Dear friends, the author and founder of this site has passed away. Due to an unlucky fall and the effects of his underlying disease he has succumbed to his injuries on December 7, 2016. This will be a last entry on this site. It will be up however until…he will be missed dearly.

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Beste lezers, zoals jullie misschien al zullen hebben vernomen is de stichter en beheerder van deze site op 7 december 2016 overleden aan de gevolgen van een ongelukkige val. Deze en de indirecte gevolgen van zijn ziekte zijn hem fataal geworden. Robert wordt zeer gemist door alle vrienden…..

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Things of the tram (5)


A lovely title though in my case nothing to do with the original intention the maker had in mind. Tennessee Williams, an American play writer. The play performed on many stages and every time the curtain felt there was applause.
When the drape would cover tramway systems for ever there was no applause at all, neither from the public nor yours truly, only disappointment or like the song of Elton John: It is so sad, it’s a sad, sad, situation and it’s getting more and more absurd…
The good old Straßenbahn, the trolley, it all started with horses pulling a cart (coach) rolling on rail embedded in the street surface given people a paid ride were before they had to walk.


The invention of the century at the beginning of the industrial revolution. In the end of the nineteenth century horses were replaced by overhead wire with electric driven motorcars underneath. Single motor cars often with a open balcony and the wattman exposed to wind and weather. Two or four axle (boogie) motorcars with a trailer or double trailer depending on demand.
However, steam trams last much longer even beyond W.W.II in some cases. In The Netherlands e.g. during the twenties and thirties every province had his own network before the decline started. Those lines were not pure city lines but interurban often a single track in the kerb of the road.


The age of the tramway can’t be described with a few words only. It’s a well known mode of public transportation and till today runs from A to B. On the contrary; in the new age it has not only survived but celebrating a new start as well. Many cities let the tram return to the streets but building new lines as well were never ran a tram before.
The revival of an old principle, a common habit, a city is a city only when it does have a tram. A list of all systems on earth goes beyond the scope of this article; a dedicated fan needs almost a lifespan to see them all and riding the lines. That’s no fun but hard working and by the way unpaid. So I stick to what I did and saw during the years of adoration and made a series out of it for my Flickr account. A personal record, a private enterprise, and now shared with the public. It’s a sin to keep pictures that can’t be taken any longer in a box and let them become dusty.


The heritage, history frozen on a certain moment of vividness and now a lust for the eyes. Armchair travelling through the past along the loss. The lines no longer existing but above all cars replaced by a more modern approach. Technology, electronics, and new design, a change from the outside only because the theory of a wheel guided by rail did not changed. It’s the old way it once started with and since never improved because there’s none.
Two bands of rail with different measure in between from narrow till broad but mostly standard gauge (1435 mm) fixed on sleepers rooted in the street surface or having its own way of ride. An almost pollution free mode of transportation.
Almost; the plant generating power is not but more efficient and easier to control (filtering). It is that a lot of us dreaming of their own car; one person on four wheels in his or her beloved tin can and polluting the environment. It’s a kind of growth that cannot sustain. Imagine every Chinese would drive his own car and life came to a halt, something to be admired already at capital cities. Beijing and Bangkok are a breath taking example. Both lost their tramway and even not they would stock in the endless gridlocks caused by too many cars unless they had their private course in stead of ordinary street running.
In Bangkok there’s no tram revival the last one ran till the last day of September 1968. Beijing builds a subway system and so does Krung Thep, the Thai name for the city. Elsewhere in China new tramway systems sprouted but old Europe still takes the lead with France ahead in repeating what once considered as a wonder. Trams, not only for fans, let’s enjoy them and forget about the private car. It’s far better for the future.

