Sweet Steam

Real steam in Indonesia
21/08 – 08/09/2009


Almost a century old and a few even older, German, Dutch and Belgian steam locomotives are still in extremely hard daily use in the sugar mills of Indonesia. They need to earn their daily bagasse, water and oil with hard work in front of overloaded cane trains. But, this living museum of steam is not the only reason to make Indonesia worth a visit. Feel the even beat of lots of ancient stationary steam engines inside the mills, some of which have been working for more than 120 years. Experience their vibration, their warm breath while driving giant flywheels and moving the cane crushers and, sometimes via transmission, other ancient machinery in the mills.

In addition to the regular steam hauled trains we'll substitute a steam locomotive on some service trains which are normally diesel hauled. We can travel on these trains and arrange some additional stops and runpasts to get the maximum of good pictures. We won't add passenger coaches to these scheduled trains, only authentic wagons are suitable. This is not so comfortable but it's the only way to get serious lineside shots on lines which do not usually see regular steam hauled trains.

Our visit to Mount Bromo will give us the chance to enjoy a fantastic view over two active volcanoes, including the highest one on Java: Mount Semeru. The latter spits ash clouds high into the sky at frequent intervals. If we're lucky we can see Mount Semeru from a sugar railway line too, forming a spectacular backdrop for one of our steam trains.

Here can you see what you've missed in 2008. Don't miss it again!







Departure to Indonesia


Arrival in Jakarta in the afternoon, by taxi to our hotel in Jakarta


In the morning we'll go by express train KA44 KAMANDANU (with air conditioning) from Gambir (10.15 hrs) to Tegal (14.01 hrs). We'll start our tour in Jatibarang. A beautiful roundhouse is a perfect backdrop for pictures. In 2009 only one steam locomotive will be in service. We'll also take a look inside the mill, where stationary steam engines drive the crashers and mills. Hotel in Tegal


In the morning we'll start again in Jatibarang, where the roundhouse and the turntable should be photographable in the best morning light. In the afternoon we'll continue to Pangka. This time we've planned some night pictures. Pangka has nice 0-6-2 locomotives from Jung in use. Hotel in Tegal


The full day is planned in Sumberharjo. Sumberharjo is among the last mills to use steam locos for line service. Unfortunately most of the loaded trains run shortly before or after sunset. Of course, line work is predominated by diesels, but the steam locos still have a share of the field work too. In the morning all steam locos will be prepared for the daily duties. They are fired in or in front of the shed, usually causing really photogenic sunray games when smoke is rising from the chimney and spreading under the roof of the loco shed. In the late morning trains of empties leave the factory, usually three of the trains are steam hauled (tender first).

In the afternoon we'll visit the lines around Sumberharjo in search of steam hauled cane trains.

Hotel in Pekalongan


In the morning we'll visit the mill in Sragi. Besides up to seven steam locos Sragi uses a few diesels as well. The morning light offers the best conditions for photography in the depot. Heavy trains are pushed from the large loading area in the mill's yard. Often two locomotives are necessary to do this hard job! Such a spectacle can bring together locomotives from Hartmann, Schwartzkopff (0-10-0s) and Henschel. We expect to find five or six steam locos in service.

In the afternoon we'll enjoy the rack railway of Ambarawa, where we've hired a train with the small class B25 rack loco. After dawn we'll continue to Solo to our hotel.


We'll spend the day in the sugar mill Tasik Madu. Besides several other steam locos in use we'll probably meet the largest Luttermöller engine on Java. The impressive 0-10-0, 150 horse power engine has a six axle tender! In the evening we'll continue to Cepu, where we'll take a look in the depot. The locomotive for our train the next day will be just steamed up. Hotel in Cepu


In the morning we'll enjoy a charter train on the forestry line of Cepu. We've chartered one of the large (1067 mm Cape gauge) Schwartzkopff locomotives. We've planned pictures in the teak wood forests as well as in the shunting yard. In the evening we'll continue to our hotel in Madiun


Before sunrise we'll go to Purwodadi where all trains have to pass over a photogenic girder bridge between the loading point and the yard. Steam and diesel locomotives share the work. Almost all trains are banked by a second engine and offer good photographic potential.

