AMBARAWA, Indonesia (Reuters Life!) - Train enthusiasts longing for a ride from a bygone era can chug down the tracks in Indonesia’s only steam passenger train.
Rolling down rails built more than a century ago from Ambarawa to Bedono in central Java, the German-made locomotive is part of the collection of a museum that was once a railway station built in 1837.
The 20 km round-trip — which lasts around two hours — takes passengers up a mountain, by dormant volcanoes and through paddy fields and gurgling streams.
“The opportunity to ride an old train like this is unforgettable and I think this is one of a kind. Not many old trains with track are available anymore in Indonesia,” said Yosef Djakababa, who recently rode on the train.
Only one other steam train operates in Indonesia, transporting coal in West Sumatra.
The railway for the 103-year-old passenger train was built by a colonial Dutch company to improve transport links between the port of Semarang and the agricultural heart of Central Java.
Today, the Train Company, a state-owned company which runs this service for tourists, charges $350 to rent the train for the Ambarawa to Bedono round-trip.
The train’s two carriages can accommodate 80 passengers and it is only operated on request, with a maximum of two trips a day, since maintaining the engine, and its fuel, are expensive.
Tourists can book trips through travel agents.
“Our problem with this old train is spare parts and teakwood. We have been cannibalizing spare parts from broken trains,” said Eko Mulyanto, head of Ambarawa train station.
“For fuel, in this rainy season it is difficult to get dry teakwood,” he said, adding that the wood came from an official supplier to ensure it was not illegally logged.
With thick smoke pouring out of its chimney as the crew add more wood to the fire, the steam train hisses and chugs on the tracks, to the delight of the passengers.
Mulyanto said more than 400 tourists took the steam train ride each month, and more than half are foreign tourists.
“Friends of the Museum,” a group of history enthusiasts who have organized the steam train trip four times so far, say they are planning more journeys, targeting both the nostalgic and young people keen to ride a piece of history.
Editing by Miral Fahmy