Chris recommends inter-city trains for tourists, and maybe locals too.
In Java and some parts of Sumatra, train lines continue to operate commuter services between numerous large and not so large cities of Indonesia. However, passenger numbers can be low and schedules infrequent. Yet trains remain, in my opinion, a reasonable option for most tourists, and locals too. They are more convenient, as comfortable and as safe as other means of transport.
Airports in Indonesia are almost all a long distance from the centre of town, or are about to be (e.g. the new airports in Lombok and Medan, the proposed new airport in Bali). It is the same for most inter-city bus terminals also. This results in the trip to/from the departure/arrival airport taking almost as long as the flight itself, particularly if there is bad traffic or flooding on the way – an almost daily occurrence during the wet season in Jakarta.
However, train stations are almost always conveniently located in the centre of town. In the case of travelling one way from Jakarta to Surabaya, the cost of taxis to and from the airports (along with airport tax) can amount to as much as a rail ticket itself.
Executive-class carriages have ample legroom and footrests, with a meal service plus extra cushions and blankets available upon request for a small fee. Some people have complained that the air-conditioning is too cold (like in most Jakartan shopping malls), but in my experience I haven’t found this to be true.
Train stations often have a special waiting room for business and executive-class passengers, which can be variable in quality but usually have air conditioning, a TV and comfortable chairs. They are certainly much nicer than that city’s airport departure lounges.
This is a concern for many people. They may quote statistics like there being a train accident every six days  or point to the latest rail accident. However, as the same article says, many are collisions at un-gated railway crossings where the driver of the car, bus or motorbike did not check if there was a train coming before proceeding.
However, the safety of rail services is still relatively good compared to other means of transportation.
Exact figures are difficult to obtain, but The Jakarta Post reported Indonesia’s road toll – i.e. the number of people killed in road accidents annually - is approximately 17 000, with 90% caused by driver negligence . Other statistics I have heard is that 45 people die every month in Bali alone . Yet, people show no inclination to stop using their cars due to unsafe roads or other dangerous drivers.
As many readers of IM will be aware, Indonesian aircraft were banned from the EU in 2007 due to a spate of accidents. While there were no fatalities in 2008, investigations into the causes of the 2007 Garuda Indonesia crash found that the Yogyakarta airport (like those in Solo and Semarang) were operating unlicensed due to the failure to improve safety measures like run-off areas .
Ferries have sunk not only due to high seas, but also overcrowding, overloading of cargo and/or poor maintenance, resulting in hundreds of deaths at a time.
So, by comparison train travel isn’t as dangerous as its reputation may suggest.
INFORMATION AND BOOKING
Perhaps, a lack of information on schedules and fares has also been a hindrance. In the past, you would have to actually go to a station to get information like so:
Schedule and fare information for Jember, East Java.
However, this has also improved over time. You can get schedule and fare information at: http://www.infoka.kereta-api.com/jadwal_dan_tarif/
Note that this does not include economy class services, and to get current fares you must choose the cities from the dropdown menu, not from the list of trains at the bottom of the page.
While even Garuda and Merpati have recently introduced online booking into their webpages, PT. KAI is yet to offer this service. However, you can now book your ticket up to 30 days ahead (up from seven previously), and they now offer a booking by phone option. You dial 13 897 on your mobile, then head to your nearest Bank Mandiri ATM to pay. You can then exchange the receipt for a ticket at your convenience. It is a “premium” mobile service, and costs about Rp4000/minute.
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So I would urge you to consider taking the train on your next Indonesian domestic holiday. I can recommend from personal experience the following:
Twice daily from Surabaya to Banyuwangi. Overnight train is great for weekend trips to/from Bali, also suitable for trips to Mt Bromo (get off at Probolinggo) and Ijen Plateau (get off at Jember or Banyuwangi).
Argo Bromo Anggrek
Twice daily services between Jakarta's Gambir and Surabaya's Pasar Turi stations, including the only day-time service; the others are all overnight. The A/C is a bit cold, but a cap and a thin sweater should be enough. Includes some low quality TV, no worse than Garuda's domestic in-flight entertainment. There are free snacks, but check first - passengers were deceived into thinking the first meal was free, but turned out to cost Rp30 000.
