Thursday, February 27, 2014

Train Train Go Away

The Sawahlunto Train and Railway System
Growing up, I have always been fascinated with moving things like trains and airplanes. I was never a big fan of race cars or bikes but trains and airplanes have always been admiring things to me. Whenever I travel to the city from my hometown, there used to be a working passenger train that travels to the northern part of Bulacan which was operated by the Philippine National Railway but since the tracks and the trains were never really given much care, the trains eventually stopped plying that route. Now the only existing train route that I know of is the ones from Alabang to Bicol. I believe its a 12-hour journey from Alabang to Bicol Region using this electric or gas powered train. I never really knew what type of train there is because I do not really know much about the history of railways in the Philippines. I guess nobody really seemed to bother about trains anymore unlike in the olden days. And then trains in Manila evolved into Light Railway Transit, the elevated passenger railway system that travels from Monument to Baclaran (which now extends from Munoz Roosevelt to Baclaran). Eventually, it led to the construction of two more elevated railway system such as the MRT (from North Avenue to Taft Avenue) and the LRT2 which covers Recto to Marikina.

These passenger railway system is not what I have been dreaming of riding. I wanted those trains that travels long distance in the ground crossing different boundaries from one city to another, or one country to another country. I have read of so many advanced railways system in Europe or Japan and I dream of riding those trains someday. But I also would like to experience riding an old type of locomotive trains. When I was living in Singapore, the trains they have are quite advance to what we have in Manila as they have the underground system. They also have a monorail used in far neighborhoods and in getting to Sentosa Island. I have also heard of this Orient Express, a luxury passenger train that travels from Bangkok to Singapore.

In 2012, a friend of mine brought me to West Sumatra, in the towns of Padang, Bukit Tinggi and Sawahlunto. Sawahlunto is an old town where a coal mining industry used to flourish. And in order to transport coal out of town to the other parts of the island, they built a train system. But now, Sawahlunto has stopped the coal mining and the train is now being used for passengers travelling to distant places within the island. The town still have two operating trains. First, it is the train on the touring route Padangpanjang - Sawahlunto (80 km) withdrawn by diesel locomotives and equipped with BB204 rack gears. This tourist train is equipped with executive and business class compartments. The 3 hour travel doesn’t seem to be tiring when the train passes the famous Danau Singkarak (Lake Singkarak) which is famous for its beautiful scene. The second is the tourist train on the route Sawahlunto - Muara Kalaban (7 km) pulled by a steam locomotive, E10 60, that carries wood-paneled cars. What brings the incredible sensation and nostalgia is when the train enters the Kalam tunnel accompanied by the smoke and the shrill sound of the steam locomotive. (Excerpt from

The Sawahlunto Train and Railway System

The Sawahlunto Train and Railway System
The view of Lake Singkarak from the train

The Sawahlunto Train and Railway System

My friend and I took the 2-hour train ride from Sawahlunto to Batu Bakal. I must say that this is the very first train ride experience of mine in a diesel locomotive train. And the panoramic view of Lake Singakarak as we approached the town was just an experience not to be missed.

There was another train on display and used for educational purposes only and is called Mak Itam. This train was formerly use to transport coal to distant towns.

Last year, I have also tried the train ride from Bangkok to Nong Khai (North West of Thailand) in order to reach Vientiane, Laos. It is a sleeper train and I must say it was quite an experience that I may or may not try again but who knows. Well all I can say is that the train interior was not well maintained but still manageable enough for me on a 12-hour train ride. The pantry was dirty and the toilet was disgusting. I did not get to experience a good view probably because it did not pass through scenic areas or maybe because it's a sleeper train that travels at night so there is really nothing else to see except in the morning when we almost reached Nong Khain town.

The train I took from Bangkok to Nong Khai

Nong Khai Platform Train Station

The train I took from Nong Khai to Bangkok

These seats are convertible to bed at night

Bangkok Train Station Platform

Another modernized electric train I have tried is one located in Penang Hill, Penang Island, Malaysia. This one travels in an inclined railway similar to that tram system that runs at Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. I have tried that funicular train in Hong Kong but have very little memory of it. This railway in Penang called Penang Hill Funicular Railway is quite an impressive feat for me as it was such a great experience to ride on. I was so excited to ride this train that I wished we have this kind in the Philippines. Here is a video I took while riding down the funicular train in Penang Hill.

Penang Funicular Train

The railway in Penang Hill

The Main entry at the Lower Station

I want to see more trains, the old ones, and experience train rides and I hope someday to take a ride in other old locomotives before they perish. Like that Patagonian Express in Southern Argentina or that locomotive train that runs to Napa Valley, California, if it still does exist.


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