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Observation tower on the mountain at Khun Tan Tunnel.
National Archives of Thailand
Khun Tan Tunnel; Khun Tan
Khun Tan; Khun Tan -- Design and construction

            Khun Tan Tunnel is considered the longest railway/train tunnel in Thailand. It is 1,362 meters long. Its construction was supervised by a German engineer named Mr. Emile Eisenhofer.
            Mr. E. Eisenhofer graduated from a technical school in Munich, Germany. During his studies he gained experience in railway and tunnel construction in Germany. He also built the water gate and weir in a river near Frankfurt. In his book, German Railroad Man in Siam, written in 1962, he told about the northern railroad and tunnel construction.
            As the rail route cut through the jungle, over one thousand workers succumbed to malaria and cholera and died, 90% of them were Chinese workers. However, even some German staff including Mr. E. Eisenhofer himself came down with malaria.
            There were two places in the tunnel, 109 and 1,362 meters long where they had to use the Chinese laborers to work on removing dirt and Thai laborers from the Northeast to drill into the mountain for the tunnel because the Chinese workers refused to work in the tunnel as they believed it had haunting ghosts.
            Sometimes tigers sneaked in at night and preyed on the workers and horses and mules in the stable. They had to build a tree platform to shoot the tigers.
            Mr. E. Eisenhofer recounted that at one time, two German engineers and a Thai policeman shot a tiger and followed its trail of blood when suddenly the tiger lurched out and pounced on one of the engineers who led the group. The man shot it six times but was not able to stop it. He was bitten on the right arm and got pounced on hard in his knee and was hurt badly. They took him in a litter to be treated at a hospital in Phrae Province and then he was transferred by train to the Bangkok Nursing Home. King Rama VI through his graciousness had one of the royal guard continually visit him and inquire about his condition. Another problem was the trouble with the multitudes of leeches and danger from poisonous snakes. Fortunately, none of the workers was bitten by a snake. Mr. E. Esienhofer sometimes caught some rare snakes and sent them to the veterinariary science museum in Hanover.
            During the time of the construction of the northern railway, Mr. Eisenhofer had 20 houses built in the woods. These houses became guesthouses for the royal family members and senior officials who came to observe and inspect the tunnel construction several times. For instance, in 1909, King Mongkut (Rama VI), when he was the Crown Prince, came to the site being interested in the tunnel construction. Mr. Eisenhofer explained to him about the mathematics calculation to drill the mountain on both sides to join each other at the desired point and demonstrated the lighting of the dynamite fuse to blow up the rock into the mountain for a hole of approximately 60 cm. to make the initial furrow as an auspicious sign for the tunnel.
            The construction of Khun Tan Tunnel was done by drilling the mountain on both sides at the same time. The method had been used to make shorter tunnels. Several problems and obstacles occurred during the construction. One of these was that the workers had no experience in railway construction. They had never seen a tunnel or used dynamite to explode a mountain. Moreover, they did not have proper tools. Mr. Eisenhofer himself had to invent some kind of air ventilation device. During the construction of the Chiang Mai-Lampang railroad, the First World War broke out so the iron bridge they ordered from Germany could not be shipped. They had to use hardwood instead. As for the high bridge near the tunnel, Mr. Eisenhofer had to place a long rail along the mountain and raise the rail higher to make it easier to set the rail into the tunnel. In the deep and dark tunnel with no natural light entering either during the day or nighttime, they had to use a kind of lamp called “khompet” as it looked like a two-month old duck. But this duck-lamp had no head nor legs. At the neck part they made a hole to allow a wick to stick out. At the back part was a string or wire made into a loop for hanging the lamp. In the tummy of the duck-lamp was some kind of fuel oil, a mixture of gasoline and coconut oil.
            When they finished with the railroad on both sides of the tunnel, the tunnel itself was not complete. The chief engineer, Mr. Eisenhofer had to transport the train engine, trucks and construction materials across the mountain.
            As mentioned earlier, several royal family members and high ranking officials came to inspect the work. These were Prince Phanuphanworadet, Prince Naresuanworarit, Prince Kamphaengphet Akrayothin and Chao Phraya Wongsanupraphan, Minister of Communication and so on.
            Near the guesthouses, there were some small and large mountains which Prince Kamphaengphet Akrayothin graciously named to match their appearance, such as Doi Wiang Lekyai and Doi Wiang Leknoi. Ironically the names caused some misunderstanding for the iron trade company to send experts to survey the area thinking it would be full of iron ore. (Lek means iron), so Doi Wiang Lek yai could be translated as the Gigantic Mountain City of Iron – Translator).
            After four years of hard work and ordeals, the tunnel sections of Lampang-Khun Tan and Khun Tan-Chiang Mai were completed in 1917.
            Khun Tan Tunnel construction began in the reign of King Rama VI when General Prince Burachatchaiyakon or Kromphra Kamphaengphet Akrayothin was the commander of the Royal Siam Railway. It began in 1907 and was completed in 1918, approximately 11 years, costing Bt. 1,362,050, having Mr. Emil Eisenhofer, the German engineer, as the chief supervisor. It is 5.20 meters wide, 5.40 meters high, 1,352.10 meters long. The ceiling of the tunnel is in an arch shape with a radius of 2.50 meters. It was constructed of steel reinforced concrete.

Cremation Souvenir Book of Khun Pho Prasong Panyaphu: Samutphap
            “Phapkae laorueang mueang Lamphun”.
            (2009) [n.d., n. pl.].
Suthep Chuchuea. (19--). Siam muea wanwan.
            Bangkok: Sahamit Printing.
Chiang Mai University Library
Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai University, Funder
Naren Panyaphu, Advisor and expert
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Chiang Mai University Library
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