Sweet Saturated Steam

Steam trains in the sugar mills of Java & State Railway Steam

Sparks in the night: sugar mill railway in Olean

Indonesia: 16/07 – 03/08/2011

Almost a century old and a few even older, German, Dutch and Belgian steam locomotives are still in extremely hard daily use in the sugar mills of Indonesia. They need to earn their daily bagasse, water and oil with hard work in front of overloaded cane trains. But, this living museum of steam is not the only reason to make Indonesia worth a visit. Feel the even beat of lots of ancient stationary steam engines inside the mills, some of which have been working for more than 120 years. Experience their vibration, their warm breath while driving giant flywheels and moving the cane crushers and, sometimes via transmission, other ancient machinery in the mills.

Less than a handful of mills still use steam locomotives on their remaining lines in the cane fields. To get some authentic photographs and videos from a bygone era we’ll arrange some steam trains in the fields of Pangka and Semboro. We can travel on these trains and arrange some additional stops and runpasts to get the maximum of good pictures. We won’t add passenger coaches to these scheduled but usually diesel hauled trains, only authentic wagons are suitable. This is not so comfortable for us but it’s the only way to get serious shots on lines which do not usually see regular steam hauled trains.

Soedhono sugar mill

In addition we offer a number of steam charters on Cape gauge. We’ll see steam trains with different state railway locomotives and the forestry line in Cepu. In Ambarawa we’ve planned a charter train on the very scenic line, which is partly a rack railway. Near Solo we’ll charter the centenarian C12 18, a 2-6-0 tank locomotive from Hartmann. We’ve ordered an authentic freight train on one of the last still existing branch lines of the state railway.

Our visit to Mount Bromo will give us the chance to enjoy a fantastic view over two active volcanoes, including the highest one on Java: Mount Semeru. If we’re lucky, the latter spits ash clouds high into the sky at frequent intervals. We can see Mount Semeru from a sugar railway line too, forming a spectacular backdrop for one of our steam trains.

charter train with C12 18 near Solo






Departure to Indonesia


Arrival in Jakarta in the afternoon, by taxi to our hotel in Jakarta


In the morning we’ll go by express train 10014 ARGOMURIA2 (air-conditioned) from Gambir (07.30 hrs) to Tegal (11.15 hrs). We’ll start our tour in Pangka. We start with a chartered locomotive in the cane fields to pick up a loaded train. Instead of a little diesel one of the beautiful 0-6-2s will haul the train to the sugar mills. Several stops and runpasts are planned along the line. In the evening we’ll make some night shots in the depot. Our hotel in Tegal offers a swimming pool.


In the morning we’ll again visit Pangka to see the usual hard shunting operation between the two yards. A visit to the sugar mill with all their stationary steam engines is planned as well. Around noon we’ll continue to Sumberharjo. Sumberharjo is among the last mills to use steam locos for line service. Unfortunately, most of the loaded trains run shortly before or after sunset. We’ll contact the central control office to find out which steam train will be ready to start before sunset. Sometimes trains running during daylight, all you need is luck. In the evening we’ll return to our hotel in Tegal.


Because it’s one of the best mills regarding line operation with steam we’ve planned the full day in Sumberharjo. In the morning all steam locos will be prepared for the daily duties. They are fired in or in front of the shed, usually causing really photogenic sunray games when smoke is rising from the chimney and spreading under the roof of the loco shed. In the late morning trains of empties leave the factory, usually three to four of the trains are steam hauled. In the afternoon we’ll visit the lines around Sumberharjo in search of loaded steam hauled cane trains, again. Hotel in Pekalongan


In the morning we’ll visit the mill in Sragi. Besides up to seven steam locos Sragi uses a few diesels as well. The morning light offers the best conditions for photography in the depot. Heavy trains are pushed from the large loading area in the mill’s yard. Often two locomotives are necessary to do this hard job! Such a spectacle can bring together locomotives from Hartmann, Schwartzkopff (0-10-0s) and Henschel. We expect to find five or six steam locos in service.

In the afternoon we’ll enjoy the rack railway of Ambarawa, where we’ve hired a train with the small class B25 rack loco. After dawn we’ll continue to our hotel near Solo.


