Saturday, 28 May 2016

Around the Circle Line in 2016

On Friday, 22nd April 2016 Aung Ko Latt and I made a clockwise trip on Yangon's Circle Line together. This is the 'technical review' threatened in the earlier post Back in Yangon.

We arrived at Yangon Central Station around 10.00 a.m. and found two DF.1200 class locomotives nicely posed side-by-side.

DF.1213 on an arrival in platform 6 west next to DF.1220 in platform 5 light engine having brought a train into platform 6 east.

I wondered if the train in platform 5 west would be the first departure but we were told platform 7 and presently one of the 'new' Japanese 5-car diesel multiple units, set RBE3045, arrived from the west and Aung and I boarded. I took up a position near the front, noting the open doors to the cab and at the front of the set which offered a reasonable view ahead. From time-to-time, I shared this view with other interested passengers.

We set off on a clockwise circuit of the 'Circular Railway', leaving on what is designated the 'Up' line. I noticed the fearsome-looking check-railed trap points on the way from platform 7 to the main line.

Negotiating fearsome-looking check-railed trap points on the way from platform 7 to the Up Main (clockwise Circle Line).

We were soon stopping at Pha Yar Lan station, passing DF.1263 (rather fetching in pale blue and white livery) heading for Yangon Central Station with a Down passenger train.

DF.1263 (in blue and white livery) at Pha Yar Lan, heading for Yangon Central Station.

I wasn't expecting the bright yellow Railway Gang Car and trailer which was following a few yards behind the passenger train!

Railway Gang Car and Trailer closely following a Down passenger train on the Automatic Block section at Pha Yar Lan Station.

Most of the double-track Circle Line operates under 'Automatic Block' regulations with colour-light signals, where the occupation of an electrical track circuit by a passing train replaces each signal to 'danger', reverting to 'proceed' for a following train when the first train has passed clear of the track circuit. Because there is no signalman, regulations for automatic block usually allow a train to pass a 'Red' signal. Typically, under 'Stop and Proceed Rules' the driver must wait a predetermined time before moving off. On Yangon's Circle Line, trains don't stop but continue under caution at a 'Red' signal, presumably because of the low line speeds.

Our train was also in the 'Automatic Block' area. We passed a number of colour light signals displaying 'Yellow' aspects, marked clearly 'A' to indicate that 'Automatic Block' regulations appied, odd-numbered progressively from Yangon (automatic signals on the Down line used even numbers). Signal 'K48' (a 3-aspect colour light) was a 'Controlled Signal' where 'Stop' means 'Stop' (what they call in some countries 'Stop and Stay' as opposed to 'Stop and proceed'). However, 'K48' (worked by Kyee Myin Daing South Signal Cabin) was displaying 'Yellow', beckoning us into the station. After pausing at the station and passing a 'Yellow' 3-aspect colour light 'S15' (worked by Kyee Myin Daing North Signal Cabin), we were back in an 'Automatic' area. We passed DF.1631 noisily making its way to Yangon with another passenger train.

Signal 'A23' was displaying 'Red' but we kept moving. There was a permanent way gang working in the vicinity, which I at first assumed was the reason for the 'Red' signal. In Myanmar in the past, I've only seen ballast tamping and packing carried out manually, but this track gang was using a small portable generator and power tools.

Permanent Way Gang with not a High Visibility Jacket in sight (but one hard hat - the foreman)!

The next signal, 'A27', was also 'Red'. Again, we kept moving, but the reason was not revealed until we'd passed both 'A29' and 'A31' at 'Red' and were approaching 'A33', also 'Red', when we could see a preceding Diesel Multiple Unit halted at the next station with passengers getting on and off. We continued our stop-start journey (we, too, were 'Stopping All Stations'). From time to time, we were within two train lengths of the preceding train. At Gyogone station and level crossing, we passed a 5-car diesel multiple unit (RBE25112) on the Down line, with a green lower body and grey upper body. Having attempted to close the road crossing, the Crossing Keeper stood in the wide space between the two lines so that his grubby green flag was visible to both approaching trains. Only half-barriers are used in Myanmar (manual gates or barriers on wheels, bamboo poles or nothing, depending upon the importance of the crossing) so, despite the efforts of the crossing keepers, it's common for impatient users to continue to cross as trains approach.

Gyogone Station with RBE.25104 ahead of us on the Up and RBE.25112 on the Down.

We caught up with the preceding train again as it waited for signal '1R' to enter Insein station, giving us a good view of the livery (green upper body, white lower body with blue lining) and running number (RBE.25104). Once that train had moved on, our train was detained for two minutes before the signal turned 'Yellow' for us with '5' displayed in the theatre-type route indicator for platform 5.

The Power Signal Box at Insein.

When we left Insein, instead of the expected main signal '15R', the subsidiary aspect '55R' (two white lights displayed diagonally) was cleared.

Leaving Insein, instead of the expected main signal '15R', the subsidiary aspect '55R' was cleared.

Insein's last controlled signal '17R' was also red, but, up ahead, we could see a track worker removing a large red banner from our track, as the gang had finished their task and were walking back towards Insein.

Signals 'A41', 'A43' and 'A45' were all passed at 'Red' and, as we approached Phawkan, we again had a good view of the train we were following.

Phawkan Station, with RBE.25104 leaving as we approach.

After passing signals 'A47' and 'A49' at red, we stopped at controlled signal '9L' for two minutes, waiting for the preceding train to enter the junction station at Da Nyi Gone on the Pyay line.

Da Nyi Gone signal '9L' displaying a yellow without the four inclined lights for our Circle Line train.

After our station stop at Da Nyi Gone and no longer closely following a train, the series of automatic signals showed us 'Yellow' aspects and we continued past signal 'A59', made brief stops at Kyaikkale and Mingalardon Market stations before continuing to Mingalardon. Here, controlled signals, electrically-worked crossovers and position-light ground signals were provided to allow a locomotive-hauled train to terminate, run-round and return in the same direction from which it arrived.

Mingalardon looking south, showing main signal, lower position-light subsidiary signal, crossover and position light ground signal.