The pictures

top – Rotterdam in the Netherlands, a motorcar on route Nº 1 at the terminus Honinger-dijk around 1966.

middle 1 – The horse pulled tram, a double deck coach and for sure it must have been fun to ride on the roof top. Berlin around 1900.

middle 2 – The provincial tramway company of Gelderland (750 mm gauge) even in the fifties still run steam trams though for special occasion only. Steam locomotive Nº 607 + coach celebrating 75 years of the line Doetinchem – Doesburg, the last one of the network before closing on August 31st 1957.

middle 3 – The bygone days and only sweet memory. With cars like these one could travel electric through two Dutch provinces (North- South Holland). The famous ‘Blue Tram’. Picture taken in the fifties at Zandvoort aan Zee.

bottom 1 – The Hague in the Netherlands, a classic motorcar made by HAWA – Germany in the early twenties. On this picture in preserved condition on a private excursion organized by the author in June 1967. Anno 2016 the car still running as part of large heritage fleet, old but indestructible.

bottom 2 – Not only why they dominated my youth in The Hague but being representative of a standard tramcar era started in America; the PCC car. Picture taken December 1967.

bottom 3 – Another standard motorcar, Germany this time, type KSW and mainly build during the war and short after. On this picture a survivor on the Mulheim network taken April 28th 1969.

bottom 4 – Old design, made in East Germany the DDR. A motorcar from the Gotha factory with matching trailer but not build by Gotha though at RAW-Schöneweide (Berlin) as type: REKO. The difference: four windows instead of three (Gotha). Schöneiche – September 1991.

bottom 5 – New design, French style and made by Alsthom, they run in Rouen. 09.08.1996

For more pictures see the Flickr site Rail Asia:






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The last steamer of Vietnam


A personal story in the wake of history. How sad it is if you were born too late to embrace the glory of the age of steam on rail. Locomotives that appeal to imagination.
By the time I was ten years old steam in the Netherlands dismissed. Elsewhere on earth this fascinating piece of engineering stay foot and till today still can be seen in working order, a reliable iron horse, even in normal service though most for industrial purpose shunting on a factory yard.
On the other hand the preservation business, museum lines, many different groups of volunteers who spent there free time in precise restoration most in rolling order and keep the engines that way. The heritage of a steamy era is well conserved though not on every spot, there are still blanks in what once rolled freely and disappeared like snow for the sun. Southeast Asia is a fine example but I am not the guy who knows everything, the one making lists, the number freak and freaking out when something missed or never seen. It’s not direct my cup of tea heated by dead steam.
First of all trying to find them and than given back their identity. A nice job unfortunate only for insiders or as a record of history. Anyway it’s not prescribed for me. I am the man or written in the limelight of history was, for coincidence.
My first Vietnam rail experience took place in 2002 and I was not on the look for steam at all more what the DSVN  – Duong sat Vietnam / State Railways – a rail transport fan had to offer. Familiar with the circumstance in Thailand there were no special expectations only seen what’s on the sleeve and it surprised me.
Where in Thailand I got used to free entrance on almost every spot, only the main workshop at Bangkok Makkasan could not be entered without a special permit, Vietnam showed the contrary. Railway workers, signal man, denying me taken pictures even on public area if the strict communistic ruling still was in power, if I could be a spy seeing something not meant for an outsider but forgotten that more modern techniques (satellite) already make a note of it.
Also in Western Europe there were times you could not take pictures of a railway subject at least in or near a station without the railway police on your back. Even on maps railway lines were left out. The early days of the cold war and completely overhauled by the technology as written before. In Eastern Europe behind the iron curtain long after and before the fall of the drape photographing railways was a risky business.


So in Vietnam, the long arm of socialism and a lost battle. The comrades at the company not used to the new freedom even when I pointed that out to them, that things were changed and don’t be afraid.
The central station ground of Hanoi was completely sealed off, no free access to the platforms nor platform tickets to buy, only when boarding short before depart.
Both entrances of the yard were closed by a gate if a train was gone or not arriving.
Frustrating anyway. However, at a nearby hotel I took the elevator to the upper floor and became the view I wanted. The complete station lay out at my feet but most surprising a row of out of order steam engines standing in what seemed to be the depot. No way to see them close let alone taking pictures of it. On the roof floor of a luxury hotel the story sprung in mind. I would write a letter to the railway and during my next visit I could see the steamers from near by.
This letter never got an answer and by the time back in Hanoi (one year later) the question arose what to do? Going to the office and saying: “Hello, do you know?”
Believe it or not, this is what happened. The first person I addressed said: “O yes, your letter, I read it.” A relieve but access to the depot… “Well, we see, let’s go.”
To make a long story short, after conversation with tea (of course) the boss let me in under strict condition. “I give you half an hour, that’s it.”
Anyone well-known with circumstances like these understands this was (almost) the happiest half hour of my life. Haste denied me the details but for the moment no care.
It looks French as France could look but with the French railway industry I never been acquainted. For sure here stood a colonial heritage waiting for the smelter I supposed. Frankly spoken I have no idea if they were recycled in the end, I never been there since but there is always someone out there better informed. Guide me if you know, it’s always nice to write a story till the end, even for locomotives although that story could be very bitter.

