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JAKARTA - Most railway stations in Jakarta still have their original Dutch architecture, it is just sometimes difficult to detect because of the generally poor condition of the stations. This 81st article on old Batavia looks at the history of rail travel in the city. The state railway company might be advised to follow the practice of its Dutch predecessors in averting bad luck and accidents.
During colonial rule, upon completing the construction of a railway station -- such as the Kota station in downtown Kota and the Tanjung Priok station in North Jakarta, and the Pasar Senen station in Central Jakarta -- the Dutch performed rituals and sacrificed water buffaloes in a sort of blessing of the station. According to reports from the time, selamatan, or thanksgiving ceremonies, were held for the Indonesian employees of the railways. During the ceremony, the heads of two water buffaloes were buried near the completed station.
Now while it is certainly debatable whether these ceremonies really helped, reports of train accidents were scarce, a far cry from the situation today. At that time, railway managements took train transportation seriously, and even small things like the cleanliness of the railroad tracks was a priority.
"I can remember that they (the stations) were always spotlessly clean. Even the rails under the stations' canopy of the platform. They were always checked by men whose duty was to clean the tracks, because sometimes the contents of the toilets on the cars leaked onto the rails," said designer Iwan Tirta, who loved to travel by train during the Dutch and the Japanese eras. The situation today is quite different, with dirty and poorly maintained stations and tracks, which could go some way toward explaining the "bad luck" the railway company sometimes runs into.
The shabby condition of the train stations today makes it rather difficult to believe that these are the same beautiful and grand structures one admires in old photographs. Particularly rundown is the Tanjung Priok station in North Jakarta, with its dilapidated walls thick with dust kicked up by the buses at the terminal next to the station.
In the past, this building was described as the monumental kopstation (head station in which tracks end parallel to each other at one end of the station). It was opened on April 6, 1925, marking the first electric train service in the Netherlands-Indies, according to Michiel van Ballegoijen de Jong in his book Spoorwegstations op Java (Railway Stations of Java). The opening date of the station also marked the 50th anniversary of the Statsspoorwegen, one of the railway companies operating in Batavia.
De Jong describes the beauty of the old station: "The building has a very spacious entrance and a hall with purple blue glazed wall tiles, waiting rooms for first, second, third and fourth-class passengers and restaurants." Previously, the station was situated on the quay of the Tanjung Priok port, which was convenient for liner passengers.
Now, the station is home to sidewalk vendors and the homeless. Moreover, its canopy -- the largest in Indonesia and is worthy of the Central Station in Amsterdam, is in disrepair, having been damaged in several spots.

Not the first

The station in Tanjung Priok was not the city's first. The first station, Batavia Noord, was located behind the present Jakarta Historical Museum in downtown Kota. It was described as a small, modest building with a few tracks. Batavia Noord was the starting point for the first railway line in Java running from Batavia to Buitenzorg (Bogor in West Java), according to the author of the book Ir. F.J.L. Ghijsels Architect in Indonesia (1910-1929), H. Akihary.
Javabode newspaper wrote on Sept. 15, 1871, about the opening of the first railway line: "Many a citizen of Batavia today witnessed for the first time in his life many kampongs and coconut and banana gardens stretching behind Molenvliet (now Jl. Gajah Mada and Jl. Hayam Wuruk) .... From the Koningsplein (Medan Merdeka area in Central Jakarta) to the landing a rustic landscape appeared to stretch, and while every station name reminded the invited passengers of well-known and well-populated neighborhoods, it seemed that they were traversing virgin forests where only the voice of nature was audible."
The modest station was closed down when the Batavia Benedenstad station (now the Kota station) opened in 1929. The station was built by Bataviasche Oosterspoorweg Maatschappij (B.O.S., the Batavian Eastern Railway Co.). The new station was praised by Javabode as giving "an imposing impression and can be regarded as one of the most beautiful in the east".
Officially opened on Oct. 8, 1929, the station's design was the work of the architects Asselberghs, Ghijsels and Hes of the Algemeen Ingenieurs-en Architectenbureau (AIA, General Engineers and Architects Office) in Batavia, and built using reinforced concrete columns provided by the Hollandse Beton Mij (Dutch Concrete Company). The station was described by de Jong as the "most beautiful and biggest (railway station) of all the Netherlands-Indies", with its straight lines relieved by rounded forms at its three entrances, leading to a huge platform sheltered by an arched iron roof.
"This station is one of the most important monuments in the 'Indische bouwen' style and can be regarded as one of Ghijsels' most beautiful works," Akihary said. De Jong describes the station as being enriched by modest art-deco ornaments, visible particularly in the facade's ventilation strips. There is also a spacious soaring hall with galleries around the first floor toward which doors to the various offices open. The iron arch construction was done in Delft, the Netherlands.

Growing traffic

During the early 20th century, new neighborhoods emerged in the southern part of the city, while the city center was in Weltevreden (areas in now Central Jakarta). More and more the city grew toward the Meester Cornelis mayoralty (now Jatinegara in East Jakarta) due to the construction of the Gondangdia, Menteng and Kramat neighborhoods. Due to this growth and the accompanying traffic, there was a strong need to improve and enlarge the capacity of the railroad network. Stations were built in Weltevreden (Gambir station in Central Jakarta), Manggarai, Kemayoran, Pasar Senen, Tanah Abang and Jatinegara.
"Station Benedenstad was always impressive because it was there that the long-distance trains started, but embarking at Gambir was more convenient," Iwan said. As a little boy, Iwan's family traveled by train quite often. Being inlanders (indigenous Indonesians), they always traveled third class.
"It was so hot. There were ceiling fans and the windows could be opened, but if they were opened our noses would become black with the dirt and dust from the coal, which could also get in our eyes. And the seats were made from rattan," he recalled. Iwan remembers that the seats in first and second class were covered in plush or leather, while the car was cooled with ceiling fans and ice blocks.
"The ice blocks were placed in big boxes under the cars and were replenished anytime the trains stopped at a big station," he said. The restaurant cars were also luxurious, with attendants wearing white jackets and gloves, while the meals were served on porcelain plates with drinks in crystal glasses.

By Ida Indawati Khouw

Posted in History @ 06 July 2001 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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