Signal 'A67' was 'Red' but, under Automatic Block rules, we kept going to Pa Ywet Seit Gone where, like Mingalardon, there were controlled signals, electrically-worked crossovers and position-light ground signals to allow a locomotive to run-round its train. Signal '4L' before the platform was yellow as we passed an unidentified 5-car diesel multiple unit in cream livery travelling in an anti-clockwise direction. A 'Green' at signal '2LM' allowed us to depart (there's also a position light subsidiary aspect '32L' on the same post) and we were then back under Automatic Block again, passing multiple unit RBE.25110 (green lower body, grey upper body). We made stops at each of the closely-spaced stations and passed multiple unit RBE.25112 for the second time (earlier seen at Gyogone station).

After a succession of 'Yellow' signals, 'A89' leaving Tamwe remained 'Red', I assumed because of equipment failure. As far as possible, any failure in signalling systems, such as track circuit failure, is designed to give a more restrictive indication but Automatic Block regulations allow trains to continue under caution.

Tamwe station with 'Red' signal 'A89' beyond the road bridge.

We passed yet another of the 'new' diesel multiple units (RBE.3030 in cream livery with partial orange and green waistline). The introduction of more of these second-hand train has reduced the number of locomotive hauled trains operating in the Yangon area.

Diesel Multiple Unit RBE.3030 in cream livery with (partial) orange and green waistline.

Our route then converged and ran parallel with the double-track Mandalay-Yangon line just as another train headed for Yangon was passing. We pulled up side-by-side with this train (re-powered DF.1622 on a short passenger train) at the four-platform Mahlwagon station.

Leaving Mahlwagon, the sweeping curves of the four-track main line on to Pazundaung always makes me think of the Queensville Curve, Stafford in England.

Four-track sweeping curves between Mahlwagon and Pazundaung.

At Pazundaung, two goods lines from Mahlwagon Marshalling Yard converge and run parallel. To the west of Pazundaung, there are complex junctions with various conflicting routes so it was no surprise to wait for signal 'P4' until DF.1220, hauling an Up Circle Line train, had snaked across the pointwork in front of us.

Pazundaung, looking towards Yangon Central Station, as our train waits for DF.1220 to cross to the Up Circle Line. On the left, DF.2081 heads for Yangon on the Down Goods.

Once the signal cleared, we slowly completed our journey back to Yangon Central Station. The journey had taken just under two and three quarter hours and had given us a fascinating insight into the operation of this suburban railway and the lives of those who use it.

All the pictures in this article are in the album Around the Circle line in 2016.

Related posts in my blog

The Circle Line, Yangon (2008).
Exploring Yangon's railways (2012).
Yangon Area Railways (2013).
Railway Signalling in Burma - Part 2: Colour Light Signals & Motor Points.

All my Myanma Railways posts.

My Pictures

Around the Circle line in 2016.
Kyee Myin Daing.
The Circle Line, Yangon (2013).
Cab Ride on the Circle Line (2014).
Circle Line Revisited (2012).
The Circle Line by DMU (2015).
The Circle Line, Yangon, Myanmar (2009).
Burma: Colour Light Signals & Motor Points.
Yangon Central Station.
Railways in Myanmar (2008).

All my Myanma Railways Pictures.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Kyee Myin Daing Railway Station

Kyee Myin Daing (which, in earlier times, the British called 'Kemmendine') has a substantial railway station situated on Yangon's Circle Line in Myanmar.


I first saw this station in 2008 when I made a round trip on the Circle Line (described in the post The Circle Line, Yangon). Leaving Yangon Central station in a clockwise direction, after calling at small stations at Pha Yar Lan, Lanmadaw, Pyay Road, Shan Road, Ahlone Road and Pann Hlaing, the train paused at Kyee Myin Daing where there was a large two-storey station building, three platform faces and extensive sidings. I was immediately intrigued not only by the size of the station but by the fact that the area was controlled by two elderly mechanical signal boxes with mechanical operation of points. Although colour light signals were in use on the main running lines, a variety of lower-quadrant semaphore signals survived in the sidings. Unfortunately, none of the pictures I took on this round trip show Kyee Myin Daing.

In 2012 I travelled on part of the Circle Line (report here) but didn't pass through Kyee Myin Daing.

The following year, on 14th February 2013, I passed through the station on my way to and from the junction at Da Nyn Gone, producing pictures here and the post Yangon Area Railways.

On the 25th April 2014, I made a cab ride around the Circle line (see post Cab Ride around the Circle Line), adding a few more pictures of Kyee Myin Daing.

View of Kyee Myin Daing station from the cab of an Circle Line Train in 2014. Note the mixture of colour light and semaphore signals. DF1268 on right, heading for Yangon with a Down Train.

By 2015, the 'New' Diesel Multiple Units were being introduced and, on 4th May 2015, I went around the Circle line on one of these collecting more views in album The Circle Line by DMU.

Another 'New' Diesel Multiple Unit provided the motive power on 22nd April 2016 when I made another clockwise trip of the Circle Line with my young friend Aung (pictures here).

Origins of Kyee Myin Daing Station

Rail transport was first introduced in Myanmar in May 1877, when Lower Burma was a British colony, with the opening of the 163-mile (262 km) Yangon to Pyay line by The Irrawaddy Valley State Railway. At Yangon, the line terminated at Kyee Myin Daing, later being extended to what is now Yangon Central Station. I understand that, even today, some trains from Yangon to Pyay start at Kyee Myin Daing rather than Yangon Central Station.

The impressive station building at Kyee Myin Daing.

The Docks Branch

The British developed extensive docks on the north shore of the Yangon River which at one time carried heavy freight traffic. A single line still runs along the public side of the dock estate enclosing wall (parallel to Strand Road) with sidings, now reduced, leading into the docks at strategic locations. General goods depots are maintained at War Dan (on the river side of the line) and Botataung (on the landward side of the line). I'd walked along the eastern part of the dock line in 2014 (report here with pictures along the dock branch here), when I discovered that part of the branch had be re-laid as dual-gauge (metre/standard gauge). It was much later that I realised the standard gauge was for Yangon's embryonic tram system, which I visited on 21st April 2016 (report here, pictures here).

