30 January 2012

Sidetrack: Not about trains but about (vintage) airliners

Today, in this age of mass air travel, flying is an everyday experience. As the tag line of Asia’s leading budget airline Air Asia proclaims: “Now everyone can fly”. Back in the pre-jet days of  the 1950s, however, when flying was not yet as common as today, it still had a sense of adventure and glamour in it.

It was in those days, in October 1956, that I, for the first time ever, flew on an airplane. My mother, younger brother and I were travelling from Indonesia to the USA to join my father who had left earlier to study there. Our airplane, a KLM Royal Duch Airlines Lockheed Constellation, took off early in the morning from Kemayoran Airport, Jakarta.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Lockheed Constellation, Kemayoran Airport, Jakarta, Indonesia

Our first stopover was at Paya Lebar Airport, Singapore. The next stop was Don Mueang Airport, Bangkok. Those, of course, were the days before Sukarno-Hatta, Changi and Suvarnabhumi airports. From Bangkok we flew to Karachi. At about midnight we arrived at Karachi. We were taken to Hotel Midway House, a hotel owned by KLM located near the airport, where we could freshen up and rest for a few hours. The name Midway comes from the fact that Karachi is approximately halfway between Amsterdam and Jakarta. Very early in the morning we were brought back to the airport, to continue our journey to Amsterdam via Beirut, Rome, and Geneva.

Hotel Midway House, Karachi, Pakistan

We arrived in Amsterdam early in the evening. There we stayed overnight before continuing our journey the next evening on a Pan American World Airways (PAA) Douglas DC7C “Seven Seas.” Before crossing the Atlantic our plane made a brief stop in London. After flying non-stop for about thirteen hours we arrived the next morning at Idlewild Airport in New York.

Pan American World Airways Douglas DC7C ‘Seven Seas”

From Idlewild we were transferred to La Guardia Airport, to catch the afternoon flight to Nashville. The plane we rode on the last leg of our journey was an American Airlines Douglas DC6. After about three hours aboard this plane we finally arrived at our final destination, Nashville, Tennessee.

American Airlines Douglas DC6

Together with my mother and brother I had flown over three continents (Asia, Europe, and North America) and across one ocean (the Atlantic), on three different types of aircrafts (Lockheed Constellation, Douglas DC7 and DC6). It was quite an experience, especially for a first-time air traveller.

18 January 2012

Indonesia concrete balls combat 'train surfing'

BBC 17 January 2012

Railway staff in Indonesia have started hanging concrete balls above train tracks to try to prevent commuters from riding on carriage roofs.

The first balls were installed just above carriage-height near a station outside the capital, Jakarta.

More will be put up elsewhere if they are found to keep people off the roofs.

Previous attempts to deter roof riders included spraying roofs with paint, spreading oil on carriages and hiring musicians to perform safety songs.

Correspondents say those initiatives have failed. Officials hope that the latest move will prove to be the ultimate deterrent.

Roof riders also face the possibility of imprisonment.


The balls - which can deliver a severe blow to the head - will be suspended a few inches above the tops of carriages at points where trains enter or pull out of stations, or where they go through crossings.

Critics say that 'roof surfing' takes places because there are not enough trains
Officials told the BBC that "roof surfing" can be extremely dangerous. In 2008 at least 53 passengers died in an accident while travelling on a train roof. In 2011, 11people were killed.

Most victims are electrocuted by overhead power cables, but some fall off train carriages while trains are moving.

The BBC's Dewi Safitri in Jakarta says that passengers on train roofs can be seen every morning and evening. At peak times about 400,000 commuters cram in or onto carriages to travel into and out of the centre of Jakarta.

While tickets are cheap by Western standards, poorer people struggle to pay which is why they go on the roofs, correspondents say.

The main problem, commuters say, is just how crowded the trains are. Reports say some ticket holders also end up on train roofs because there is no room inside.

Officials say they have tried everything to stop the problem - and even put rolls of barbed wire on train roofs - but nothing has worked.

Officials say that if the latest initiative is successful, the project will be expanded.

But the "roof surfers" themselves told the Associated Press news agency that they are determined not to be put off.

"I was really scared when I first heard about these balls,'' said Mulyanto, 27, who rides daily between his hometown of Bogor and Jakarta almost every day for work.

"It sounds like it could be really dangerous. But I don't think it will last long. They have tried everything to keep us from riding... but in the end we always win.''

Indonesian trains run on often poorly maintained tracks left behind by Dutch colonisers 60 years ago.

Critics say that the problem of "roof surfing" will never be completely ironed out until there are fewer delays and enough trains to meet demand.

1 January 2012

Early morning bike ride

Since about a year ago I started cycling instead of swimming to keep fit. I have found that cycling has certain advantages compared to swimming. I can do it everyday (weather allowing, of course) instead of only two or three times a week. I do not have to pay entrance and I can start right from my door. But most importantly, I can pass along a railway track. This not just any track; it is part of the first railway line in Indonesia, the 25 kilometres Semarang-Tanggung line opened in 1867. But before I get to the tracks I first pass through quite and shady kampung streets.

My regular encounters during these morning trips is with the humble economy class Bojonegoro feeder. Once in while I meet some slow freight trains waiting at the passing loop at Alastua Station.

One day, however, I was surprised to see the crack Argo Bromo Anggrek ‘Go Green’ which was about three hours behind schedule.

During weekends and holidays Alastua station has become a popular place for train watching and an impromptu fair has sprung up where one can buy food, toys and even clothes.