23 August 2008

Malaysian Interlude: Preserved Engines at the Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur

Three locomotives (two steam and one diesel) are displayed on plinths on the grounds of the Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur.

L class 4-6-2 Pacific, manufactured by Kitson and Co., England (1921).

I like plants, but in this case think it would be better to remove the potted plants

T class 0-6-2 tank, built by Bagnall Ltd., England (1929). These were the first British engines to have steel fireboxes. Used for dock services in Singapore and Port Kelang till 1964.

  • 22 class Co-Co Diesel electric locomotive “Seri Menanti”, built by English Electric (1971). These engines were part of the “dieselisation” programme to replace steam traction. These engines mainly hauled freight trains.

20 August 2008

Indonesia To Relocate Key Railway Threatened By Mud Volcano

Indonesia To Relocate Key Railway Threatened By Mud Volcano

by Staff Writers

(photo: Suara Merdeka)

On the left is the earth dam that is supposed to prevent the mud from flooding the tracks. It has, however, burst open several times (photo: TR).

Jakarta (AFP) Feb 13, 2007

A key railway line threatened by a massive "mud volcano" which has forced thousands of people to flee their homes on the Indonesian island of Java will be relocated, officials said Tuesday. A gas well near Surabaya in East Java operated by PT Lapindo Brantas has spewed steaming mud since May last year, submerging villages, factories and fields. The advancing sea of mud is now threatening to swamp the railway connecting Indonesia's second largest city Surabaya with Malang and Banyuwangi.

Recent downpours have also affected parts of the line, forcing trains to slow down to avoid accidents.

But Rudi Novrianto, spokesman for the government team handling the crisis, said construction to relocate the line "will not start until next year."

"We are now doing the technical design," he told AFP.

In the meantime, Novrianto said there was no other option but to use the current track.

The government will shift the track, which currently runs very close to the mud volcano zone, four kilometres (more than two miles) from its present location.

State railway operator PT Kereta Api said it lacked the 450 billion rupiah (50 million dollars) required to relocate the 18-kilometre track and would ask the government team for financial help, detikcom news portal reported.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered Lapindo to pay 3.8 trillion rupiah (420 million dollars) in compensation and costs.

Various efforts have been made to stop the flow and divert the spewing mud into a nearby river, none of which has been successful. Coordinating Minister for Social Welfare Aburizal Bakrie claimed last month that the flow was a "natural disaster" unrelated to the drilling activities of Lapindo, which belongs to a group controlled by his family.

However, a study by British experts said the eruption was most likely caused by drilling for gas.

In addition, 13 people died after an explosion in November when an underground gas pipeline burst following subsidence that was blamed on the mud leak.

Source: Agence France-Presse

18 August 2008

Indonesia: 63 years of independence

(photo: Antara-IPPHOS)

The railways: A witness of a young nation’s optimism

The photo was taken on 12 February 1948 at Tugu railway station in Yogyakarta. The young men on the train are members of the Siliwangi Division from Bandung. As a result of the Renville Agreement signed on 15 January 1948, they had been forced to withdraw from Bandung. They arrived at Tugu at midday under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Mokoginta. They were part of the 35,000 man strong Republican forces which had been obliged to leave the regions which had now been placed under Dutch authority under the terms of the Renville Agreement. The train had been considered the most practical form of transport; it allowed the Good Offices Committee to keep a close eye on the movements of troops, which is what had been agreed during the negotiations. It was the journey of an army defeated, not on the battlefield but at the negotiating table.

The girls welcome the defeated war heroes. But the meeting – whatever the circumstances may have been – is a joyous one. The girls with the neat buns and the enthusiastic warriors exchange jokes and smiles. Handsome, attractive young people momentarily freed from taboos and revolution. Perhaps it was their first and their last meeting, or, who knows, perhaps there was a sequel to the story? It was just this sort of romantic moment which inspired the composer Ismail Marzuki to write “Sepasang Mata Bola” (A pair of round eyes), a love song with the revolution as background.

Excerpt from: “The railways and the (de-)colonisation of Indonesia”, Alex Supartono, Jakarta, August 2006

My question, is the dream still ours, or have we lost it along these 63 years?

