Mainline Steam and Pagodas

Metre Gauge Steam in Myanmar (Burma) 08/12 – 19/12/2018

Mainline steam in Burma/Myanmar

Many years of talks and negotiations with the state railway have starting to pay off at last. Our recent tours to Myanmar have shown the railways that their steam locos are capable of hauling more than five wagons over a distance of more than ten kilometres, the starting point for all negotiations. The nine years long journey to our first tour was difficult. You can find some aspects of it in the trip report from January 2017. The first trips were very successful. But now the modernisation of the double tracked main line from Yangon to Mandalay is on the short-term agenda and will change the appearance of the railways drastically. All the semaphores and gantries will be replaced by colour light signals, the track bed, the bridges, the signal cabins will all be changed, rebuilt or knocked down. Then the railway will look different and even the most authentic train will look out of place. Hence there is no time to lose. Their current plan is to start the construction work in mid 2018, however, there are serous hints that this date cannot be met. The risk that we might be too late in December 2018 is small, but waiting any longer is not advisable. We must use the little remaining time to take pictures of authentic trains in a traditional environment.

The pictures shown here were almost all taken on the January and December 2017 tours. If you look for differences between pictures taken in the last decade of steam operation and those taken now, you can barely find any. And this is precisely our target. We’ve paid the railways to overhaul a good number of wagons, so we have suitable wagons to form a really authentic train composition. On the main line to Mandalay they’ve used bogie wagons for decades, so our chartered freight train over the main line will have some very elderly main line wagons.

Mainline steam in Burma/Myanmar


Main Line Steam Itinerary

Experience has told us not to publish a detailed itinerary as it should be in reality. Of course, our paying participants will receive the itinerary in good time and also, to where they should book their flights. This published itinerary is only an illustration of what we’ll roughly offer. Please don’t book your flight based on this itinerary, I’ll give you the real thing once you’ve booked the tour.




Flight to Bangkok


Connecting flight to Naypyitaw, arrival in the evening. Charter bus to our hotel in Naypyitaw


Near Pyinmana there was a sugar mill which received a major part of its cane from three loading points on the state railway. However, long ago the railways lost the transport contract to road transport. Those cane trains were hauled by steam until the mid 2000s. We want to re-create this time and will take an empty cane train over the main line to Ela. Around noon we’ll return tender first to Pyinmana. In the afternoon we’ll run another cane train on the branch line to Kantha. Ela and Kantha were stations where cane was loaded onto trains. Hotel in Naypyitaw.


On the double tracked mine line, we’ll go from Pyinmana to Taungoo with a freight train. Our loco will spend the night in the depot at Taungoo. Hotel in Taungoo.


Today we’ll cover the long distance between Taungoo and Pyuntaza. Apart from Bago, Pyuntaza is the last remaining large main line station with semaphores. We’ll start early in the morning to have a chance to reach Pyuntaza in the last afternoon light. Hotel in Bago.


In the afternoon we’ll take pictures around the semaphores and gantries of Pyuntaza. Hotel in Bago.


Today we continue over the main line to Bago, passing the famous pagoda position. We’ll reach Bago in the evening. Hotel in Bago.


We’re leaving the double tracked main line. With an authentic looking stone train, we’ll go from Bago to Mokepalin (Mokpalin). Our arrival in Mokpalin might be after sunset as trains, especially freight trains, move slowly over the single tracked line. Hotel near Kyaikhto.


With our stone train, we’ll return to Bago, which we’ll probably reach after dusk. There are several nice photo positions on the way. Hotel in Bago.


“Semaphore Festival”: They still exist here! The British-style semaphores and gantries of Bago are a must see. With a passenger train and a YC, we’ll perform several arrival and departure shots with all the semaphores and timber framed signal cabins before modernisation cuts them down. Around noon we’ll turn the loco on the turntable and head for the southern end of the line to take pictures of the southern signals as well as the arrival from the North. For the evening we’ve planned night shots in the depot. Hotel in Bago.


We’ll return to the airport of Yangon. You can book your return flight from 13.00 hrs.


Arrival in Europe or America.


Steam & Pagodas – Line description

In the day, sugar cane trains to Pyinmana were operated chimney first to the south and west. That means that the empty trains to Ela and Kantha went chimney first. On the line to Kantha, we’ll find many palm trees, making it particularly scenic, while on the main line to Ela we have the double tracked main line and a British bridge, from the very beginning of the railway, just before Ela.

