Friday, 18 January 2013


As a lot of you may already know, each year during the milling season when the canes are being harvested, many sugar mills around Java always get flooded by overseas tourists, coming either from Europe and Australia. And now the new comers of Java are the Japanese and the South Koreans. From these facts, rise a lot of questions. Why is it that foreign tourists bother to spend a lot of their money just to visit the sugar mills of Java? What is it about the sugar mills of Java that attracts their attention? What are they interested to see inside the sugar mills of Java that they are bothered to always visit Java every year? Well, all will be revealed here.

So what is it that interests foreign tourists to visit the sugar mills of Java every single year during the harvest season? What do they want to see inside the sugar mills of Java? Well, it is no other than the use of narrow gauge railways as part of their plantation railways built during the Dutch Government Era. Some of them are even interested to see the process of sugar making by using old steam machineries. Well, whether to see the operations of narrow gauge plantation railways or to see the sugar milling process by using old steam machineries, all of these are the vintage of Java, in which I personally think should be counted as Java’s heritage, since there are not many steam machineries and narrow gauge railways remaining in the world. And it is these Java’s vintage that has attracted many rail enthusiasts from around the world to come and visit Java during the milling season each year. For me personally, it is very understandable why so foreign tourists visit Java sugar mills each year. It is because in Europe, Japan and South Korea, they hardly have narrow gauge railways that still operate regularly as a means of transporting plantation products that survives until today’s modern day. In Europe, they have narrow gauge railways but they only operate inside a museum. Whilst in Australia, they still have narrow gauge railways up until today, but they do not have steam locos anymore that still operate regularly until today. And even if they operate diesel locos, Java has different diesel locos in comparison to Australia’s narrow gauge diesel locos. Australia operates American built diesel locos, whilst Java still operates German 50’s to 70’s built diesel locos up until today. So in a way it is unique and attractive.

There is sad news however. The operations of these real narrow gauge railways which now have become very rare in the world are on the sharp decrease, even here in Indonesia. From my experience of hunting the remains of the glory days of Java's narrow gauge railways, I can say that the last glory days were the year 2014. Yes, they kept continue to decline as the years go by, but not as sharp as 2015. 2015 saw a sharp decline of Java's narrow gauge railways. The mills that had field lines, they became out of use in 2015. The mills that had regular steam, they became dieselised, or even worse, they converted to tractors. Even the mills that still had regular steams to cane fields such as Olean and Sumberharjo, they were converted to full diesels. Sumberharjo even closed their field lines, and fully converted to tractors.

If you've visited this blog before, notice that I made several changes. This blog was originally the report of my 2012 journey, but I decided to change it and update it into a flashback blog, a blog that will take you from 2012 to 2016 during my time of making documents around the last remains of Java's narrow gauge glory. Get ready to be intrigued.

My Sugar Mills Journey
Since I visited the sugar mills in random order during my own spare time, I will take you through my journey from the East moving westward. I also put a map of Java, East Java and Central Java just to give you some ideas of the location of the sugar mills themselves. During my journey, I also did a little heritage walk, to see what was remaining in the unused narrow gauge or cape gauge 3 ft 6 in railways, the shut down sugar mills and to see whether or not if there were any locomotives remaining in these shut down sugar mills. So without any further I do, please enjoy.

A map of Java, showing the capital cities of each province, courtesy of 2012 Google Map Images.
East Java
A map of East Java courtesy of 2012 Google Map images, showing the locations of all the sugar mills in East Java Province.
Central Java
Map of Central Java and Special Province of Yogyakarta courtesy of 2012 Google Map images, showing the capital city of each provinces. 

On the whole, I can confirm that Java's narrow gauge railways have gone past their glory days. The ones that had field workings had scrapped their whole entire field workings. The ones that had regular steam had turned to only charter steams, or turned to diesels and/or tractors. If you had never been to Java before, well, I'm sorry, I can tell you that you might be too late now. But if you still insist, then don't get yourself disappointed because you have been told. As for me myself, I can confidently say that 2016 shall be my last journey around Java's Sugar Railways. 2017 will be the year that I think I should move on, and explore other interesting railways. What are they? Well, you just have to wait and see, so watch this space!!

More Sugar Mill Railway Videos

To see links to sugar mill railway videos that are shot in the 1990's and up until 2010, Rob Dickinson and John Raby have some interesting videos that you might want to see. They are listed below.

