220th Meeting - Tuesday, March 12th 2002
A slide presentation and talk by Robert M. Boer
Summary of Robert’s talk and presentation:
Your Convenor writes:
Robert showed 94 slide
images of the Railways of
Slide 3: The Rama V
Monument. At the end of platform one you will find this monument
the ceremony, held on March 9th 1891, in which King Chulalongkorn, Rama
father of the railways of
with competing colonial interests, French and British, King
Chulalongkorn decided that the Germans would build the first state line
Korat; Nakhon Ratchasima, and beyond. However, this was not the first
operating on Thai soil. The line to Korat opened in 1896 but before
Danish venture built a line from
Slide 7: A birds-eye view of Hua Lamphong station. Hua Lamphong station is a magnificent, European style building. The hall was designed by the German architect Karl Döhring and the front of the building by the Italian architect Mario Tamingo.
Slide 10: Hua Lamphong gallery, the former Station Hotel. In the romantic, sadly bygone days of the railway, imagine yourself leaning over the balcony in front of your room, watching trains coming and going, hissing and puffing wisps of steam, in a never ending cavalcade of nostalgia. These days, one sits and waits wherever one can but wherever you find to rest it's still an entertaining way to pass an afternoon.
history for a moment. The Germans built the first state line in
standard gauge; 1,435 mm, but when the British won their concession to
the railway southwards, they chose metre gauge because the already
railway on the Malaysian peninsular was built in metre gauge. Initially
was not a problem, until that is the Rama VI Bridge over the
Slide 15: Clothes between the tracks. Just outside Hua Lamphong station is a densely populated area where people consider the tracks as their backyard. They come together to sit on rail and chat or, as you can see here, use the track bedding as a work place. In this case a factory that dyes old clothes indigo leaves them on the rail bed to dry in the sun.
16: A bridge over dirty water. Beyond this bridge you will find one
19: Steam engine in Hua Lamphong. March 26th 1986, the 90th
birthday of the State Railway of Thailand, the SRT, was celebrated with
special trip to
22: A yard full of scrap. When I came to
25: Departures for fun. Since 1986, every SRT birthday, and now
many other occasions, is celebrated with a steam-pulled train running
29: Dead on a plinth. In addition to four working steam engines,
many locomotives survive on plinths in front of stations throughout
Mai station is dull compared to other stations in
32: The turntable at Chiang Mai station. There is some confusion
over the year in which the railway first reached Chiang Mai. Some books
1920, others 1921 or even 1922. However, the best proof, in my opinion,
turntable made by the German company Vögele of Mannheim, which is
still in the
yard and these days hardly used. The inscription on the side says it
in 1922. The turntable, which in those days was worked by hand, was
turn the steam engines around for the return journey to
34: A dilapidated old truck loading timber. Once the railway reach
Chiang Mai a thriving goods trade began which brought prosperity to the
Cargo was always a major part of railroad traffic, as evidenced by the
of warehouses, many of them still standing, that were built around the
These days most goods are transported by road but in 1922 the journey
Slides 40 & 41: A draisine. A draisine, or motor lorry, is a small rail vehicle used mostly to transport maintenance workers and their tools. Here you can see a worker lifting it on to the track.
Slide 43: Tracks through the mountains. A view from the top of Doi Khun Tan shows the track winding its way through lush vegetation.
44: Inside the tunnel. The Khun Tan tunnel is 1,362 meters long,
the longest tunnel in
Slide 45: Emile's Tomb. At the entrance to the tunnel is the tomb of Emile Eisenhofer, 1879 - 1962, honouring not only the man who built the tunnel but also more than 1,000 men who died during its construction. When Emile's wife died in 1982, her ashes were laid to rest beside her husband's remains in the tomb.
47: On the track near the Three Pagodas Pass. Most people have read
stories or seen movies about the construction of the
Slides 52 & 53: Trains on the trestle. The most spectacular part of the journey over the river Kwai is without any doubt traversing the wooden trestle at the Kra Sae cave near Wang Po. Maximum speed over the trestle is 5 km/hr, which gives passengers ample opportunity to hang out of the carriages and gasp at the sight of the river passing below them, and maybe give a thought to the men who were forced to build this incredible structure.
54: The Bridge. Without any doubt the Bridge over the River Kwai is
the most well known and most visited railway bridge in the world. The
spans came from
57: The Hell Fire Pass. Concerned by the impact of tourism on and
Slide 58: The gorge - 'Hell and Fire'.
a ghostly specter, though no-one comes to look. Legions of
emaciated men work by the glimmer of torchlight and carbide lamp to
into pieces and beat it into the cleft to give perfect way for a train.
also the sound, the monotonous clinking of a hammers on steel wedges
into the unyielding rock face. But nobody will hear this either. For
and wide, no native village, no solitary abode, only the work camp with
barracks roofed with dried palm leaves. Here even the sickest of the
forced to compete in their captor's relentless race against time. In
of the day the camp appears deserted save for one prisoner under guard,
back from the gorge to dig latrines and holes for the bodies of the
fallen dead. The Japanese must conquer the rock to complete a land
before their sea routes are completely lost under the bombardment of
attacks. Over land and by rail to maintain Fortress
their triumphant march through The Dutch Indies and
honour those who suffered and died, the Australians made the
by the impact of tourism on and around the
Slides 60-64: Signals and wires. Until recent most of the signals were mechanical, the post connected by iron wire to a lever in the station building or a separate signal box. Unfortunately almost all of them are now replaced by electric ones, less elegant with less of the atmosphere of a real railway. Sometimes you can find the old signals in strange places, like this one used to control the traffic in and out the factory gate.