This single dock line connects to the main railway network at each end.

In the west, from War Dan the line turns inland, heading north to run parallel with the main line from Pann Hlaing, finally joining at the south end of Kyee Myin Daing. In between Pann Hlaing and a point south of Kyee Myin Daing, I'd noticed a 'third rail' on the dock branch in 2015. However, I dismissed it as evidence of rail replacement, as this rail didn't appear to have rail fastenings. I'm afraid that it's only recently that checking the relevant pictures confirms the presence of dual-gauge concrete sleepers and a third rail laid in position and fishplated but, for the most part, not fastened down. I do not know whether this incomplete dual gauge extends to War Dan, thus linking up with the dual gauge observed along Strand Road referred to above.

The Circle Line by DMU in 2015: South of Kyee Myin Daing the docks branch is now dual-gauge, here with rail fastenings.

At the eastern end of the docks, the line turns north to make a junction with the main lines near Pazundaung, giving access to the major marshalling yard at Mahlwagon (discussed in the post here.

Kyee Myin Daing North and South Signal Cabins

Since I was young, I've had an interest in railway signalling and mechanical signal boxes (see the post Visiting Signalboxes) so the two part-mechanical signal cabins at Kyee Myin Daing North and South, as the only surviving mechanical cabins on the Circle Line, fascinate me. I was further intrigued because in the post Yangon Area Railways, I reported that Burma Railways placed an order in January 1946 with the Westinghouse Brake and Signal Company for two Style 'L' miniature lever frames for Burma Railways, intended for 'Rangoon' and 'Kemmendine'. The 'Kemmendine' lever frame order called for 47 levers made up of 12 point levers, 28 signal levers, 6 spare levers and 1 spare space. The 'Rangoon' miniature lever frame was installed at Yangon Central and remains in use (as described here) but what became of the other frame order is currently a mystery.

The main line through Kyee Myin Daing is double track and is flanked to the north and south by 'Automatic Block' areas with colour-light signals, where the occupation of an electrical track circuit by a passing train replaces each signal to 'danger', reverting to 'proceed' for a following train when the first train has passed clear of the track circuit. There is no manual block working and, in theory, trains arrive in accordance with the timetable.

Mechanical operation of points has been retained, with facing points provided with facing point locks and locking bars as was standard British Practice in the mechanical era. There's a brief description of the arrangement in the post Railway Signalling in Britain: Part 6 - Mechanical Operation of Points.

My visit on 6th May, 2016

I travelled on the Circle Line from Yangon Central Station to Insein and back, breaking my journey on the outward leg at Kyee Myin Daing to allow me to explore on foot. All my pictures from this trip are in the album Yangon to Insein by Train but my pictures in and around the station at Kyee Myin Daing, taken on this trip and on other occasions are in the album here.

Recent Developments

The sidings at Kyee Myin Daing, presumably originally busy with freight to and from the docks, have been fairly quiet in recent times but my latest visit revealed new activity which seems to be a rail-handling facility in connection with the introduction of long welded rails. An expensive-looking Plasser and Theurer APT500C containerised flash-butt welding machine, mounted on a Myanmar Railways bogie flat car, was operating periodically.

Circle Line, Yangon: The Rail Welding Yard at Kyee Myin Daing. In the background, Bo-Bo-Bo DF 1263 leaves the station with a Down train for Yangon.

Kyee Myin Daing South Signal Cabin

During my perambulation on 6th May 2016, I was fortunate enough to be invited into Kyee Myin Daing South Signal Cabin, revealing additional information and producing the album Kyee Myin Daing South Signal Cabin.

Kyee Myin Daing South Signal Cabin, with the Relay Room in the foreground, looking towards Yangon Central. The running lines are (L-R) Down, Up, Dock Branch.

The low base structure forming the locking room is brick with arched panels cemented over for protection. The operating floor has windows on three sides and a corrugated iron roof, lined on the inside. Access is via a short wooden flight of steps to the rear. Footwear is not worn inside the cabin. The operating floor has a 48-lever mechanical frame fitted so that the signalmen face the tracks to operate the frame which is marked 'W B & S S Co Ltd' for Westinghouse Brake and Saxby Signal Company Limited. This is the name adopted in 1920 when Westinghouse absorbed a number of signal companies, including Saxby and Farmer India. Lever colours are generally as British practice:-

Points: Black
Facing Point Locks and Locking Bars: Blue
Stop Signals: Red
Spare: White

All levers have an identifications plate with the lever number, function and 'pulls' painted on in English. However, they were not all legible. I discovered that there is electro-mechanical Control between the two signal cabins at Kyee Myin Daing on the five through roads (Down, Up, Reversible Loop and two Reversible Goods Loops). At Kyee Myin Daing South Signal Cabin, levers 1 to 5 are painted Yellow and are used as 'Acceptance Levers', in conjunction with electric lever locks and circuit controllers at both the South Cabin and North Cabin to provide the necessary control.

A substantial framework made from U-section steel is fitted behind the frame and this carries electric lever locks and circuit controllers.

The U-section frame carries Lever Locks and Circuit Controllers.

The cabin controls five colour light signals on the Down, Up and Reversible Loop lines. These signals, and the status of the associated (mechanically operated) points are shown on an illuminated track diagram of the mosaic pattern. The illuminated track diagram does not show the semaphore signals on the goods lines but these are detailed on an old-fashioned framed signal box diagram in Burmese. The colour light Up Home signal controls 4 routes (L-R: Goods Line 6, Goods Line 5, Reversible Loop Line 4, Up Line 3). The signal has an unusual route indicator comprising five stencil indicators mounted together to form a horizontal bar which displays an (Arabic) numberal for the line number. In the signal box, four indicator units mounted on a column behind the frame confirm the line number displated to the signalman.

The colour light Up Home signal controls 4 routes (L-R: Goods Line 6, Goods Line 5, Reversible Loop Line 4, Up Line 3) displayed by an unusual route indicator comprising five stencil indicators mounted together to form a horizontal bar.

The adjacent single storey building is divided into a messroom and a locked section, assumed to be the relay room.