Kereta api: Saksi optimisme bangsa muda

Foto ini diambil pada 12 Februari 1948 di Stasiun Tugu, Yogyakarta. Pemuda di dalam kereta adalah anggauta Divisi Siliwangi dari Bandung. Sebagai hasil Perjanjian Renville yang ditandatangai pada 15 Januari 1948, mereka diharuskan mundur diri dari Bandung. Mereka tiba di Tugu pada tengah hari dibawah pimpinan Letnan Kolonel Mokoginta. Mereka adalah sebagian dari 35.000 pasukan Republik yang diharuskan meninggalkan daerah yang sesuai Perjanjian Renville beralih daerah kekuasaan Belanda. Kereta api dianggap sarana transporasi yang paling praktis; kereta api memungkinkan Komisi Jasa Baik mengawasi pergerakan pasukan dengan seksama, sesuai dengan kesepakatan Perjanjian Renville. Ini adalah perjalanan tentara yang kalah, bukan di medan perang tapi di meja perundingan.

Gadis-gadis menyambut prajurit yang kalah itu. Tapi pertemuan itu – terlepas dari sebab yang melatarbelakanginya - adalah pertemuan yang penuh kegembiraan. Gadis-gadis dengan rambut terikat rapi dan pejuang yang penuh antusiasme saling bergurau dan melempar senyum. Anak-anak muda yang tampan dan menarik, terbebas untuk sesaat dari tabu dan revolusi. Mungkin ini pertemuan mereka yang pertama dan terakhir, atau siapa tahu ada kelanjutan kisah ini? Saat-saat romantis seperti iniyang mengilhami komposer Ismail Marzuki menciptakan lagu “Sepasang Mata Bola”, lagu cinta berlatar belakang revolusi.

Kutipan dari: “The railways and the (de-)colonisation of Indonesia”, Alex Supartono, Jakarta, August 2006

Pertanyaan saya, apakah kita masih memiliki mimpi itu, atau kah telah hilang dalam perjalanan 63 tahun ini?

15 August 2008

The Yogyakarta Special

C28 class (SS class 1300) 4-6-4 tank engine (photo: Rob Dickinson)

Jakarta in December 1945 had become an unsafe place for the leaders of the fledgling Republic of Indonesia. Japan had been defeated and the Netherlands was trying to regain control of its former colony. Soldiers of the Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA) were terrorising the homes of President Sukarno and Vice President Mohammad Hatta. The two leaders had to be constantly on the move for their safety. Finally, on 4 January 1946, at around 7 o’clock in the evening, Sukarno and Hatta secretly left Jakarta for Yogyakarta. Earlier, Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX of Yogyakarta had invited Sukarno to move the seat of government to Yogyakarta.

Republican railway workers had arranged a special train to transport the leaders. At the head of the train was C2849, a 4-6-4 Esslingen tank engine. The locomotive’s regular duty was hauling one of the Staatsspoorwegen (State Railway Company) crack Vlugge Vier (Speedy Four) trains between Jakarta and Bandung. Inconspicuously, at the very end of the rack were two teakwood boogie carriages, IL-7 and IL-8, now preserved in the Transportation Museum in Jakarta, which carried the President, the Vice President and their families. These two carriages, built in 1919 in the works in Bandung, used to be the private saloons of the Governor General of the Netherlands Indies. They replaced an earlier saloon built in 1891, which was the first boogie passenger carriage in Indonesia.

To allow Sukarno, Hatta, and their party to board the train, it was shunted back and forth along the tracks behind Sukarno’s home at Pegangsaan Timur 56. The train was dark; no single light was turned on. After the whole group had boarded the train, it moved slowly to Manggarai Station. There, Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA) soldiers checked the first carriage. They found it empty and looking at the other dark coaches assumed that they were also empty.

Vice President and Mrs Rahmi Hatta on board the Yogyakarta Special

Before leaving Jakarta, the train made another stop at Jatinegara Station. There, Dutch soldiers looked suspiciously but did not enter the coaches. After a brief stop the train moved towards its destination. The lights were switched on after entering republican controlled territory at Kranji. At the stations along the way people were waiting to greet the two leaders.

