The black locomotive train which locally called "Mak Itam" (Back Uncle) due to its black colour, resumed serving the Padang Panjang-Sawahlunto route in West Sumatra province only recently, after several years hiatus.
The "Mak Itam" locomotive identified with the serial number E1060 which was the last product of Germany`s Esseligent in 1966, which formerly carried coal from Sawah Lunto coal mining area, draws three comfortable coaches for tourists.
The coal steam-generated train in the province now remained one of the only two of its kind in the world with the other one in Switzerland, said a state-owned railway company PT KAI president director, Rony Wahyudi.
Serving its route, the old tourist train passed through attractive scenaries among other things beside Danau (lake) Singkarak. Danau Singkarak with 11,200 hectares wide is the second largest lake in Sumatra Island after Lake Toba in North Sumatra province.
Some 6,420 hectares of the Danau Singkarak is situated in Tanah Datar district and the rest in Solok district.
The "Mak Itam" train route from the town of Padang Panjang passed through the Lubang Kalam (dark railway tunnel) measuring 840 meters long (constructed in 1894) after the Singkarak lake before reaching Sawah Lunto district`s rail-way station.
The tourist train ran from Padang Panjang to Sawah Lunto 80 km for about three hours. The train passes by the Singkarak Lake of about 19 km long on cogged railway before reaching Muaro Kalaban railway station towards the high land of Sawah Lunto.
It was reported that the old coal steam-generated locomotive stop operating after the closure of open coal mine more than several years ago.
For such long time of absence, the state-owned railway company brought the black steam-generated locomotive to Ambarawa, Central Java for maintainance.
After a long time of absence, the local people, however, requested the return of the old train to its "village" (base), when the train was formerly used to carry coal products from Sawah Lunto coal mine for export purpose through Teluk Bayur port.
Strident sound of its locomotive whistle as the characteristic of the steam-generated train seemingly made the local people happy to hear when the train passed through their villages, following the train operation inauguration by Transportation Minister Jusman Syafii Djamal.
The minister expressed hope that the operation of the tourist train could help boost the local people`s economy.
The local people looked enthusiastic in welcoming the tourist train which returned to their area. A great number of local people looked smile as if their dream came true.
Such situation occured on the way from Padang Panjang where the old train passed through the villages after being launched to Sawah Lunto district.
"The presence of cold steam-generated locomotive would bring us to an olden era of Sawah Lunto town," Indra Yosep, member of railway loving community said at the moment, adding that the tourist train locomotive was brought from Ambarawa (Central Java) to West Sumatra on December 13, 2008.
One of three coaches of the tourist train is for VVIP which is only equipped with ten super executive seats. The remaining two coaches were equipped with 70 seats respectively.
The commuter tourist train regular fare rate for one way trip per person in rupiah was set as follows.
- Padang Panjang - Sawah Lunto : Rp60,000
- Padang Panjang - Solok : Rp40,000
- Solok - Sawah Lunto : Rp30,000
- Sawah Lunto - Muaro Kalaban: Rp20,000
* One US dollar is nearly 11.000 rupiah.
The old train also passed through the historical town of Ombilin (location of old coal mine) before reaching Sawahlunto.
The Bintang Hindia magazine which was published in 1904 had released photos of train bridge in Ombilin under the title in Dutch "Een brug van de Staatsspoor ter Sumatra`s Weskust Over be Ombilin."
Old people`s story in Ombilin narrated that formerly in Ombilin market beside the Singkarak lake, a mini railway station was constructed there for the passengers who wished to go to the districts of Solok, Sawahlunto and Padang Panjang.
When the local people heard the old train`s strident sound from its locomotive whistle, the would-be passengers rushed to the railway station while shouting "kereta lah tibo" (train is coming). Students also used to utilize the old train as the cheap mass transportation.
Ombilin is located in Nagari (village) Simawang, which once became a trade transit area between the districts of Solok, Padang Panjang and Batu Sangkar town.
In addition, Simawang was also home to the Minangkabau history following the discovery of Ombilin inscriptions written on stones and Simawang Menhir, which was registered as culturally protected objects.
Ombilin, about 18 km from the town of Batu Sangkar, capital of Tanah Datar district and 25 km from the town of Padang Panjang became main destination of the local society for shopping and sight seeing on every Wednesdays and Sundays.
It`s only about one hour and half of flight after leaving the busiest city of Jakarta with its lots of skyscrapers for West Sumatra with its many forest areas, some foreign journalists arrived at Minang Kabau international airport on Friday (Feb.20) morning, to attend the old tourist train operation launching.
An entourage of foreign journalists among others from Russia, China, Malaysia, Singapore, a correspondent of a London-based magazine together with several film actresses including a noted film star Christine Hakim visited West Sumatra to attend the launching function.
They came to West Sumatra at the invitation of the Indonesian Journalists Association (PWI) and the provincial government.
"Tourist objects in West Sumatra are well liked by both domestic and international tourists," West Sumatra governor Gamawan Fauzi said.
Among tourist objects in the province are the Padang Museum, which houses objects of cultural and historical interest, the beach of Bungus Bay and its white sands, the Bung Hatta botanical garden covering 70,000 ha with a rare collection of flora and fauna in Solok, Jam Gadang or clocktower in Bukittinggi, Kota Gadang, which is renowned for its fine silver filigree and hand embroidery, and "Ngarai" (`canyon`) Sianok which lies at the outskirt of Bukitinggi.
Bukittinggi covers 25.24 square km of land, and only two hours away from Padang by car, was the headquarters of the emergency government of the Republic of Indonesia (PDRI) after Yogyakarta fell into the hands of the Dutch between 1948 and 1949, when vice president Mohammad Hatta took office.
It was once the capital of Central Sumatra province, covering West Sumatra, Jambi and Riau.
West Sumatra province with some 65 percent of its area covered by forests, has been trying to step up the development of its "sleeping" tourist resorts and luring more investors to come.
Through the reoperation of the nostalgic "Mak Itam" coal steam-generated train, the provincial government wishes to generate tourism potentials in a bid to develop tourism industry in the province. (*)