Lasem Train Station: Old and Neglected

 

People are wondering whether there’s any direct train ride to Lasem. Well, unfortunately there’s no more. Indeed, the station remains there to date, but it hasn’t been in operation since 1989.

On our visit to Lasem in the middle of September last year, my friends and I got the chance to drop by the Lasem Train Station. Our tour guide, Mas Pop, recalled his past memories, saying, “Back in 80s I still had the opportunity to ride the train from Rembang (to Lasem).”

However, when we set foot in the station, the rail tracks were even nowhere to be seen anymore. What remains at the station, which lies in the village of Dorokandang, is an office building adjoined with the platforms. Aside from that, the bathroom building that is coupled with a water tower is still there, but everything is in a very poor condition.

A good number of trucks and buses were parked in the front yard of the station. Since the station ceased to operate, the local people have been using the plots of the station’s ground as a parking lot. That afternoon, we stumbled across a man who was drowsily lying on a bench, and at the end of the platform si mbok (a term used to address a middle-aged woman) was arranging her merchandise on her small stall.

Albeit the damage, we could still see the grandeur of the station through the office building’s particularly great sized doors and windows. But what grabbed my attention was the swallow-tail-shaped roof of the station building. It jogged my memory of the distinct architectural style of the roofs the Chinese people’s old houses in Lasem, which is a typical style of Fujian houses in South China.

“Do you want to stroll along the rail tracks?” Mas Pop offered. Because the sun was already setting, we decided to carry on with the journey on the following day.

On the next day, we commenced the journey from Babagan on a motorbike, tripping along the rail tracks. We found that most of the railway area has been converted into a street, and plenty of dwellings have been erected along it. Every now and then we caught a glimpse of farmlands and fields. In several areas, there were signboards that read, “This land is owned by Indonesian Railways Co.” We kept on riding the motorbike towards the borderline separating Babagan from Keraskepoh.

Here we came across a former railway bridge that is still in use until today, connecting the two villages. But unluckily we weren’t able to go on to Keraskepoh Village as the street was getting more and more difficult to pass through. It was an unpaved road that stretched through grasslands and teak forests, surfaced with a great number of gravels. Argh! We would’ve been able to carry on with the journey to the south towards Pamotan if we’d gone on a bicycle!

Lasem Train Station used to be a stopping point of trains en route to or from Semarang and Jatirogo in East Java. Since the dawn of 20th century, as private capital investment was increasingly flowing into the Dutch East Indies, more and more privately-owned companies as well as companies owned by individuals had been granted the concessions to exploit and manage the natural resources in the Indies. As such, the need to build infrastructure for the transportation of goods increased.

It was Semarang Joana Stroomtram Maatschappij  who was granted the right to build a railway track that would stretch from Semarang all the way to Jatirogo, Blora, and Cepu. This railway track would later become a key rail route as it linked Semarang, the port city, to other cities along the north Java coastal line, such as Demak, Kudu, Pati, Juana, and Rembang. These cities became departure points where crops, such as coffee beans, cotton, tobacco, sugar canes, and teak wood, as well as ocean resources like salt and fish were transported quickly and more cheaply to neighboring regions. The construction of this railway track was carried out in a couple of phases, and several branch lines were also built, thus connecting Juana to Tayu and Jepara, Rembang to Blora and Cepu, and Lasem to Pamotan and Jatirogo.

The construction of this 415km-long railway tracks was completed in 1919. Sadly, these rail routes were gradually losing their popularity in 1980s and ceased to operate completely in 1987. Nevertheless, the remnants of Lasem Train Station and the other stations along these railway tracks, such as Kudus and Rembang stations, are still worth a visit, particularly if you’re a train maniac.

Although all the former station buildings have been converted into a marketplace (Kudus Station), a bus station (Rembang Station), or a parking lot (Lasem Station), those buildings are still worth being photographed, or ‘instagrammable,’ say today’s youths. My suggestion is that, if you’re planning to visit Lasem by your private car, spare some time to drop by the train station and trace the heyday of railway routes along the northern coast of Java.  Or if you’re into bicycling, you could try the bicycling tour and take the Lasem-Pamotan track, for instance. Although the track goes a bit uphill, your effort will get paid off by the picturesque views along the way.

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