8 October 2009

Preserving Indonesia's Railroad Heritage is a Labor of Love - The Jakarta Globe

There are various aspects to the work carried out by the Indonesian Railway Preservation Society, but one of the most important is preserving state railway system infrastructure, such as train stations, bridges, tunnels and workshops, as well as trains and spare parts.

“We tour sites such as former train stations that have been converted into markets, workshops and storage facilities,” said Aditya Dwi Laksana, the chairman of the IRPS. “Then we identify and document things that are considered worthy of saving as heritage assets.”

In January, after months of map research and site interviews and retrieving archives from the Netherlands, the IRPS was able to locate Stasiun Samarang NIS, the first train station in Indonesia, which was established by the Dutch in 1867 in Semarang, Central Java.

Other assets that fall under the IRPS radar include equipment such as dated ticketing and station telegraph machines, historical archives and documentation, including train station blueprints, railway maps and records showing old railway lines that are no longer in use.

But preservation efforts also require less tangible assets, Aditya said. As such the IRPS also focuses on expertise, knowledge, experience and oral history.

For example, Aditya mentioned steam locomotives. “Operating and maintaining a steam locomotive requires special expertise,” he said.

“Not everyone has that expertise. If the expertise is not passed on to the next generation then there will be no one that can operate the locomotive in the future.”

In March, IRPS gave a public presentation at Soegijapranata Catholic University.

“We invited historians, archeologists, anthropologists and architects to talk about our latest discovery of the first train station in Indonesia,” Aditya said.

The last aspect of IRPS’s work is what he called “railfanning,” which refers to the activities of rail fans, or ardent train buffs.

“[Activities] range from taking a group ride on a train, to visiting railway facilities such as workshops and factories,” he said.

In the past, IRPS has chartered locomotives several times, including in Cepu and Ambarawa, and invited its members and the general public to come along for the ride.

“We stopped at some interesting spots, to look at old tunnels and bridges . . . . These railfanning activities usually function both as a fun activity, but also to educate the participants,” Aditya said.

“We want to develop a sense of love from the public regarding the railway system, in understanding its historical value and why these assets deserve to be preserved.” 

Armando Siahaan

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