A little History
The railway in Indonesia is made up of 6,000 km (3,700 mi) of hot-rolled steel tracks with a rich history dating back to the Dutch colonial era. In fact, it was in 1840 when Colonel JHR Van der Wijk thought it would be a good idea to construct this railway network. His proposal suggested that the starting point would be from Jakarta to Badung with three stops in between, Surabaya, Surakarta, and Yogyakarta. His proposal to the Dutch East Indies government was accepted with a few changes, It would start in Semarang, Surakarta, and then Yogyakarta because they covered regions that were rich in sugar cane, coffee, tobacco, and lumber.
This map, made around 1938, is made of paper folded into 4 pieces and measures 60 cm X 23.5 cm. The face contains the Publisher of this map, namely Hotel Koningsplein, advertisements for shipping companies Scattered-America Line and Norddeutscher Lloyd Bremen, and Bandoeng-Padalarang-Soekaboemi Train Fares. The back section contains a tourist map and the Java Island railroad. The map shows tourist attractions ranging from mountains, nature reserves, ports, lakes, plantations, and other objects.
Connecting Cities and People
The trains not only connect cities but people as well. Visitors and local commuters alike can enjoy the beautiful landscapes across Java while riding through crowded suburbs, villages, and farmland. And if you’re a people watcher, there are plenty of farmworkers, and the interesting people that get on and off the train.
Now, all main cities are connected to Java, including Jakarta, Bandung, Yogyakarta, Solo, Surabaya, Probolingo (for Mt Bromo), and Banyuwangi (the ferry terminal for Bali). The trains run on narrow-gauge 3′ 6″ tracks, but plenty fast and usually on time. These trains are cheap, comfortable, air-conditioned, and a practical way to get around.
My wife and I visited the family in Sidoarjo, East Java when we suddenly decided to get on a train to Jogjakarta, a roughly 6 hr ride. We bought tickets the night before directly from the train station. But unfortunately, their executive seats which recline were sold out due to locals booking out 30 to 60 days in advance. Next time we will book way in advance but, we were happy with their Bisnis (business) class seats which allowed us to sit together.
Our morning started off by taking a grab car to the station in Sidoarjo, E. Java after saying goodbye to my mother-in-law who lovingly packed us lunches and snacks for our 6hr train ride. We bought a few water bottles, granola bars, and face masks from the station’s convenience store before exchanging our tickets for boarding passes. While we waited for the train I took photographs and videos of people and trains passing through the station. Train stations never cease to lose their old charm, almost untouched by time.
The Sidoarjo station was immaculate and organized, the station master and his train men worked like clockwork. Watches were checked, whistles were blown and ready for the next train. Our train was punctual with 40 seconds to spare, time seemed to stand still people were motionless until the sound of screeching metal hitting metal stopped. That’s when things happened again whistle blew, doors slid open, stairs were provided for arrivals until given the clear for us to board. We didn’t realize that our train section was painted on the outside of the train so we ended up carrying our bags through the long narrow aisles passing through 20 gangways (corridor connection) before reaching the very last coach. Another lesson learned.
Luckily we traveled light, carrying only small backpacks and camera gear. Bisnis Klas was not too bad even with our upright school bus like seating. The air-conditioner worked, and we later learned that the seats could be swiveled around by pulling a latch found under the seat. You could then kick your feet up while gazing out the window at some of Indonesia’s most majestic landscapes. It’s truly a sight to see.
The highlight of my trip was sitting next to my wife without distractions while watching the farm life go by. Well almost without distractions if you count the man snoring next to us. (bring earplugs just in case) They do have on-board service employees who staff the coaches and tend to the needs of passengers. They offer an array of snacks, drinks, and even a pillow in a bag.
Surabaya Gubeng Station
From Sidoarjo station, our first stop was Gubeng Station which is East Javas largest station located in the center of Surabaya. The station is divided into two sections, the old building, and the new one. The new building is located on the west part, while the old one sits on the east side of the tracks. The new station is exclusively reserved for business and executive classes, while the old one only serves economy class. Gubeng station has a check-in service, boarding pass machine, and an electronic arrival and departure sign. Additionally, this station provides massage chairs, musical performances, and a good selection of local eateries and warungs. Keep in mind, there is not enough time to exit the train.
How to get there: Gubeng Station Street, Pacar Keling, Tambaksari, Surabaya City, East java, 60272
Train Schedule Surabaya – Yogyakarta
This main station in Yogyakarta is better known as Tugu to the locals and is the biggest of the two stations in Yogyakarta.
Tugu Station is located in Pasar Kembang Street, Sosromenduran, Gedong Tengen, Yogyakarta City, Special Region of Yogyakarta, 55271. Adjacent to this place is the Malioboro Area both situated on the eastern and southern side of the tracks. After you exit the train, just follow the swarm of people and signs above you which will lead you to the front of the station. From there, the tourist areas are easily accessible by either walking or taking a pedicab, bike, horse carriage, or pedicab like us. For those who are interested in wandering a little farther, it is recommended to rent a motorbike or take a ride on the Transjogja bus.
Getting Your Tickets
PT Kereta Api – website (www.kereta-api.co.id) which introduced online booking in summer 2012. However, it’s only available to local Indonesians since it reportedly rejects most if not all non-Indonesian credit cards.
Tiket.com – All foreign credit cards accepted! www.tiket.com is a private agency that connects you to the Indonesian Railways system, thus allowing you to buy train tickets online. It’s available in English at the top rightside of your screen on www.tiket.com. They do charge a small ‘convenience fee’ of around £1 or $1.50. and you can book your seat 90 days in advance. After you book it, you’ll get an online confirmation that must be exchanged for an actual ticket at the station at least 1 hour prior to departure at the self-printing kiosk or cashier in front of your station.
There are three classes of coach: eks (executive) is the highest class with ac, reclining seats, and more legroom; Bisnis is the medium class, also comes with ac but not reclining seat and less spacious legroom; and Ekonomi or the economy class.
If you see different prices for the same train & class, these are simply different pricing levels, just choose the cheapest available.
The lettering (eg.: Eks (A) or Eks (J) refers to the placement of the coach (we missed this) on the whole train, not where the seat is. The earlier letter (eg. A as compared to J) is the most expensive and is furthest away from the locomotive head, so it’s safer and quieter. In this case, J will be the first coach after the locomotive head and A would be at least 3 coaches away from the head. You can still choose where you want to sit inside each coach.
Final Thought about Javanese Trains
Trains are cheap, practical, and the journey itself is among the most picturesque in SE Asia, allowing you to loop the main island of Java in relaxed comfort. It’s a really great way to see the countryside and its interconnected people who use the Javanese railway system. I personaly love trains, the sights, sounds, people that run them, people that board them, it’s a different world. Train systems around the world offer a unique experience while getting to see the many different regions of the country you are visiting. It’s almost like passing through an art museum at warp speed. For longer trips, I would reccomend that you book eksekutif class and avoid both bisnis and ekonomi classes as it can get extremely overcrowded. We were lucky that our coach was practicly empty during a week day.
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