28 November 2008

Malaysian-Singaporean Interlude: The Senandung Malam Ekspres to Singapore

For me the best way to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore (but not the other way around. Why? you'll know when you have finished reading this post) is by rail on the overnight sleeper train “Senandung Malam” (“Song of the Night”). I think that this is the most comfortable and cost effective alternative. In addition, it is much more environmentally friendly than flying.

In the days of the North Star Night Express, forerunner of the Senandung Malam (described in Paul Theroux’s “The Great Railway Bazaar”), such a journey would start at the magnificent Mughal style old Kuala Lumpur Station. The station, as well as the Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) headquarters opposite it, was designed by AB Hubback, a colonial Public Works employee who had served earlier in India.

Drawing of a steam train at the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station. This drawing was made by a Kuala Lumpur street painter based in front of the National Mosque.

But today this marvelous building is only used for commuter and suburban traffic (plus a heritage hotel and office of the Keretapi Tanah Melayu Fans Club). Since 2001, all mainline activities have moved to the modern KL Sentral Station .

Boarding the Senandung Malam at KL Sentral

Second Class Sleeper lower and upper berth

The Second Class Sleeper aisle

First Class Sleeper corridor

First Class Sleeper compartment

In both First Class and Second Class Sleepers passenger are provided with berths, complete with crisp white linens and blankets. The difference is that in First Class the berths are in compartments of twos, each compartment having their own toilet facilities, giving passengers more privacy. Still, if I'm traveling alone I would prefer the Second Class Sleeper, because, besides being cheaper than First Class Sleeper, it actually gives you more privacy. Once the curtains are drawn you have your berth completely for yourself. In a First Class Sleeper, you still would have to share the compartment with somebody else (except if you have booked the compartment for yourself, for which, of course, you would have to pay even more). Third Class on the Senandung Malam consist of reclining seats, not unlike the Kelas Eksekutif of Indonesia's PTKA trains. It is an irony that there are no sleeper cars in Indonesia anymore, though when it was introduced in the 1930's the Staatsspoorwegen (SS) Nacht-Expres (Night Express) was the first train to provide such a service in the southern hemisphere. The standard of service of the Nacht-Expres is said to rival that of Germany's "Mitropa."

Crossing the Causeway. If I'm not mistaken, the pipes in the foreground carry precious Malaysian fresh water for Singapore. Water supply and the status of the railways are sensitive issuses in the relationship between Malaysia and Singapore

At dawn, after on-board passport checks by the Malaysian immigration, the train crosses the Causeway connecting Malaysia and Singapore. A few minutes later the train will stop at Woodlands checkpoint for the Singaporean immigration formalities.

Woodlands Checkpoint

The only unpleasant part of the otherwise pleasant trip is the formalities at Woodlands Checkpoint. Here all passengers have to get off the train carrying all their luggage (nothing should be left behind), pass through immigration and board the train again. The train than continues its journey to its final destination, Singapore Station at the southern tip of the island. Oddly, if you are leaving Singapore you don't have to carry your luggage, just your travel documents.

Singapore Station yard with some rolling stocks of the KTMB

The status of Singapore Station has caused tension between Malaysia and Singapore. Singapore thinks that this valuable piece of land should be developed for more economically profitable use. Malaysia, on the other hand sees the station as Malaysian territory. A few years ago there was a large sign proclaiming “Welcome to Malaysia” in front of the station. The Singaporeans considered this insulting and demanded that it be removed, which eventually the Malaysians reluctantly did.
Because of this “railway dispute,” to travel by train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur will cost more than two times the cost of travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, also by train. The reason is that the price of tickets bought in Singapore must be paid for in Singapore Dollars, but at the Malaysian Ringgit amount. So for a Senandung Malam lower berth 2nd Class Sleeper ticket which costs 43 Ringgits on the KL-Singapore train, one would have to pay 43 Singapore Dollars for the Singapore - KL train. To avoid paying in Singapore Dollars some people have taken the local transport to Johor Bahru just across of the causeway from Singapore Island and start their journey from there.

From this case, as well as the Woodlands case, I suspect that Singapore is trying to make the train travel as unpleasant as possible, so that eventually KTMB will have to close the line due to lack of passengers. Then, Singapore can take over and develop the station and its grounds.

A Second Class Sleeper carriage at the Singapore Station platform. The small windows are for the upper berths

Central Hall, Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Singapore

Façade, Tanjong Pagar Station, Singapore

The Tanjong Pagar or Keppel Railway Station was officially opened in 1932 after three years of construction by the Federated Malay States Railways (FMSR). The design was influenced by Eliel Saarinen's Helsinki Station, Finland. The façade has four heroic figures representing Commerce, Agriculture, Industry and Shipping. Above each of the figures can be seen the letters F, M, S, and R respectively.

PS: Following an agreement between Malaysia and Singapore, on July 1, 2011 Tanjong Pagar Station was closed. All trains traveling between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur will now start and terminate their journeys at Woodlands.


24 November 2008

Trains and Princes

By the end of the 18th century, the once mighty Mataram Mataram Empire that used to rule nearly the whole of Java has been reduced to four small splinter principalities in the interior of Central Java: Surakarta, Yogyakarta, Mangkunagaran and Pakualaman. This area, however, was one of the most fertile areas in Netherlands India, and many plantations were established in the area, producing sugar cane, coffee, tobacco, indigo and other products that were mainly for export. Therefore, when it was decided to build a railway in Netherlands India, the first concession given was for a line connecting the vorstenlanden (principalities, lit: 'princely states') and the port of Semarang on the north coast.

