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Published by membersonly, 2018-12-20 13:39:02


22nd December 2018

BLNI Extra 47 – Myanmar (Burma) II

[D52] Burma (Myanmar) – The difficulties of travelling by train in Myanmar
The former British colony of Burma, now known as Myanmar, has a fascinating railway system that
presents significant challenges for the traveller off the major tourist routes. As their third holiday in
the country PTG Tours travelled not only on the lines connecting the major tourist areas, but also on
some lines not normally taken by tourists, using their own chartered train which comprised one
upper class carriage, sometimes an ordinary class carriage as well, and a goods/guards van, all
locomotive hauled. The opportunity was taken to quiz the railway staff on board the train, as well as
station staff, through the offices of the groups local guide. The information received or displayed at
stations proved to be of variable quality or even contradictory so verification from as many sources
as possible (as well as asking the same question with different phrasing) was needed to come up
with something close to the truth. The problem seems to be that since you ask them a question,
they feel compelled to give you an answer – even if it is only partially correct or in one case absolute
rubbish! So, much of the information reported in this Extra cannot be considered definitive, but is
likely to be near the true situation. Wherever possible personal observation is used to provide
additional information.
Myanma Railways (MR) do not issue timetables and the timetables on the wall at all but a few
‘tourist’ stations are in Burmese script (including numbers), and the Group was warned on countless
occasions that it may not be current anyway. The Man in Seat 61 website quotes times for trains
used by tourists, but some of these were ascertained to be wrong so it’s not surprising he’s always
asking for current timings. The MR website provides no maps, timings (or indeed anything to do
with timetables) and is useless except as a reference for the dates lines opened. Closures are never
mentioned. There are limited electronic information screens in the entire country (seen only at
Yangon, for Express and Mail trains, and Nay Pyi Taw) and all trains are unlabelled, carrying no signs
to help intending passengers. Locals either know, or ask. Either way, a westerner isn’t going to get
very far with ‘Mingalabar’, the accepted form of greeting although it actually translates as “we are
blessed”. While it’s difficult to buy tickets and identify trains to off the beaten track destinations, it’s
not impossible and travellers manage it with help from English speaking staff (few) or locals. A lady
called Jan who has been visiting Burma and travelling on the railways for years describes what can
go wrong in one of her blogs.

Elaborate enquiries had suggested that there was just one train each day from Yangon Central Station to
Thilawa, leaving at 12:15 in the afternoon and not returning until the evening. Each time I'd considered
attempting this journey, something had intervened to prevent me. So, with an unexpected surge of
confidence, having succeeded in my book purchases, I took a cab to Yangon Central Station and made
my way to the suburban booking office on platform 6/7 where they speak some English.
In the hope of avoiding confusion, I'd written the destination, time and ticket price (in 'Roman' characters)
on a piece of paper. The ticket clerk confirmed that my information was correct, and immediately issued
me with a ticket (but written in Myanmar characters). With suburban trains coming and going regularly,
identifying the correct departure remained a problem but the ticket clerk assured me that he would alert
me to the right train. A few minutes later, the clerk re-appeared and directed me to a Diesel Multiple Unit
standing in the Western part of the platform. Since my destination was east, I queried this. "Thilawa,

Thilawa" he re-assured me. Well, I knew that some eastbound trains started from the western end of the
platform so I felt I had no alternative but to board the indicated train. Almost immediately, an inspection
of tickets took place. The ticket inspector studied my ticket very carefully but was satisfied so I once
again enquired whether the train was for Thilawa. He was emphatic that it was; just before the train set
off westwards on a long clockwise circuit of the Circle line which didn't take me to Thilawa.
I still don't know what went wrong with my careful arrangements except that travelling on the Circle Line
is something of a 'Rite of Passage' for many foreign tourists, so perhaps they just thought 'Foreign
Tourist - Put her on the next Circle Line Train'. I never tire of watching the passing scene on the Circle
Line so, lacking the energy to bound off the train and plan another adventure, I meekly accepted my fate
and travelled around most of the Circle Line.

Reinforcing this, our two members when correctly on the way to Thilawa couldn’t help but notice
two lost looking westerners alight from their train at Industry, the first stop on the branch after the
reversal at Toegyaunggalay and a lengthy overshoot from the Yangon Circular Railway which was
probably their intention…

[D53] Myanmar - The Yangon tram line observed
Yangon previously had a tramway network which closed down during World War II. A pair of metre
gauge railbuses operated a service for a time in 2015 before the electrification masts were installed
(or maybe re-installed). After a day working along Strand Road they ran to Pazundaung and then to
Mahlwagon depot. Plans for electrification were obviously already in progress as the metre gauge
Yangon Harbour Railway had been converted to dual metre gauge/1435mm ready for standard
gauge trams. Electric trams made a comeback on 11 January 2016, funded by Japanese investment.
The single line service ran along Strand Road between Wardan Jetty and Linsadaung in Botataung
Township, a journey of around 4.8 kilometres. The tram was a single 3-coach unit from Hiroshima in
Japan and was 50-years old.
The tram ran just 6 times each day, from 8:00 am to 16:00 with a fare of MMK100 (Burmese kyat) -
around USD 8 cents. It was planned to extend west from Wardan Jetty to Kyeemyindaing, and east
from Linsadaung to Pazundaung Township, which would bring the length of the line to 11.3
kilometres. These extensions were due to be completed later in 2016, but according to local sources
the tram was not popular and considered rather expensive. It was certainly disruptive to traffic
flows, and as a result stopped running on 1 July 2016 after only six months of operation.

The tram stop on Strand Road approximately opposite the Strand Hotel is seen on the right of the picture with the dual gauge tracks clearly
visible. The difficulties the tram would have had with parked and moving traffic can be imagined.

[D54] Myanmar (Burma) – Yangon’s eastern railway lines

Many visitors to Yangon include a visit to the Yangon Circular railway as part of their itinerary, but
few visit the eastern part of the suburban network which comprises three branches. With the aid of
a local guide two members covered all three eastern branches, the whole journey taking twelve
hours. Two owe their existence to the presence of Universities. The Yangon University was closed
for most of the 1990s due to student unrest, and the Military Government dispersed the existing
institutions and departments that made up Yangon University into separate learning institutions
scattered throughout the surrounding areas to avoid students congregating. In 2006 branches
opened to two of these new Universities – Dagon University and the University of East Yangon
(Eastern University). A year later a short branch to Computer University opened in the north of the
city, but latest reports are that this has closed temporarily as part of the reduction of trains on the
western side of the Yangon Circular railway due to track renewal works.