Finally at 10 o’clock in the morning of 5 January it reached Yogyakarta’s Tugu Station, where Hamengku Buwono IX was already waiting. Soon afterwards Sukarno made a radio speech announcing to the world that as of that day the government of the Republic of Indonesia had moved to Yogyakarta. Yogyakarta would be Indonesia’s capital for the next four years.


Atmakusumah (ed.)(1982) Tahta Untuk Rakyat: Celah-celah Kehidupan Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX, Jakarta: Gramedia

De Bruin, Jan (2003) Het Indische spoor in oorlogstijd, s’Hertogenbosch: Uquilair

Hatta, Rahmi (1982) ‘Uang Belanja Pemberian Sri Sultan Masih tersimpan Sebagai Kenangan’, in Atmakusumah (ed.)(1982) Tahta Untuk Rakyat: Celah-celah Kehidupan Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX, Jakarta: Gramedia

(photo: Rob Dickinson)

IL-7 and IL-8 at the Transportation Museum, Jakarta (right, top photo); Governor General of the Netherlands Indies D. Fock boarding his special train at Tanjung Priok Harbour in 1921 (bottom photo).

Kereta Api Luar Biasa Yogyakarta

Jakarta pada Desember 1945 tidak aman lagi bagi pemimpin-pemimpin Republik muda yang baru diproklamasikan. Jepang telah menyerah dan Belanda berusaha menguasai lagi bekas jajahannya. Tentara Netherlands Indies Civil Administration (NICA) terus menteror kediaman Presiden Sukarno dan Wakil Presien Mohammad Hatta. Demi keselamatan mereka, kedua pemimpin itu terpaksa selalu berpindah-pindah tempat. Akhirnya, pada 4 Januari 1946 sekitar jam 7 malam Sukarno dan Hatta diam-diam meninggalkan Jakarta menuju Yogyakarta. Sebelumnya Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX telah mengundang Sukarno untuk memindahkan pemerintahan ke Yogyakarta.

Pegawai kereta api pro-republik telah menyiapkan kereta api luar biasa (KLB) untuk mengankut kedua pemimpin itu. Penghela kereta adalah lokomotif C2849 buatan Eslingen. Biasanya lokomotif ini berugas menarik kereta api Vlugge Vier antara Jakarta dan bandung dari Staatsspoorwegen (SS). Di belakang sendiri, tidak terlihat menonjol, adalah dua kereta kayu, IL-7 dan IL-8, yang sekarang dipreservasi di Museum Transportasi Jakarta, berisi Presiden, Wakil Presiden dan keluarga mereka. Kedua kereta buatan balai yasa Bandung pada 1919 semula adalah kereta pribadi Gubernur Jenderal Hindia Belanda. Kedua kereta ini menggantikan kereta pribadi gubernur jenderal yang dibuat 1891, yang adalah kereta penumpang berboogie pertama di Indonesia.

Untuk menaikkan Sukarno dan Hatta beserta rombongan mereka, kereta api itu dilangsir bolak-balik di jalur rel di belakang rumah Sukarno di Pegangsaan Timur 56. Kereta dibiarkan gelap, tidak ada satu lampu pun yang dinyalakan. Setelah seluruh rombongan berada di atas, kereta api dijalankan pelan-pelan ke Stasiun Manggarai. Di stasiun itu tentara NICA memeriksa kereta terdepan. Kereta itu kosong, dan me;lihat kereta lain yang gelap mereka mengira seluruh rangkaian itu kosong tidak berpenumpang.

Sebelum meninggalkan kota Jakarta kereta api itu berhenti lagi di Stasiun Jatinegara. Di stasiun itu tentara Belanda mengamati dengan curiga, tapi tidak memasuki kereta. Setelah berhenti sebentar di Jatinegara KLB itu meneruskan perjalanan. Setelah memasuki wilayah yang dikuasai Republik di Kranji baru lampu-lampu dinyalakan. Di stasiun-stasiun perhentian di sepanjang jalan rakyat menyambut kedua pemimpin mereka itu.

