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Binjai railway station
The railway station at Binjai, west of Medan, retaining most of its original features from the Dutch colonial era.

The first railway in Sumatra was a military tramway opened by Dutch forces in 1876 to connect Kuta Raja, then the capital of the Sultanate of Aceh and now part of Banda Aceh, with a landing point at Oleh Leh, later developed into the port of Ulèë Lheuë. The primary purpose of the railway was to facilitate the import of troops and materiel for use in the Aceh War. The line was about 5km in length and had a gauge of 1067mm. In the 1880s, control was transferred to the Dutch colonial government. The gauge was changed to 750mm to allow connection with a railway then being built from Kuta Raja to Pangkalan Susu. The entire 511km line was completed in 1917. The line was badly damaged during World War II, although sections of it continued to operate until the outbreak of insurgency in the 1970s, since when it has remained largely derelict.

Other railways constructed during the colonial era were of 1067mm gauge and developed in three distinct networks:

Most of the 1067mm gauge railways are either still in operation or are proposed for rebuilding.

During the Japanese occupation of World War II, a 220km railway was constructed using forced labour, connecting the existing railway at Muaro Sijunjung with Pekanbaru. Its completion coincided with the end of the war; the line was used briefly for the transport of freed prisoners of war, but has not been used since.

In 2014, a new 255km standard (1435mm) gauge railway was opened from the coal mining area of Tanjung Enim (also served by a 1067mm gauge line from Palembang) to a new port at Srengsem near Bandar Lampung.

In 2015, a feasibility study was initiated into a new 2168km standard gauge railway running the length of the island from Aceh in the north to Lampung in the south. To date, no construction contracts have been let, although provision is being made for a part of its route (between Pekanbaru and Dumai) to follow the alignment of a major toll road currently under construction.

In 2018, a 23km, 1067mm gauge Light Rail Transit line opened in Palembang.

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Photo image by Davidelit from Wikimedia Commons