The days travel started at Yangon Central Station with the 06:40 train to Eastern University hauled
by DD936. This takes the main line towards Bago, calling all stations to Toegyaunggalay (also spelt
Togyaunggale) where the train ran into track four on the side of the station away from the station
building, with the locomotive promptly coming off to run round. Departure was delayed while a
procession of trains went past in each direction, but finally the train departed, going over a major
road with hand operated barriers and taking the line towards Ok Bosu (also spelt Okkphosu and Oak
Pho Su) which opened 31 July 1993.
At this point our members became aware of an unusual sign in the carriage. No smoking or littering
they could understand, but no kissing?

The first stop is identified on the MR system map as Industrial Zone 1, and it is indeed set in an area
of warehouses and factories, but the name on the station name board is simply Industrial. The line
runs through an area of shanties, many built on stilts over small ponds, and after a while a long
siding facing south can be seen on the right on a causeway across a long pond. The presence of large
piles of timber give a clue to its likely function, but a missing rail at the junction confirms it to be
disused. After Kwema station the line bends west then south to approach the Yangon – Thanlyin
bridge which crosses the River Bago and is 2.2 km long. The road splits to run on either side of the
central railway line. It was built with Red Chinese assistance and opened in 1993. Aung Thukha
station is shown on some Myanma Railways Yangon area maps as on the north side of the river, but
this is wrong – it is actually on the south side. The urban area is left behind and ahead is Ok Bosu
station), which is the junction station. The line to Eastern University opened 1 June 2006 and goes
south east, making just one call at a small un-named halt. Eastern University station is a few

hundred metres from the University itself, and curiously the station name boards say Easten
University, an error perpetuated on some older official MR maps.

The platform at Eastern University, where the refreshment stall had set out the plastic chairs and tables so beloved by the people of
Myanmar. It had been noted that when the train from Yangon called at a station en route, loud music, usually terribly distorted, had
started playing and local people had come round the train with collecting tins. This, it transpired, was for the Full Moon festival, the money
collected going to good causes. Fortunately, the music is turned off when train and passengers depart, so the speakers on the left of the
picture did not trouble our members enjoying drinks whilst waiting for the train to depart.

The train was late arriving, but after running round it did not depart immediately, so presumably the
driver needed his break. Departure was about 30 minutes late. Our members returned to
Toegyaunggalay and had coffee and snacks in a nearby cafe while waiting for the train from Yangon
to Dagon University. This must come in on track 5 as this is effectively the start of the branch
because the track runs parallel with the Bago line for 3 kilometres until finally diverging north for
the short journey to Dagon University station. The branch opened 4 March 2006. The locomotive
ran round while our members guide bought tickets from the ticket office.

Locomotive DF1238 runs round at the north end of Dagon University station. The only buildings anywhere near the station
are the University itself, a hundred metres to the left of the picture.

It is not possible to get return tickets or (normally) to buy them on the train. They again returned to
Toegyaunggalay and awaited the key train of the day. This was the 12:20 Yangon to Thilawa. The
only other train to Thilawa leaves Yangon at 04:00, so was not an attractive proposition! Like the
Eastern University train this arrived on track 4 and locomotive DD932 ran round. Local trains are
completely unidentifiable – they have no destination boards – the station departure boards, if they
exist, are indecipherable as even numbers are in Burmese script so the only way to be sure that you
are on the correct train is to ask station staff, bystanders or people on the train! This was where the
local guide proved invaluable. The train left on time and proceeded to Ok Bosu again, this time to
diverge south west onto the Thilawa branch which opened 15 November 2003. This branch proved
something of a surprise as, apart from Thilawa station itself, all the other stops are actually level
crossings, with only the front coach on the crossing. Correction - there is a little station serving
Navatime University (so all three branches from Toegyaunggalay serve a University).

A moment of panic for our two members as the train to Thilawa stopped at a red flag on the track. Could the line be closed
for some reason? Fortunately, this was not the case. The red flag was to warn of men working on the track ahead, and once
they had moved aside, the flag was removed and the train continued cautiously past the work area.

Approaching Thilawa the line runs alongside some major industry, largely petrochemicals. Cruise
ships dock nearby, so Thilawa is the first place many tourists see in Burma. There are sidings behind
a wire fence, and a number of ex-Japanese DMUs were stored there. There were more stored at the
station, and according to the stationmaster had been there for about 9 months. Presumably they
arrived by ship and are waiting to be recommissioned as many others of the same type are already
in service, many reducing the number of locomotive hauled services on the Yangon Circular Railway.

DD932 starts its run round at Thilawa, passing a line of three ex-Japanese railways railcars, still carrying the JR logos.

On the return the train was halted before the junction to allow a late running train from Eastern
University to call at Ok Bosu, then the train was held at Ok Bosu while the same train cleared the
section. By the time our members train had run round on track 1 at Toegyaunggalay (a bay platform
with run-round loop used by all services off the branch) it was dark, and all the trains passed coming
out of Yangon were extremely busy. At the end of a long day it was a relief to see the ghostly green
outline of the plinthed steam engine outside Yangon station in all its neon glory.

Some plinthed steam engines are hidden away behind buildings or vegetation, but the 'Baltic' tank, As144, at Yangon stations
eastern end, certainly doesn’t hide its green neon lights under a bushel!

