Nice Surprise from the Indonesian Railway (PTKAI)
When I was a kid, my family and I liked to take the train to travel to other cities. At that time, the service was aweful; the trains were almost always hours late, especially during the high season, the wagons were uncomfortable and old, the stations were dirty and crowded with porters, street vendors, ticket scalpers, beggars and even pickpockets. Earlier this year I travelled by train after ages, and the improvement of the railway operator really surprise me. There were a lot of changes even until a very small detail.
Now, in the train station, at least from operating area 1 Jakarta to 4 Semarang, applies the check-in system. Meaning, only people with valid train ticket and id card are only allowed to access the train and platforms. When buying train tickets, people should give their ID number and it will be mathced when entering the passanger area. This avoids ticket scalping practices. Of course there is disadvantages; Wive cannot accompany and see her husband board the train, sons cannot help their old mother carry the heavy luggage and put it to the overhead storages, and people cannot buy candies and snacks from the street vendors. But, people can always use service of the official porters, they can still buy food from the legal food stall or from the restaurant wagon and the passanger area, platform and the trains are much cleaner and saver from the pickpocket and hoodlum.
In the early February, we departed from Gambir train station to Tegal. Gambir is located in the central Jakarta. The train platform are located on the 3rd floor and from there you can see directly some skyscrappers and the national monument. The people make an abbreviation from it and call it Monas. We took Cirebon Express train, unfortunately the train was 15 minutes delayed, but at least it was not the usual 2 hours delay in the formet times. The trip to Tegal took 5 hours and we had our lunch on the train. But we did not order food from the restaurant wagon and instead bought some bento from Hoka hoka bento since I was craving for it for years. Close to our destination, the crew cleaned the train and took away the trashes so the train can immediately depart in clean condition.
We spent one night inTegal and visited one of my aunts, her name is Ameh Ablah. She was very kind and treated us like a guest of honor 😛 She brought us to the legendary Soto stall in Senggol market, and provided us with a lot of delicous local foods, it was amazing. The next day, together we departed to Pekalongan, to visit another causin of my mom, I know her as Tante Hayati. Ameh Ablah wanted to go by car, but me and my mom enjoyed the train trip so much, we wanted to take another one. Tegal train station was also very clean. It was so unusual it’s scarry lol. The platform was free of trash and dust, unfortunately, this is still an uncommon sight in other parts of the town. I can still remember how this place was so hectic, crowded, dusty and messy. Few years later, and voila, it’s like a totally different place.
The train to Pekalongan is Kalimas Gung. It is an “executive train”, that means the wagon is fully air conditioned. The end destination is Semarang, and because it is relatively short distance, the seat was not as comfortable as ones of the Cirebon Express. But I guess the wagon was new, even the seat is still covered with plastic. There was no curtain either, so the wagon was much brighter. The trip took about 3,5 hours, and the train was on time. The scenery during the trip was very pleasant. You can look miles of paddy field that’s still green, group of farmers planting new seed and resting under cover of tree shadow and a blue profile of Ciremei mointain in the far background.
When we arrived in Pekalongan, I was surprised again by the little things that, in some countries they might be very ordinary, but in Indonesia, it was a nice breakthrough. There was a charging corner, so the passanger can now charge their cellphone and laptop while waiting for their trains. This is amazing because the only other place I have ever seen providing such facility is Dubai International Airport. Even I have not found it in Birmingham or Hamburg airport and Berlin central station. I was amazed that a train station in a small town in Java provides such facility. Near the charging point, there was a small artificial fountain with real green tropical plants without flowers. This is good, because children or even adults tend to pluck flowers and that could harm the plants. Apart from that, there was also a smoking area and the station even facilitates people to separate trash from organic and non organic ones. This looks more and more like europe I feel.
All and all, I am very pleased with the improvements that the Indonesia railway operator, PTKAI has made. I hope they do not stop here and I hope that Indonesian ship operator and airports can follow their breakthrough. There are also compromises, the street vendor have to work somewhere else now, but this ensures the safety (from pickpocket) and comfort of the passangers. The trains and station are also easier to clean and maintain. I hope the people will help take care of the new facilities or at least do not harm it with cheap vandalism.