Well, maybe not here as the under-funded KAI (Kereta Api Indonesia = Indonesia Railways) has problems in maintaining its rail network and rolling stock. Accidents are not infrequent.
But there is something romantic about train journeys, if Murder On The Orient Express can be called a romance. Paul Theroux, who made his name from The Great Railway Bazaar, published in 1977, about a circular ride from London via Iran, India, south-east Asia, Japan and Russia, can be called a great romantic.
Theroux is unimpressed by many of the destinations: the tombs of Cain and Abel in India are almost accused of being fakes, Teheran has "little interest" and Afghanistan is "a nuisance". But this inconvenience is made up for by the romance of the trains. It starts with the names: "The Khyber Mail to Lahore Junction", "The Mandalay Express", "The Ozora Big Sky Limited Express to Sapporo", and, of course "The Trans-Siberian Express".
Jakartass likes trains; one of the world's great journeys is from Jakarta to Bandung. Reserve a window on the right and meditate as the gorgeous ever green scenery, passing over deep drops, through kampungs and rice fields.
Mainly because I hate traffic jams, I have been known to catch cattle class from my local station up to Kota in North Jakarta. For a description of how my life has narrowly stayed on the rails, read my archives in sequence, here, here and here.
The local trains are electric and judging from their appearance they are fifty years old at least, except for the secondhand Chinese ones which are express and don't stop at my station any way. Actually I've just discovered the rolling stock only (?) dates from 1976.
(Update May 2010. There is new rolling stock, meaning second-hand, imported from Japan. )
It can be said, that the development of Jakarta as a metropolitan city … started (in) 1925, when the development of the electric railway line as the Jakarta circle line was started by the Dutch Colonial Government of the time.
This electric railway line heralded a new era of environmentally friendly mass transportation system, which (was) among the most advanced transportation system in Asia at that time.
It would be really nice if Indonesia's rail network was still the most advanced transportation system in Asia. If it were, there wouldn't be the need to develop busways or a monorail system in parallel with an existing rail route. Jakarta residents may like to know that there are infrequent trains between Manggarai and Tanah Abang.*
Manggarai is the major rail junction in Jakarta, which may not be saying much. However, it retains vestiges of its importance with Dutch buildings and sidings where inter-city express carriages are parked when not going somewhere. And it is here that one of the original electric locomotives can still be seen, the type built by Werkspoor-Heemaf. This locomotive even has a nickname: 'Bon-Bon', due to its boxy shape and attractive color, which resembles chocolate confectionary package.
Now what could be more romantic than naming a train engine after a chocolate box?
Whatever, there is a piece of good news in today's Jakarta Post – Bon-Bon is getting a makeover.
Last Saturday afternoon, 29-year-old Paulus Soni Gumilang donned his weekend uniform: shorts, a loose T-shirt, a white bandanna and goggles. Instead of heading to hang-out places like other Jakartans, the copywriter went to state train operator PT KAI's rail yard, Balai Yasa, in South Jakarta's Manggarai to clean up Lok Bon Bon with eight of his friends.
Since 1976, the majority of the electric locomotives had disappeared, as they were scrapped. Only the Werkspoor-Heemaf 3202, which was renumbered as 202, (remains), still derelict at Manggarai Workshop, Jakarta. This locomotive is simply forgotten, and neglected in poor condition. A stark contrast, compared to its meritorious operational days, where it hauled its faithful customers to their ultimate destination.
With members in Semarang, Bandung, Yogyakarta and Jakarta, the Indonesian Railway Preservation Society (IRPS) tries to collect and preserve all forms of available documentation of the transportation service. However, preserving historical data and artifacts like Bon Bon is not easy.
PT KAI has shown support for the effort by planning to transport the historical locomotive to West Jakarta's Kota station and make it into a monument, the state train operator's Jakarta office spokesman Akhmad Sujadi said.
"We have calculated that it would cost around Rp 60 million to repair Bon Bon and take it to Kota station. That excludes the cost of making it into a monument," explained Nova.
Spokesman Sujadi said that to display the locomotive as well as set up a small historical railway library at Kota station would require a fund of up to Rp 200 million. IRPS is currently working with PT KAI and the Jakarta Cultural and Museum Agency to implement the plan.
Respect for history? Great isn't it, though I'm surprised that there isn't a plan to plonk Bon-Bon in the atrium of the latest mall.
*The next day the Jakarta Post published a profile of the commuters who use this not-so-famous rail route. They've set up the Greater Jakarta railway passengers forum – KRLMania – and a website (in Indonesian).