Note that the Down Main is designated Line 1 and the adjacent Up Main Line 3. There is space for a through line 2, not provided, but I've not determined whether it was removed or never installed. Certainly, there are Spare (White) levers in the frame which could have been associated with a through line.

Related posts in this blog

The Circle Line, Yangon (2008).
Exploring Yangon's railways.
Railway Signalling in Burma - Part 1: Semaphore Signals.
Railway Signalling in Burma - Part 2: Colour Light Signals & Motor Points.
Railway Signalling in Burma - Part 3: Control of Trains.
Railway Signalling in Burma - Part 4: Manual Control of Points and Interlocking.
Railway Signalling in Burma - Part 5: Signal Boxes with Interlocking Frames.
Railway Signalling in Burma - Part 6: Signal Boxes with Electrical Interlocking.
Yangon Area Railways

All my Myanma Railways posts.

My Pictures

Kyee Myin Daing.
Kyee Myin Daing South Signal Cabin.
Yangon to Insein by Train.
Cab Ride on the Circle Line (2014).
The Circle Line, Yangon (2013).
Circle Line Revisited (2012).
The Circle Line by DMU.
The Circle Line, Yangon, Myanmar (2009).
Burma: Colour Light Signals & Motor Points.
Yangon Central Station.
Railways in Myanmar (2008).

All my Myanma Railways Pictures.

Railways in Burma


It has to be admitted that Myanmar's railways, whilst having a certain charm, are very run-down by western standards - slow, dirty, unreliable. This is true of much of the infrastructure in a country which was, until recently, regarded as a 'pariah state'.

This situation is starting to change - for instance, the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA) is heavily involved in the necessary modernisation of the railway system. The JICA website, referring to work in Myanmar, says "a proposed multi-million dollar project will upgrade the maintenance and safety of railroad infrastructure, most of it dating from the pre-World War 11 British colonial era".

In May 2014, JICA held seminars in both Yangon and Naypyidaw to present the proposed Yangon Urban Transport Master Plan. The JICA report on the seminars is here.

Development of Railways in Myanmar

Rail transport was first introduced in Myanmar in May 1877 (when Lower Burma was a British colony) with the opening of the 163-mile (262 km) Yangon to Pyay line by The Irrawaddy Valley State Railway. At Yangon, it terminated at a station at Kyee Myin Daing, now a through station on the Circle Line.

The impressive station building at Kyee Myin Daing.

In 1884, the Sittang Valley State Railway opened a 166-mile (267 km) line from Yangon via Bago along the Sittaung River to the town of Taungoo. The Third Anglo-Burmese War of 1885 resulted in the annexation of Upper Burma and by 1889 the British had extended the Taungoo line to the former capital of Upper Burma, Mandalay.

Next, the Mu Valley State Railway began construction of a line from Sagaing (near Mandalay) to Myitkyina, in the north. Mandalay was connected to Shwebo in 1891, to Wuntho in 1893, to Katha in 1895 and to Myitkyina in 1898.

In 1896, the three companies were combined into a state owned public undertaking called the Burma Railway Company (from 1928 called Burma Railways and, in 1989, the name 'Myanma Railways' was adopted.

The railway served the Taninthayi coast in the south from 1907 with the opening of the Bago-Mottama line. Then, passengers had to take a ferry over the Thanlwin River (Salween River) to reach Mawlamyine but a bridge is now provided.

Myanma Railways has planned an ambitious programme to significantly expand the network, as outlined in their presentation here.

Stages in network development (from book reference [1]).

More stages in network development (from book reference [1]).

Yangon and the Circle Line

Yangon, although no longer the capital of Myanmar (that honour now reposes with Naypyidaw), remains the transport hub of Myanmar. There's no Metro system around Yangon (although an 8 km tram route has opened, as I report here, so public travel around the sprawling city area with its population in excess of 5 million currently relies on battered buses or, until recently, fairly battered and rather slow trains on the busy 30-mile long Circle Line and a network of suburban branches. Refurbished second-hand diesel multiple units cascaded from Japan have now been introduced which provide a significant increase in comfort and, with driver-controlled power-operated doors, enhance safety.

A refurbished second-hand Japanese-built Diesel Multiple Unit on a Circle Line service in 2016.

Yangon Central Station, as its name implies, has a prime location in the city and is always a good place to observe railway operations. The station is on the 30-mile long double track circular railway, logically called the Circle Line. During the day, trains depart from regularly from Yangon Central, making a 3-hour clockwise trip around the Circle Line back to Yangon Central. There is also a regular anti-clockwise service. The Japanese Diesel Multiple Units mentioned above now seem to be operating most of these trains. Other trains only make a partial circuit before returning to Yangon, for instance the Yangon - Insein service which, in 2016 was still locomotive-hauled.

Left: The original station buildings at Yangon Central Station, damaged in WWII. Right upper: The post-war station in 'Burmese style'. Right lower: The post-war station at night (all from book reference [1]).

Book references

[1] '100 years of Burma Railways 1877 - 1977' (in Burmese) published by Burma Railways 1977.

Related posts on this site

All my Myanma Railways posts.

Related posts on other sites

Myanma Railways presentation.
Myanmar Railways (Wikipedia).

My Pictures

All my Myanma Railways Pictures.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Last Day in Yangon

Events of Friday, 6th May 2016

One advantage of the Park Royal is that it's only about ten minutes walk from Yangon Central Railway Station. I'd hoped it might be possible to go on the suburban line towards Thilawa but the hotel didn't think that would be possible because of the sparse service, which I suspected might be the case, so instead I decided to take the Circle Line clockwise as far as Kyee Myin Daing (which was the terminus of the first railway in Burma) and do some railway exploring. Then, if not too tired, I would proceed further clockwise to Insein for more exploring before returning to Yangon by an anti-clockwise Circle Line train.

I left the hotel at about 8.00 a.m. and made the trips and explorations as planned. With my interest in railway signalling, the high point of an enjoyable (but hot) morning was managing to get invited into Kyee Myin Daing South Signal Cabin, with its elderly Westinghouse mechanical lever frame. There's a post about my visit to Kyee Myin Daing here.

Mechanical lever frame at Kyee Myin Daing South Signal Cabin.