Four Javanese rulers under one roof, from left to right: Mangkunagara VII, Ratu Emas (consort of Pakubuwana X), Hamengkubuwana VIII of Yogyakarta, Pakubuwana X of Surakarta, the Governor of Surakarta, a sister of Hamengkubuwana VIII, Sekar Kedaton (daughter of Pakubuwana X) and Pakualam VII. The distances of the Mangkunagara and the Pakualam from the main group is to emphasis the junior position of the two.

The princes played an important role in the development of the railways. The railway companies were given permission to build their tracks and stations on their territories. Later, the princes would be regular passengers on the Indies trains, and the stations would be scenes of royal departures and official arrivals.

Pakubuwana X and the Governor of Surakarta waiting for Governor-General BC de Jonge to alight from his carriage at Balapan station, Surakarta (Solo), 1931.

Hamengkubuwana VIII, waving black kepi, Mangkunagara VII (second from right) and Pakualam VII (third from right), at Tugu station, Yogyakarta (1939)

Mangkunagara VII (in white uniform) and his consort Ratu Timur at Gambir station, Batavia.

Their favourite train was the Eendagsche Expres (One-Day Express), the luxurious trains that covered the distance between Batavia (Jakarta) and Surabaya (via Yogya and Solo) in 11 hours 30 minutes.

The first Eendagsche Expres leaving Batavia Weltevreden station amid a spectacular display of smoke and steam, 1 December 1929. The train is headed by one of the controversial Pacific engines of the 1000 series built by Werkspoor, Amsterdam. Despite their sleek and speedy lines, the performance of these engines proved rather disappointing.

Interior of the Eendagsche Expres first class carriage.

But Pakubuwana X, who reigned in magnificent, albeit impotent splendour, had his own royal saloon. Another ruler who had his own royal carriage was the Sultan of Deli in East Sumatera. The Sultan even had a halt built directly in front of his palace in Medan to make it easier for him to board and step-off the Deli royal saloon

The saloon of Pakubuwana X, now kept in a pavilion in the Surakarta Kraton (palace). It could run on both Stephenson gauge (1435 mm) and Cape gauge (1067mm) tracks.

Festivities at the Sultan's palace grounds in Medan. In the foreground can be seen the siding and the Sultan's gazebo.

The Mangkunagara was a bit more modest with his 750 mm gauge four-wheeler carriage used to inspect his sugar factory at Tasikmadu.

The Mangkunagara's 750 mm gauge rail coach, Tasikmadu

19 November 2008

C1412 on plinth in Semarang

What secret is hidden behind the tarpaulin at PTKA's office in Semarang?

It's C1412!

Workers applying a fresh coat of paint

Offering of flowers and cigarettes for the guardian spirit of C1412

I was not aware that C1412 had been moved to the PTKA office in Semarang until Mr Albert Pelupessy, a visitor to this blog sent me a message on 18 November 2008. By that time C1412 was already a week in Semarang. Mr Pelupessy is the contractor appointed by PTKA to move and restore C1214. He is also a steam enthusiast. I met him, quite by accident, when I visited the PTKA office - where he was supervising the restoration work - on the afternoon of November 19, 2008.

C1412 in Ambarawa (2008)

(photo: Nick Bryant)

C1412 in Ambarawa (2001)

C1412 was Serajoedal Stoomtram Maatschappij (SDS) engine number 12. Between 1895 and 1910 SDS ordered fourteen of these 0-6-0 tank engines from Beyer Peacock, Manchester. C1412 itself entered into service in 1909. These engines were mainly used to haul freight trains on the SDS line connecting Maos and Wonosobo, along the valley of the Serayu river between the Slamet, Sumbing and Sindoro volcanoes in Central Java. Unfortunately, this scenic route has long been closed. I think it is quite appropriate that C1412 is now adorning the PTKA office in Semarang, as the building used to be the joint office of the Samarang-Joana Stoomtram Mij (SJS), Semarang-Cheribon Stoomtram Mij (SCS), Serajoedal Stoomtram Mij (SDS) and Oost-Java Stoomtram Mij (OJS). Engines of the same series, C1411 and C1414, are preserved at the railway office in Purwokerto and Tegal works, respectively.

SDS 2, a class mate of SDS 12 (C1412) heading a frieght train posing on a viaduct

Manufacturer's photograph of SDS 1, another classmate, with skirt and curtain

C1412 on 12 December 2008

17 November 2008

Station Signage: Indonesia and elsewhere

Railway station signage, besides its main function in assisting wayfinding, showing directions, and giving information, is often used to present the corporate identity of the company operating the railways. Therefore, the logo of the company is often incorporated in the signage design.


Perhaps because Indian Railways (IR) is a state owned monopoly, there is no urgency to show its identity on its stations. It is taken for granted that anything having to do with railways is IR.


(photo: Hotmauli Sidabalok)

(photo: Hotmauli Sidabalok)

The same seems to be the case in China. But in most other countries the identity of the railway company is prominently displayed.




But in INDONESIA, instead of the identity of PTKA (Indonesian Railway Company), the station signage is dominated by a cigarette advertisement.

We should not be surprised if someone not familiar with the Indonesian railway situation thinks that the railway company here is "Pria Punya Selera" instead of PT Kereta Api Persero (PTKA). "Pria punya selera" is the tagline of a leading Indonesian cigarette brand ad.

I would be grateful if anyone can tell me about other "unusual" station signanges.