The first railway in Java was a 25km line from Semarang to Tanggung, opened in 1867. By 1887, the line had been extended to Yogyakarta, 167km fom Semarang. The railway was built to standard (1435mm) gauge. In the meantime work on other new railways had begun. As conditions were largely unattractive for private investors, a state owned railway system was set up by the colonial Dutch government. For economic reasons, a gauge of 3ft 6in (1067mm) was chosen for the new railways, and this gauge was used for almost all later railways on the island. As early as 1899, a third rail had been installed between Yogyakarta and Surakarta so that trains of both gauges could use the original alignment; but it was not until the Japanese occupation during World War II that the original route was converted entirely to 1067mm gauge.
The network of railways on Java reached its peak around 1930, with well over 5000km of route. The Great Depression of the 1930s had a strong effect on Indonesian railways, with planned new construction abandoned and existing railways closing. Further closures occurred during and after World War II, leaving a present day network of around 3500km. Much of the existing network has been modernised and its future seems largely secure. Further modernisation and the construction of new lines are proposed.
At one time, there were a number of independent railways, serving various industries such as mining, forestry, sugar cane, and palm oil. None of these remains in operation today, with the exception of a portion of the Cepu Forest Railway, now a tourist railway.
In 2016, construction began on a new 142km standard gauge high speed line linking Jakarta with Bandung.
In 2019, new light rail and heavy rail Metro lines opened in Jakarta.
Also in 2019, an outline plan was agreed for a 720km connection between Jakarta and Surabaya, made up of of a new line from Jakarta to Semarang and upgrading of the line from Semarang to Surabaya.
© 2020 Glyn Williams
Photo image by Gunawan Kartapranata from Wikimedia Commons