In the afternoon we'll continue to Rejosari. They use one loco in shunting service in the yard. If the unique geared locomotive SALAK no.10 is still serviceable it'll be steamed up for our group. Rejosari has several interesting stationary steam engines inside the mill as well. Some of the machinery in the mill is still driven by steam powered transmissions.

Hotel in Madiun


In the morning we'll make a brief visit to Kanigoro, where in 2007 only one locomotive was left in service. The blue locomotive is used in the yard with beautiful, large trees and, sometimes to bring trains over the weigh bridge. Just around the corner is the sugar mill Pagottan where we'll probably see the last active inside framed Luttermöller locomotives in the world. Of special interest is the level crossing where it might be possible to get a locomotive and a horse cart together in the same picture.

In the late afternoon we'll reach Merican. Here we'll meet the last 0-4-2 locomotives of Indonesia, used for heavy shunting operations. They have over 100 years of service! Merican is especially known for the sparks the little locomotives produce while fired with bagasse. After dusk this is particularly impressive, when we see the little volcanoes making the air glow. To experience this spectacle we'll stay there until it's totally dark (around 6.20pm). Hotel in Kediri


In the morning we'll make another brief visit to Merican before we continue to Gempolkrep. In Gempolkrep they shunt heavy trains with 0-10-0 Luttermöller locomotives via steel ropes. We expect to see at least one of those locomotives plus another two in use. In the afternoon we'll continue to our hotel in Situbondo.


Today we'll visit the mill at Olean, which is well known as the only mill with almost guaranteed loaded daylight trains. The sugar mill as well is an absolute must because they use some of the oldest stationary steam engines (the gems are more than 130 years old). Hotel in Situbondo


The full day is reserved for Asembagus with their interesting field work which is one of the last two mills left with frequent daylight steam into the fields. The lines are framed by palm trees and volcanoes forming interesting backdrops. Together with some little bridges there are plenty of photographic opportunities. Hotel in Situbondo


We'll spend another day in and around Olean to enjoy the steam trains in the fields. Usually a diesel is disturbing the steam action but they had at least one steam hauled loaded train in the afternoon in 2008. Late afternoon we'll continue to our hotel in Jember.


For today we have planned two steam trains at Semboro. Semboro has two serviceable steam locos, one Mallet 0-4-4-0 and one Jung 0-6-0 built in 1961. Provided both of them are still serviceable we'll hire them both, the Jung loco for a morning train and the Mallet for an afternoon train. We won't use the tourist coaches, we'll haul real trains which we'll take over from the diesel locos. Semboro still has a large active network and uses tiny German diesels or water buffaloes for pulling cane wagons out of the fields, while much stronger, boxy Japanese diesels haul the trains on the partly double track main lines. The huge system offers plenty of good opportunities for typical field operations. With some luck we can see the volcano Semeru and it would form an extraordinary background for one of our charter trains. 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. Hotel in Jember.


In the morning we'll visit the two fireless locomotives of Semboro. In the late morning we'll go on to the famous Gunung (mountain) Bromo, an active volcano which offers spectacular views to other volcanoes. The last time Bromo erupted was in 2004. Hotel in Ngadisari, the last village before the edge of the crater.


If you're going to Java you should not miss the spectacular view of Mount Bromo at sunrise. To experience this we have to get up very early. We will climb to the view point at the top of the volcano for the best view. You can also hire a seat in a 4WD Jeep for some 9 Pounds to avoid a walk some 500 yards upwards and two miles in length. In the afternoon we'll continue to our hotel near the airport Surabaya.


Late morning flight Surabaya to Jakarta and from there flight back home


Morning arrival at your destination.


Small Print

Indonesia has changed rapidly over the last decade. Quite a lot of the sugar mills - in former times well protected from the international market have had to give up or try to be more cost efficient. This is the reason why some of the sugar mills have closed and why others have converted from railway to road transport. Although the present 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 of bringing in the cane. Given that the farmers around the mills are free to decide which kind of crop to grow, the system of field lines to the sugar cane fields has 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 way for a mill to survive.


