09 August 2009

Muar State Railway

The Muar State Railway (MSR) was a railroad operating in the district of Muar in Johore state, Malaya. Significantly, the MSR was the second railway line to operate in the state of Johore after the short-lived Johore Wooden Railway (JWR), and began operation in 1890, five years after the opening of Perak Railway's Taiping-Port Weld line. In comparison to the JWR, the MSR was more successful commercially, operating for 39 years before facing closure under stiff competition coupled with rising operation costs.

During the late 19th century, the district of Muar enjoyed significant economic growth as a result of a boom in the agricultural industry around the newly formed town of Bandar Maharani ( known as Muar town). As a result, Muar was economically important in the state of Johore.

The need for a railway arose when Parit Jawa, an area under Muar south of Bandar Maharani, required safe passage for the transportation of crops such as gambiers, coconuts and Pinangs. As Parit Jawa was inaccessible to Bandar Maharani via land, transport of goods would have to be conducted by river and sea, which were exposed to pirate attacks.

On November 13, 1887, a discussion was held between Resident Tungku Sulaiman and the head for the Land Office and Agriculture Affairs of Muar district, Dato' Bentara Luar, which concluded with an agreement to construct a railway line between Bandar Maharani and Parit Jawa for dual uses: To transport passengers between the two localities, and to improve transportation of goods.

Early construction work on the Muar State Railway line were conducted mostly by Malay and Javanese workers, the latter having migrated in masses to the Malay peninsular, with low pay and no permanent jobs. Construction of the MSR commenced early 1889 with materials entirely supplied from Europe, the line from Jalan Sulaiman (Sulaiman Road) in Bandar Maharani to Parit Jawa completed in 1890. In 1894, the line was extended another 3 miles (5 km) to Sungai Pulai.

By 1915, the profitability of the MSR motivated the Sultan of Johore to suggest an extension of railway services up to the Batu Pahat river, but never materialised due to financial factors and geographical conditions.

The Muar State Railway included a total of 13 stations, of which 5 were permanent and 8 were temporary.

Permanent stations:
1. Bandar Maharani (Muar town)
2. Parit Bakar
3. Parit Jawa
4. Parit Pecah
5. Parit Pulai

Temporary stations:
1. Parit Perupok
2. Parit Keroma
3. Parit Raja
4. Parit Unas
5. Parit Samsu
6. Parit Jamil
7. Parit Bulat
8. Parit Seri Menanti

In its first years of operation, the Muar State Railway was estimated to own 3 steam locomotives: On January 28, 1889, as construction of the railroad was underway, the first two locomotives were ordered from Black, Hawthorn & Co bearing works numbers 962 and 963; the third Black, Hawthorn & Co locomotive bearing works number 1017 was ordered later on July 5, 1890. During World War I, new locomotives from the United States were procured.

The trainsets of the MSR were originally planned for mixed use, consisting of an engine, 5 passenger coaches with outward facing seats (divided into first class, second class and third class), three goods vans and two further vans. This gave each trainset the ability to transport both freights and passengers, which partially contributed to the MSR's initial success.

The fare for passengers was five cents per mile. As agreed in 1887, free transportation was to be given to school children who went to Bandar Maharani's English school.

The Muar State Railway was financially successful due largely to improved demand. In 1915, income for the MSR reached ?RM? 86,701.92 compared to an expenditure of ?RM? 63,216.77.

Numerous factors were attributed to the increase in demand. As the MSR was operational during its early years, the growth of economic activities in Muar, coupled with a cessation of sea transport, fueled demands for MSR's train services. In addition, the MSR's decision to utillise train sets accommodating both freights and passengers helped improve frequency of services and maximised each locomotive's potential. By the time the MSR was extended to Sungai Pulai in 1894, the MSR train ran five times a day.

The MSR suffered several technical difficulties throughout its service. In its later years, it became known soft ground under the line left parts of the MSR line vulnerable to collapse, resulting in the need to pile the ground each time a train passed through the areas and contributing to the line's increasing expenditure.

By the 1920s, profitability of the MSR declined as the MSR's rolling stock were aging while maintenance costs on the railway and stations were increasing. The MSR also faced competition from newly introduced road transport: Jalan Abdul Rahman, a road between Bandar Maharani and Parit Jawa, openned in 1925 and rendered the MSR redundant. Lagging behind road-based vehicles, the MSR finally ceased operation in 1929.

The Muar State Railway was the last state-run railway to operate in Johore. By 1915, other state run railway operators such as Perak Railway and Selangor Railway have consolidated to form the Federated Malay States Railways (FMSR), which went on to extend its existing lines in Perak and Selangor to the north, south and east in Malaya. Under an agreement with the FMSR, the Johore state government participated in the development of the FMSR line by forming Johore Railway (JR), which undertook the construction of the Johore segment of the mainline from its boundary with Negeri Sembilan to Johor Bahru, before allowing itself to be absorbed into the FMSR in 1912. While Johore received FMSR train services upon completion of the line in 1909, the FMSR line bypassed all urban centres in Muar, leaving the MSR line unconnected to the wider FMSR network. Following the absorption of JR into the FMSR, the MSR remained in service for an additional 17 years before its closure.