It wasn't just about railways - travelling on the train in Myanmar is an splendid was of 'people watching' and learning a little about the lives of Myanmar people.

It was around 1.00 p.m. when I returned to the hotel and, in view of the long journey back to England which would start early the following day, I decided to stay in the hotel for the rest of Friday, using the internet.

Related posts

This is currently the last post describing this trip.

All my posts on this trip can be found here.

My pictures

Yangon to Insein by Train (mainly railway technical pictures but with some 'general' shots).
Kyee Myin Daing South Signal Cabin.

There are also pictures of this trip here.

More pictures will be posted as soon as possible.

[Link to pictures 'Yangon to Insein by Train' added 7-May-2016]

Around Kalaw

Events of Thursday, 5th May 2016

Kalaw Hill Lodge offer various 'Activities' around their extensive site and I went on the Nature Walk starting at 7.30 a.m. It was just me and a pleasant young lady from their 'Operations Department'. We walked down steps, went through their organic garden to the lowest point of their estate, with an attractive brown stream running through. We came to a small field where a buffalo and its handler were demonstrating harrowing. We then climbed the hill at the rear of the site where there was a 'tame village' of two or three typical houses where the occupants live in traditional ways. I normally disapprove of this sort of slightly 'synthetic' experience but it was well done and I enjoyed the activity.

In the cowshed, the farmer demonstrated hand milking a cow but, despite carefully observing the farmer's technique my own attempt at milking was an abject failure.

Jan's attempt at milking was an abject failure.

We were then offered a cup of 'Organic Milk', served hot presumably to pasteurise it. Then it was a gentle walk back to the main building where my breakfast was promptly served. Finally, I enjoyed a 15-minute ride in a traditional ox cart, looping out of the lodge grounds and back in again.

The ox cart ride.

By the time I'd finished my packing, it was 10 o'clock and Sai Kyaw Kyaw had arrived with the car to show me around Kalaw before taking me to Heho airport for an afternoon flight back to Yangon, where I was booked into the Park Royal Hotel for my last two nights in Myanmar.

Related posts

Next post describing this trip.

All my posts on this trip can be found here.

My pictures

Activities at Kalaw Hill Lodge.

There are also pictures of this trip here.

More pictures will be posted as soon as possible.

Thazi Railway Station and Diesel Locomotive Depot

Thazi is an important station on the Yangon to Mandalay main line which is now mainly (if not completely) double track with left-hand running. With few constraints on space when built, the track layout is spacious and five through platforms, plus a bay facing south, are provided. The main station building is on the west side, adjacent to platform 1.

Thazi is the junction for the steeply-grade branch to Kalaw and Yaksauk which includes two zig-zag sections so it was logical to provide motive power for this branch from a locomotive depot at Thazi. Originally, of course, this was a steam shed and home to some of Burma Railways massive Beyer Garratts. What is now a Diesel Locomotive Depot is just north of the station on the west side. I found one of the Beyer Garratts (running number GC833, Beyer Peacock works number 7128 of 1943) set aside at Thazi, externally complete cosmetically and repainted (16.07.2006) but with quite a lot missing. There was also an outside cylinder six-coupled side tank, carrying running number S.1, plinthed on the approach to the depot.

I wasn’t able to check the diesel shed itself but I could see at least four Bo-Bo-Bo diesel electric locomotives (including DF.2013) variously built in either France or China plus an unidentified light railcar. Near the station. I passed Railway Gang Cars ED/RGC-62 and ED(M) RGC.29.

A relic of steam days was the two massive round water tanks mounted on steel-framed towers, at the south of the station on the west side near a covered shed where carriage maintenance was being carried out. Two out-of-use water columns for steam locomotives survive.

Overhead water supplies are found at many stations on Myanma Railways for replenishing lavatory tanks of passenger coaches. At Thazi, these were provided on a number of platforms but delivery nozzles were only fitted on platform 1.

Another commonly-found feature was the fence between platform 1 line and platform 2 line, to prevent too indiscrimate crossing of the lines by passengers. Crossing the line is still the norm and, as usual, the fence was provided with an opening opposite the entrance from the main station building which most passengers choose to use, although Thazi also has a substantial steel footbridge linking the three platform groups [1], [2, 3 and Bay], [4,5]. No fencing was provided across the other tracks so people, dogs and goats were free to cross the lines anywhere. My railway training forced me to look both ways before crossing any line, but I’ve seen scant evidence that local people give any thought to the possibility of moving trains when crossing railway lines.

Just to the north of the elderly footbridge, there was a more modern reinforced concrete bridge structure, carrying a group of buildings topped by what was presumably the signal box with outward-leaning windows like the control tower of an airfield.

The signalling at Thazi is all-electric, with two aspect running signals and, in most cases, a subsidiary aspect of two diagonal white lights is provided. Where ground level shunting signals are provided, these have three lights providing two aspects. I didn’t identify the point machines but, in places, tubular point rodding allows one machine to operate two switches. At strategic locations, small Location Cases are provided for equipment. Track bonding, as you would expect, suggests continuous track circuiting in the station area. The installation was generally similar to those found in the Mandalay area. I was amused that, in each direction on the main line, fixed distant signals are provided but they are semaphore signals without lighting of the rather crude (and variable) pattern found everywhere in Myanmar.

Immediately south of the station, the main road through Thazi crosses the railway at a conventional level crossing, manned by a Crossing Keeper operating manual gates.

Whilst I was taking pictures, I saw Shunting locomotive DD.510 (built by Kawasaki) shut down just north of the station on platform 5 road, carefully placed in the shade of a large tree between the running lines. After a few minutes, the crew got on, started the engine and shunted light engine, disappearing (I think) to the Locomotive Shed. There's a little more information on this class of 500 h.p. diesel hydraulic locomotives in the post Diesel Traction in Burma.

To the east of the station there were a number of parallel stabling tracks, accessible from both ends, with a variety of goods rolling stock. Two roads were provided with pits and a roof over part of their length, I imagine for passenger coach examinations but there were only petrol tank wagons there at the time of my visit.