Slide 65 & 66: The token machine & Hoop on a pole. With the signals came the 'token system'. When a train was due, the staff would phone to the next station or end of the section to confirm that the section was clear. If it was, the machine released a token that was put into a small leather bag attached to a hoop. This was then passed on to the train driver. At the a station or end of a section, often without stopping or even slowing down, the driver had to drop the hoop onto a pole and pick up a new hoop with a token for the next section. A precarious part of the job. I tried this a few times and sometimes missed picking up the new token. When that happened, the train had to stop and go back to pick up the token. The section was not free for another train until the token was back in the machine.
Slides 67 & 68: An old
Slide 70: Ratchaprasong. Today the tramway is replaced by the Bangkok Transit System subway, opened on December 5th 1999. It still only runs above ground but we are assured that, at sometime in the future, it will run underground as well.
71, 72 & 73:
76 - 81: Images of the past - Forgotten lines and locomotives.
Here are a few forgotten memories from the past. The Tha Rua - Phra
Railway and another one that left from the bank of the Chao Phraya
Bang Bua Tong. The Sri Maharacha Timber Company's last remaining engine
standing on the side of the road near the saw mill at Sri Racha. Three
locomotives 'put out to grass'. These engines had been used for many
pull felled trees out of the forest but now there is nothing left to
A closed line that had once connected two sugar mills to the SRT
Wang Khapi near Uttaradit. This steam engine is now only used by the
shunting goods wagons around the yard. The last remaining narrow gauge
which had been used to pull wagons loaded with sugar cane, on display
factory. Yet another monument to the past at the sugar factory at Ko
Lampang. Railway history can be found all over
Slide 82: Mae Mo station. Back in the north and a trip to Mae Mo, made for nothing more than the joy of riding the train. I would like to conclude this evening's presentation with another story and a miscellany of some rather more candid images of the Railways of Thailand.
“In the shade of a tree time passes almost un-sensed while sitting waiting for the return train. Around the station nothing moves save a far away children's game at the waterside. Serene tranquility, only vague, far away voices slowly fading over the plain. The railway yard seems dead, lying abandoned beneath the heat shimmering above the tracks. Steel wires quiver along the track as they stir the silent signal, waiting to lift its arm. Melancholy after getting off after a ride next to an open window. Hot wind had playfully caressed the senses, and now in the distance, home and familiar countryside. Hills swathed in autumn colours. But closer, too close, an endless ribbon of refuse on the verge of the track. Polystyrene wrapping for the traveler’s convenience, tossed disrespectfully through an open window. Even the scrupulous traveler’s accountability lies belied by the train staff who had swept his carefully deposited refuse into a heap and then out of an open door. It dawdled for a while, caught on the train's turbulence, then came to rest and became prey for grateful stray dogs who celebrated on a banquet of leftovers and chicken bones. But whether Mother Nature will similarly celebrate remains a question. Synthetic waste ages timelessly. But that does not belong in the realm of Thai concern. An open door or window moving through an anonymous landscape offers no resistance to the temptation to sweep beyond your own back yard. The train comes and goes, nobody gets off, nobody gets on, certainly not the stranger. He moves on, under the delusion of certainty in the cadence of steel upon steel. When this slowly dies away in the far distance, the station retreats back into desolation, as does the sandy road twistingly disappearing into the hills. Somewhere beyond the wind blown dust, houses are hidden. Corpulent wives steam pale rice and quietly cherish a wish when the giant lizard lets his presence be known nine times in succession. Superstition keeps them going. This is what it must be. A declining word finds a line here, in the shade of a tree. In the distance the eerie echo of children's voices, a sense of game and joy in all. Tookay let's hear your call.”
Slides 83 - 94: A miscellany of images.
Robert's presentation was followed by an enthusiastic and informative question and answer session which included these contributions: The Germans were employed by the Thai Railway Department, so in fact Thais themselves built the system with the help and supervision of both German and British consultants. The railhead as a work line reached Chiang Mai in 1919. On January 1st 1921 the regular service was started. The present turntable is a replacement for a smaller one that could no longer be used when larger engines came into use. Standard gauge came as far as Chiang Mai. During the period of re-gauging, a three-rail system was installed to let the old rolling stock on standard gauge and new stock on metre gauge run on the same line. After the question and answer session the meeting adjourned to the Alliance Cafeteria where Robert's joy knew no bounds when Roy Hudson produced files of papers, press cuttings and letters about Emile Eisenhofer. Roy Hudson and Mrs. Eisenhofer had corresponded and met once before she died in 1982.