The idea to build railway on Java island is based on the proposal made by Colonel J Van Der Wijk, dated 15 August, 1840. He believed that the construction of railway would bring a lot of benefits, especially to the military forces which were centered at Ambarawa (Fort Willem 1) and Magelang at that moment. Some circles of businesses also requested the railway to go through the plantation area in Wonosobo and the surroundings up to the harbor at Semarang, since the Compulsory Plantation System (1830-1850), which was established by Governor General Van den Bosch, required the native people of Java island to produce farming and plantation commodities such as coffee, sugar, nila, tobacco and tea for export.

The railway routes Semarang–Tanggung-Kedung Jati-Solo–Yogyakarta were completed with much effort by the NIS (Nederlandsch-Indische Spoorwegmaatschappij) and started to operate on June 10, 1872, also including the cross-branch railway of Kedungjati-Tuntang-Ambarawa which were finished in 1873. The Station Willem 1 building (famed as Station Ambarawa) was constructed from logs, with the area of 127500 square meters, and was officially operated on May 21, 1873. The railway track from Jambu to Gemawang must go through a very steep hill (with the topographical inclination of 65 degree). Thus, to cut the cost, a rack railway was built and a steam locomotive was bought. NIS continued to build the railway from Ambarawa to Secang (including the approximately 6.5 km rack railway route Jambu-Bedono-Gemawang) which has officially been operated since February 1, 1905. On this route, the purpose of the railway as the means of transportation for the military forces was more eminent, because the rate of the steam locomotive B25 was only in the limited speed of 15 km/h. The Station Ambarawa (Willem 1) that we can see now is the second building which was built in 1907, replacing the old building made from logs.

Since 1953, the DKA (Djawatan Kereta Api or Indonesian Railway company) has attempted to replace steam locomotives with diesel locomotives; thus, by the year 1970, the steam locomotives were categorized as antiques for they were no longer produced by the manufacturers in Europe and in America. Hence, the idea to place some steam locomotives into the museum emerged. On April 8, 1976, Ir. Soeharso (Head of Middle Exploitation of PJKA/Perusahaan Jawatan Kereta Api, the Indonesian Railway company) met Soepardjo Roestam (Governor of Central Java Province) to discuss the development plans of the railway museum and to take the initiative to collect and store steam locomotives at Ambarawa Station. Head of Middle Exploitation of PJKA formed a committee responsible to collect the materials and then to submit the museum work plan draft to the Governor of Central Java Province on May 18, 1976. On October 6, 1976, Commission D of Regional Representative Council (DPRD/Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat Daerah) of the Province of Central Java reviewed the location of the railway museum at Ambarawa Station and agreed the museum development plans.

At the end of 1976, 22 steam locomotives, which became the collections of the museum, were stored. Ambarawa Station officially started to function as a museum on April 21, 1978 and was opened by Rusmin Noerjadin (Minister of Transportation of the Republic of Indonesia – at that time) by having a group tour package on the rack railway.

This museum is still showing the atmosphere of the old-times railway station, which is still properly maintained. Being present in the train station is like going back to the old times. Visitors can see the station master’s office, waiting room, platform booths, communication equipment, engineer’s hat, ticket hole puncher, stamps, typewriter, antique clock, tables and other furniture, etc.

PT Kereta Api (Persero) provides 2 (two) touring trains at Ambarawa. The first train, which covered the route of Ambarawa - Bedono (9 km), was powered by the steam rack locomotive B25 02 or B25 03 which carried 2 (two) wood-paneled cars. The windows of the cars are not covered by glass so that the passengers can enjoy the cool breeze and beautiful, distant scenery for 2 (two) hours. The railway route Jambu - Bedono lies at an altitude of 693 meters above sea level. The panorama along the journey becomes more and more remarkable. The expanse of Mount Ungaran and Mount Merbabu is a fascinating background. Because of its altitude, the route Jambu - Bedono has rack railway. Its function is to hold the train so that it will have no difficulty to go up. In addition to Ambarawa (Central Java), rack railway in Indonesia today are still housed in Sawahlunto (West Sumatera). Second, the tourist train can be found on the route Ambarawa - Tuntang (10 km). The view along this route was no less interesting. The beauty of Rawa Pening Lake will greet the passengers on the touring train route.

  Copyright © 2010 - Conservation and Heritage Center, Indonesian Railways
Photo's Courtesy KITLV, The Netherlands