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The first railway in the East Indies was a line from Semarang to Tanggung on the island of Java, opened in 1867. It was built to standard (1435mm) gauge, but this proved uneconomical for further extension on account of the terrain and expected traffic, and all further development was constructed to narrow gauge, predominantly 3ft 6in (1067mm).

At their greatest extent, there were railways on the islands of Java, Sumatra, Madura and Celebes (Sulawesi). By the early 21st century there remain a network of lines serving most parts of the densely populated island of Java, together with three unconnected groups of lines on Sumatra. In addition, there were a number of small industrial railways, mainly serving the sugar cane and palm oil industries. One of these, a former logging railway, retains steam locomotives and operates tourist trains.

Java and Sumatra

Railways in Java are being upgraded and improved. In 2014, a 255km standard (1435mm) gauge railway was opened in southern Sumatra, connecting mines at Tanjung Enim with a new port at Srengsem in Lampung province. In 2016, construction commenced on a new 142km standard gauge high speed line linking Jakarta with Bandung.


In 2011, construction commenced on a new standard (1435mm) gauge freight railway in the East Kalimantan province of the island of Borneo. It will be 130km in length, and will connect the Muara Wahau coal mine with a new industrial complex and port facility at Bengalon. Further new railways are proposed in Kalimantan.


Feasibility studies are being conducted into two railway projects: a 390km line from Sorong to Manokwari, with a target completion date of 2019, and a 205km line from Sarmi to Jayapura, for completion a few years later. The lines could ultimately be connected to provide a continuous route along almost the whole of the north coast of the Indonesian part of the island.


In 2015 work commenced on a 145km railway in the south of the island between Pare Pare and Makassar. A separate 400km railway is propoesed in the north between Manado and Gorontalo. Discussions are in progress to develop a network of up to 2000km.

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