The numerous trains from Jakarta to Bandung
Quite scenic three hour trip. Avoids traffic snarls at either end of the new toll road. Also useful for travelling from Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport to Bandung or vice versa - the Damri airport bus has a terminal at Gambir. Tickets on Damri cost Rp20 000 per person one way.
Twice daily from Medan to Pematang Siantar, 75% of the way to Lake Toba. A more pleasant journey than the often crowded, smelly and erratically-driven buses and minibuses (called “travel”) that ply the Trans Sumatran Hwy. It’s not difficult to get a ride from the station or the nearby main street to Parapat.
But that’s just my opinion. What do you think? What have your experiences of train travel been like? Would you recommend it, and why or why not? How do trains compare with buses and air travel?
Wow this is great, as somebody who’s been itching to get out of Jakarta (cheaply) this is excellent info. Many thanks for taking the time to put it together!
Yes, it is great stuff, thanks RD….my train travelling days may be passed me a bit though, haven’t been in one in almost ten years, but I did the Surabaya to Yogya, Sby to Jakarta (northern route) and Sby to Banyuwangi route several times each back then. Used both “Bisnis” and “Exseutif” (spelling?) class. Never tried Economy although someone I knew who did go on Economy from Jkt to Sby said there were a lot of chickens in cages on the train, as well as the people.
thanks for the info on the medan to permatang siantar and then onwards to lake toba. roads too winding for my stomach.
There should be a small airport on lake toba for turboprops.
Nice article. It’s too bad Indonesia doesn’t have an extensive rail network. Traveling by train is fun. I always wondered what a trans-Sulawesi train journey from Makassar to Manado would be.
Every time I take a train from Jakarta inevitably at some point someone would throw rocks at the train. Not pebbles, but fist-sized rocks, that could seriously injure an unlucky passenger. Can someone shed some light on this subject? Are these just bored kids with a sick idea of fun?
Imagine a ‘Nusantara Express’ TGV from Medan to Denpasar with all the luxury of its European and Malay-Thai counterparts. Building a bridge between Sumatra-Java (already in the plans) and Java-Bali shouldn’t be an impassable obstacle.
What a boost to high-class tourism it would be.
Joe, I don’t know about rock throwing but do remember coming through the Jakarta suburbs, when the train is going pretty slow, and young boys run alongside, jump on board, and make off with any bags left near the door…
TGV and highway should link denpasar to pekan baru, then branch out via pulau karimun to pontian in southern tip of johore in malaysia via tunnel/bridge, connecting bali/surabaya/jakarta to singapore/kuala lumpur/bangkok.
Now would b the right time to spend on those stimulus package on this project. It will pay for itself as there are 130 million on java/sumatra and another 110 million people in malaysia/singapore /thailand.
After all denmark and sweden built a tunnel/bridge for both road and rail that connects both countries with a population of maybe ten million or slightly more and the project is self financed by impementing toll charges.
I am a regular visitor to Indonesia from Australia and I LOVE travelling by train! I only travel by air if time is a consideration or if there is no rail option.
I find them comfortable, reasonably priced, punctual and relaxing, though apart from local trains, I have never travelled inter-city by ekonomi…..maybe I should!
I have never been involved in an accident (I have travelled many thousands of kms) and the only time I was in any way concerned was travelling between Yogya and Bandung, when the engine was clearly underpowered and stopped several times in the uphill sections, going backwards on occasions, to the alarm of passengers…..me included.
Trains are a very cost effective way of transporting large numbers of people, but the capital costs of the infrastructure involved, are considerable. Maybe this could be a means for the RI government to stimulate the economy?
Oztrack, don’t be alarmed, the engine has plenty of power, it’s just that the drive fell asleep, and the brakes don’t always work.
my “r” key doesn’t always work either….
I have always enjoyed taking the train in Indonesia. Unlike Patung my train days are not behind me
My most recent train journey is the short Gambir to Bandung jaunt up through the hills. If I recall the fare for eksekutif kelas is like IDR 65K or thereabouts. Affordable and affords one the opportunity to witness some spectacular (and not so spectacular) scenery along the way.
I haven’t been on one in a while, but one of my fondest memories is taking the Yogya – Banyuwangi third class train back in 1986. I had to sit on my rucksack in the aisle, but idling through Java in daylight, with a panorama of rice fields and distant volcanoes outside the window has stayed with me.