Akhirnya, pada pagi hari 5 Januari sekitar jam 10 KLB tiba di Stasiun Tugu Yogyakarta, di mana Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX telah menunggu. Tidak berapa lama kemudian Sukarno berpidato melalui radio, mengumumkan pada seluruh dunia bahwa sejak saat itu pemerintah Republik Indonesia telah pindah ke Yogyakarta. Yogyakarta akan menjadi ibukota Indonesia selama empat tahun.

Hamengku Buwono IX


(Anonymous) Sosok Bersahaja Bung Karno, http://solindo.wordpress.com/2008/03/11/sosok-bersahaja-bung-karno/

Atmakusumah (ed.)(1982) Tahta Untuk Rakyat: Celah-celah Kehidupan Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX, Jakarta: Gramedia

De Bruin, Jan (2003) Het Indische spoor in oorlogstijd, s’Hertogenbosch: Aquilair

Hatta, Rahmi (1982) ‘Uang Belanja Pemberian Sri Sultan Masih tersimpan Sebagai Kenangan’, dalam Atmakusumah (ed.)(1982) Tahta Untuk Rakyat: Celah-celah Kehidupan Sultan Hamengku Buwono IX, Jakarta: Gramedia

9 August 2008

Ambarawa Railway: Potential World Heritage Site

(Excerpt from: Potential railway world heritage sites in Asia and the Pacific, Robert Lee, University of Western Sydney, Macarthur )

Although an archipelago, Indonesia has an extensive railway system on two of its islands, Java and Sumatra. Until the 1980s there was also a small system on the island of Madura, just off the coast of Java near Surabaya. At their peak, there were 6,458 kilometres of railway in the Netherlands Indies. Both Java and Sumatra have mountainous topography difficult for railway construction. In Java, these mountains are mostly volcanos, the saddles between which have needed to be climbed for railways to connect the flatter and generally more productive parts of the island. Railway services in Java have always been intensive, and remain so, which is scarcely surprising given its current population of more than 130 million. Railways were introduced early into Java, the first line - a 26 kilometre section between Kemijen and Tanggung of what would become the main line from Semarang to Solo and Yogyakarta - being opened on 17 June 1864. This standard-gauge line was built and operated by a private company, the Nederlands Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij or NIS. Ultimately Java's railways were built by a motley collection of twelve private companies and the Government, whose system - the largest - was called the Staats Spoorweg or SS. Although the first NIS line was built to standard gauge, the rest of Java's railways were built to a gauge of 3' 6".

This remained the situation until 1942, when the Japanese occupation authorities unified the railways under a central administration based in Bandung called the Rikuyu Kyoku (Imperial Railways). The Japanese penchant for centralisation extended to gauge: the former NIS line was relaid to 3' 6" gauge and its standard gauge equipment shipped to Manchuria. Except for the period of the Indonesian Revolution between 1945 and 1949, when rival Dutch and Republican railway administrations existed, Java has had a unified railway system, called since 1990 the Perusahaan Umum Kereta Api (Public Railway Company).

Nearly all of Java's railways pass through areas of great scenic beauty, and some cross mountain ravines, often terraces with rice fields, using high steel bridges. The very busy main line between Jakarta and Bandung includes a number of such bridges, all traversed by dozens of passenger trains each day. However, spectacular as this line is, it is difficult to make any claims that it is unique. Such a claim can be made, however, for the nine kilometres of railway between Ambarawa and Bedono, the last surviving fragment of the former SS route between Semarang and Yogyakarta. This too is a transmontane railway. Whereas the NIS standard-gauge line between these two cities took a longer route well to the east to avoid the mass of the two volcanos in the centre of the island, Merapi and Merbabu, the SS line went over the saddle between them and the Dieng Plateau, climbing by rack to an elevation of 711 metres at Bedono.

