Sweet Steam

The last sugar cane trains on Java

6. - 25.7.2006

Indonesia is the last stronghold of Dutch and German narrow gauge steam locomotives. But, this living museum of steam is not the only reason which makes Indonesia worth a visit. There are lots of ancient stationary steam engines inside the mills, some of them which have been working for more than 120 years.


Indonesia has changed rapidly over the last decade. Quite a lot of the sugar mills - in former times well protected from the international market – had to give up or try to produce more cost efficient. This is the reason why some of the sugar mills were closed and others converted from railway to road transport. Although the recent government introduced new taxes to protect the domestic sugar industry and save labour for the workers in the mills, many mills have changed their system to bring in the cane. Given that the farmers around the mills are free in their decision which kind of crop they decide to growth, the system of field lines to the sugar cane fields had to be abandoned. At many places it's more profitable to plant other crops than cane. So it was necessary for the factories to switch to road transport anyway, to reach sugar cane fields far away from the mill. Because new lines to other fields will not be constructed anymore, the truck was and is the only solution for a mill to survive.

Despite all the losses over the recent years you can still experience the largest variety of steam locomotives in the world in daily use during the harvest season. Three mills still uses steam to bring cane trains into the mills while others offer interesting and, sometimes, very extensive shunting in the large yards. Indonesia is for sure still a destination for the dedicated steam locomotive lover.

On the tour we will experience Mallett locomotives as well as Luttermöllers or Klein-Lindner axle locos. A special highlight is the gear locomotive built by Orenstein & Koppel. If still serviceable, we will hire it for an afternoon of shunting operations. While Orenstein & Koppel seems to be omnipresent on the island, other producers, mostly non-existent any more, are still part of the greatest narrow gauge show in the world: Decauville, Schwartzkopff, Maffei, Orenstein&Koppel, Jung, Ducroo and Brauns, Hartmann and others.


The itinerary can only be a rough tour plan. You can never be sure that there'll be no derailment on the main junction of the factory, a change of traction (diesel instead of steam) or something else unpredictable.

