Steam and Semaphores in Burma (Myanmar)

Steam in Burma/Myanmar for railway photographers

Metre Gauge Steam in Burma 2019

The overhauling and repair of wagons, water supply facilities, triangles, turntables; converting a loco from coal to oil burning and the work on a branch line required a financial involvement which was, sadly, mirrored in the tour price. So for the December 2018 tour, we gave six passenger coaches a new livery, working on the line to Madauk got them to repair a bridge, overhauled two four wheel flat wagons and brought four freight wagons over a 1,000 km to Bago. This resulted in an expensive tour, not affordable by everybody. With this new trip (over 700 Pounds cheaper) we hope to appeal to those with a slimmer budget. A chance to visit wonderful Myanmar, a chance to experience semaphores, gantries, pagodas and parts of the traditional mainline still with flagmen, token rings and manually operated points. All this and steam!

Steam in Burma/Myanmar for railway photographers

When the December tour ended, we went to several offices to talk to people with four and five golden stripes on their epaulettes. The construction work on the main line started with a ceremony in December 2018. Tons of ballast, tens of thousands of brand new concrete sleepers and so on, are ready to be laid. So at last they start to modernise the railway. For us bad news! But not everywhere at the same time. Good news! Pyuntaza is the centre of the construction works, and the plans for re-signalling and re-building the stations of Pyuntaza and Bago are on the drawing board. However, we managed to get a very precious promise from the management: they will not touch Pyuntaza and Bago until the end of 2019!

That’s why we can offer this nine day tour. We now have sufficient wagons to create perfectly authentic looking trains in different combinations. Everyone in Bago knows what and how we want things. The work done for previous tours will make THIS tour so much easier, enjoyable and photographically rewarding. Wonderful Burma awaits. I know you will enjoy it!

Steam in Burma/Myanmar for railway photographers


Itinerary Burma 12/2019




Individual flight to Yangon


Arrival in Yangon until noon, early afternoon transfer to our hotel in Bago


Morning transfer to Pyuntaza, visit to the depot, continue to Madauk. We’ll have a mixed charter train from Madauk to Nyaunglebin in the afternoon, almost exactly at the time the mixed 162 used to run with steam until 2001. We’ve arranged pottery which will be loaded on the train, recreating scenes which could be seen until the turn of the millennium. We’ve planned with the beautiful pacific class YC. Return to our hotel in Bago


Main line steam! We’ll go from Pyuntaza to Bago on the double tracked main line. We’ll use a passenger train and the YC. Parts of the line will be under construction, but there will be some larger sections which are still looking very traditional. Hotel in Bago.


With a stone train behind a YD we’ll go from Bago to Mokpalin, where our loco will be turned. Hotel near Kyaikhto


We return to our stone train. The stone trains were always fantastic, but we’ll top it! This will be the best stone train we ever run, as another four MHV wagons will be available. Hotel in Bago.


We made a deal with the headquarters: they won’t touch Bago’s semaphores at least until the end of 2019. Hence we will play around the semaphores and gantries for quite possibly the last time. We’ll also go out on the main line. We’ll use the YC again. This is the weakest locomotive, and it’s not sure we can use it for much longer without a very pricy heavy boiler repair. We’re not even sure anyone in Burma is capable to of undertaking the much needed boiler repair. Hotel in Bago


In the late morning we’ll be bussed back to Yangon, for those who booked a later flight: visit to the world heritage site Shwedagon Pagoda, and in the evening we’ll fly home


Arrival at home


Line description

The non-electrified, double tracked main line from Mandalay to Yangon is among the slowest main lines in the whole of Asia. Some sections are like a green meadow, with some rails peeping out of the grass. At the beginning of 2019 we still find riveted bridges from the time of the line’s construction, semaphores and gantries in Pyuntaza and Bago, timber-framed signal cabins and flag-man protected level crossings. The line leads to flat countryside along the Sittaung River valley but offers a good number of nice locations for photography. The main feature will be, of course, our authentic, steam hauled charter freight train.

Steam in Burma/Myanmar for railway photographers

In December 2018 they started the planned construction work to catapult the line into the 21st century. But large sections will still remain completely untouched by the end of 2019. From the agreement we have, the stations Pyuntaza and Bago won’t be changed until December 2019.

The nice branch line to Madauk allows only a speed of 25 km/h, partly just 8 km/h (5 Mi/h). The line offers a very special feature. Until the turn of the millennium, they loaded hundreds of earthenware pots at a tiny, unimportant stop. Because the “pot stop” was so unimportant to the railway, even the slowest mixed train trains stopped for only a minute or two. The hectic hustle and bustle while loading dozens, if not hundreds, of pots was amazing. Some pots broke, some were left behind when the train departed. This is the exactly the same scene we will re-create with our train.