Rob Dickinson's playlist

1. Central and West Java Nationalised Mills in the 1990's
2. East Java Nationalised Mills in the 1990's
3. Private Mills in the 1990's
4. Java Sugar Mills in 21st Century
5. Sumatra's Palm Oil Railways in the 1990's

For a compilation of John Raby's Java Sugar Mills narrow gauge videos, dating to pre-21st century during his trip with Rob Dickinson along with his 21st century videos of Java Sugar Mills, you can see them here.

Other related interesting sites you might want to see
- A list of Java's sugar mills steam machineries, arranged by Albert Gieseler (In German)
- Rob Dickinson had also released a more in depth and detailed documentations into Java Sugar Mills steam machineries, all of which you can see them here.
- Indra Krishnamurti's photos of Tasikmadu Sugar Mill's steam locos between 1990 - 1997 (Indonesian Rail Enthusiast)

More on Indonesian Railways
If you are the more regular diesel railway enthusiast, and you are curious of checking out Indonesia's diesel railways in action, you can alternatively turn to my Flickr Photostream.

The History of Orrenstein and Koppel (The most steam locos used accross Java's Sugar Mills)
Although some of the mills I went there on my own during the 2012 milling season, but most of them I managed to get there with the help of some people. So my thank you's goes to them, which are listed below.

1. Scott Jesser (an Australian rail enthusiast)

2. John Browning (another Australian rail enthusiast)
3. Steffan Matthaus (a German rail enthusiast, who also travelled with Tjeng Chao, an Indonesian enthusiast who has years of experience of travelling to sugar mills).

Scott Jesser and John Browning travelled with me when I visited Madukismo, Gondang Baru, Tasikmadu, and all the mills in Madiun. Whilst Steffan Matthaus (with Tjeng Chao) took me to Pangkah, Sragi and Sumberharjo sugar mills.

3. Ahmad Arif

4. Ivan Dewanapria
5. Syaeful Hartono
6. Tjahjana Indra Kusuma

Credits also goes towards the local enthusiasts whose names are listed above. Syaeful Hartono also kindly took me to Sumberharjo and Sragi sugar mills, whilst Ahmad Arif and Ivan Dewanapria travelled with me to Gending and Pajarakan sugar mills. And Tjahjana Indra Kusuma gave me 'an exclusive access' to Gempolkerep Sugar Mill, although the milling season was over when I got in.

Last but not least, and the most important, thanks very much to Mr. Rob Dickinson for putting a link to my blog (which later became a website as I purchased a web hosting and domain) on his website. I'm really glad to know that. But on the whole, thanks to those who've participated, and my apologize for missing out any names who weren't mentioned.

Sumatra's Last Industrial Narrow Gauge Railways (Updated on 25th July 2017)
I know that this blog is dedicated to Java's Narrow Gauge Railways that have always known to be connected to Java's main sugar industries. However, since the sharp decline in Java's narrow gauge railways, I thought that it was time for me to go somewhere else and explore a new place. Regardless of the site being named Java's Narrow Gauge Railways, I thought that it would be no wrong to add a new section on documenting North Sumatra's last industrial narrow gauge network. Me and Scott paid a visit on mid of April 2017, and we spent a week there, which we visited 4 mills, and most of them are located at some way off the grid places. Check them out here.

Java's Last Steam Salvation (Updated 2017!!)

Java was once known as an island with the most regular steam operations. Of course, the numbers continue to be on the decrease, in which as mentioned before, by 2015, it had a sharp decline. I know I made an oath not to go round Java Sugar Mills again, but since there were requests from 2 individuals along with a diesel tour organised by John Raby, I thought I might as well compile a report dating from 2017, including some steams that I haven't seen, just to keep you, the reader, updated. More can be found here.

Non Narrow Gauge and Non Regular Indonesian Railways
Over the past years, I have also documented some of Indonesia's lost and forgotten  railway lines as I traced some of them down. This will also go down in the history of Indonesia's great State Railways. Curious of what they are and my findings? No need to wait!!, and just click here!!

As per 2017, I already made a promise of not going around Java Sugar Mills anymore, nor any Indonesia's narrow gauge plantation railways. However, I am running a railway tour of my own, a tour to see the last of Java's steams and narrow gauge railways. Therefore, should have any questions in regards to the operational of Java's narrow gauge railways, or if you would like an escorted tour, drop me an email on, and I will answer your questions or even give you a brochure on the 2018 railway tour that I'm running.

A Non-Railway and Non-Historical Blog

A non railway and non historical related blog. BEWARE!!, this blog may contain explicit and offensive materials.