[D55] Myanmar (Burma) Yangon dock lines
A participant on the PTG tour walked what was thought to be the defunct tram/metre gauge dual
gauge line east from the city centre near the Strand Hotel stop via the Docks area to the main line
near Pazundaung and discovered at least part of the Yangon Harbour Railway (also known as the
Strand Road Railway) was in use along the Strand, which is the main road along the waterfront of
the city. He first came across a junction opposite the Botahtaung Pagoda where a west facing track
crossed the six lane road at a 45° angle to reach a gated yard reached via a double shunt. The yard
contained one siding and a few box wagons adjacent to a hard-standing unloading platform. From
the junction by the Pagoda shiny track continued east for 1.3km, though the tramway wires were no
longer taut over the rails in many places due to broken supports, so it is very unlikely any service will
resume. After a few hundred metres our member found he was walking through an open-air lorry
repair yard with limited space, so vehicles going to and from this facility were blocking the rails. The
last section of dual gauge track and wires were just after a tram stop immediately before the main
road turned 90° north but the metre gauge rails continued via a gated level crossing over a minor
road, immediately splitting into two tracks, both with signs of use. As shanty housing had been built
alongside the rails here, prudence prevailed and the route onwards to the main line was only
followed on parallel roads as opposed to along the formation with short walks to view the line at

each of the eight [!] level crossings. Almost all were over busy roads, so this, coupled with the
shanty housing would have meant much disruption and very slow progress for any special train
(PTGs request for a special train down the Yangon Harbour Railway had been refused).
Approximately halfway from the Docks towards the main line, showed a short siding
heading east and this was still in situ and despite not showing sign of recent use it served what a
notice described as Myanma Railways Pazundaung Workshops which was still in use at the very
least for old DMU storage. Three vehicles could be seen through the fence but an attempt at
requesting a visit by showing digital images of other MR trains to the security guard at the gate was
The six-track main line was eventually reached alongside a footbridge totally ignored by all locals,
and a fascinating hour and a half was then spent in the area photographing an almost constant
procession, albeit very slow moving, of light engines and short goods trains, plus local and main line
passenger services ranging from ex Japan Railways DMU’s to locomotive hauled commuter trains
and even a 16 coach overnight express.

[D56] Myanmar (Burma) – Dry Ports open for rail traffic
On 11 November 2018 KM Terminal & Logistics Ltd and Resource Group officially opened two
separate dry port projects in Ywar Thar Gyi, Yangon. Ywar Thar Gyi is on the Yangon to Bago railway.

A dry port is an inland intermodal terminal directly connected by road or rail. KM invested over
US$50 million) in both ports. Two members had passed by the new sidings two days before the
official opening whilst travelling to Kyaikhto and back. The locomotive and container train which
would be used for the opening was shunting around the sidings and preparation for the great day
was very obviously in progress. There appeared to be the beginnings of a short branch at the north
end as well, but no details could be discerned.
Meanwhile, Myanmar-owned RG has invested US$40 million in a similar project under which freight
trains will run from its Ywar Thar Gyi dry port in Yangon to its Myit Nge dry port, south of Mandalay,
which opened in May. From Google earth images the KM terminal at Myit Nge appears to be served
by its own 600 metre branch off the Mandalay to Yangon main line
The two projects are expected to help improve Myanmar’s logistics network, admitted by the
Myanmar Minster of Transport and Communication at the opening ceremony to be ‘not good’.
The Yangon dry ports will handle cargo directly transferred from the Yangon river ports and Thilawa
ports and help to alleviate traffic congestion on the roads. According to a local source, freight from
the petrochemicals and Industrial complex at Thilawa cannot leave by rail due to weight restrictions
on the Yangon-Thanlyin river bridge.
Meanwhile a South Korean company is conducting a feasibility study for a dry port in Monywa,
Sagaing Region, and another one planned for Mawlamyine in Mon State.

An immaculate ex-Indian Railways YDM4, now owned by Myanmar Railways and renumbered DF1363 gets the green flag to
depart with its container train from the opening ceremony. The locomotive and train had been noted there two days earlier
by two members passing by.

[D57] Myanmar (Burma) – Miscellaneous observations from the PTG Tour

Until 2006 the railway from Yangon to Ye was interrupted by the Thanlwin (Salween) River, which
required a ferry crossing from Mottama, then local transport to a small terminus station in the
southern outskirts of the city for onward travel to Ye. This ended with the opening of the Thanlwin
bridge which carries both road and rail over the river with viaducts at both ends over flood plain and
city streets. The former South station was closed, but tracks remain for use by locomotives coming
off the diesel depot, which reverse there. The station building is disused and decaying, while
adjacent sidings are full of old rolling stock. The line beyond, which went to the river, is out of use.

The Thanlwin bridge, seen from the PTG group hotel. This is the second longest bridge in Myanmar and carries road and rail
over the Salween River.

A new station, reportedly built to the standards of an "ASEAN railway station", was opened on 17
April 2006, and is an impressive structure with stock stabled in the sidings opposite. This was the
starting point for the PTG Tour, which proceeded over the Thanlwin bridge and was able to observe
a locomotive on the right-hand side on the former line to the ferry terminal. Staff confirmed the line
was still open for occasional traffic, with permanent way trains and military specials being quoted.
The former steam shed near the new, elevated, Mottama station is still present and saw use for
visiting steam specials in 2017 or early 2018.

The 36.3km branch from Thahton to Myaingalay (Myaing Ka Lay) and the Rhino Cement factory
opened in 1988. In 2016 the stationmaster at Thahton claimed that a passenger train ran to
Myaingalay village every tenth day at 10:35, but when the line was requested for the PTG tour in
2018, they were told (and it was confirmed by the stationmaster) that the line was closed due to
washouts caused by flooding and the passenger service had ended.

Thahton railway station has a wire fence dividing the platform. Questions as to its function got different answers from
different people. One claimed it was because Thahton was formerly in a restricted area and the fence was needed to ensure
everyone had their documents inspected at the gate. Another said it was to stop Myanma Railways staff selling illegally
imported electronic gadgets to the locals in the Military Government era.