We’ll spend the day in the sugar mill at Tasik Madu. Besides several other steam locos, we’ll probably meet the largest Luttermöller engine on Java. The impressive 0-10-0, 150 horse power engine has a six axle tender! In the evening we’ll witness the sparks the locomotives causing when working hard. Tasik Madu offers a railway and agricultural museum. Hotel near Solo


In the morning we’ll enjoy a charter freight train with the, more than a century old, 2-6-0T C12 18. Our train will run on a short section of one of the last operational branch lines of the state railway between Solo and Wonogiri.

After lunch we’ll continue to Soedhono. After a long break the management have decided to use steam from 2009 again. The first locomotive in use is one of the beautiful inside frame 0-6-0 tender locomotives. They want to add a second loco in 2011. In the evening we’ll continue to Cepu where we’ll stay in the guesthouse of the  forestry line.


Today we’ll enjoy our charter freight train with one of the massive Schwartzkopff 0-10-0 tank locos on the cape gauge of the forestry line at Cepu. We’ll take pictures in the extensive log yard as well as in the teak plantations. In the evening we’ll continue to our hotel in Madiun


Before sunrise we’ll go to Purwodadi where all trains have to pass over a photogenic girder bridge between the loading point and the yard. Steam and diesel locomotives share the work. Almost all trains are banked and offer good photographic potential.

In the afternoon we’ll continue to Rejosari. They use one loco in shunting service in the yard. If the unique geared locomotive “SALAK” no.10 is still serviceable it’ll be steamed up for our group. Rejosari has several interesting stationary steam engines inside the mill as well. Some of the machinery in the mill is still driven by steam powered transmissions. Hotel in Madiun


In the morning we’ll make a brief visit to Kanigoro, where in 2007 only one locomotive was left in service. The blue locomotive is used in the yard with beautiful, large trees and, sometimes to bring trains over the weigh bridge. Just around the corner is the sugar mill Pagottan where we’ll probably see the last active inside framed Luttermöller locomotives in the world. Of special interest is the level crossing where it might be possible to get a locomotive and a horse cart together in the same picture.

In the late afternoon we’ll reach Merican. Here we’ll meet either the last 0-4-2 locomotives of Indonesia or the last non-tourist Mallet, used for heavy shunting operations. They have over 100 years of service! Merican is especially known for the sparks the little locomotives produce while fired with bagasse. After dusk this is particularly impressive, when we’ll see the “little volcanoes“ making the air glow. To experience this spectacle we’ll stay there until it’s totally dark (around 6.20pm). Hotel in Kediri


In the morning we’ll make another brief visit to Merican before we continue. In the late morning we’ll go on to the famous Gunung (mountain) Bromo, an active volcano which offers spectacular views to other volcanoes. The last time Bromo erupted was in 2004. Hotel in Ngadisari, the last village before the edge of the crater. Nights can be fresh here, you may need a jumper.


If you’re going to Java you should not miss the spectacular view of Mount Bromo at sunrise. To experience this we have to get up very early. We will climb to the view point at the top of the volcano for the best view. You can also hire a seat in a 4WD Jeep for some 9 Pounds to avoid a walk of about 500 yards upwards and two miles in length. In the afternoon we’ll continue to our hotel in Situbondo.


Today we’ll visit the mill at Olean, which was always known as the only mill with almost guaranteed loaded daylight trains. Nowadays there is no guarantee as the mill may use one of their two diesels for line service. However, the sugar mill is an absolute must because they use some of the oldest stationary steam engines (the gems are more than 130 years old). Hotel in Situbondo


The full day is reserved for Asembagus with their interesting field work which is one of the last two mills left with frequent daylight steam into the fields. The lines are framed by palm trees and volcanoes forming interesting backdrops. Together with some little bridges there are plenty of photographic opportunities. However, there is no “steam guarantee” here either. Late afternoon we’ll return to our hotel in Semboro.


Another day where we’ll take the chance to see a steam hauled train on the network of Olean. In the late afternoon we’ll continue to our hotel in Jember.


