By William Walker.
Rail travel in theUKtypically conjures images of delays, platform alterations and profuse apologies about occasional overcrowding. InIndonesia, however, daily commutes are a far more perilous affair. Ageing and overcrowded,Indonesia’s fragile rail network bears witness to a daily struggle between swathes of passengers eager to go from one place to the next, and a serious lack of carriage space.
Many passengers clamber on to the roof of the carriages to escape the cramped conditions inside, whilst others “roof ride” because of a desire to ride for free, or simply for the thrill of it. In 2008 53 passengers were killed in incidents involving passengers on the roofs of moving trains, and a further 11 died in 2011. The offence of riding on the roof is punishable by prison sentence and commuters have been hosed, asked to abate by local religious figures and threatened to various degrees, all in an effort to dislodge them, but there seems to be little change. The latest innovation to tackle the issue is not, as some have suggested, to improve a dilapidated rail network, or increase the number of carriages, rather another in a long list of measures designed to restrict and prohibit.
Just outside of a bustling train station near the country’s capital Jakarta concrete balls the size of grapefruits have been mounted above railway lines in order to make “roof riding” impossible. Local commuters are incensed by the measures and insist that this will change nothing. Mateta Rizahulhaq, spokesman for the state-owned rail company PT Kereta Api defends the move, explaining “they don’t have to sit on top…if the train is full, go to the office.”
Indonesia, despite its undeniable growth and its potential for investment, still bears the scars of its colonial past; a crippling, dilapidated transport network that will ultimately need improvement if its increasingly educated and demanding workforce are to continue to flourish. Furthermore, the mentality is one of resistance, as 27 year old shopkeeper Mulyanto insists “I don’t think it will last long. They have tried everything to keep us from riding… but in the end we always win.”