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Ambarawa station
Ambarawa station


B2503
B2503


E1060
E1060


Train at Ambarawa station
Train at Ambarawa station


Montains and paddy fields
Montains and paddy fields


Bridge at Jambu
Bridge at Jambu


On the rack section
On the rack section


Bedono station
Bedono station


Taking a drink
Taking a drink


One more run-by...
One more run-by...
The Ambarawa Rack Railway

One of the less well known tourist attractions of Java might be the Ambarawa Railway Museum, in the small town of Ambarawa, about 50 kilometres south of the Central Java capital city of Semarang.

Ambarawa, which was previously known as Willem I, was the site of a major colonial army barracks. The first railway line to Ambarawa, from Semarang, was built for this strategic reason, which was the same reason for the building of line from Yogyakarta to Ambarawa, which required construction of the short (7 km) rack section, the only such example in Java.

Although the Yogyakarta-Ambarawa line has been closed in 1970, part of the line between Ambarawa and Bedono was maintained for tourist trains since then.

There are three rack locomotives kept in serviceable condition in the Ambarawa loco shed. Two of the locomotives are members of the B25 class, the B2502 and B2503. This class was built by Esslingen in Germany in 1902 and 1906. These are the original locomotives built for the rack line.

The other locomotive, E1060, is a thoroughly modern steam locomotive, built in 1966, also by Esslingen, for the West Sumatra rack line. It was among the last steam locomotives built in the world, outside China and India.

All three locomotives are in excellent condition, with most of the original parts intact. It is an interesting fact to know that only several years ago, B2502 was seen rusting in the shed, and the E1060 was actually brought dead from Padang to Ambarawa, but now both are in fully serviceable condition!

Currently all three locomotives can be hired with a consist of equally ancient passenger coaches, to Jambu and Bedono, though E1060 is not allowed on the rack section west of Jambu. There is a plan to resurrect the line east of Ambarawa to Tuntang, and to modify the rack gear of the E10 so it can be used on the whole line.

A typical trip will have a B25 at the head of two or three passenger coaches, all original, on the south side of the Ambarawa station (vintage 1907). Passengers, or tourists, will board here, or more typically, wait just west of the station, with their cameras and camcorders, and wait until the train chugs past them, later to reverse to pick up the passengers.

Everywhere on the relatively flat section between Ambarawa and Jambu, the train can be stopped for photo run-bys. The scenery here is beautiful, especially in the afternoon, when the sun's angle allows the train to be pictured against a backdrop of the backbone mountains and hills of Java, with a foreground of green paddy fields and coconut trees.

At Jambu, 4.5 kilometres west of Ambarawa, the train halts, and the locomotive is switched to the rear of the train, for the climb to Bedono. Rack locomotives are always located on the valley side of the train, for safety reasons. The equipment used on the line has always had hand brakes, so on each coach there is a trainman ready on the brakes.

Just west of Jambu station is a small creek with a small steel bridge, which is a favorite site with photographers. This is also as far as the E10 goes, at least for now.

The train, assuming it is hauled by a B25, will continue slowly over the stiff 6.5% grade to Bedono. Here, tourists can either stay inside the train and enjoy the trip, or make a chase by motor vehicle, which is quite easy, since the railway parallels the roadway on several sections, and never goes too far. It is not allowed to have photo run-bys on the rack section.

It is a 4.3 km trip from Jambu to Bedono, altitude 711 meters, the highest railway spot in Central Java. Bedono station is no longer used by normal passengers, but is in good condition, just as it looked like in the early twentieth century, when it was built.

Here the locomotive will take a "drink" at the water tower just east of the station, similarly the passengers can also buy some refreshments from the vendors in the station. Soon, they will reboard the train back to Ambarawa station, yet they can opt for more photo run-bys (on the flat sections) to satisfaction.

A real railway wonder of the world, isn't it?

Created by Indra Krishnamurti
Last updated June 24, 2000