For today we have planned two steam trains at Semboro. We booked the Jung loco for a morning train and the Mallet for an afternoon train. If they permit we won’t use the tourist coaches, we’ll haul real trains which we’ll take over from the diesel locos. Semboro still has a large active network and uses tiny German diesels or water buffaloes for pulling cane wagons out of the fields, while much stronger, boxy Japanese diesels haul the trains on the partly double track main lines. The huge system offers plenty of good opportunities for typical field operations. With some luck we can see the volcano Semeru and it would form an extraordinary background for one of our charter trains. The locos are both in a doubtful technical state. Failures my occur. In the evening we’ll go to our hotel next to the airport of Surabaya.


Domestic flight to Jakarta (CGK). From there we’ll continue home.


Morning arrival in Europe.



Small Print

Indonesia has changed rapidly over the last decade. Quite a lot of the sugar mills - in former times well protected from the international market – have had to give up or try to be more cost efficient. This is the reason why some of the sugar mills have closed and why others have converted from railway to road transport. Although the present government introduced new taxes to protect the domestic sugar industry and save labour for the workers in the mills, many mills have changed their system of bringing in the cane. Given that the farmers around the mills are free to decide which kind of crop to grow, the system of field lines to the sugar cane fields has had to be abandoned. At many places it’s more profitable to plant other crops than cane. So it was necessary for the factories to switch to road transport anyway, to reach sugar cane fields far away from the mill. Because new lines to other fields will not be constructed anymore the truck was and is the only way for a mill to survive.

Jung loco in Semboro

Despite all the losses over recent years you can still experience the largest variety of steam locomotives in the world in daily use during the harvest season. Three mills still use steam to bring cane trains into the mills while others offer interesting and, sometimes, very extensive shunting in the large yards. However, in Olean and Asembagus steam might not be in use. This is the risk when you’re travelling in search of steam at the end of the age of steam-driven industries. There is no compensation possible – even not in parts – if we don’t find what we’re looking for. On our last tours we’ve always been lucky to get the pictures we wanted. Please check the recent trip reports for additional information.

On the tour we will probably experience a Mallet locomotive as well as Luttermöllers or Klein-Lindner axle locos. A special highlight is the geared locomotive built by Orenstein & Koppel in Rejosari. If still serviceable, we will hire it for an afternoon of shunting operations. While Orenstein & Koppel seem to be omnipresent on the island, other producers, mostly non-existent any more, are still part of the greatest narrow gauge steam show in the world: Decauville, Schwartzkopff, Maffei, Jung, Ducroo &Brauns, Hartmann and others.


The word “delay” is almost unknown in Indonesia. A train will start once it is ready. The railwayman will hardly understand that we need the train running in daylight.

Our route may differ from the above itinerary in order to get as many good pictures of steam trains as possible. On the way, side trips to historical or other places of interest are possible. If agreed, the group may separate and meet together later. We will travel by charter bus. If you prefer a maximum of flexibility you can also travel in a chartered jeep. However, our bus has the advantage of a cool box to keep beverages chilly. Just let us know your preference when booking the trip.

We will choose our hotels by their distance from the next steam mill, not only according to the offered standard. All our hotels offer air conditioning (exception: Mount Bromo, where temperatures can drop below 5°C (40°F) in the morning) and a private bath room, some offer a pool as well. European style toilets are not common in Indonesia. The chosen hotels will have a European style toilet but in small restaurants on the way or at railway stations for example you should expect Asian style lavatories.

On many days we’ll get up early (around 6.00 am) and may even leave without breakfast sometimes. The best time for photography is the early morning between half past six and nine and the late afternoon between three and sunset around 17.45 hrs. The time in between is, because of the high sun, not rewarding for photography, even the dedicated video film maker wouldn’t be happy with the results during the noon time. You can enjoy a bath in the sea when we’re close to a beach. Because of the active volcanoes on the island the beaches offer black instead of white sand. The sea itself is quite polluted near the cities.

The climate is tropical with high humidity and temperatures around 30 degrees Centigrade (90 Fahrenheit). Our jeeps/buses are fitted with air conditioning but you’ll do better if you acclimatise and accept the need to sweat a bit if you have to move quickly to get a photo.