In contrast, I took the overnight Senja Utama from Yogya to Jakarta and back a couple of times. The carriages were made in East Germany, the AC was set to ‘suspended animation’ and despite being in first class, at every stop I was woken by peddlers walking up and down the aisle, yelling and sticking bags of whatever wingko is under my nose! Still, when you’re young…
Travelling from Jakarta to Yogya return by train is the only way to go, I do this trip at least once sometimes twice a year and am always amazed by the ever changing scenery and yes BK you are right about the air con and the suspended animation bit on the overnighter,
could anyone please tell me how the “Ekonomi” trains are like? As far as I have understood they have no air-conditing. Does this mean you can open the window or are the windows open all the time?
On the other hand, can you open the windows of the eksekutif/business trains?
I travelled from Jakarta to Yogya in 1992 and as far as I remember the windows of the carriage could be opened and I took some very nice pictures of the journey. I do not remember anymore what kind of train it was. It started early in the morning at Gambir station and arrived at Yogya in the evening.
Ekonomi – yes windows would be open all the time.
Business – yes you can open them, from memory, I think……but pretty sure the windows that open are the narrow top ones, not the ones at eye-level when you’re sitting.
Eksekutif – no because air-con.
I am planning to visit Indonesia on the 2oth and travel to Jogjakarta from KJakarta by train ehere can I book a ticket? I would appreciate a speedy reply
I prefer to travel by “ekonomi” (3rd class) trains on short distances because the fares are way cheaper rather than bus fares. The passengers are mostly kind, though I need to keep an eye on my belongings. If you happen to be in Surabaya, East Java, I would recommend to travel using Penataran Ikon (Surabaya-Blitar via Malang) and Dhoho Ikon (Surabaya-Blitar via Kertosono). Both trains are intended to be icons of third class trains with cleaner passenger cars and better security.
Hi there, I’m planning on visiting Bali but I’m trying to determine the cheapest way to get there, leaving from Kuala Lumpur. I thought about either flying directly to Bali or flying to Jakarta and then taking the train/bus/ferry to Bali. If anyone has any recommendations please let me know I would like to see the country side of Indonesia, but my time is pretty limited. Will I save money flying into Jakarta or am I wasting my time? Thanks!
am I wasting my time?
Yes. Depends how young and adventurous you are, or not. Bus – if you’re tall you won’t be able to move your legs, if you’re short you’ll still hate it. Or train to end of Java-ferry to Bali-bus to Kuta – better but still exhausting, helluva trip. It wouldn’t be any cheaper but if you’re up for it and you really want to get a taste of Java and meet some people along the way then go for it, me I feel too old for that kind of trip now.
Update, July 2010:
The train timetable/fare information page now lives at http://kereta-api.co.id. It doesn’t always work properly, but gives you a good general idea of what’s possible.
oh well………….., thank you for the article, I remember when I was so young ( 10-12 yrs old)
my dad took me to travel from Jakarta to Surabaya, oh wow……….. it was steam locomotive then, I had so much fun. I am planing going to visit Indonesia again,will try to ride the train to Bandung, Jogyakarta and Surabaya, maybe to Malang too, but not sure how to get the ticket, should I just go to Gambir Station and get the ticket?, anyone please help me
sorry……, the time was in mid 50s
Suryo……, the engineer fell to sleep and the brakes don’t always work, that was funny joke, its in bad taste, but still funny
The official on line time table for KA is now located here http://kereta-api.co.id
The data base will give you information about most of the Eksekutif and Bisnis class services in Java. Not all trains or all stops are included at the moment.
I am trying to construct some more comprehensive information for travellers here https://sites.google.com/site/railwaysofjava/home
Eventually I hope to have timetables for most or all trains operating in Indonesia, but will be relying on information reported to me to try and keep the details up to date.
There is all information about buying tickets, if you can avoid the Indonesian public holidays then just go to any staffed KA railway station up to 30 days in advance and you can purchase tickets for the long distance trains.
What’s the current train fare Jakarta/Bandung and howlong (hrs) does it take?
Is it safe to travel by train? Also is the the train reliable, punctual? I intend to travel with my family of 4, is it convenient? What’s the difference travelling by EXECUTIVE or BUSINESS class.
Thanks for the advise.