• Wednesday, 24 July 2024

Steam Trams: Steel Coffins of Colonial Era

Steam Trams: Steel Coffins of Colonial Era
Trem Uap di Batavia sering jadi biang keladi kecelakaan maut di Batavia | KILTV

SEAToday.com, Jakarta-Traffic accidents in the colonial time occur almost everyday. The difference was the cause of the accident, as they weren't caused by buses, minibuses, and cars.

Not many transportation modes could be used in the Dutch East Indies times. Transportation modes were limited, even in Batavia (now Jakarta) which was considered as the government center and economy hub. The options were carriages and ships.

Proper mass transportation didn't exist back then. However, a breakthrough happened in the 1860s. At that time, the Dutch East Indies government permitted the use of horsecars. The Dummler & Co. was appointed to manage horsecars in the area, and the first one was operated in 1869.

Horsecars were drawn by three to four horses. It received lots of love from the public. Those who praised the newfound transportation mode thought of it as a symbol of development.

It was also seen as human's triumph. However, those praises died down naturally. Horsecars presented many problems, one of them being littered environment as the horses didn't have a specific place to defecate.

Moreover, many horses died of exhaustion as they were overworked. The government eventually had the idea to stop horsecars and start the use of steam trams.

However, it wasn't easy. Dummler & Co. couldn't stop just like that. The absence of public transportation would cause chaos. Therefore, steam trams and horsecars were operated simultaneously in 1883.

"Steam trams were introduced for city transportation in 1883. The routes were Batavia/BEOS Station (now Jakarta Kota Station) - Molenvliet/Gajah Mada Street - Harmoni - Waterlooplein (now Lapangan Banteng) - Senen - Kramat - Meester Cornelis," said historian Mona Lohanda in the book "Sejarah Pembesar yang Mengatur Batavia" (2007).

The routes and facilities of the steam tram were transformed in 1884. Nederlandsch-Indische Tramweg Maatchappij (NITM) replaced Dummler & Co. as the company that managed the transportation in the area. They improved steam trams and gradually stopped the operation of horsecars.

The people of Batavia, both Europeans and natives, warmly welcomed steam trams. The bell indicating the arrival of the steam tram was highly anticipated. They found steam trams helpful. Not long after, steam trams became a prima donna among the public.

"In 1882, in the words of a special commission from the educated Indisch genootschap, trains and small railways or trams in the Dutch East Indies were the most beneficial out of all inventions. It was the most brilliant victory over time and distance, the most powerful intensive for hard work, exchange of values, and civilization," said Rudolf Mrazek in the book "Engineers of Happy Land" (2006).

Cause of Deadly Accidents

Steam trams first operated smoothly. The amount of passengers increased as years went by. However, that very popularity brought a problem. The bell, once heard as music to the public's ears, turned into the sound of a a funeral bell.

The steam trams were operated recklessly. In fact, most deadly accidents at that time were caused by steam trams, which often resulted in casualties every 4 hours.

The accidents didn't discriminate. It killed both animals and humans, Europeans and natives, as well as those with ranks and commoners. The local papers often reported the deadly accidents.

"Like explained, steam trams often hit pedestrians, sometimes to death. After the steam trams were operated, local papers in Batavia reported steam tram-related accidents almost every week. They could hit pedestrians to death or hit a horsecar. One of the victims was a soldier," said Dimas Wahyu Indrajaya in the book "Trem di Jakarta 1869-1962" (2015).

The people of Batavia felt disappointed by the high number of steam tram-related casualties, despite the steam trams being operated by trained drivers and conductors. At that time, every one driver was accompanied by two conductors.

Locals then referred to steam trams as the biggest killer to ever roam the streets of Batavia. The Betawi people then nicknamed the managing company, NITM, as "Naik Ini Tentu Mati" which translates to "If you ride this, you will surely die".

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