The first Indonesian city to have an urban tram system was Batavia (now called Jakarta). On 20 April 1869 the first horse drawn tram started to run between Amsterdamsche Poort and Harmonie via Molenvliet. The carriages, operated by the Bataviasche Tramway-Maatschappij (BTM) on the unusual rail gauge of 1188 mm, were built in France by Bonnefond, Ivry. In 1869 the line was extended from Harmonie to Tanah Abang and to Meester Cornelis.
Horse drawn tram, Batavia
The use of horses as motive power proofed unsuitable in the hot tropical climate of Jakarta. In a given year more than 500 horses had to be replaced; therefore, it was urgently felt that a more reliable motive power had to be found. In 1881 the Nederlandsch-Indische Tramweg-Maatschappij (NITM) was established. NITM took over the lines formerly operated by BTM, and upgraded it into a steam tram system.
A NITM steam tram
The second city in Indonesia to have an urban tram system was Semarang, while Surabaya followed later in 1889. The Surabaya urban tram was operated by the Oost-Java Stoomtram Maatschappij (OSJ) which together with the Samarang-Joana Stoomtram Maatschappij (SJS), the Semarang-Cheribon Stoomtram Maatschappij (SCS) and Serajoedal Stoomtram Maatschappij (SDS - that served the Maos – Purwokerto – Wonosobo route) formed what was known as De Zustermaatschappijen (“the Sister Companies”). De Zustermaatschappijen had a joint office building in Semarang which now houses the Semarang regional office of PTKA (the Indonesian Railway Company).
A SJS city tram, passing the famous Nederlandsch-Indische Spoorweeg Maatschappij head office in Semarang (left)
In Semarang, besides developing the line to Juwana (and later extended to Blora and Cepu), the Samarang – Joana Stoomtram Maatschappij (SJS) also constructed an urban tram system between 1882-1883. Unlike Jakarta, the gauge used in Semarang was 1067 mm. This system comprised of four lines, all starting from its main station at Jurnatan: Jurnatan-Jomblang, Jurnatan-Bulu, Jurnatan-Samarang NIS station and Jurnatan-Semarang Port.
In his book “Riwayat Semarang” Liem Thian Joe wrote that when the Jurnatan-Jomblang line was built, the area along the tracks were still sparsely populated. It passed open fields as well as wooded areas, though it is now one of the densest and most heavily built up area of Semarang. Liem also wrote that amongst the Javanese and Chinese populace at that time there was a rumour that children were needed for offerings in the construction of the tramway. Therefore, parents would forbid their children to go outside, especially after dark, in fear that they would be kidnapped and offered to the spirit of the tracks.
In 1923 the Surabaya tram system was partly electrified. The Batavia system had been electrified much earlier in 1889. Semarang, however, lagged behind. Though plans for the electrification of the system had already been made since 1921, it was never realised. In fact, the tram service in Semarang was completely stopped in 1940, despite widespread protests. The reason given was that the city had to cut back on expenses.
Most of the tram engines were relocated to Surabaya, where besides electric trams, steam trams were still running on the Wonokromo-Ujung line. The steam trams of Surabaya survived till the early 1980s. Not surprisingly, a former Semarang steam tram engine, B1239 (SJS 54) can now be found preserved in front of the Pasar Turi station in Surabaya. Ironically, in Semarang nothing remains of its former urban tram system.