Little remains of the MSR line and stations. Following its closure, most of the railway system were demolished or paved over. While the fate of the MSR's rolling stock is largely unknown; only one MSR locomotive of unknown specification serves as a permanent display in a park in Muar town.

Read More - Article from NST Online

BACK in the late 1800s, Maharaja Abu Bakar encouraged the migration of settlers from Java and other districts to Muar. The choice area was Padang, an area that extended from the town to Parit Jawa. The settlers -- a mix of Malays and Javanese -- were a hardworking agricultural population, cultivating coconuts, areca nuts, tapioca, fruits and vegetables and later rubber. Those who settled by the sea became fishermen.

The Muar State Railway was a transport monopoly and a profitable enterprise during its heyday.

The primary mode of transport for carrying their produce then was waterborne, using the many canals which they had dug for drainage purposes.

Small jetties were constructed at the coastal areas of Parit Jawa and Parit Bakar as the settlers wanted to have a more efficient means of transport to the port of Muar.

Maharaja Abu Bakar, who desired to make Muar a showpiece of his administration, had later introduced a light railway to Padang.

The railway was a continuation of his ambition of having a wooden railway in Johor Baru that unfortunately did not take off.

In 1888, he appointed the firm of Paterson and Simons of Singapore, under the supervision of Public Works and Survey director Walter F. Garland, to construct a light railway of 76cm gauge between Bandar Maharani and Padang.

After a few months, the contract was however withdrawn due to unsatisfactory work performance.

In 1889, the government took over the project and awarded the contract to Messrs Swan and Maclaren.

Malay and Javanese labourers were hired for the rail construction. The tracks spanning a distance of 8km to Parit Bakar were completed in 1890. The rails were imported from Jones, Burton & Co, London.

The first locomotive was imported from the United States.

Originally, the railway consisted of seven goods wagon, two covered wagons and two passenger wagons. Maximum speed was 20km per hour.

The railway was known as Keretapi Kerajaan Muar (Muar State Railway). Its superintendent was J.C. Campbell, a former manager of Selangor Government Railway.

There were two station masters, one in Bandar Maharani and the other in Parit Jawa.

The foreman and fitter were expatriates. The other 16 workers were recruited from among the Malays and Javanese. Notable among them was Ismail Bachuk, the assistant superintendent and manager who went on to become the commissioner of police and later the state secretary.

In 1913, the railway line was extended by 5km to Parit Jawa, and a further 6km to Sungei Pulai in 1914.

The terminal and workshop at Bandar Maharani was at Tangga Batu, with four main stations at Parit Bakar, Parit Jawa, Parit Pechah and Sungei Pulai, and eight temporary stations along the way.It had five services daily between Bandar Maharani-Sungei Pulai-Bandar Maharani. Three locomotives were used between 1890 and 1915.

In 1912, a new locomotive from Munalet Engine Works London was acquired for passenger coaches, which consisted of one saloon-class, two-second class and four third-class coaches. A notable feature of the service was free transport for students at the Government English School.

The Muar State Railway was a transport monopoly and was a profitable venture. Revenue in 1911 was $42,000 and increased to $100,000 in 1916. Business was so good, there was a proposal in 1916 to acquire two American locomotives and extend the lines to Batu Pahat.
However, the plan was overambitious. The area after Parit Jawa was soft peat and rock fill from nearby Bukit Mor had no effect on the soil. It proved costly and was stopped in 1917. The drains along the tracks were not maintained properly, causing the flooding of smallholdings.

Timber bridges were not repaired due to the high cost of timber. Mechanical maintenance was negligible as staff had no training although they had the experience. Level crossings in the town were lacking. A proposal to shift the main terminal to Jalan Arab fell through. Welfare of workers including accommodation was not looked into. All these and the slowness of the train which stopped at all stations did not augur well for the railway.

Another significant factor affecting the railway was the decline in the price of rubber in the middle of 1918.

The final blow was the extension of Jalan Abdul Rahman -- a coastal road parallel to the railway from Bandar Maharani to Parit Jawa -- in 1918. Farmers preferred to use it as it saves time and was more convenient. The monopoly of Muar State Railway was finally broken and in 1921, the railway ceased operations.

The railway tracks were removed and replaced with a road known as Jalan Temenggong Ahmad, named after the state commissioner of Muar from 1929 to 1936.A locomotive of the Muar State Railway now stands at Dataran Tanjung Emas as a reminder of its glory days.

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