The history of the line and the motives for its construction are unusual. Ambarawa is strategically located, commanding the pass from the north coast to the central plains, where the remnants of the feudal kingdoms of central Java remain. It was at Ambarawa that the Dutch under Governor General Janssens surrendered to the British under Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1811. The place was and remains an important military centre. Thus the first railway was built to Ambarawa for military reasons. The standard-gauge branch from the NIS main line at Kedungjati was opened on 21 May 1873. An enormous station, relative to the size of the town, formed the terminus. This brick, stucco and iron building still stands and still serves as a railway station, although now patronised largely by tourists rather than the troops of a colonial army. The town was then named Willem I in honour of the Dutch king at the time. This was unusual for the Dutch, who usually retained local names (the other main exceptions in Java were Batavia and Buitenzorg), and reflected the importance and Europeanness with which they regarded the place.

Subsequently, in the first few years of the twentieth century, the government built a line over the mountain saddle to Magelang , headquarters of its colonial army, and from there on to Yogyakarta. This was a 3' 6" gauge line, built to light standards, much of it beside the road, and with a ruling grade of 1 in 12. Thus, for some decades Ambarawa was a break-of-gauge station. A series of five 0-4-2rack locomotives was ordered from Émil Kessler of Esslingen in Germany to work the rack section of the line. They have done so ever since. The railway, conceived in military terms, was never particularly commercially significant, and the mountain section from Ambarawa to Magelang was closed in 1976. However, the rack line was retained as far as Bedono, together with two of the locomotives and a small collection of four-wheel timber coaches, all dating from the first decade of the twentieth century. These are now used to operate a tourist service on the line. Thus the extraordinary station at Ambarawa and the rack line have remained in continuous use since their inception. Moreover, the vast grounds of the station have been put to use as a railway museum, where 21 steam locomotives are now displayed. [1]

Because of its military history and associations with colonialism, the railway has an important yet ambivalent place in Indonesian history and in national consciousness. This is expressed poignantly in a recent novel by Y.B. Mangunwijaya, a Western-educated Indonesian novelist who fought on the side of the Republic during the Revolution of 1945-9. The novel is set largely in and around Magelang. There the railway intruded into the old and spiritually charged landscape of central Java.The narrator, a Javanese officer fighting on the side of the Dutch in the colonial army against the new Indonesian Republic, is facing defeat and contemplates his future and the wisdom of his choice. The proximity of the Buddhist temple of Borobudur and the railway - symbols of the Javanese past and the Dutch-dominated present; of spiritual and material values; of the dichotomy which has touched every Asian society and most Asian hearts in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries - leads the narrator into a reverie:

“A few meters away from where I sat the railway track crossed the road and curved gracefully in a wide arc across the embankment which towered above the rice paddies. It looked like a giant python seeking its burrow in the Elo River. As it sliced across the rice fields, heedless of the intricately ordered fields that had been built through generations of patient toil, the steel python became a menacing intruder from the world of rationality, an ominous portent that had come to disturb the natural beauty of the surroundings. Yes, this is a beautiful country, I thought. There was no doubt about that. Yet it's a disturbing place, too, because no one can ever really know the contents of its heart, even through the force of an aggressor. Aggressor? Atop fertile farmland had been built an embankment of so many thousand cubic meters whose sole purpose was to support the gravel, ironwood sleepers, and steel rails that make possible the swift journey of another world and a different attitude toward life. Why, I wondered, had the term aggressor come to mind?” [2]

There is a rich irony about the closure of most of this railway in the 1970s. It occurred not because of this railway's aggressively imperial role in a nation's spiritual heartland, but because it did not succeed well enough on its own terms and no longer paid dividends. The fragment that remains is true to Mangunwijaya's description. There are no large bridges, but the sweeping embankments contrast effectively with the tortuous route of the road it parallels. Above all, this is a very intimate railway, slicing through sawah (rice fields) on its lower reaches, brushing past banana and jungle trees as it climbs the volcanos. Its continued operation indicates that it valued, probably more for its aesthetic than historical qualities, by the provincial and railway authorities of Central Java. This it richly deserves.

[1] There is no adequate history of the railways of the Netherlands Indies and the Indonesian Republic. I have relied on personal observation and two published sources, both of which are more concerned with locomotives than anything else. They are Perusahaan Umum Kereta Api, Wilayah Usaha Jawa, Data Lokomotip-lokomotip tua Koleksi Museum Kereta Api, Ambarawa - Jawa Tengah Indonesia, Semarang, PERUMKA, 1996, and A.E. Durrant, PJKA Power Parade, London, Continental Railay Circle, 1972. This paucity of sources has meant that I am unable even to give a an accurate date of opening of the Ambarawa-Bedono section. A date around 1902-3 is most probable, but clearly archival research, either in the Netherlands or Indonesia, is essential to document the site adequately.