Mainline steam in Burma/Myanmar

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 very end of 2017 we can still find riveted bridges from the time of the line’s construction, semaphores and gantries in Pyintaza 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.

When they will actually start the planned construction work to catapult the line into the 21st century is uncertain. But for sure large sections, if not the whole line, will still remain completely untouched by the end of 2018. From the information we have, we think there won’t be a change until December 2018.

Mainline steam in Burma/Myanmar

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 was the 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, which has been overhauled for our group. Locos can take water here and minor repairs are still possible.

For our trains, we have requested and paid for the Myanma Railways to overhaul a number of wagons and re-paint the passengers coaches we want to use.

Mainline steam in Burma/Myanmar

You might wonder why we are to spend so much time with an afternoon train just in the section from Zingyaik to Thaton. The reason is that around Yinnyein are some of the best positions of the whole line, so this way, we’ll make sure we don’t miss these positions in the best light and have chartered an afternoon stone train.

One of the rarely used locomotives has a reduced boiler pressure and so can’t handle the same weight as it did before. Also, it is never certain that the locos can manage the whole distance without any trouble. Crews are not skilled any more and the overhaul was a very cheap one. The intention was to have them ready for light passenger trains only, with around three to a maximum of five coaches. So please expect delays, not only from the operational perspective (they are very common in Burma), but also from a technical point of view. It cannot be guaranteed that anything will work exactly as planned and paid for. To reduce the risk we’ve ordered two different locomotives at Bago. The second loco can help out if the first fails. But there is still no guarantee. We’re there a decade after the last fire was dropped!

We have three serviceable locomotives, which we hope to use. There are two 2-8-2 Mikados of class YD and one 4-6-2 Pacific of class YC.

Mainline steam in Burma/Myanmar


Small Print

A chartered tour bus will follow the steam trains. Occasionally we’ll board the train to get to some photo spots. Getting aboard the freight wagons is, sometimes, a bit demanding. We’ll have ladders available for those who do not visit a gym every other day.

All in all, the technical condition of the railway and its equipment is not suitable for us to guarantee anything. The steam locos of Myanma Railways haven’t been used for a long time and haven’t been fully overhauled. They’ve just been made serviceable again. It might be possible that some parts of the programme cannot be operated as planned and need to be skipped without replacement or compensation. Paid money will not be refunded by any of the Burmese officials or railways, even if they can’t offer what we have paid for. I even had to sign a paper which stated this. However, we don’t expect serious difficulties in this matter. On all the recent tours the contractors in Burma have tried very hard to fulfil all our wishes. On the recent tour we didn’t face any failures.

Time keeping in Myanmar is also nothing you should bank on. There might be hefty delays. However, our charter trains in the past have departed almost always exactly on time.

Mainline steam in Burma/Myanmar

Charter buses (mostly with air conditioning), local aircraft, trains and accommodation represent the standard of our host country, which may seriously deviate form European, Australian or North American expectations. While we will try to avoid long walks, some photo positions may require a bit of extra effort. The first part of the itinerary is designed especially for photographers and video film makers. To make the most out of it, we may change our route or hotels/guest houses without any notice in advance.

Usually our hotels are good, but occasionally the standard of hotels in smaller places may be doubtful. Please be prepared. After you have seen and felt the quality of the roads, you’ll understand why we don’t go long distances just to get to a better hotel.

Please note that morning trains have a higher priority than a breakfast in the hotel. So breakfast will 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 some 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.

Mainline steam in Burma/Myanmar: Bago Gantry

Please bear in mind that accommodation and transportation in Burma falls short of EU, Australian or North American safety standards. Always use common sense when crossing roads and railway tracks. For instance, if you can’t walk on dark streets in the night please take a strong torch with you. Neither the local tour operator, Myanma Railways, nor FarRail Tours can be held responsible and will not accept any liability whatsoever in the case of any accident, damage or bad effect due to delays 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 $250 US you should easily be able to cover all expenses.

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 a battery problem.

Despite some difficulties we might face, you’ll be positively surprised by this lovely country, and its friendly and welcoming people.

Mainline steam in Burma/Myanmar



Mainline Steam and Pagodas 24 to 40 participants £2,995
08.12.2018 – 19.12.2018 Single room surcharge £325
Registration Deadline: 05.09.2018

Bookings after the registration period expired are possible at a premium of £110.

The price includes:

Not included are:

Mainline steam in Burma/Myanmar


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