Maps of Burma continue to show a line between Pyawbwe (on the Yangon – Thazi – [Mandalay]
railway and Payangazu (on the Thazi to Kalaw and Schwe Nyaung railway). This would allow trains
from Yangon to avoid reversal at Thazi and proceed directly onto the line to Kalaw. Not anymore.
The southern half of the line from Pyawbwe has been closed for several years due to condition of
track. The northern half from Payangazu was retained to serve a quarry, but traffic ended in 2016,
so the entire line is now closed and this was confirmed by observation of both ends.
A kilometre north of Nay Pyi Taw railway station a new locomotive factory was observed on the
eastern side of the main line to Mandalay. This was sited on a one-kilometre branch and, with
Chinese assistance, will produce about 20 new locomotives a year with 2000 hp engines capable of
110 km/h. Such speeds may seem a joke when it considered that the current line speed between
Yangon and Mandalay is only half that, but change is coming. The metre gauge double track line is
to be upgraded over its entire 622 km length in three phases. The first phase from Yangon to
Taungoo (287km) is expected to be complete by 2020 and will completely renew the infrastructure
for 100 km/h running. Huge piles of ballast can be seen along the lineside at many locations. Phase 2

will be the 153 km between Taungoo and Yamethin, and phase 3 the 182 km from Yamethin to
Mandalay. Once complete the journey time end to end will reduce from 16 hours to 8 hours. As part
of the project new bridges and modern signalling will be installed, which means an end to the signal
boxes and semaphores which give the line much of its character. Many still use the original British
equipment. Thazi is an important junction on the Yangon – Mandalay railway, with branches to
Schwe Nyaung/Yaksauk, and Myingyan. The Myingyan line used to be accessible from both the
north and south ends of the station, but the southern line is completely out of use. The PTG tour
had received permission to enter the diesel depot which is on a separate short branch, reached
from the south by a double shunt from north of the station. No less than three steam engines are
present, one a beautifully repainted Garratt.

The PTG tour proceeds into Thazi locomotive depot along the short depot branch which is reached by a reversal behind the
station. Curious locals watch as the train heads for the gate.

The loco allocation board in the office at Thazi depot. Note in the bottom left hand corner that DF2007 is allocated to trains
153/154. In fact the loco can ONLY do trains 153/154 as it is on an isolated section of railway.

[D58] Myanmar (Burma) - From Kyaikhto to Madauk
This was day 2 of the PTG Tour charter train, and started from Kyaikhto, which is the station for the
major tourist site at Golden Rock and therefore well geared up for western tourists, including a
limited selection of train times in English. Not surprisingly the direct train pair between Nay Pyi Taw
and Mawlamyine was not included: Nay Pyi Taw may be the capital of Burma, but it is barely on the
tourist trail. This is the only service to take a railway which connects the Yangon – Kyaikhto and
Yangon – Mandalay lines, thereby avoiding running via Bago, and would be the route taken by the
After Kyaik Ka Thar the railway turns more to the north and runs close to the Sittaung river to Moke
Pa Lin. On an earlier trip one eagle-eyed member had spotted a former steam loco tender in use as
a water tower, and this was observed and photographed whilst passing. Apparently it has been used
to water steam specials in the recent past.

Former steam locomotive tender now used as a water tower at Moke Pa Lin, north of the short branch to the
former locomotive depot

Two kilometres north of here the old line to the first Sittaung River Bridge used to diverge. The first
bridge had been built in 1908, but was blown up by Allied Forces in February 1942. The piers can still
be seen from the new road bridge. After such a long time there is no trace of the junction – only the
fact that the old line is marked on Maps-me enables the course to be spotted. Thein Ya Zat is an
interesting station. It is the boundary between two operating divisions, so crews and staff change
over here. The stationmaster’s office had an old track diagram, which showed that the station was
in fact a junction. The branch can still be seen, first passing over, then on the far side of a parallel
street, then diverging away onto embankment. It used to serve a paper mill until recently, but the
group were told that this was being relocated and certainly the line looked disused. Google Earth
suggests it was only 1-1.5km long, but possibly it was once of greater length.
A short distance north west is the new Sittaung River bridge built between 1957-1961. This steel
truss bridge is 716 metres long and has lanes for road and rail, though heavy vehicles cannot use the
bridge and must go via the new road bridge (next to the remains of first railway bridge) some six
kilometres south, and just about visible from the new railway bridge. This bridge is on embankment
for some distance as the Sittaung is prone to flooding.
Sat Thwar Chon is the junction for the line to Daik U used by the Mawlamyine to Nay Pyi Taw train
pair mentioned earlier. The 38km to Ein Chay Lay Se, where the tracks start to run parallel to the
Yangon – Mandalay main line, are an absolute stagger. Daik-U to Sittaung opened 21 April 2007 and
there are four small stations, seemingly all well away from any possible source of traffic.

The busy ticket office at Myit Kyo station

A call was made at Myit Kyo, where the photograph of the ticket office reflects the leisurely life style
that can be adopted with only two trains a day to worry about. Much of the line is dead straight
through a flat landscape of rice fields.

Landscapes in lowland Burma can be uninspiring, with only the occasional peasant and water buffalo to add interest as the
train goes slowly by.

Once Ein Chay Lay Se is reached it is a further 3.5 km to the much large town of Daik-U where faster
speeds up the main line to the north were possible.
Approaching Pyuntaza old steam engines were visible on the left, and the groups local guide
casually asked if the group wanted to have a look at them. When you have a senior railway official

on board such decisions can be made at a moment’s notice, so thirty seconds later the train stopped
by the signal box and the group were invited to visit this first.

The lever frame carried a WB & SS Co. Ltd stamp (Westinghouse Brake and Saxby Signal Co. Ltd) and the track diagram
showed that it controlled Pyuntaza South End Yard.

The depot is surrounded by a wall, but a gap guarded by a suspicious looking cow allowed access
and a variety of permanent way machines and LRBE (Local Rail Bus Engine) were in residence.

Pyuntaza shed with a four-wheel LBRE of a design made in Burma using a lorry chassis next to the shed, which now sees little

The star turns however were the stored steam engines, both inside and outside the shed.

Withdrawn steam engine outside the shed at Pyuntaza

After a quick visit the participants re-joined the train, casually parked on the main line, and set off
for the junction station of Nyaunglebin. The Tour Manager had been informed that due to recent
heavy rain, tracks in the middle of the branch to Madauk were still being repaired, and a locomotive
hauled train could not pass. Instead the group would be transferred to a ‘small train’. What was
this? A draisine or LBRE?
The Madauk branch was one of the last strongholds of steam in metre gauge Burma, and the locos
which worked the line, and others from different locations, were the ones the group had seen at
Pyuntaza depot earlier.
The branch is worked by RBE (Rail Bus Engine), which are single railcars. The service pattern is
designed to make it difficult for gricers as there is just one train pair, starting from Madauk in the
morning and returning late afternoon. It’s a bus back (if you can find one) or an overnight stay
(assuming there’s a hotel).
After 12.5 km the train stopped near the station of Inn Waing, about 50 metres from a single RBE on
the same track. It was threatening rain, so no time was lost in transferring the group to the RBE,
which had a number of locals on board who had been pleased to find an earlier departure than the
one they anticipated! There was a fine view of the track ahead for the remaining 6km to Madauk,
which is a medium-sized town on the banks of the Sittaung River. Rain was coming down quite
heavily when the train arrived and after photographs from suitable cover the group rapidly made
their way to the waiting coach for the two-hour journey to Bago.