[2] Y.B. Mangunwijaya, The Weaverbirds (translated by Thomas M. Hunter), Jakarta, Lontar, 1991, pp. 151-2.

Tjahjono Rahardjo's notes: The Cape gauge (1067 mm) line from Ambarawa to Yogyakarta via Secang and Magelang was not SS but, like the Stephenson gauge (1435 mm) Kedungjati – Ambarawa line, was also NIS.


Potential railway world heritage sites in Asia and the Pacific, Robert Lee, University of Western Sydney, Macarthur: http://www.york.ac.uk/inst/irs/irshome/papers/robert2.htm


3 August 2008

The Forgotten Death Railway

2008 will mark the 63rd anniversary of the Muaro-Pekanbaru railway, which was finished on 15 August 1945. But this was no ordinary railway. Like its more-well known counterpart, the Thai - Burma Railway, forced labourers built it. The building of this railway has cost the lives of Indonesian romushas and Dutch, British, and Australian prisoners of war (POWs). Some have estimated that more than 10,000 of them are buried alongside the tracks in the middle of the dense Sumatera jungle, though no one will ever know the exact figure. Therefore, this railway is known as the Sumatera Death Railway. Unlike the Burma Railway (which even had a film, “The Bridge on the River Kwai made about it), however, not many people know about the Sumatera Death Railway, not even in Indonesia.

Before World War II the Dutch colonial government had already made plans to construct a railway network connecting the east and west coasts of Sumatera, and eventually covering the whole island. The line connecting Muaro and Pekanbaru was part of the plan. But the obstacles they had to face were formidable; numerous tunnels, viaducts and bridges would need to be build. Considered not yet feasible, the plans gathered dust in the archives of the Nederlandsch-Indische Spoorwegen (Netherlands-Indian State Railways).

When the Japanese occupied Indonesia in 1942 they discovered this plan. The Japanese military authority saw that it was a solution to the problem they were facing. By building a railway line connecting West Sumatera to the East coast they could avoid transporting through Padang and the Indian Ocean which was heavily patrolled by allied warships. The new railway would extend the existing network of the Staatsspoorwegen ter Sumatra’s Weskust (SSS) by 215 kilometres to the harbour of Pekanbaru. Then, via the Siak River, it would be easy to reach the Strait of Melaka.

Work started in September 1943. Romushas began by building railway facilities and embankments in Pekanbaru. In May 1944 the POWs started to arrive. But some of the romushas and POWs never even made it to Pekanbaru. Many were killed when Allied torpedoes sank the ships transporting them. But most of the workers died of malnutrition, disease and rough treatment.
Meanwhile, railway materials – tracks and rolling stock - were also brought in from other parts of the country, including several locomotives of the former Deli Spoorweg Maatschappij (DSM), the Semarang Cheribon Stoomtram Maatschappij (SCS) and the Samarang Joana Stoomtram Maatschappij (SJS).

Because the Japanese were in a hurry to finish the railway the construction of tunnels was avoided, but rivers and ravines still had to be bridged using trees chopped from the tiger infested jungle. The overall quality of construction was very poor. Finally, the line was finished on 15 August 1945, the same day that Japan capitulated. The railway was never used for it intended purpose, carrying coal from the mines in Sawahlunto, West Sumatera, to Pekanbaru. The only trains that travelled along the lines were used to transport the freed POWs. Soon afterwards the line was abandoned. The romushas and POWs who had lost their lives had died in vain.

Today in Lipatkain, Riau, about half way of the line, a monument stands to commemorate them. Neglected and forlorn, nobody seem to care about it.