The electrical system is compatible with the European (230V/50Hz), but you need an adapter for the outlets, sometimes. Short trousers are a no-no because we’re travelling in an Islamic country. Short trousers are ok at the poolside of our hotels but not in the streets of cities and definitely not in the villages and sugar mills. In addition, you should avoid colourful clothes or highly visible colours because we’re on a tour for photographers and video film makers. If you get in the picture of others, it’s important that you’re not wearing clothes with intense colours.

Please understand that in a country like Indonesia not everything will work as planned and/or paid for. The Indonesian (better to say the Asian) way to repair things with the help of primitive tools is amazing and will help us to fix some of the technical problems which may occur. However, you never can be sure that the most important switch of the yard isn’t blocked by a derailed train or the mill hasn’t run out of fuel a day before our arrival and so on. The whole traffic could be stopped by such a problem. In such a case we’ll try to head for another mill. Sometimes it might be impossible to get pictures and the only thing you can do is to relax and drink a cup of tea or a beer.

a small eruption in Merican

For the few mills with the best chances for line steam we have planned sufficient time. We haven’t planned to go to sugar mills with dumped steam locos only.

The tour is planned with the dedicated photographer and video filmmaker in mind. The itinerary is designed for those who think it more important to get the perfect shot in the morning sun than a substantial breakfast. Meals are not included in the tour price. In addition, meals are a matter of time. Sometimes it might be necessary to postpone a meal or even cancel it. In such cases we’ll have to make do with some cookies or bananas. Meals are cheap with the exception of beer and other alcoholic drinks (a bottle of beer costs about £1.50). You should calculate on around two to twelve Pounds Sterling each day for food (an Indonesian dish is often less than a Pound while a pepper steak costs a mere three Pounds Sterling). Please remember that we are guests in a mainly Islamic country where alcoholic drinks (including beer) are not available everywhere. Chilled beer is another matter ...

Hartmann locomotive C12 18 in Solo

Charter vehicles and trains represent the standard of our host countries, which may deviate from European expectations. While we will try to avoid long walks, some photo positions may require a bit of an extra effort. Travelling on trains and driving cars is at your own risk. The charter trains will look like real trains did some years ago. So we will not attach coaches to the trains. Please remember that the exhaust of the steam locos contains sparks which may harm your clothes or skin.

sunrays in the shed of Olean

Please opt for travelling in the group bus (driven by a local driver) or in a self driven jeep while booking the tour. If you choose the option of travelling in a Jeep and would like to drive it, in Indonesia you should be over 25 years old and the holder of an international driving licence. In addition you should be willing to accept the Asian way of driving which is quite different from that you learnt at the driving school. On the main trunk roads the traffic may be very fast and dangerous while on minor roads you may be the only motorised car amongst ox carts (without any kind of illumination during the night, of course). However, most visitors will learn very quickly how Asian traffic works and will have additional fun driving a car without the restrictions you have to care about in Europe or North America. There is no insurance for the cars available. So we have to pay for dents ourselves, please consider this while driving. The one and only rule of the traffic seems to be not to touch any other traffic.

Using the railways or any other kind of transport is at your own risk. Please check handles and foot steps before using them, they do not need to pass any safety check and can be very rusty or loose. The locomotives produce a lot of sparks which may cause some burn holes in your clothes.

Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation in Indonesia falls short of EU/US safety standards. Always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks. FarRail Tours cannot be held responsible and will not accept any liability whatsoever in the case of any accident, damage or delay. We suggest you take out a comprehensive overseas accident and health insurance policy.

shunting in Purwodadi



Sweet Saturated Steam 7 to 22 participants £2,920
16.07.2011 – 03.08.2011 Single room surcharge £230
Registration Deadline: 16.03.2011

Without international flight: please deduct £715 from the tour price.

The price includes:

Indonesian airport tax for the domestic and the international flights

Not included are:

Above prices are based on specific bookings with the respective airlines, which have to be confirmed well in advance. Your early booking is hence appreciated.


As a service to our UK-based clients FarRail Tours accepts and will continue to accept payments made out in Pound Sterling until further notice. However, please note that all prices quoted in Pound Sterling are indicative only and are subject to change without prior notice. This measure was taken by FarRail Tours due to the unprecedented volatility in the international foreign exchange markets and its impact on the valuation of the Pound Sterling versus other major currencies, namely the Euro as FarRail Tours' accounting currency.


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