RBE at Madauk station in the rain. A heard of cows grazed peacefully between the train and the buffer stops.

[D59] Myanmar (Burma) - A ride on a train not known to be running
Myanma Railways having declined to run a special train on any part of the Taunggyi to Mong Nai
railway the PTG group were expecting a leisurely day travelling by coach from their hotel on Lake
Inle south to Loikaw, calling at the Kakku pagoda en-route. As the route passed through Taunggyi,
the fifth city of Myanmar and the largest in Shan State, it was decided to call in at the railway
station, which is located in the south of the city.
The line from Schwe Nyaung to Taunggyi opened 24 December 1997, and connected with the
formerly isolated railway Taunggyi - Harmon – Banyan (53km opened 27 July 1996). It was 33.5 km
long and had to take a circuitous route to the north of the ridge on which Taunggyi stands. The line
was built by the Army to a poor standard and had steep gradients. According to local information
passenger trains ran for about three years, but the presence of a much more direct road meant
patronage was poor, so services ceased and the railway was freight only until it closed in 2016. The
junction at Schwe Nyaung had been observed to be disused, and the Taunggyi end was in a similar
state as far as the station run round loop. Much to their surprise there were carriages in the
platform, and a locomotive visible in the distance. It was evident that the information received,
admittedly second-hand, ‘that the railway was not operating as it was under reconstruction due to
poor condition of track’ was incorrect!

Myanma Railways obviously don’t see the point of providing a dedicated fuelling facility for one locomotive,
so DF2007 is being refuelled from plastic containers.

Taunggyi station, seen from where loco DF2007 stands near the inspection pit. The two boxcar carriages and brake van which
will form the train to Hseik Khaung stand in the single platform.

The station departure board was also incorrect, but it was soon established that there was one train
pair daily. This left Hseik Khaung at 05:00, arriving Taunggyi at 08:00, returning at 14:20, with arrival
in Hseik Khaung at 17:25. Plans were rapidly changed, and the group headed off in the coach for
some local pagoda sightseeing and lunch before returning to the station an hour before the booked
departure time, as this was when the stationmaster arrived with his wooden box full of Edmondson
tickets. He refused to sell tickets to Hseik Khaung, claiming it was a restricted area, but was happy to
sell singles to Kakku.
Loco DF2007, now finished from its refuelling from containers of diesel, started up and dropped
onto the train. The group had cunningly bagged most of the wooden seats in one carriage, which
proved a good move as the train was full and standing on departure.

The stationmaster with his wooden box full of Edmondson tickets is persuaded to sell a group of mad
westerners tickets on the 14:20 to Hseik Khaung as far as Kakku.

Boxcar carriage.

The boxcar carriage has wooden seats in the centre and ends. No doors of course.
The view out of the window

The expected slow journey was enlivened by two events. The first was at a level crossing where a
group of western tourists were observed photographing the train, and were delighted to
photograph the crazy westerners actually on the train. The second occurred after 23 km when the
carriage with the tour group derailed at a place called Pone Swe Pin.

The PTG group were in the second carriage, and it was this one which derailed.

Initial estimates of the rerailing time were 30 minutes, but this was soon increased to 60 minutes
and it was decided to abandon the train as there was a road a short walk away and it seemed
unlikely that the train would be on the move again before dark. It had been noted at Taunggyi that
the space under the seats in the first coach were taken up by jacks and other rerailing equipment,
so it is suspected this is a fairly frequent occurrence, backed up by the looks of resignation on the
faces of the local passengers after it occurred. The shadowing coach was summoned by phone from
Kakku and duly arrived to collect the group, give them a short time at Kakku and make the long
journey, mostly in the dark, to their Loikaw hotel ready for the next days journey.

Further investigation has revealed that the service used to run from Taunggyi to Htiyi but was cut
back in 2016 to Hseik Khaung (also spelt Saikkhaung). The stationmaster at Taunggyi said that the
line to Mong Nai and Namsang was only in use as far as Pharmon, but internet sources suggest Htiyi.
A line from Mong Nai to Kengtung, known as the Shan State Railway, was announced with much
fanfare in 2009 but construction was abandoned soon after it started.

[D60] Myanmar (Burma) - The Loikaw to Aung Ban branch
The original plan for the PTG tour was to catch the service train from Loikaw to Aung Ban, and the
brochure even warned of a very early departure and a long day. So, it was with a sense of relief and
puzzlement that the PTG Tour Manager discovered that Myanma Railways were going to run a
special train over the line for the group, despite this meaning an empty stock working of over 200
kilometres. The puzzle was quickly resolved on the day when it was discovered that the single train
pair ran southbound one day and northbound the next. The day of the PTG tour coincided with the
southbound working, so there was no northbound local train to catch! For anyone thinking of
travelling the line the southbound train ran on 18 November 2018, so calculate forwards
accordingly. The branch is 164 km long and opened from Aung Ban to Pinlaung on 7 January 2003,
and Pinlaung to Loikaw on 27 March 2003.

An aerial view shows the lavish setting. Loikaw railway station on a misty morning

The station building is large and impressive, though a little wasted on one train a day. Presumably it
was meant to reflect the status of the city, which is the capital of Kayah state with about 150,000
inhabitants, mainly Kayah (also known as Karen). It was no surprise to see DF2010 had followed the
group south and would be enjoyed for a third day. In fact, enjoyment was the right word: the
branch proved to be both interesting and scenic.
Initially the line heads west following the line of the Pilu river on a small embankment through
around 5km of paddy fields before swinging north west with it. A range of hills soon runs parallel to
the west as Sankar Lake gets closer on the other side.