More information:



http://www.chbss.nl/content.asp?ID=54 (in Dutch)

Jalan Kereta Api Maut yang Terlupakan

Tahun 2008 ini akan menandai 63 tahun usia jalan kereta api Muaro-Pekanbaru, yang selesai dibangun 15 Agustus 1945. Tapi ini bukan jalan kereta api biasa. Seperti jalan kereta api Thai – Birma yang lebih terkenal, jalan kereta api ini dibangun oleh pekerja paksa. Pembangunannya telah memakan korban jiwa romusha Indonesia dan tawanan perang Belanda, Inggris dan Australia. Diperkirakan sekitar 10.000 dikuburkan sepanjang jalan rel di tengah belantara Sumatera, meski tidak aka ada yang tahu jumlah pastinya. Karena itu, jalan kereta api ini dikenal juga sebagai Jalan Kereta Api Maut Sumatera. Tapi tidak seperti Jalan Kereta Api Birma (yang bahkan telah dibuat filmya, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”), tidak banyak orang yang tahu tentang Jalan Kereta Api Maut Sumatera, tidak juga di Indonesia.

Sebelum Perang Dunia II pemerintah kolonial Belanda telah membuat rencana pembangunan jaringan jalan rel yang menghubungkan pantai timur dan pantai barat Sumatera, yang akhirnya akan meliputi seluruh pulau Sumatera. Jalur Muaro ke Pekanbaru adalah bagian dari rencana itu. Tapi hambatan yang dihadapi begitu berat; banyak terowongan, viaduk dan jembatan harus dibangun. Karena belum dianggap layak, rencana itu tersimpan saja di arsip Nederlands-Indische Staatsspoorwegen (Perusahaan Negara Kereta Api Hindia Belanda).

Ketika Jepang menduduki Indonesia pada 1942 mereka menemukan rencana itu. Penguasa militer Jepang melihatnya sebagai jalan keluar persoalan yang mereka hadapi. Pembangunan jalan rel yang menghubungkan Sumatera Barat dan pantai timur Sumatera akan membuat jalur transportasi yang menghindari Padang dan Samudera India yang dijaga ketat kapal perang Sekutu. Jalan kereta api baru itu akan memperluas jaringan Staatsspoorwegen te Sumatra’s Weskust (SSS) sepanjang 215 ke pelabuhan Pekanbaru. Dari sana, melalui Sungai Siak akan mudah mencapai Selat Melaka.

Pekerjaan dimulai September 1943. Para Romusha membangun fasilitas perkeretaapian dan badan jalan rel di Pekanbaru. Mei 1944 para tawanan perang mulai berdatangan. Tapi sebagian romusha dan tawanan perang tidak pernah sampai ke Pekanbaru. Banyak yang terbunuh ketika kapal yang mereka tumpangi tenggelam terkena torpedo Sekutu. Tapi sebagian besar mereka meninggal karena kurang makan, penyakit dan perlakuan buruk.

Sementara itu, material kereta api – rel, lokomotif dan gerbong – didatangkan juga dari tempat lain, termasuk beberapa lokomotif bekas Deli Spoorweg Maatschappij (DSM) and Semarang Cheribon Stoomtram Maatschappij (SCS).

Karena Jepang terdesak waktu untuk menyelesaikan lintasan ini, pembangunan terowongan dihindari, tapi untuk melintasi sungai dan jurang masih tetap harus dibangun jembatan dari kayu yang ditebang di hutan yang dihuni harimau. Mutu pekerjaan secara keseluruhan sangat rendah. Akhirnya jalan rel ini selesai pada 15 Agustus 1945, bersamaan dengan penyerahan Jepang pada Sekutu. Jalan kereta api ini tidak pernah digunakan untuk tujuannya semula, membawa batubara dari Sawah Lunto, Sumatera barat, ke Pekanbaru. Kereta api yang melalui jalan rel ini hanya kereta api pengangkut tawanan perang yang telah dibebaskan. Tidak lama setelah itu jalan rel ini ditinggalkan begitu saja. Para romusha dan tawanan perang yang mengorbankan nyawa untuk pembangunan jalan rel ini mati sia-sia.

Kini di Lipatkain, Riau, kira-kira dipertengahan jalur itu, berdiri monumen untuk memperingati mereka. Tidak terawat dan merana, tidak banyak orang yang memperdulikannya.