Thailand from the train

42 - 2875

ʻThe change of a station and her trainʼ

Steam that can’t steam any longer, steam less on a plinth for show purpose only, a bright reminder of the past although not all to long ago. In the year 1982 there were no more steam locomotives running in regular service in Thailand. Still twenty years further than the railways had in mind, during the sixties of the last century the SRT (State Railway of Thailand) planned a full dieselisation something that didn’t take place, thus a need for the good old steamer with a sort of prolonged life.
By that time most steam operation in Western countries vanished from the railway scene before but for a country under development and getting rid of a third world status not too bad at all, moreover while what lasted on steam were reliable machines and easy to work with.
Engine 950 in front of the old Thon Buri station building now a museum since the grounds behind it, eg platforms and former railway yard, were developed into an extension of the nearby already existing Sirirat hospital on the banks of the mighty Chao Phraya River.
A dense rise as world cities like and nothing left from the old agonized atmosphere, a more or less forlorn station in the backwaters of a busy city without any importance for the long distance only local routes with the former Burma Railway to Kanchanaburi and beyond (Nam Tok = Waterfall) as the most important.
The relocation of the railway business didn’t went smoothly, not the SRT but the merchandisers of a market attached to the station and in later times even occupied the tracks of the first platform, heavily protested because their new appointed location was too far from all. However, their cry withered and a new station and market place were build 870 meters down the line towards Taling Chan Junction were it joined the Southern line starting at the Hua Lamphong Station, a stub end terminus like the old Thon Buri Station once was with in front a pier for smooth connection over water to other parts of the inner city.
The new premise is next door the workshop where all the remaining steam engines being kept and maintained by a handful dedicated railway workers with a certain interest for the past. The Thon Buri shed is the last bulwark where one can sniff the air of long forgotten motion on rail.
Locomotive 950 is a 2-8-2 so called Mikado (named after a former Japanese emperor) and build by Mitsubishi in 1950 under works number: 695. During the war (1940-1945) the SRT ordered among others 40 Mikado’s by the by that time Japanese car and locomotive makers’ association after 1945 renamed into: Association of railway industries, consisting of the following factories: Hitachi / Kawasaki / Kisha Seizo Kaisha / Nippon Sharyo and Mitsubishi. Due to war circumstances the delivery of these machines was stipulated for 1949 and by that time the outlook for the railways looked prosperous so another 30 Mikado’s were ordered, a total of 70 with the numbers 901-70. These were the last steam engines that would enter Thai soil. 950 was delivered as a wood burner but later converted to oil and during the crises of 1973 reconverted to wood burning again. Less sufficient in terms of output and shortness of firewood although some old chopped sleepers would have been burned as well. The same applies for the other fuel; finished oil (lubrication etc.) long lives the black smoke…!

Some facts of the 950; 2-8-2 stand for the number of wheels, the first and last not driven. The weight in working order 57.6 tonnes. The driven wheel diameter: 1106 mm. Water capacity: 15 cubic meter and fuel (wood) 10 cubic meter or 5500 litres oil. At the end of the steam area together with a sister and some other types 950 survived the slaughterhouse and later became part of a heritage fleet.
March 26th 1986 (the birthday of the Thai railways) after long steam appear again at the Hua Lamphong Station for a special ride to Ayutthaya vice versa. That day engine Nº 950 steels the show. The last time I saw her running was on March 26th 2004. In later years the engine stood idle on the yard of the Thon Buri workshop, I guess some vital parts were used to keep her sister Nº 953 run able. For the years to come there’s the final destination and 950 could be adored by kids never seen an engine like this in their live before. It’s as often said during a funeral; ash to ashes, dust to dust, for much and beyond this engine was spared the oven.

Picture on top: Mikado Nº 953 + 824 with special train left Ayutthaya on March 26th 1992.

950 on her new plinth. September 6th  2013

950 on her new plinth. September 6th 2013

950 in front of the old station tower on September 6th 2013

950 in front of the old station tower.

950 dwarfed by the buildings behind it on September 6th 2013

950 dwarfed by the buildings behind it.

950 idle at the yard of the Thon Buri shed and workshop on June 21st 2010

950 idle at the yard of the Thon Buri shed and workshop on June 21st 2010

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About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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