Day Itinerary
06.07. Departure Europe to Indonesia (Sunday)
07.07. In the late afternoon meeting in Jakarta, hotel in Jakarta
08.07. Visit to the sailing ship harbour of Jakarta, in the afternoon we're going to Cirebon. Hotel in Cirebon
09.07. In the morning we'll visit Tersana Baru. Shunting duties with steam and diesel, in the afternoon we'll continue to Sindanglaut, where all steam operation was ceased in 2003. We will try to steam up one of the two spare locomotives for a journey into the sugar cane fields and try to take over a part of the load of a diesel. Hotel in Tegal
10.07. In the morning we'll start the day in Jatibarang, where a nice roundhouse with a turn table predominates the loco shed. Unfortunately all field works ends in 2004 and the surplus diesels took over some of the shunting in the yard. In 2005 two steam locos left in service in the large and beautiful yard. Several interesting locomotives are dumped. We'll make a visit to the ancient machinery in the sugar mill as well. There are stationary boilers which are some 100 years old. Stationary steam engines powering nearly the whole mill. In the afternoon we'll continue to Pangkah. They're using interesting steam locomotives (0-6-2 and 0-8-0) for shunting and tiny diesels into the fields. Hotel in Tegal
11.07. In the morning we'll visit the sugar mill Sumberharjo. Beside the diesels, several different types of steam locos are in use for shunting in the mill. Line work is predominated by diesel, but the steam locos are used for field works too. Normally all loaded trains will be operated nocturnal. We try to arrange an earlier departure to get some daylight shots with a loaded train. Hotel in Pekalongan
12.07. In the morning we'll visit Sragi. About half a dozen steam locomotives from various manufacturers are in use for shunting duties. There are also half a dozen active diesels in Sragi. The morning light offers best conditions for photography in the depot.
In the afternoon we'll enjoy the rack railway of Ambarawa, where we hired a train with the small class B25 rack loco. After dawn we'll continue to Solo to our hotel.
13.07. Today's plan is a visit to the sugar mill with the largest Luttermöller engine of Java: Tasik Madu. The impressive, 150 horse power engine has a six axle tender! In the evening we'll continue to Cepu. Hotel in Cepu.
14.07. The Cepu forestry railway has no regular logging trains any more. We will hire an authentic train with one of the serviceable locomotives. We organised a real train, an empty train into the forest, a loading process there and a loaded train back to the timber yard. The trip will take the whole day. Hotel in Madiun.
15.07. Around Maidun are several sugar mills. In the morning we'll visit Purwodadi. Steam and diesel locomotives sharing the work. Between the loading and the shunting yard is a nice girder bridge. Almost all trains over it are banked by an second engine and offer good photographic potential. In the afternoon we'll visit Rejosari. After a year without steam, Rejosari returned to steam in 2005. In addition, the unique gear locomotive "SALAK" no. 10 should be still serviceable which will be steamed up for our group. Hotel in Madiun.
16.07. Today we have a full program. The early morning is planned for Pagottan where we'll probably see the last active inside frame Luttermöller locomotives. At about 7.45 am we'll continue to Kanigoro, where only one steam loco is still in use. It shares the work in the yard with two diesels. The late afternoon and the early evening are reserved for Merican. This is Java's last mill with 0-4-2s in regular service. Merican is also known for the sparks the locomotives producing while fired with bagasse. So we'll extend our stay until about 18.30 hrs for some night shots. Hotel in Mojokerto.
17.07. On our way to the east we'll pass by Gempolkrep with its Luttermöller locos. They have an interesting shunting operation in a huge yard. Around noon we'll continue to Gunung (Mt.) Bromo, one of the active volcanoes of the island. Our hotel is situated directly at the crater.
18.07. If you're going to Java you should not miss the spectacular view of the mount Bromo at sunrise. To experience this we have to get up very early. We will climb to the platform above the volcano to have the best view. You can also hire a 4WD Jeep for some 15 Euro to avoid the walk some 500 metres upwards. In the later morning we'll continue to Olean. Here we'll have the best chances for getting loaded steam trains from the fields in front of our lenses. If there is no traffic on the day of our arrival (doe to the lack of fuel, an overhaul of the mill, a derailment in the yard or something else unpredictable) we'll continue to Asembagus, another mill with a chance for steam operated field trains during daylight. Although they have only two serviceable steam locos (beside several diesels), they used both for line service in 2005. So the chances are not too bad for free line action.
19.07. The full day is reserved for Olean and Asembagus with its interesting field work, which is the only mill with frequent free-line daylight steam. Hotel Situbondo
20.07. We will visit Olean and Asembagus again, according to the best operation. If you like you can also visit the sugar mill in Situbondo (Panji, 600 mm) which uses some diesels for field workings. Hotel Situbondo
21.07. Another day where we will visit Olean and Asembagus, according to the best operation. If you like you can also visit the sugar mill in Situbondo (Panji, 600 mm) which uses some diesels for field workings. Hotel Situbondo
22.07. In the morning we'll visit the lne service of Olean or Asembagus again before we'll continue to Semboro. For the afternoon we "hired" a steam hauled cane train in Semboro. As a special we'll see the last known fireless locos of Java, at least one of them in use in a part of the yard. In 2005 Semboro had two serviceable steam locos for spare, one Mallet and one Jung 0-6-0, built in 1961. As far as both of them are still serviceable, we'll hire them both, the Jung loco for a morning train on the following day, the Mallet for two afternoon journeys. We won't use the tourist coaches, we'll haul real trains which we'll take over from the diesel locos. Semboro has still a large active network and uses tiny German diesels for pulling cane wagons out of the filed, while bulky, Japanese diesels haul the trains on the partly double tracked main lines. Hotel in Jember
23.07. For today we have planned two steam trains in Semboro. In addition we can take another look on the fireless locomotives. Hotel in Jember
24.07. In the morning we'll leave to the airport of Surabaya. Here we'll give back our hired cars and fly to Jakarta. There we'll take our international flight back to Europe.
25.07. Arrival in Frankfurt/Main


MericanThis particular tour follows other rules than our tours to China, India or Burma for example. Our route may differ from the above itinerary in order to get as many good pictures of steam trains as possible. On the way, side trips to historical or other places of interest are always possible. If agreed, the group may separate and meet together later. We will travel by up to four hired jeeps which will give us a maximum of flexibility for special requests of some group members. It is possible to have a local driver for those who won't drive by themselves. This service will cost extra (120 Euro each).