The line swings north with hills in the distance and paddy fields on both sides

The tour stopped at Lar Whe for a photostop on the lakeside road. Sankar Lake is really a reservoir
on the Pilu river, but very attractive and there are gardens and eating establishments flanking the
road. The locals quickly appeared to take selfies of themselves with the train in the background.

Photostop by Lake Sankar

The train now passed though Pekon station and soon swung west to start the ascent of the range of
hills that runs north to south. The climb features gradients between 1 in 25 and 1 in 17 and twists
winds so at one point it is travelling due south briefly. There were fine views of the distant lake
before the watershed was crossed. A stop was made at the highest point of the railway, as
indicated by a sign (in Burmese script) saying 4921 feet a.s.l. The officials on the train decided to
have a group photo here – they don’t get the chance with the service train!

The tour at the highest point of the Loikaw to Aung Ban railway

The southbound service train was crossed, on time at Te Kyit, with loco DF2011 in charge of the two
carriage train. There were only about 20 passengers aboard, so, frankly, the economics of
maintaining and operating 164 km of track for a handful of passengers each day simply don’t stack
up. Anywhere else in the world an incipient Doctor Beeching would be sharpening his axe.

The station bell is actually a short length of rail

The Aung Ban to Loikaw local train originates from Yangon the previous day and by the time it leaves Aung Ban is reduced to
two carriages and a goods van/brake, on this occasion hauled by DF2011, sister loco to the PTG tours loco DF2010, and both
allocated to Thazi depot. Crossing another train Is a rare event on this line, and the loop obviously doesn’t see a lot of use.

Arrival at Aung Ban was in a through siding adjacent to the separate platform served only by Loikaw
branch trains as it was blocked by a goods wagon, so it was necessary to cross the tracks to the
station building with its massive ticket hall and the waiting coach.

[D61] Myanmar (Burma) – The Mandalay Circular Railway and Madaya
On 5 February 1927 a railway line opened from Mandalay main station to Madaya and this took a
direct route over the moat of the Mandalay Palace, running between the moat and the walls before
crossing the moat again to pass through Thaye Zaye station (also written as Thu Yae Ze) and
proceeding north to Madaya, a distance of 27.5 km. Many maps still show the line between
Mandalay station and Thaye Zay, but, apart from a headshunt north of Mandalay station, it is
completely lifted and no evidence of its existence was apparent whilst driving past. The internet
gives no clues as to when this happened, but it probably coincides with the opening of the
Mandalay eastern circular railway on 1 May 1990.
The PTG tour train to Madaya left Mandalay station southwards on the Yangon line, then swung
east onto the line to Pwin Oo Lwin and Lashio travelled the previous day, as far as the little station
of Tho Chan where the Mandalay Circular Railway turns north, initially through what Maps ME
describes as a ‘Squatter’s neighbourhood’ where shanties have been built right up to the railway in
Indian slum fashion. The quality of housing had improved steadily by the time Nan Shae station was
passed, but a number of large roads must be crossed before more open countryside is reached and
the line can curve west, offering good views of Mandalay Hill and its golden pagoda. Now the line
swings south at the junction to join the original course of the Mandalay – Madaya railway, albeit
heading back towards Mandalay. The station of Oh Bo was passed and a short distance later the
famous market over the tracks was reached. Here people had to move their wares off the tracks and
move aside so the train could pass and reach the station of Thaye Zaye. The train now had to
reverse, and to preserve the standard operating format of locomotive, coaches and goods
van/brake a complex shunting manoeuvre had to be made, which caused considerable further
disruption to the market. In total the loco passed through the market eight times.

As part of the shunting movements to get the brake van on the back of the train, the PTG
tour loco, DD955, passed through the market several times.

The pictures were great, but they must have been glad to see the train go. At this point the train had
been travelling for a total of 25km taking two hours but was only 3 km from where it had started.

The Thaye Zaye market covers the tracks and stallholders have to move aside when a train comes past.

The branch has an interesting service pattern. This is the timetable: Mandalay d. 04:45, Thaye Zaye
a. 06:45/d. 07:20, Madaya a. 08:30/d. 09:15, Thaye Zaye a.10:45/d. 14:00, Madaya a. 15:30/d.
16:15, Thaye Zaye a.17:45/d 18:05, Mandalay a. 20:05
So, the Mandalay to Thaye Zaye via the Mandalay Circular Railway section can only be partially done
in daylight on the morning train, and only in the dark by the evening train. Since it would be faster
to walk from Mandalay station to Thaye Zaye station, it can be assumed that patronage is minimal
and the train over this section is really an empty stock movement to get the train into position for
the two return trips to Madaya. It is, however, possible that many of the stallholders at the Thaye
Zaye market travel on the morning train with their wares, in which case it might be very busy
indeed! Reports would be welcomed!

Heading north towards Madaya the line runs alongside a road for a long distance. Typically, there are three people
in the cab, and at least one of them is catching a breeze from the open door, despite the weather not being especially hot.

The branch train, hauled by DD1211 was crossed at Tang Pyone, allowing the PTG train to
continue north through typical Burmese lowland scenery, to finally swing east and enter Madaya.

The PTG charter is seen at Madaya, spelt Ma Da Ya on the station name boards.

The station is on the south side of what is really a small town, only of consequence as being on
national road 31, which meant the PTG tour bus could be back in Mandalay for afternoon
sightseeing in a fraction of time taken for the journey by rail.

[D62] Myanmar (Burma) – A day trip from Mandalay to Monywa, the long way round
It had been originally planned to make a long circular journey from Mandalay, up the northern
mainline (which goes to Myitkyina) as far as Khin U, then to Monywa and back to Mandalay.
However, before the tour started PTGs agents advised that they thought the timings given by MR
made for an extremely long day, with most of the journey from Monywa to Mandalay being in the
dark. Opinion was canvassed, and it was decided to end the day in Monywa with a three-hour coach
ride back to Mandalay – a much faster option than the train. Nevertheless, it was to be an early
start, with the train leaving at 05:00, which meant crossing the Ava Railway bridge (often called the
Inwa railway bridge nowadays) in the dark. The 16 span bridge was the first bridge across the
Irrawaddy, and was built by the British, who went on to destroy two spans in 1942 in a vain attempt
to stop the advancing Japanese. The bridge was not repaired till 1954, long after the war had ended.
The railway runs downs the middle of the bridge with roadways on either side.

