Thailand from the train

‘Portrait of a locomotive’

The characteristic sound of a mighty diesel locomotive, a specific art of singing of the engine fills the air when a train leaves the station. Many times I listened to this at any station but on its best in Chiang Mai, a soft humming till the crossing at the end of the yard. Hereafter, throttle full open and roaring like a wild animal, the locomotive plus coaches disappear in a curve, however, not the sound; it lingers on for a while and getting thin and thinner. Melancholy but not why I didn’t join the ride, many times I did so, to many perhaps but in fact never enough.
There’s a hobby called: loco spotting, people do it for their number, for me it’s the sole. A number is man made and can be changed on every moment. It’s bookkeeping and sometimes this gives a lot of headache later on.
The steam era in Thailand and their mighty machines are not excluded of the phenomena. I’ll give one example and let the case rest. In Kanchanaburi just one block away from the famous Bridge over the River Kwai – double wrong spelling; first it should be written: Kwae meaning tributary and second the original name of the river streaming below the girders is Mae Khlong – there’s a peculiar private museum partly dedicated to the W.O.II in Southeast Asia and things collected by the owner family. In front of the entrance stands an old rusty steamer with a clumsy painted number 175 on the side of the cab, that’s to say in 1993 when the engine still stood in the open, later a canopy was build. Contrarily on the inside one could read 171 painted in original SRT style ciphers.
Nº 171 is a 4-6-0 build by North British Hyde Park with the works number: 21140 in 1915 and first run under the number 38. Another Nº 175 works number: 21758 build in 1919 is preserved at Sungai Golok and given the benefit of doubt. What’s true, what’s real, it’s a burden for any research. What’s in a number…?
A lot especially when it was given by lack of knowledge or in case of the Kanchanaburi loco due to superstitious belief in numbers.

Back to the diesels with a Co-Co wheel arrangement and their lovely sound and still being the backbone of the SRT. The series: ALS (4101-4154) made by Alsthom and delivered in 1975. The series AHK: (4201-4230) made by Alsthom, Henschel and Krupp in 1980. The series: ALD (4301-4307) by Alsthom alone in 1983. The series: ADD (4401-4420) also Alsthom in 1985.
The engines of a former series build by General Electric during 1964 – 1966 (4001-4050) producing a nice simmering sound and I must confess even with more character. Some of them are still running albeit with a new or revised motor. The picture of a locomotive plus coaches or goods van on a single meter gauge line boarded with poles and wires, the old telegraph system supplemented with glass fibre cables for today’s means of communication. A classic view and there to be admired for times to come. The rail way as it worked for many years unchanged by any temptation for a complete overhaul, equipped with the newest technical knowledge in terms of infrastructure and rolling stock – high speeds trains. Concerning the land of smiles this will remain a dream or wishful thinking; too many political obstructions hinder a swift implementation. A far- or short-sighted mentality, unfortunate the latter is common practice.
Meanwhile the locomotives do what they were constructed for, undisturbed, hauling trains. The series: ALS almost forty years old and the end of a lifespan nearing, however, not in Thailand. It’s a portrait of beauty but also craftsmanship, these machines keep on going. Rolling to the horizon till all the sounds becomes mute.

General Electric Nº 4034 is waiting for depart at Nam Tok

Series ADD Nº 4419 is waiting for depart at Phitsanulok.

Series AHK Nº 4229 meets the monkey at Lop Buri.

Series ALS Nº 4140 and perfectly weathered.

Series ALS Nº 4142 in a new livery

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About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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