We will choose the hotels by their distance to the next steam mill, not according to the offered standard. We will have small but clean hotels with air condition and a private bath room. All the hotels will have a bath, but in case of overbooking we may have to change the plan. So it may be possible that you'll find a typical Indonesian "Mandi" nstead of a western bath room. A Mandi is a small water reservoir in the bath room from which you can pour fresh water over your head. This will be more refreshing after a hot day than a medium warm, thin water ray out of a shower. European style toilets are not common in Indonesia. The chosen hotels will have a European style toilet, but in restaurants on the way or at railway stations for example you should expect Asian (or you may also say French) style lavatories.

On many days we'll get up very early (around 6.00 am) and may leave without breakfast sometimes. The best time for photography is the early morning between six and nine and the late afternoon between three and sunset around 17.30 hrs. The time in between is, according to the high sun, not rewarding for photography, even the dedicated video film maker wouldn't be happy with the results during the noon time. You can enjoy a bath in the sea when we're are close to a beach. Because of the active volcanoes on the island the beaches offer black instead of white sand. The sea itself may be polluted near the cities.

Please be prepared that in a country like Indonesia not everything will work as planned and/or paid for. The Indonesian (better to say the Asian) way to repair things with the help of primitive tools is amazing and will help us to fix some of the technical problems which may occur. Whatsoever, you never can be sure that the most important switch of the yard isn't blocked by a derailed train, the mill run out of fuel a day before our arrival, and so on. The whole traffic could be stopped by such a problem. In such a case we'll try to head for another mill. Sometimes it might be impossible to get pictures and the only thing you can do is to relax and drink a cup of tea or a beer.

For the mills with the best chances for line steam we planned some spare time. We'll not go to sugar mills with dumped steam locos only. However, if time allows and we're just passing by, we can make a stop at such mills as well.

The climate is tropic with high humidity and temperatures between about 28 and 35 degrees centigrade. Our jeeps are fitted with an a/c but you'll do better if you acclimatize and accept to sweat if you have to move quickly to get a photo.

The tour is planned with the dedicated photographer and video filmmaker in mind. The itinerary is designed for those who think it more important to get the perfect shot in the morning sun than a substantial breakfast. Meals can be delayed or even cancelled. The meals are not included in the tour price. In addition, we did not plan lunch or dinner for every day. In some cases we'll have to make do some cookies or bananas. Meals are cheap with the exception of beer and other alcoholic drinks. Please consider we are guests in a mainly Islamic country where alcoholic drinks (including beer) are not available everywhere. Chilled beer is another matter...


Charter vehicles and trains represent the standard of our host countries, which may deviate form European expectations. While we will try to avoid long walks, some photo positions may require a bit of an extra effort. Travelling on trains and driving cars is at your own risk. The charter trains will look like real trains did some years ago. So we will not attach coaches to the trains. Please be prepared that the exhaust of the steam locos contains sparks who may harm your clothes or skin.

Because we are using hired cars we need some more drivers. If you like to drive a car in Indonesia you should be over 25 years old and holder of an international driving licence. On the other hand you should be able to accept the Asian way of driving which is quite different from that what you have learned at the driving school. On the main trunk roads the traffic maybe horrible fast and dangerous while on minor roads you may be the only motorised car beside some ox carts (without any kind of illumination during the night, of course). However, most visitors will learn very quick how Asian traffic works and will have an additional fun to drive a car without the restriction you have to care about in central Europe. There is no insurance for the cars available. So we have to pay for dents ourselves, please consider this while driving. The one and only rule of the traffic seems to be do not touch other traffic participants.

Registration period ends March 1st, 2006.


Sweet Steam 4 to 14 participants 2.840 Euro
6. - 25.7.2006 Single room supplement 220 Euro

Minimum number of participants: 4
Maximum number of participants: 14

The price includes:

Not included are:

Above prices are based on specific bookings with the respective airlines, which have to be confirmed well in advance. Your early booking is hence appreciated.


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