All pictures were taken at the depot of Hanoi central station in April 2003 only the last one was taken at Hanoi Giap Bat station were during his final days this locomotive took care of the shunting before left to wind and weather. See also album: History on rail in Vietnam.



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A tale of Taiwan

Taiwan - the railway trip

At the end of the eighties the TRA – Taiwan Railway Administration published a booklet both in English and Chinese named; the railway trip. A touristic brochure.
Twenty-five years later still a precious item in my collection oversees railways or at the first encounter; a peculiar company on 1067 mm gauge the so-called Cape gauge with no specific ideas about. The Internet still in his infancy and by far the common electronic encyclopaedia as it is today. Even armchair (rail) travelling by surfing the sites could be quit adventurous though never beats the reality; being there!

I have been there several times, starting in 1990. In Taipei running on street level through the inner-city (own way of right) was given up and replaced by a tunnel. A new train station let the old one dwarfed in her shadow, not much later in time it was demolished. On the south side tunnelling would go on and these days no train can be spotted on the surface in the city. Also the subway system took shape and the end of it is not in sight. Opening next is the 53.5 kilometre long line to Chang Kai-shek International Airport and from there the beginning of a system for the town Taoyuan (Blue line).
Another remarkable achievement is the private funded 339 kilometre long high-speed standard gauge line from Taipei to Kaoshiung. THRC – Taiwan High-speed Rail Cooperation take care of the exploitation with a Sinkhansen type of train as in use by JR-West in Japan. In 1990 the latter only far away music.

On the subway system (VAL) only a part of route Nº 1 (Brown) and route Nº 2 (Red) (heavy rail) were open to the public but meanwhile extended and accomplished by three other lines. Focusing on the capital doesn’t mean other cities did not develop. Kaoshiung e.g. with a subway system and tramway (light rail) the first in the country. More cities will follow suit at least in planning, to describe them all in detail goes beyond the meaning of this story.
1990 was a real railway paradise discovery with a lot of things to see but due to the length of visit impossible to comprehend it all. Two outstanding highlights. In the outskirts of Taipei (Wulai) a 750 mm gauge line as a survivor of the push-cart era. A lorry with seat pushed by one or two men running in mostly remote areas. It’s stated that on the isle once were round and about fifty separate lines with this kind of transportation. Wulai survived; some carts were motorized and others turned into trailers, as three-car set they function successfully as recreation rail (only on weekends and holidays).
The second surprise and this time a lot smaller – 440 mm gauge – were the transport lines of a mining company in the Ping-shui valley. Transferring coal to a transshipment installation for further transport by the TRA. During my second visit in 1995 all abandoned, a pity but also understandable. Like the line in Shuili; a special build suspension bridge with continuous running (worn out) cable only to get the tip-carts to the transshipment installation on the town side shore of a river. A marvellous sight and lovely enterprise, too bad it couldn’t resist the pressure of time although it must be told as well, a similar system in a more or less deplorable condition in Western Europe wouldn’t have survived the seventies. So twenty years of prolongation.
A third best part would have been riding a passenger train on the extensive 762 mm gauge TSC network mainly on the West Coast. TSC stands for Taiwan Sugar Company, also here transport lines for the harvest (sugar cane) to the nearest factory. Not all lines had passenger services but Chaiyi and Xinjing did. 1990 was just a little to late for a joyful getting acquainted with it. A pity I did not visit the beautiful isle (Formosa) earlier in time, still it was worth the trip as it is today.

