore recharging batteries can take a longer time than usual. However, no one missed a picture on the recent trips because of a battery problem.

Despite some difficulties we might face, you’ll be positively surprised by this lovely country, and its friendly and welcoming people.

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar/Burma

top

Price

Myanmar (Burma)
Steam and Pagodas 21 to 38 participants £2,980
06.01.2018 – 17.01.2018 Single room surcharge £310
Registration Deadline: 06.10.2017

We will need to charge a supplement of 125 Pounds for bookings after October 6th, 2017.

The price includes:

Not included are:

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar/Burma

top


© FarRail Tours - e-mail: Bernd Seiler - zurück zu FarRail Tours
Click here to return to FarRail Tours