Indonesian Men Go Head-to-Head in Competitive Train-Pulling Tournaments

Railroad workers, porters, and construction workers measure their strength in this colossal showdown.

by Titah AW; photos by Alfian Widiantono; translated by Jade Poa
05 September 2019, 11:08am

Train-pulling in action at the Yogyakarta Region VI Train Depot. All photos by Alfian Widiantono.

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

“Keep pulling, come on! If we win we’ll celebrate with dangdut!” Achid, a team leader who goes by one name, said in reference to a popular genre of Indonesian dance music with infectious beats. His nine teammates chuckled in response and pulled harder on the 86-tonne train with gloved hands.

The crowd cheered them on as they went head-to-head with another team in the competition's second round.

competed against another team. Both sides managed to jostle the trains, which slowly inched forward in the qualifying finals.

The train-pulling competition hosted by the Yogyakarta, Indonesia Region IV Train Service took place in August at their local locomotive depot that houses trains while not in use.

That particular day, two diesel electric trains were prepared to test the strength of the participants. Eko Budiyanto, head of the Division VI Train Service, said this was the third time his office hosted such an event.

This year, 14 teams from both inside and outside the train industry took part. Some of them are part of the Yogya train enthusiasts community, who call themselves “railfans."


Achid and his team work as porters at the Tugu Station, transporting passenger luggage on and off trains. They’ve been a crowd favourite since the competition’s inception in 2017. They’re good competition, considering they make a living lifting heavy objects.

“We’re optimistic, but the competition is tough, especially them,” Achid said, motioning towards a group of men in blue uniforms who work at the Locomotive Depot.

While Achid’s team consists mostly of middle-aged men clad in traditional batik button-downs, the Locomotive Depot team looks considerably more sinister with their muscular physiques and popped collars.

The rules are simple. Two teams, each consisting of ten people, race to pull an 86-ton train ten meters forward to the finish line. A layer of oil on the tracks lubricates the trains’ wheels, making them easier to pull. It usually takes less than a minute for each team to complete a round. Two referees stand at the finish line to determine which team reaches it first.

“There’s not really much strategy, the only important thing is to remember to eat breakfast so we have strength,” Achid told VICE.


This race was held in remembrance of Indonesia’s independence day, but Achid and his team say they also hold these races to educate the public about trains. “The body of a train is extremely heavy and can really hurt you if there’s an accident. It’s especially dangerous to those who take selfies on the tracks or bridges,” Eko said.

Eko’s argument has some merit. Just two days before the competition, a middle school student died while taking a selfie on the train tracks at Solo station not too far away.

In Indonesia and across the world, extreme selfies have resulted in countless deaths, with the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care reporting 257 selfie-related deaths between 2011 and 2017. Death by selfie even has its own name now: selfiecide.

“We have almost zero train accidents, but most accidents happen on the tracks or surrounding areas,” Eko continued.

That’s one reason the tournament was expanded to allow outsiders to join. Most of the public participants consisted of around 20 teenaged railfans willing to put their strength to the test.

Participants pulling an 86-tonne train

“Damn, it’s so heavy, I just tried it! Us railfans usually just look for photo ops when it comes to trains,” Vino, a high school senior and train fanatic who also goes by one name, told VICE. Vino and his community hope to contribute to educating the public on trains.

The cash prize was an undisclosed amount, but that didn’t make a difference to the participants. “That’s not what we’re after, we just want to have fun. I heard it was cash, but I’m not too sure. Hopefully it’s enough to buy our team dinner,” Surono, a coordinator on the Locomotive Depot team from district VI said.

Committee members lubricate the tracks with oil.

Sadly, Achid and his comrades lost in the second round against the Tugu Station Construction team. In the final round, the time difference between the two competing teams was only a few seconds. Team Bangdis was awarded second place, while the Locomotive Depot Team took gold, as Achid had initially worried.

“I guess we won’t be celebrating with dangdut,” Achud chuckled. In the end, he said, he prefers lugging passenger cargo.

This article originally appeared on VICE ID.