The station at Ywa Htaung marks a Divisional boundary and a stop was made to change crews and
exchange paperwork. Today’s locomotive was DD954, allocated to Kawlin depot in Ywa Htaung
Division. The previous days loco had been DD955, allocated to Mandalay depot, which is Mandalay
Division. After Ywa Htaung the ‘short route’ to Monywa diverges left, but the tour train carried on
up the northern main line towards Myitkyina though flat agricultural countryside. A stop was made
at Myingatha where a single RBE with passengers was waiting – destination unknown, but probably
serving local stations on the line. Both trains waited for an express to come through non-stop
towards Mandalay, hauled by DF1371. The token exchange for the single line was watched with
great interest!

The driver of the PTG charter train smokes a cigarette as the express from Myitkyina passes the
semaphore and the pointsman with his green flag indicates that it is safe to proceed.

Further north is the former capital of Shwebo, surrounded by a square moat, one corner of which is
crossed by the railway, with the station in between the two crossings. It is a sizeable town, much
larger than the tour trains next call at Khin U where the train would reverse.
Khin U is the junction station for the line to Ye-U and Monywa. Butalin – Ye U - Khin U opened in
April 2000, connecting with the railway from Monywa which opened in two stages from 1900 to
There is a small shed, which had a track machine and homemade RBE, but the stay was made
interesting by the shunting movements necessary to get the goods van/brake van onto the back of
the train.

Loco and coaches back up towards the goods van/brake which has been positioned south of the station at Khin U. With the
standard operating formation now achieved, the train could then push back to the station, collect its passengers, and depart
on the track on the right of the picture, which leads towards Monywa.

The 25.7km from Khin U to Ye U is taken at only 20 km/h, which exerts a soporific effect on those
who rise early. It certainly did on the railway officials and security staff. The section apparently has
279 bridges, but the only one of interest is the 23-span bridge over the River Mu, which is combined
road and rail, with traffic stopping to allow the train to pass. A hasty request for a photo stop (made
while crossing the bridge) was arranged by the simple expedient of one of the train crew rushing

forward, leaping through the open front of the carriage and banging on the window of the

The combined road and rail bridge over the River Mu. A new road only bridge alongside is proposed.

A stop was made at Ye U to pick up the lunch boxes of chicken fried rice, freshly delivered and nice
and hot. A table and a few chairs had been placed on the platform by the thoughtful staff, along
with some tea and cakes. As a goodwill gesture the PTG group was paying for the train crews’
takeaway meals throughout the tour. You never know when you might want a photo-stop….

Ye U is one of the more important stations on the Khin U to Monywa railway. The PTG groups lunch
boxes are laid out on the table.

The station of Tin Dean Yan proved interesting for the line of withdrawn MR built railcars and DMU
carriages rusting away in a siding. The design can best be described as ‘interesting’.

Locally built DMU at Tin Dean Yan

An amazing variety of withdrawn Burmese built DMUs and trailers are present at Tin Dean Yan. These home-made products
built on a lorry chassis were obviously not successful.

There is only one train pair between Khin U and Monywa, which leaves Khin U at 05:00 and arrives
Monywa at 14:00. After an hour it sets off back and arrives at Khin U at 21:30. So one end of the
line is always done in darkness, and a very early start or late finish is needed at Khin U, which is a
small town with (presumably) little or no accommodation. There are probably connections into and
out of overnight services, but nevertheless gricing the line must be rather challenging. The PTG tour
was due to cross the 15:00 Monywa to Khin U service at Ahlone station and had been informed it
would be an RBE. So, rather surprised to see a loco hauled train awaiting the arrival of the PTG
Earlier in the day it had been noticed that shows a short branch south of Monywa, and
enquiries to the train crew confirmed it had a passenger service, but the details they gave (and the
information about the information about the local train being an RBE) proved to be complete
nonsense. The journey from Ahlone into Monywa is within sight of the river Chindwin, a major
tributary of the Irrawaddy, and there were many brickworks on this section. Monywa was reached
in daylight, so the opportunity was taken to quiz the station staff, who helpfully and uniquely
brought out a timetable sheet with numbers in English, as opposed to Burmese.
The branch goes to Bodhi Ta Htaung, trains calling en route at the Technical University. Bodhi Ta
Htaung is famous for the Giant Standing Buddha statue, the second tallest in the world, and its
Sāsana (religious) site which contains thousands of Buddha statues beneath thousands of Bo trees.
It’s a major religious site, especially busy at festival times. But, as usual, just one train pair daily. This
leaves Ahlone at 06:30 and arrives at Bodhi Ta Htaung at 08:25, returning at 15:40 and getting back
to Ahlone at 17:40. The return working was actually in the station at Monywa waiting to head to
Ahlone when the tour came in. What a shame that so many lines in Burma are little known outside
the country. If only this information had been known, maybe the PTG tour could have gone to Bodhi
Ta Htaung….
As it was, a long coach journey on good roads back to Mandalay lay ahead.

The timetable sheet for Monywa

[D63] Myanmar (Burma) – Observations on a journey from Mandalay to Bagan and on to Yangon
A participant on the PTG tour arranged an extension to his holiday and here is his report.
On Saturday he was met as promised by a young local guide and she efficiently had him on train 118
to Bagan well before 07:00. As he expected it was the train the tour group had seen on the same
platform on Thursday, and was in fact the same loco, DD1204.

Train no. 118 at Mandalay, prior to departure to Bagan. Saturday 24 November 2018

The consist was 7 vehicles, from the rear a passenger brakevan, 2 boxcars, 3 passenger boxcars, and
an ordinary class carriage in which he rode. It was quite comfortable despite the larger number of
seats compared to upper class and a commensurately larger mouse population. (A mouse was
spotted in one of the carriages used by the PTG tour, definitely without a ticket).
The train departed exactly on time at 07:20, stopping at all suburban stations and picking up more
passengers so most seats became occupied.

Breakfast is served in ordinary class on train 118. Smelt appetising….