Pictures below all from 1990

Wulai; a tree-car set on the once push-cart line and depot
Houtung; a coal train passes the village.
Shihfen; a tip-cart on the suspension bridge.
Xinjing; motorcar for the sugar lines.
Furthermore see the album: History on rail in Taiwan



Houtung 2

Shihfen 4

TW 215.50.096




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In the wake of the Wall

DL 24.61.577

From mid seventies till mid eighties Berlin was a second home for me, a pied-à-terre as the French call it or like a famous German song: Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin.
I still have a suitcase somewhere in Berlin, I still have connections with the place, at least a lot of sweet memories. Unfortunate rail photography in those days was not my first interest, however, exploring I did, riding the S-Bahn and U-Bahn always been a pleasure. In West-Berlin the S-Bahn was exploited by the eastern DR – Deutsche Reichsbahn.
The U-Bahn by the BVG – Berliner Verkehrs Betriebe. The differences between the two were obvious, the latter a well organised system and needy maintained. The first more a must due to the course of history and absolutely not retained in a good shape, that’s to say; the way it looked, stations frozen in style and condition as they were before the war and perfectly reflecting the socialistic (communistic) approach.
The S-Bahn system in the East Sector – same state company – didn’t show something different only with one exemption; more riders. A lot of West-Berlin citizens boycotted the S-Bahn as a silent protest against building the Wall started on August 13th 1961.
For me using the S-Bahn in West Berlin always was a ride through the past. In East Berlin many things resembled what went before, their central guided economical system contrary the one conform the market, caused a lack of means and possibilities to modernize the nation on a large scale. Much remained kept in the state as it was on the day the DDR established (October 7th 1949). Germany as it looked before the impossible war started. During the DDR existence it would be dilapidated and became more and more grey, a paint less sight of façades with only the imagination what it must have been during the ‘Belle Époque’ period; Berlin a world city and all the decadence that comes along with it, a sallow glory.

Things of the tram

Berlin and the tram, a great network especially when including the three separate isle enterprises in the shadow of the city; Schöneiche, Woltersdorf and Strausberg.
For the tram only Berlin is worth the trip. However, when the DDR started erecting the Wall many tram routes were cut in two. In West Berlin this predicted the end for the system, in 1965 the last tram made his tour.
In East Berlin the tram survived, even better, new lines were constructed to the less golden new housing development in the outskirts of town. Prefab buildings in a furthermore rather dreary surrounding. After the reunification (1990) two lines were extended tot former West Berlin territory, one to Wedding and the other to the newly build Central Station (Hauptbahnhof). It’s the charm of lost lines and rail archaeology in the first place for this article. On the postcard picture above, shoot in 1964, the famous Brandenburger Gate standing on the boundary and completely sealed off. In front of it the former Parizer Platz with in the pavement some tram tracks as a souvenir of better times like on the first picture below in the early twenties. Through the gate trams never ran only buses. It was an extra ordinary happening walking under the arch for the first time after both parts of the city were unified. The last remains of the tram by that time all gone.

DL 24.89.576


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China with a mellow glance


The legacy of the CFY

It’s not the first time I write about China’s Railways but absolutely not more than a glimpse only. China; a huge country with many rail aspects and hardly to coop with on your own. The latter isn’t any longer my goal. First of all I am getting older, secondly the finances failing to make extensive travels through the land of a rich cultural heritage drowned in the sheer number and inherent infrastructures to keep things moving.
Facts of live stronger than any desire.
During the last decades many new tram- and subway systems were opened and meanwhile China’s High-speed network is the longest in the world but with start-up problems something kept secret from the foreign press and probably for the Chinese media as well unless there’s no other option. Like the mishap on a viaduct – forgotten the date and exact place – where a high-speed train broke down something that remained undetected by the signal system and the next train at full speed hit the stranded one in the back with a lot of dead and destroying.
Far from any advertisement – China’s Railway Industry tries to be in competition with the world, as a beginning South-east Asia – and thus officially kept silent about. China’s equivalent for Facebook – the latter is banned in the country – wasn’t so silent at all, an outcry. It’s not the high-speed network only that got a further shape, other new lines are build as well especially in the Province Yunnan in connection with the planned corridor (TAR-Trans Asia Railway): Kunming – Singapore.
The French were the first, a colonial railway company: Chemin de Fer de l’Indochine et du Yunnan (CFY) started around the change of the eighteenth century constructing a meter gauge line from Haiphong (Vietnam) via Hanoi to Lao Cai (border) and further to Hekou (China) and Kunming, the capital of the province Yunnan. The French governor of Indo China by that time – Paul Doumer – even had in mind that this line could help him to colonize a part of Yunnan. Ideas the French government in Paris tempered. Time proofs the course, The French in the end were beaten and so the Americans, the rest history.