The station building on platform 2-3 was a rather British-looking affair, brick built with a tiled roof. Amongst other offices, there was a Station Supervisors Office and a Radio Room. Beyond the building, substantial steel-framed umbrella roofing was provided.

To be continued ...

Related Posts

You can find all my posts on Myanma Railways here.

My pictures

Thazi Locomotive Depot
Thazi Station

All my pictures of Railways in Burma are here.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

By train to Kalaw


I stayed the night of 3rd May 2016 in Thazi because I wanted to travel on the morning train from Thazi to Kalaw (did I mention my interest in railways?).

The line was built by the British to improve communication with the town of Kalaw, high in the mountains of Shan State and beyond.

As in India, the British found summer heat in the cities on the plains insufferable and they established 'Hill Stations' up in the mountains where temperatures were lower and the climate rather more like England. Probably the best known of the Indian Hill Stations is Shimla, which I visited in 2006 as part of my Round The World Three trip.

The Bitish developed two locations in Burma - Maymyo (now called Pyin-Oo-Lwin) and Kalaw.

I first visited Maymyo in 2009 (described in the post Day trip to Maymyo). The British built a railway linking Mandalay, very little above sea level with Maymyo at an elevation of around 3,506 feet. To allow steam locomotives to work the line, a variety of civil engineering techniques had to be adopted, most unusual of which was the 'Zig Zag' where the train shuffles forwards and backwards over a 'Z' shaped route, gaining height all the time. I travelled on the line to Maymyo in 2013 (there's a non technical report of the trip here or a more technical post here.

Building the branch from Thazi to Kalaw involved similar engineering problems - the line had to rise from Thazi's modest elevation of 700 feet to 4,297 feet at Kalaw and its design incorporated two 'Zig Zags'. Once upon a time huge British-built steam locomotives blasted their way up to Kalaw and beyond but the present-day trains are hauled by a mixture of French- and Chinese-built 2,000 h.p. diesel electric locomotives.

Events of Wednesday, 4th May 2016

The proprietor of the Moon Light Guest House took me by car to the station, where we had a simple breakfast at the inevitable tea shop, purchased the train ticket and installed me in the correct place on the romantic-sounding 7.00 a.m. Mail Train. The actual train was a little more commonplace but, to my surprise, it left at exactly 7.00 a.m. and, in a little under six hours, delivered me safely to Kalaw. I've started to describe this journey in more detail here but I'm afraid this article includes quite a bit of railway technical stuff.

On the Mail Train to Kalaw.

At Kalaw, I was immediately recognised by my guide, Sai Kyaw Kyaw (there weren't many elderly female foreigners on the train) who took me by car to Kalaw Hill Lodge, a little way out of the town, where I was to spend one night. I was charmed by the resort, opened only seven months previously by its Nepalese owner with a number of thatched villas in Nepalese style and a central building with reception, restaurant and bar facilities on a landscaped site of some 30 acres with magnificent views of the hills which frame Kalaw. I managed some internet work in the lobby then had a meal and retired to my comfortable cottage. The cottage appeared semi-detached but the building actually had four rooms, two on an upper floor approached from the other side of the block. But, being low season, I only glimpsed two other guests in the whole of my stay, although there were always a number of staff close by anxious to help. There was a fairly spectacular display of thunder and lightning in the evening, but the rain that followed was fairly light and I had already retired to my room for the night.

I enjoyed an excellent night's sleep.

Kalaw Hill Lodge viewed from the extensive grounds.

Related posts

Next post describing this trip.

All my posts on this trip can be found here.

My pictures

My pictures of the train journey from Thazi to Kalaw are here. They are mainly railway technical shots but there are also 'general' pictures.

All my pictures taken on my trip to Burma in 2016 are in the collection Burma, 2016.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

On to Thazi

Events of Tuesday, 3rd May 2016

I had breakfast at the Aye Yar Resort and checked-out at 8.00 a.m. The monastery car picked me up with the usual driver, together with one of my other young friens from Clinic. We drove via the Anawratha Road to a pagoda famous for its wall paintings, Gu-Byauk-gyi, I think. Although the souvenir sellers were starting to set up their wares, it was still quiet. My friend said most guides take their clients to Nyaung Oo market first and that it would become busy later. We continued to Nyaung Oo and took the familiar road out of town, past the airport turn, then the railway station turn. I think Nyaung Oo is unique in having an airport nearer the town than the railway station. We carried on along the main road we’d used the day before, through Taung Zin.

The crumpled caldera of volcanic Mount Popa was visible through the haze on the left. Our route started to rise out of the plain so that we were travelling through wooded mountains. The area appeared to be the source of rock, with large piles of graded sizes which I assumed were for roadbuilding. There were also two new electricity transmission routes, one low voltage, one medium voltage, being erected. We passed a number of areas where minor improvemnts were being carried out to the road. As is usual, most of the labourers were women. Barrels of tar were being prepared for use by having a fire set under them but I also spotted a couple of ancient, wheeled tar boilers. We passed through a series of fairly small one-street villages, with a variety of stalls on both sides of the road and, of course, a profusion of tea shops.

We then entered a fairly major town with proper shops, rather than stalls, and a couple of impressive-looking modern bank buildings. There were at least two sets of modern traffic lights with countdown-timers. Providing the contrast at which Myanmar excels, there were also oxen grazing on the patches of sparse grass. As we threaded our way onto our road, I noted not just the number of teashops but also their large size.

We passed through another area of farmed land populated by pairs of oxen ploughing or hauling carts before we entered another fairly large town, Meiktila with its lake. We parked near the bridge which takes the road across an arm of the lake. I walked along a rather rickety bridge thrust into the lake leading to a very small pagoda.

Meiktila Lake Pagoda.

The lake water was clear and lots of fish, carp I think, could be seen. Walking back to the car, I spotted a wooden pumphouse extracting water from the lake. As we drove over the road bridge, we passed a huge, gilded ‘concrete barge’ with a bird's head at the edge of the lake, apparently another temple.

On our way out of town, we passed a massive, walled factory with a least 20 large sheds. A sign in English as well as Burmese revealed that this was Meiktila textile works.