Steam in Burma/Myanmar for railway photographers

Bago (the town was previously known as Pegu) had one of the last steam sheds of Burma. It served two lines, the first of which headed to Mottama, southeast of Bago, the second one is a main line. Initially it is flat (but not without photographic potential). Beyond the bridge over the Sittaung River, hills start to appear. At Mokpalin, there is a small, barely used shed with a turntable, overhauled especially or our group. Locos can take water here and minor repairs are still possible. Two of the rarely used locomotives have a reduced boiler pressure and so can’t handle the same weight as they used to. Locomotive reliability is always suspect, but the crews are incredibly helpful and always try their best even if skills are fast disappearing. We will aim for light passenger trains only, with three to five coaches. We have three serviceable locomotives, two of them will be used for our group. There are two 2-8-2 Mikados of class YD and one 4-6-2 Pacific of class YC

Steam in Burma/Myanmar for railway photographers

So please be prepared for delays, not only from the operational/timetabling perspective (they are very common in Burma), but also with reliability. It is simply not possible to guarantee that anything will work exactly as planned. We will have spare locomotives which could help out, but not at the drop of a hat. Please remember, we’re there a decade after the last fire was dropped on regular steam operations!


Small Print

A chartered tour bus will follow the steam trains. Occasionally we’ll travel by bus and follow our train, but usually we’ll board the train to get to most photo spots. Getting aboard the freight wagons is, sometimes, a bit demanding, but we’ll have ladders available for the non-athletes!

All in all, the technical condition of the railway and its equipment makes guarantees difficult. The steam locos haven’t been used for a long time and haven’t been fully overhauled - they’ve just been made serviceable. It might be that some parts of the programme might not go ahead as planned and need to be skipped. Money already paid to Myanmar officials or to the railway will not be refunded even if they don’t then deliver what we have paid for. As before, I have had to sign had to sign my acceptance of this. So do you. However, we don’t expect serious difficulties. On all the recent tours everyone in Burma tried very hard to fulfil our wishes. On the recent tour nothing failed and the photographs were amazing.

Steam in Burma/Myanmar for railway photographers

Steam in Burma/Myanmar for railway photographers

Time keeping in Myanmar is “flexible” and there might be hefty delays. However, our charter trains have departed pretty well on time. Charter buses (mostly with air conditioning), local aircraft, trains and accommodation are to the standard of our host country, are somewhat short of European, Australian or North American expectations. While we will try to avoid long walks but some photo positions may require a bit of extra effort. The itinerary is designed especially for both still photographers and video film makers. To make the most any opportunities, we may change our route or hotels/guest houses as necessary.

Usually our hotels are okay, but occasionally the standard of hotels in smaller places may be variable. Please be flexible and tolerant, but after you have seen and felt the quality of the roads, you’ll understand why we don’t drive enormous distances just to get to a better hotel.

Please note that morning trains have a higher priority than breakfast in the hotel. So breakfast may be served as a packed box if necessary. Lunch and dinner are planned according to the situation with the steam train timetable. If necessary we’ll buy papayas, bananas and oranges instead of risking missing some good pictures because of a time-consuming restaurant stop. Excellent lunches, with local fruit and rice and curries are usually available in the small stations along the railway too. Beverages are not included in the tour price.

Steam in Burma/Myanmar for railway photographers

Steam in Burma/Myanmar for railway photographers

Always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks. For instance, if you walk on dark streets during the night please take a good torch with you. Neither the local tour operator, Myanma Railways, nor FarRail Tours Club can be held responsible, and will not accept any liability whatsoever, in the case of any accident or illness, damage or delay etc. We suggest you take out a comprehensive overseas accident and health insurance policy.

We recommend that you take some US dollars with you. To change some money at the airport for souvenirs or beverages, other major currencies, such as Euros or British Pounds, are ok as well. With about $200 US you should easily be able to cover all expenses.

Steam in Burma/Myanmar for railway photographers

Charging rechargeable batteries in the hotels is usually not a problem. Sometimes there’s a power cut, and the hotel’s generator set is not able to deliver the same voltage as the country’s network. Therefore, recharging batteries can take a longer time than usual. However, no one missed a picture on our recent trips because of battery problems.

Despite the difficulties we might face, you’ll be very pleasantly surprised by this lovely country, it’s friendly and welcoming people and above all an amazing railway, preserved for the moment as it was, with a program of steam activity quite remarkable for 2019.

Steam in Burma/Myanmar for railway photographers



Burma (Myanmar)
Steam and Semaphores in Myanmar 31 to 40 participants £2,270
07.12.2019 – 15.12.2019 22 to 30 participants £2,540
  Single room surcharge £300
Registration Deadline: 17.08.2019

Bookings after the registration period expires are possible at a premium of £105.

The price includes:

Not included are:

Steam in Burma/Myanmar for railway photographers

All pictures shown here were taken in December 2018.


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