Thai steam

It was March 26th 1986, the day whereupon Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong (Central) Station filled again with steam and smoke – kettles above fire and boiling water – a by that time almost forgotten form of traction but still appealing to imagination. Steel horses that once gallop on rail restored in old splendour.
Officially the SRT steam era ended in 1975 but quit a number of engines – wood burners class 800 – 900 and C.56 (former Japanese Railways) – were kept aside as standby engine allocated on various sheds or depots and still in use mainly shunting duties to save fuel for the diesel locomotives in the light of soaring oil prices. Economical circumstances prolonged their life. Beside these machines in the late seventies other engines were there as well, some stored and others preserved or waiting for the man with the hammer. It was not before 1982 that finally steam operated locomotives disappeared from the roster, a mere four years before the first heritage run took place from Bangkok to Ayutthaya vice versa and since repeated on different occasions.
The Thonburi depot became a bulwark for remaining engines where a handful dedicated Railway men with the help of some foreigners gave a lot of afford to restore the old beasts and keeping them in rolling condition. The first show to the public featured engine 950 on the eighty-ninth birthday of the Thai Railways, no better way to celebrate.
950, type Mikado, wheel arrangement 2-8-2, an oil burner the way it was built by Mitsubishi Japan in 1950 with works number 695 and one of the last steam engines ordered by the SRT. In March 1986 it was the pride of the day, nowadays the machine functions as a static object in front of the former Thonburi station building, on the brink of the Chao Phraya River, completely incorporated by the Sirirat Hospital accommodating a medical museum. Apparently there wasn’t enough substance to keep the engine in running order, some of the parts for sure were used for others to prohibit them the same faith. Maybe in the past things weren’t always beautiful or went smooth, in the present too.
To keep things of a bygone era alive is more than a noble achievement. Preserved history, for the kids to learn and see how the past evolved and why these machines became obsolete or part of a museum.
A real railway museum, something Thailand still fails and on the other hand being a living museum along the line. Old steam engines are scattered and put on display at many stations, to see them is a journey on it self.  But who knows, one day, they all come home if the Hua Lamphong station will close her doors, the perfect location for a museum and if they keep one track open to the Eastern line, regular living steam would be a major thing and certainly attracts visitors despite the many level crossings being a plaque for Bangkok’s traffic.
The latter courses why Hua Lamphong will be replaced to Bang Sue; a new intermodal between train and subway, the building process started already and will be completed within a few years.
The SRT birthday run and on the birthday of the king are a bit dull for a fan pure once done, not the run itself but the long time in between at Ayutthaya. For a non specific railway fan, most Thai, an excellent opportunity to make a cultural tour through town with its numerous ancient temples or ruins. Sightseeing on the spot with a good meal of course. It’s the only opportunity to sniff steam saturated air, hearing the sounds but above all seeing how the mechanics working. The magic wheel and only one way to power it; by steam.

Picture above: The state of Garret 456 at the Bang Sue depot yard on May 26th 1989 before the machine transferred to Kanchanaburi for display first in the back of the station but later in front of it.
Pictures below: The engines 953 + 824 gave a demonstration in Ayutthaya between arrival and depart with a special train (heritage run) from Bangkok v.v. on March 26th 1989.
2)  Engine 950 in front of the first heritage train on March 26th 1986.
3)  Engine 950 in front of the former Thonburi station building.
4)  The magic wheel and other steamy details.

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About Robert von Hirschhorn

Author / Performer or in Dutch: schrijver / dichter
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