A reasonably rapid 50 minute run to the junction at Paliek was followed by a very slow run to Tada
U after which the speed picked up again to probably 30-35kmh for most of the rest of the journey.
On arrival at Suphyugone at 10:40, DD1204 was promptly shut down and he assumed (wrongly) that
it would be to cross train 119 which was believed to be the railcar ex Bagan due into Mandalay at
14:30. However train 117 (the slow train) arrived instead hauled by DD964 and his train departed
moments later at 11:17.
He expected that the railcar would be crossed soon afterwards as it was reported to be timetabled
to overtake the slow train that's advertised into Mandalay at 15:55, a journey of almost 12 hours.
However no appearance by the railcar. It was later found that the timetable has changed and there
is now an overnight train between Bagan and Mandalay and vice versa, rather than the railcar set
running eastbound during the day, and westbound at night.
Incidentally if train 117 made the same running time to Mandalay as our correspondents train (118)
then it would have been around 75 minutes early into there. So has the timetable been speeded up
or simply amended? As per usual with Myanma Railways timetable information, the lack of accurate
confirmed information is a constant irritation.
On arrival at the large junction station of Myingyan at 13:17 the loco was promptly shut down again
until departure at 14:38. There was a mixed passenger and freight consist sitting without a loco on
the main platform here. (Our correspondents train arrived on the second platform, the third

platform appears disused). This included an upper class car, several ordinary class cars, a converted
box car, freight wagon and brakevan. At 13:40 loco DF1603 turned up and that train departed at
13:58, presumably for Thazi.

DF 1603 waits alongside DD1204 at Myingyan on a mixed train to Thazi.

Then at 14:20 RBE 2578/9 turned up from (he guesses Bagan) and departed in the Mandalay
direction 10 minutes later. DD 1204 was fired up again and forward progress resumed, although a
little slower, to the junction at Saka, reached at 14:57.

Saka station, junction of line to Thazi

The combined rail and road bridge was crossed without incident and as soon as the train was on the
bridge westbound road traffic was allowed to follow. Piers for a new road bridge have been
completed on the north side here, but no spans installed yet.

Piers for the new road bridge on the north side of the road/rail bridge at Sin Thay Kan

A couple of glimpses of the big bridge over the Irrawadday were had, then the branch line from
Pakokku was seen coming in at Thithtaunt Jn. The branch had a slight shine on it and a few crushed
weeds. Perhaps just a daily railcar runs? By this time it was evident that unless something
unexpected happened arrival time into Bagan would be much earlier than the 18:45 shown on the
Seat61 website and also advised by the PTG Tours Agents, EPG travel, and so it was, arrival being at
17:15. Bagan being a major tourist destination the trains used by foreigners have times on a board.
This showed that the arrival time of train 118 was now 18:05 rather than the 18:45 our
correspondent had been advised of. That still makes his arrival time of 17:15, 50 minutes early!

DD1204 has just arrived at Bagan at 17:15. According to the timetable board not due until 18:05!

Loco DD966 was in the car shed with a large passenger train including an upper class sleeping car.
Presumably the consist (but not loco?) for the next night's train to Yangon. Although concerned
that his guide might not turn up until 18:45, he was pleasantly surprised to find that he had checked
the arrival time and so he was soon ensconced in the very pleasant Thazin Garden Hotel.
Sightseeing of the many temples and sights at Bagan followed until it was time for his onward
journey to Yangon.
On Tuesday he arrived at Bagan station just as the overnight Yangon train no.62 was docking into
the platform from the south.

Train no.62 awaits its 16:00 departure time to Yangon

Bagan’s status as an important tourist destination is clear from the high quality station name board

Locomotive DF 2064 then ran around the consist in plenty of time for an on time departure at 16:00.
The Man in Seat 61 website says 17:00. He has been informed of the changes at Bagan! The train
consisted (from the rear) of passenger brakevan, special sleeper, 2 ordinary class cars, 1 upper class,
3 ordinary class, and restaurant car leading. In the car shed was loco 962 on another set of

Special sleeping berth. Only one sheet and pillow case supplied.

The lack of corridor connection from the sleeping car turned out not to be a problem. Although he
pre-empted the food situation by asking in the restaurant car prior to departure, the very young
staff also came down and took pre departure orders. Then delicious food and ice cold beers were
delivered later at stops en route.

Restaurant car on no. 62

An interesting feature of the line at Bagan and several stations to the south is facing runaway sidings
on approach to stations even though it is flat terrain. Presumably to be used if an approaching train
is out of control! At 17:42 a 4 wheel railbus was crossed. Later at about 18:00 the trailing junction to
Chauk was noted at Kyaukpadaung. Then at 18:28 a mixed passenger train was crossed in the
gathering dusk. At 20:15 the train stopped at Natmauk, a 4 way junction, and another cold beer
was delivered from the restaurant car. What had been a relatively smooth and sedate pace was now
a bit more rapid and rougher, though not as bad as the run north from Bago experienced by the PTG
tour, which was very bouncy making walking in the coach hazardous. .
So after a rather rough and sleepless night, and being on a top bunk with no visibility, an on time
arrival at Letpandan was slightly surprising. This was a junction station with 2 signalboxes, plenty of
semaphores and some old water columns. Plus a collection of apparently disused railbuses. The line
was quite busy, crossing a passenger train hauled by DF 1339 at Okkan at 08:05, then a local
passenger train was also crossed at Phalon at 08:20. Another local passenger hauled by DF 1255 was
overtaken at Taikkyi at 08:45.
At Hlawega a Japanese railcar was arriving from the south at 09:30, this being a junction and the
start of the double track to Yangon. Twenty minutes later the train was at the Junction for the
circular railway and many food vendors jumped on along the train, despite the train not stopping!
Single line working was still in force south of there and a plant train hauled by DF 2037 was seen at
Aung San Myo. Insein was reached at 10:00, and Yangon at 10:40 (right on time!) after seeing

several more local trains. The local guide from the PTG tour was there to meet him and transfer him
to his hotel.
In the afternoon he caught a train from the nearby Shan Road station back into Yangon hauled by
DF1622, and then took the ferry across the Yangon River to Dala. While on the returning ferry a
train could be heard approaching westbound on the dual gauge track that runs along the Strand.
This turned out to be loco DF 2065 hauling a single wagon. A drink at the old colonial Strand Hotel
was then in order followed by the train back to Shan Road, this time hauled by DD 930, concluding
his rail travels in Myanmar.

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