A Quick Trip To Thailand’s Miracle Metre Gauge Steam Trains

By Dennis Mitchell

Leaving Indonesia

In 1973, we visited Thailand by rail 2 days late after being stuck in Medan North Sumatra, on Independence day, where EVERYTHING stops;  no planes, no telephone operators , no buses,trains etc. We did cajole a taxi driver to take us to Pamelang Susu? to what should have been the southern extremity of the Aceh tramway, but it was abandoned  and trains hadn’t run for some time.The cabbie didn’t want to go further north because it was Banda territory, and they apparently weren’t too keen on outsiders.

Eventually we got away on the 18/08 to Penang , and Butterworth, Malaya ,where after a lot of arguing with the Station Master we procured seats for the next morning’s railmotor to HaadYaai in Thailand. We then went back by steam ferry toGeorgetownPenang, to our hotel.

Our First Thai Steam Train

Next morning we left very early. 3:30 am comes to mind! We travelled by rickshaw, and steam ferry to Butterworth to catch the 5:30 am Budd Car to HaadYaai. After the border check we saw our first Thai steam, 1949 built Nippon Sharyo Mikado 912.

840 thai steam loco pacific 4-6-2
This is 840, 4-6-2 Kawasaki 1950, yes the motorbike mob, at Yala on the HaadYaai -Tumpat semi fast waiting to cross 841 on its opposite number. These two locos are about the cleanest steam locos in service that I ever saw anywhere. 23/08/1973


Haad Yaai – Centre For Steam Train Activities

We then passed steam at every crossing loop to HaadYaai. This was amajor loco depot with four classes of steam, the Japanese 270 4-6-2 of 1942/3 .the 800 class 4-6-2 of 1950 by various Japanese builders including Kawasaki, the 1942, 300class 2-8-2 and the 1949 class 900’s 2-8-2s of various Japanese builders. The locos were a combination of oil and wood fired (some of the wood burners receiving a second life due to the oil crisis).

haad yaai thailand steam trains loco depot
Haad Yaai Loco Depot August 1973


In this shot, there are about a dozen locos of 3 classes 300 series 2-8-2 Japan 1942, 900 series 2-8-2 Japan 1949/50 and the 800 series pacifics [Japan 1950/1] the locos identifiable are from L to R

  • Track 1 - 8?? +841
  • Track 2 - 967
  • Track 3 - 366
  • Track 4 - 346
  • Track 5 - 8??  + 370
  • Track 6 - 8?? + 840
  • Track 7 - 939 + 828


4-6-2 s 840+ 841 were "supershine" locos and were usually on the expresses to Yala+ Tumpat Locos were a mix of oil burners + wood burners [due to oil crisis ,oilys were being converted to wood!.
If you look closely at 840; you can see that there was a bit of British Great Western influence.!!!

The main scenario appeared to be expresses were handled by diesels (all Japanese built G.M.’s) While the mixed and semi fast passengers were steam worked.That afternoon we travelled by the diesel hauled express to Thung Song where we encountered 2 more classes, the MacArthur  Lima/Baldwin/ Alco 2-8-2s  similar toQ.R.s  AC16, and the 700 class 2-6-0s that came straight from Japan during WWII with thick tyres and wheels (quick conversion from cape gauge to metre).

407 macarthur 2-8-2 ac16 thai steam train qld steam loco
407 a McArthur 2-8-2 (metre version of Queensland’s AC16) on the HaadYaai Thung Song mixed at Chung Khao [about 15 kms from Thung Song ] 20/08/73

Thung Song Provides A Variety Of Thai Steam Locomotives

On our first night in Thung Song we didn’t sleep too well; maybe it was the sawmill across the road which appeared to be a 24/7 operation,or maybe it was the MacArthur’s thrashing up and down the yard making up trains (why did Aussies potter about the yard shunting when most of the world’s yards were worked by crews intent on maximum thrash)?

kang tang thung song steam train thailand pacific
This is the midday mixed service from Kang Tang to Thung Song in Southern Thailand.