Before long, we were running into Thazi, with one main road running through and a network of generally unmetalled side-streets. We easily located the Moon Light Guest House and I was made very welcome by the proprietors.

My friends who had delivered me safely to Thazi agreed to act as interpreters at the Diesel Locomotive Depot, where I had been given two Inspectors names as contacts. Unfortunately, they were both absent that day, but I was allowed to take a few pictures before we left. Having returned me to my hotel, my friends declined hospitality and set off back to Bagan.

Although it was rather hot, I decided to go for a walk along the main road to see a little more of the town, which I believe has a population of around 30,000. I passed a rather smart modern fire station with four appliances near the Police Station for Thazi Township. Both KBZ Bank and CB Bank had impressive modern buildings. Having got used to seeing pairs of oxen doing the ploughing and pulling, I was surprised to see two modern farm tractors pass along the main road. I found it reassuring, somehow, that most of the 'taxis' were horse-drawn 2-wheeled 'hackney cabs'. After exploring the main road, I took the side road leading to the station to make a photographic survey. By the time I was back at the Guest House, I was thoroughly exhausted but a cold drink followed by a nap restored me sufficiently to prepare this report.

Then I broke off for an evening meal, which was prepared exactly to my preferences and was excellent.

Related posts

There's a report on my visit to Thazi Locomotive Depot and Station here.
Next post describing this trip.

All my posts on this trip can be found here.

My pictures

There are a few pictures of this trip here.
Pictures at Meiktila Lake are here.

More pictures will be posted as soon as possible.

Bagan (Day 4)

Events of Monday, 2nd May 2016

On Monday, my last day in Bagan, the Monastery Compound housing Bagan Medical Clinic was strangely quiet as Sunday was the last opening day until the following Friday. However, Doctor Hla Tun was doing a special consultation for an 84 year old lady who had needed a wheelchair to get from car to consulting room, assisted by her younger companions.

Before flying back to Yangon in the afternoon, the Doctor had arranged that we would make presentations of stationery to schools. The Monastery's 'Hi-Ace' was already loaded and the regular Monastery driver so Doctor Hla Tun, the local Doctor and I boarded and we set off. During a tiring, hot day, we made joyful visits to three schools before I was returned to the Aye Yar Resort for my last night in Bagan and Dr. Hla Tun took the flight to Yangon.

Htee Pu

Htee Pu: Group picture of around 106 students who attended for stationery distribution

Bagan area school

Group picture after stationery distribution.

Nga Minn May school

Group picture after stationery distribution.

Related posts

Next post in this series.

All my posts on this trip can be found here.

My pictures

There are a few pictures of this trip here.

More pictures will be posted as soon as possible.

Bagan (Day 3)

Events of Sunday, 1st May 2016

On Sunday, I walked to the Clinic just after 8.00 a.m. The Doctor had already started work and he hold me that there had been 60 registrations at that time.

I'll describe my morning observing Dr. Hla Tun's consultations in a separate post.

A startling storm

There was a vicious thunderstorm around lunchtime and the electricity went off. The rain was very heavy for a while. The Clinic have some sort of standby generator (I didn't discover details) but they didn't use it - they just carried on using battery lighting until power was restored, after around an hour. The temperature was much more comfortable after the rain, most of which dried up quickly. I took the opportunity to leave the clinic and walk to the hotel with a view to exploring on foot. But the temperature was rapidly rising again, so when a middle-aged guy on a motor cycle offered a boat ride, I entered into negotiations.

A relaxing cruise on the Ayeyarwaddy

Briefly, we made a deal and I had a splendid cruise lasting one hour on his longtail boat with a roof which could have carried a couple of dozen tourists rather than one. We went up river almost to the Swezigon Pagoda before returning to the shore close to my hotel (I say 'shore' because there's no actual jetty but if you're lucky - I was - you keep your feet dry. It was late afternoon when we returned - a good time to watch the activities of the local people, many carrying out ablutions and clothes washing.

Related posts

Next post describing this trip.

All my posts on this trip can be found here.

My pictures

There are a few pictures of this trip here.

More pictures will be posted as soon as possible.

Monday, 2 May 2016

The Work of Bagan Medical Clinic


Judged by Western standards, my reporting at the Clinic may seem intrusive, with access to the Doctor's Consulting Room during diagnosis and procedures and with photographs made freely available. But ideas of personal privacy have not developed in the same way in Burma and Dr. Hla Tun believes that those interested in the work should understand the problems of medical care in Myanmar, in general so different from the Western world.

In my observations, I try to better understand the working of Myanmar Society, developed over centuries, and give others a small insight into the lives of these admirable people who moved me to try to make some small attempt at offering support. Misinterpretations of what I see may occur and are, of course, my responsibility.


Myanmar is a large country with, by Western standards, relatively poor internal communications (although the growth of internal air transport over the last few years has been impressive). Although the Bagan Clinic was conceived as a local clinic, the reputation it has earned means that it now attracts patients from a wide area, despite the problems of travelling long distances.This also introduces problems of language, because people from Myanmar are highly diverse, as discussed in 'Ethnic groups in Myanmar' below.

The Clinic now charges a flat fee of 10,000 Kyat (around 10 U.S. Dollars) for a consulation but this is frequently waived because of the widespread poverty of patients. The fee includes all medication supplied and, where required, blood tests and E.C.G. carried out by the Clinic's laboratory.

Patient Notes

As is customary in Myanmar, patient notes are entered in a specially-produced notebook with the clinic details printed on the cover and the patient's name and address written in spaces provided for the purpose. These notebooks become the patient's property and are taken away by the patient, with any relevant test results or E.C.G. printouts tucked inside. It's fairly common for patients to bring similar patient notes issued by other clinics consulted previously. Orthopaedic patients often bring X-rays taken at other clinics. All of this patient history will be carefully studied by the Doctor during the consultation.


Details of medicines prescribed are entered in the patient notes. Some drugs are taken from a stock in Doctor Hla Tun's consulting room but, more generally, the patient will take their notes to the Dispensary which forms part of the original clinic building where the prescribed medication will be issued.

