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Have you ever heard of ‘Rail therapy’?

At our occasional meetings, TRANSIT members do take time to chat. One of the topics is physical fitness, discomfort etc (sometimes related to standing in the trains and buses, sometimes not).

Some members have talked about magnetic bracelets as a way to introduce magnetic therapy into the body.

But over in Indonesia, it seems that people are taking magnetic therapy even further:

Rail therapy for poor Indonesians (Free Malaysia Today)
August 13, 2011
Many people who cannot afford medical care are seeking cure from an unorthodox source – lying on rail tracks.
By Ahmad Pathoni

Indonesians lie on railway tracks in search of 'railway therapy' by allowing a small electrical current to flow through their bodies. Image courtesy of Free Malaysia Today.

JAKARTA: Dozens of people who lie on railway tracks in Jakarta every morning and before dusk don’t have a death wish. Instead, they are seeking a cure from various illnesses such as rheumatism and back pain through the low electrical current in the rails.

The unorthodox therapy has put a spotlight on the quality of health care in Indonesia, where many have no health insurance and thousands still die each year of treatable illnesses such as tuberculosis and malaria.

In Jakarta’s Rawa Buaya area, men and women – young and old – stretch their bodies across the rails, using their heads and feet to form a circuit.

Some residents said the railway therapy had proven to have healing benefits.

“I had rheumatism and a high level of cholesterol and thank God I’m cured,” said Rusdi Subhan, a 45-year-old mechanic, rolling up his pants to show his once sore legs.

“I used to be in a lot of pain but now I can sleep well.”

Another resident, Sita Aminah, also attested to the miraculous benefit of the dangerous practice.

“I used to have a severe back pain, but after doing this, I feel a lot better now,” said 50-year-old Aminah, who said she had undergone the electric therapy for five months.

No evidence

The woman said she was not afraid of being hit by a train because she was familiar with the timetable.

[TRANSIT: That sounds like a statement of confidence in PT Kereta Api Indonesia/…people are not afraid of putting their lives in the hands of the company’s train schedule. Or it could mean that the trains are remarkably infrequent.]

Locals said people were drawn to the practice following news – or a rumour – that a paralyzed man who tried to kill himself by lying on the tracks suddenly could walk again when a train was approaching.

[TRANSIT: It’s amazing what the sight of a train barreling down the tracks towards you can do for your will to live.]

Lily Sulistyowati, head of the Centre for Health Promotion at the Health Ministry, said there was no evidence that such a therapy could cure diseases.

“In our society people believe rumours and like to try new things, hoping that they will work,” she said.

“There are actually community clinics in the area where people can have treatment for their various complaints.”

About half of Indonesia’s 230 million people live on less than US$2 a day, according to the World Bank.

Expensive medical treatment and drugs have prompted many Indonesians to go to alternative healing clinics and shamans to seek cure for their health problems.

In 2009, thousands flocked to the house of Muhammad Ponari, a nine-year-old boy who, after being struck by a lightning – as the story goes – found a stone believed to have magical healing powers.

Dicing with death

At one time, three people died in a stampede while queuing for treatment.

A World Bank report released in 2009 said half the population still lacks health insurance coverage and government health subsidies disproportionally benefit the rich.

Azas Tigor Nainggolan, an activist with Jakarta Residents’ Forum, said the railway phenomenon was symptomatic of a poor health care system.

“If you are poor, you will not be treated seriously,” Nainggolan said. “Often patients have to pay first to get emergency treatment.”

“Many of those who seek therapy on the rails have suffered various illnesses for a long time,” he said.

In 2008, the government launched an ambitious scheme to provide health coverage for the entire population.

But critics said to get free medical treatment under the scheme, poor patients have to produce various letters certifying they are poor and many gave up trying.
But Sulistyowati of the Health Ministry said more poor people now enjoyed quality health care.

“People flock to government clinics every day and from our assessment the scheme is well utilised by the public,” she said.

Meanwhile, the railway company, PT Kereta Api, expressed concerns about the illegal use of its tracks, but appeared unable to do much to stop it.

“These people are endangering their lives and disrupt railway traffic,” Kerera Api spokesman Mateta Rizalulhaq said.

“Our officials have reprimanded them repeatedly but they were ignored,” he said.


As amazing as this may seem, many people do believe in the power of the electrical charge on the human body – which is itself a source of biological electricity (remember The Matrix?).

And the metal rails that are used by trains are conductors of energy. For electrically powered trains the rails provide the ground that completes the circuit that allows electricity to flow. For Diesel-powered trains, the rails are also used for communication.

Of course, TRANSIT does not recommend that anyone try “rail therapy”, either here or in Indonesia. We have enough problems with our railways as it is, without people getting down on the tracks to improve on their “health”.

3 replies on “Have you ever heard of ‘Rail therapy’?”

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