15 February 2009

Samarang NIS: traces of Indonesia's first railway station found

There is no dispute that the first railway line in Indonesia was built between Semarang and Tanggung by the Nederlandsch_Indische Spoorweg Maatschappij (NIS). However, the exact location of Semarang’s first station is still subject to controversy. The official view of PTKA (Indonesian Railway Company) is that the first station was located in Kemi(d)jen, and was even called Kemidjen Station.

Kemidjen Station in the railway company’s official history book.

Other sources, such as Rietsma (1925), Liem (1933), Oegema (1982), van Ballegooien de Jong, (1993) de Bruin (2003), however, make no references of Kemi(d)jen. They all say that the first railway line was between Semarang (Samarang) and Tanggung (Tangoeng). Liem adds that the first NIS station was located near the port, in an area called Tambaksari.

The use of the spelling Samarang was common till the 1880s. Thus, it is very likely that the first station in Semarang would also be called Samarang Station.

The 1866 map of Semarang shows that there was only one station complex and railway network, that of the NIS. It was located in the area that later would be called Tambaksari. The main station building is located at the end of Spoorlaan, now called Jalan Ronggowarsito.

In 1914 a new NIS station was opened. Later this station would be named Samarang Tawang NIS, to distinguish it from the Samarang NIS. The construction of this new station was in response to the increasing activities of the NIS. To connect Tawang Station with the NIS mainline, however, part of Samarang NIS Station had to be pulled down. Nevertheless, the other buildings at Samarang NIS Station were still intact, including the locomotive shed, works and goods station. Its name was changed to Samarang Goederenstation. Later, this would become Stasiun Semarang Gudang.

Later, however, the area has increasingly been subject to flooding. Semarang Gudang was abandoned and the former Samarang NIS building was gradually forgotten. Most people believed that it had completely disappeared; anything left of it would be underwater.

A team from the Indonesian Railway Preservation Societ Semarang seeked to find out where the former Samarang NIS Station is situated today. The search was initially conducted by studying available references. Amongst the most important sources are:

· Publication on Indonesian railways (de Bruin, 2003., de Jong, 1993., Durrant, 1972. Oegema, 1982. TBN, 1997)
· Maps in the collection of the Koninklijk Instituut voor de Tropen (KIT, 2009)
· Photographs in the collection of the Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (KITLV, 2009)
· Satellite images, Google Earth Pro 4.2 application programme (Google, 2009)

In January 2009, with the help of a GPS device our team set out to find the station’s location. We did not expect to find anything significant, but when we finally found the position in the middle of a dense slum, we saw there some object that looked familiar to use. We hurriedly consulted the old picture we had, and to our great surprise they were exactly like those shown in the picture.

It seems that we have found the traces of Indonesia’s first railway station.

And what about Kemi(d)jen? In 1938 the name Kemidjen first appeared on a map of Semarang, at the area formerly known as Tawangmintreng. This area was about midway in Spoorlaan, south of Samarang NIS Station. Later a halt was built here on the Semarang Joana Stoomtram (SJS) Semarang – Demak line. It is highly likely that this halt was the one that came to be called Kemidjen, but on a 1935 map there is still no building shown, therefore the station/ halt was most probably built between 1935 and1938. In any case, it could not possibly be the first station in Indonesia.

IRPS Semarang has prepared a report of this finding (in Indonesian and in English). This report will be presented in a seminar planned to be jointly organised with PTKA.

11 February 2009

BB 30024 keeps flooded tracks open

It started only as a drizzle on Saturday (7 February 2009) evening, but later in the night it turned into a raging rainstorm. By Sunday morning the city was paralysed as floodwater inundated many parts of the city. The water level in some parts reached 150 centimetres. The airport was closed for all flights and the main roads into Semarang were under 50 centimetres of water.

One of the worst hit areas was Tawang Station, Semarang’s main railway station. The tracks were inaccessible, forcing the total closure of the entire northern coast railway line. Trains between Jakarta – Surabaya v.v. had to take the longer southern route - through Solo – muddling up the timetable. By 19.00 on Sunday, however, the line was reopened. This was possible thanks to a plucky little veteran, BB 30024. This shunter plied back and forth between Poncol Station, passing through Tawang Station, and Alastuwa Station in the eastern edge of Semarang, pulling all kinds of passenger and goods trains. At both Poncol and Alastuwa the regular diesel-electric engines were waiting for BB 30024 to bring their trains, which they would take to their respective destinations. Because of the low position of their traction motors (only 10 centimeters above the track head), it was impossible for the diesel-electrics to pass the flooded tracks without risking short circuiting their electric motors.

BB 30024 nicknamed “Yuyu Kangkang” by the railway staff because of its high motor position. Yuyu Kangkang is the name of a giant crab in Javanese mythology.

This Krupp engine came into service in 1959, one of the Indonesian Railway Company’s first diesel-hydraulic locomotives. In total there were thirty engines of this series in the service of the Indonesian Railway Company. In its prime this engine could travel at a maximum speed of 75 kilometres per hour, but this time, travelling along flooded tracks pulling heavy trains, it could barely reach 20 kilometres per hour. But for two days, Sunday and Monday, it unfailingly carried out its duty.

Three CC 203 engines and a container train waiting at Alastuwa Station under a grey sky.

Departure of a passenger train

Alastuwa Station was unusually busy on Monday. This small station, which most trains usually just passed, was the scene of much shunting, arrivals and departures, and couplings and de-couplings. Stationmaster Ruslan and his staff had been on full duty since Saturday night and were expecting not to be able to go home till Tuesday morning. Yet, he was still as hospitable as ever, making us each a glass of hot kopi tubruk.

Stationmaster Ruslan (left, in uniform) and staff