Despite all the losses over 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 use steam to bring cane trains into the mills while others offer interesting and, sometimes, very extensive shunting in the large yards.

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


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 possible. If agreed, the group may separate and meet together later. We will travel by charter bus. If you prefer a maximum of flexibility you can also travel in a chartered jeep. However, our bus has the advantage of a cool box to keep beverages chilly. Just let us know your preference when booking the trip.


We will choose our hotels by their distance from the next steam mill, not according to the offered standard. All our hotels offer air conditioning (exception: Mount Bromo, where temperatures can drop below plus 5 °C (40 °F) in the morning) and a private bath room, some offer a pool as well. European style toilets are not common in Indonesia. The chosen hotels will have a European style toilet, but in small restaurants on the way or at railway stations for example you should expect Asian style lavatories.

On many days we'll get up early (around 6.00 am) and may even leave without breakfast sometimes. The best time for photography is the early morning between half past six and nine and the late afternoon between three and sunset around 17.45 hrs. The time in between is, because of 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 bathe in the sea when we're close to a beach. Because of the active volcanoes on the island the beaches offer black instead of white sand. The sea itself is quite polluted near the cities.


Please understand 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. However, you never can be sure that the most important switch of the yard isn't blocked by a derailed train, the mill hasn't 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 few mills with the best chances for line steam we have planned sufficient time. We haven't planned to 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 tropical with high humidity and temperatures around 30 degrees Centigrade (90 Fahrenheit). Our jeeps/buses are fitted with air conditioning but you'll do better if you acclimatise and accept the need to sweat a bit 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 are not included in the tour price. In addition, meals are a matter of time. Sometimes it might be necessary to postpone a meal or even cancel it. In such cases we'll have to make do with some cookies or bananas. Meals are cheap with the exception of beer and other alcoholic drinks. You should calculate on around two to ten pounds Sterling each day for food (an Indonesian dish is often less than a Pound while a pepper steak costs a mere of two to three Pounds Sterling). Please remember that 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 remember that the exhaust of the steam locos contains sparks which may harm your clothes or skin.

Please opt for travelling in the group bus (driven by a local driver) or in a self driven jeep while booking the tour.

If you choose the option of travelling in a Jeep and would like to drive it, in Indonesia you should be over 25 years old and the holder of an international driving licence. In addition you should be willing to accept the Asian way of driving which is quite different from that you learnt at the driving school. On the main trunk roads the traffic may be horribly fast and dangerous while on minor roads you may be the only motorised car amongst ox carts (without any kind of illumination during the night, of course). However, most visitors will learn very quickly how Asian traffic works and will have additional fun driving a car without the restrictions you have to care about in central Europe or north America. 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 not to touch any other traffic.

Using the railways of the sugar mills is at your own risk. Please check handles and foot steps before using them, they do not need to pass any safety check and can be very rusty or loose. The locomotives produce a lot of sparks, the may cause some burn holes in your clothes.

Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation in Indonesia fall short of EU/US safety standards. Always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks. FarRail Tours cannot be held responsible and will not accept any liability whatsoever in the case of any accident or damage. We suggest you take out a comprehensive overseas accident and health insurance policy.

Registration period expires: 28.2.2009

Later bookings will be accepted but subject to possible higher flight prices.



Sweet Steam from 6 participants
21/08 to 08/09/2009 Single room supplement

Minimum number of participants: 6
Maximum number of participants: 18

Without international flight: please deduct £610 from the tour price.

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.

As a service to our UK-based clients FarRail Tours accepts and will continue to accept payments made out in Pound Sterling until further notice. However, please note that from January 28, 2009, all prices quoted in Pound Sterling are indicative only and are subject to change without prior notice. This measure was taken by FarRail Tours due to the unprecedented volatility in the international foreign exchange markets and its impact on the valuation of the Pound Sterling versus other major currencies, namely the Euro as FarRail Tours' accounting currency.

Here can you see what you've missed in 2008. Don't miss it again!


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