Doctor Hla Tun's consulting room

There is little privacy in the Doctor's consulting room - it is more like a general ward. Three examination couches are permanently occupied and the Doctor moves between them. If he prescribes various injections, these are generally administered by his two female assistants and, in the meantime, the Doctor will move to the next patient or update patient notes. In addition, mothers with young children are frequently seated adjacent to the Doctor's desk, making a fourth patient, and patients with just-completed tests will also wait at the Doctor's desk for him to review the results. Many patients also have a friend or relative with them in the consulting room so, together with Clinic staff frequently entering with information or questions for the Doctor, it can be quite crowded at times. Somehow, Doctor Hla Tun keeps track of all this activity, radiating quiet confidence.

Individual stories

On Saturday, there was a party of 9 patients from Shan State. They spoke a different dialect so the Doctor needed to use somebody with knowledge of standard Myanmar language and Shan dialect as an interpreter. The group had set-off by road in a hired pick-up at 6.00 p.m. Friday and arrived at the Clinic compound at 3.00 a.m. Saturday morning. The Driver of the pick-up charged each of them the equivalent of 35 U.S. Dollars.

One of these Shan patients was a large man from the Shan Hills with poor mobility following a stroke. It required two strong young men to help him to the examination couch whereas before he would regularly walk 14 miles to the nearest town. The Doctor aspirated fluid from the knee joints and gave a number of injections for pain relief. He also suggested a number of exercises to help strengthen weakened muscles.

I'll outline some other cases later.

Ethnic groups in Myanmar

The Myanmar Government recognises 135 distinct ethnic groups of which the major groupings are:-


For more information, refer to the Wikipedia Article.

Related posts

All my posts on this trip can be found here.

My pictures

There are a few pictures of this trip here.

More pictures will be posted as soon as possible.

Bagan (Day 2)

Events of Saturday, 30th April 2016

I was booked into the Aye Yar River View Resort for our four days in Bagan. For me, this location has two particular attractions. Firstly, the 'River View Rooms' are literally that. They are built on the east bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River (but at a higher level) with only a narrow strip, a hedge and asandy track between the base of the hotel building and the river with a variety of moored boats visible. It can be noisy at times - most of the smaller 'longtail' boats are propelled by raucous Chinese-built single-cylinder diesel engines which kick up quite a racket and the powerful tug-boats which power the barge traffic have large, loud marine diesels. But if, like me, you're an incurable romantic, it gives a connection with "The beating Heart of Burma" and, I noticed this time, the hotel provides disposable ear plugs. The second attraction is that the hotel is within walking distance of the Bagan Medical Clinic via a network of dusty, unsealed roads quite busy with pedestrian and motor cycle traffic. The walk takes ten or twenty minutes, depending how fast you walk and how impervious to sun you are (I'm not very good on either count any longer). However, Doctor Hla Tun usually insists on my using the monastery car for the commute.

The car picked me up, as arranged, at 8.30 a.m. and by the time I arrived at the Clinic, Doctor Hla Tun had already started consulations. The Clinic was noticeably busier than the previous day and I think the total patient registrations for the day exceeded 200.

Doctor Hla Tun introduced me to the lady opthalmologist who now conducts eye tests at the Clinic on a every other Saturday and I was able to watch her at work. Later I discovered that in the week, she works in Chaulk Hospital.

The lady Opthalmologist at Bagan Medical Clinic.

I'll describe my morning observing Dr. Hla Tun's consultations in a separate post.

Doctor Hla Tun asked if I had visited the famous monastery at Salay (sometimes transliterated as 'Sale'). As I had not, he arranged what turned out to be a fascinating trip for the afternoon. We set off in the monastery car with the young monk in the front passenger seat and the lady opthamologist and I in the rear.

We left Bagan heading south, passing first through the village of Myinkaba and then through a rather modern area called 'New Bagan'. We kept going firstly through the familiar landscape of the Bagan Plain but then becoming very undulating and, to my surprise, I spotted a number of four-legged steel oil derricks dotted around.

Chaulk Oilfield

I knew that Burma was an early producer of mineral oils but I had no idea that the Chaulk Oilfield (the name is sometimes transliterated with an 'l', sometimes without)was on our route, still less that it still produced useful amounts of oil.

The first derricks we saw were exactly as you see in old pictures but later we encountered a much simpler design which appeared to comprise a tripod of three wooden poles with simple wooden horizontal bracing. Where derricks were close to the road, I saw traditional 'nodding donkey' oil well pumps lazily extracting 'black gold' from the bore hole and delivering the oil through a flexible pipe to some unseen collection point. A network of overhead electric distribution systems, some appearing quite elderly, criss-crossed the skyline, carrying power to the numerous electric well pumps. I saw a reference to Well number 1118! Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE) lists the Chauk Oilfield as having been discovered in 1902 and still producing. There's an MOGE slideshow here and a Wikipedia article here

Near Chaulk town I saw a large farm of oil storage tanks and, further south, a single pipeline apparently lying on the ground ran parallel to the road. After a few miles, we came to an industrial complex which I assumed (principally from a series of 'flare stacks') was an elderly and relatively small-scale oil refinery.


The town of Salay is famous for its 'Yoke-Sone-Kyaung' monastery with its spectacular woodcarvings now in the care of the Department of Archaeology & National Museum. Built entirely of wood, and crammed with various artefacts, I found it a fascinating place. As I explored the gloomy rooms, thunder and lightning was followed by torrential tropical rain, sending the attendants scurrying to close the top-hinged 'doors' which formed the sides of the building. The storm was short-lived and it was dry as I returned to the monastery car.

Jan at Salay Monastery.

Sarkjouhla Pagoda

We then drove a few miles to the venerated temple of Sarkjouhla, dating back to 1191 A.D. Having explored the various elements of the complex, we headed back north.

Back to Bagan

We dropped the Opthalmolgist at her home in Chaulk before completing the journey back to Bagan Medical Clinic. Tired by the journey, it wasn't long before I accepted the offer of a car to my hotel. Doctor Hla Tun and his staff were working until midnight to finish treating the patients that day.

Related posts

Next post in this series.

All my posts on this trip can be found here.

My pictures

There are a few pictures of this trip here.

More pictures will be posted as soon as possible.