This branch from memory had about 4 trains a day, but these were usually the preserve of the 900 class 2-8-2 (repatriation locos built by various Japanese builders 1950/51). Up until 1972 the 1929 3 cylinder Baldwin pacifics worked the service as they were the largest locos to turn on Kang Tangs turntable. Unusually today it’s 4-6-2, 291 (a 1942 Japanese war loco) returning tender first to Thung Song junction. Early in 1973 the turntable broke and I don’t think it was repaired as dieselisation was well underway.21/8/73


3 Cylinder Pacific in Thailand

After spending some time (to the bemusement of the locals) recording the shunts we got some sleep, and in the morning after an interesting breakfast, some sort of meat and eggs and noodles, we went down to the loco depot and found an interesting loco we thought we wouldn’t see. One of the 1929 three cylinder Baldwin Pacifics was in steam. We tried to find out where it was going but the language barrier was too great (To quote the ghost train “If it be a natural thing where does it come from; where do it go?”) Anyway we got shots of 232.It appeared to be the last of the class.These locos (6 of 26) were kept specially to work the branch from Thung Song to Kan Tong until the turntable broke in March 1973. By August only 229 and 232 were left I think!


thung song steam train 2-8-2 ,mikado thailand loco
Loco 902 arriving at Thung Song from the Kan Tang branch 19/8/73. This branch used to be the haunt of the 3 cylinder Baldwin pacifics of 1929 vintage .but the turntable broke and 2-8-2s of 1943 and 1949 vintage worked the branch returning tender first


On our second morning at Thung Song we decided to catch the local bus up to Chung Khao pass, about 15 kms from Thung Song, to get some lineside shots. The local buses were big Mercs that I thinkwere driven at breakneck speed by ex Kamakazipilots .We tore around the mountain pass until a sudden squeal of brakes and the announcement”Chung Khao, Chung Khao ” we bailed out.


824 high ball switch thailand steam loco mixed train
This is 824 on a “highball switch” as the yanks would say. Ernest Borgnine in Emperor of the North; didn’t invent it; I’ve seen it here and in South Africa AUGUST 1973



Believe it or not this loco is shunting at HAAD YAAI, making up its train for Padang Besar on the Malay border. Like most THAI trains, it is a mixed; with about 50/50 freight and passenger cars Loco is one of the Superb 820 class 4-6-2 built by various Japanese builders in 1950/51.


After taking a few shots, I was thirsty so decided to get a drink of water from the outside tap of the S.M.s house (unlike most of Asia, Thailand had good health standards).


A Friendly Orangutan

While taking of liquid refreshment, I was confronted by an adult Orangutan who swooped down from the tree next to the S.M.’s. After the initial shock he banged his chest and very gently handed me his enamel mug, and I realized he was the S.M.’s pet (He had a loose long chain around his foot, and he just wanted me to fill his cup with water). Can you guess what was trumpsuntil I worked out what it was all about?


After getting some nice shots Allan Tilley and I went back to Thung Song to tell the rest of the group; but by then the sun had changed so we went to a precarious ledge about 30 metres above the track to get a few shots (the steam seemed to be heading the wrong way for decent shots), got one of a grotbox on the international express, (Singapore –Bangkok) So we headed back chuckling about the Orangutan.


By the end of 4 days we had seen 7 classes ;

  • The 200 class 3 cylinder Baldwins of 1929
  • The 270 class Japanese pacifics of the invasion forces in WW 2 1942/3
  • The 300 class Japanese invasion force 2-8-2s of 1942/3
  • The 700 class Japanese 2-6-0s of 1942/3. These were converted from 3′ 6″ toMetre by widening the tyres on the locos (type of loco used in Kwaai river service Japanese C 56) .
  • The MacArthur 2-8-2 OF THE LIBERATION FORCES by Baldwin/ Alco/Lima 1944/5
  • The 800 class 4-6-2 of the Repatriation by the Japanese association of railroad industries 1950 (including Kawasaki)
  • The 900 class 2-8-2 of 1949 Repatriation [J.A.R.I.]


232 3 cylinder thai pacific thung song loco depot
232 a Baldwin 3 cylinder pacific at Thung Song loco


I think this made up most of the steam still running in 1973, In hindsight there may have been a 4-6-0 or 2 and maybe a couple of Garratts in the north of the country ; but it was a good enough coverage for us in the limited time available.


Dennis Mitchell


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