Branch lines

During the twenties some branch lines in Yunnan were constructed as well but on narrow gauge (600 mm). These branch lines as well the main line were the sole private managed railroad in China. After the People’s Republic of China nationalized the CFY properties all 600 mm lines were re-gauged (in the sixties) to meter exempt one: the line from Jijie to Gejiu, it kept running till the nineties. It must have been a lovely narrow gauge railway experience to ride the line in a Spartan coach cramped with locals and their belongings most poultry but even pigs. Coaches always mixed with goods wagons for the industry (mining) in between. It needed an average driving time of 160 minutes for 34 km between the two end stations. Today this small enterprise is a goldmine for archaeological railway diggers searching for the things left to wind and weather after closure. My last survey was in 2005 but considering the speed China upgrades its backlog – also in the province by now – less and less reminiscences will be found. The alignment is worth to make a trail out of it, a lovely walk through rural China and mountainous era with some tunnels. The first I concurred without any artificial tools, the second one was a bit too long and dark. Small things in live that keep burning to do it again but this time with sufficient equipment.

All lines of the so-called French network in the Chinese province Yunnan.

Kunming Bei – Hekou 468 km – 1000 mm
Caoba – Baoxiu 140 km – 600/1000 mm
Yugoupu – Mengzi 14 km – 600/1000 mm
Yugoupu – Guanjiashan 20 km – 600/1000 mm
Jijie – Gejiu 34 km 600 mm till closure in 1990
Kunming Nan – Lufeng 125 km – 1000 mm
Dushupu – Anning 9 km – 1000 mm
Kunming Bei – Tapanchiao 21 km – 1000 mm

Street running in Kunming

In Kunming the tracks meandered through the inner city till a diversion to the North Station was build (early nineties) and the city parts closed, most of it turned into a public park. During the same period the line between Kunming and Hekou was still open even with through service to Hanoi (Vietnam). Also the branch to Baoxiu and Mengzi. The first time I arrived here from Kunming was with a through coach as well (night sleeper).
The branch to Guanjiashan only in use for goods. All other lines were already closed by that time exempt a few miles of the Lufeng line to a transhipment yard in the outskirts of Kunming. However, the CNR – China National Railways had in mind to close the meter gauge system completely while it didn’t fit within the standard concept (1435 mm) on one side and on the other the economical situation, decline in goods volume while new roads were build along the existing main line (Kunming – Hekou). The competition road versus rail and many times lost by the latter.
Recently a new line from Kunming via Mengzi to Hekou opened though till Mengzi on another route via Yuxi. Unfortunately I’ve not been on the spot lately to give full report and depending only on what de Chinese media like to publish.
No big deal, my goal in time was to explore the French influences and I am glad that I had the opportunity to ride the lines of a most extra ordinary enterprise although not through the inner city of Kunming almost like street running. I saw turned it into a walking path with greenery a modest way to remember the rail.
The existence didn’t last for ever and I have no idea of a single 21 class locomotive still shunting goods wagons on parts of the network, it would be nice to know?
A tip for the ones going to Yunnan; the Kunming North Station is also the home of an excellent railway museum fully dedicated to the French network highlighting the history on a adult way plus a separate exhibition hall for rolling stock. For me the former Michelin rail-car is piece Nº 1 wonderfully restored and none of the appearance it had when I met it for the first time on the yard of Yiliang in 1998 and by that time flabbergasted that it survived at all.

Picture above: It’s a rather strange sighting seeing a single locomotive (Nº 1498) switching build as double header – two coupled butt on butt. Kunming Niu Jie Zhuang. 14.04.1999
Pictures below: A portrait of class 21 D-loco 052 at the Kunming North Station. 10.04.1998
Remains of a Michelin rail-car at Yiliang. 17.04.1999
Abandoned 600 mm versus re-gauged in Jijie. 26.10.2005




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