In March 1943, the Japanese authorities began the construction of a 220 km railway line across Sumatra. The line was to link Muara, a terminus of the existing West Sumatra line, with Pekanbaru, whose location on the Siak River gave it access to the Melaka Strait. The line was strategically important, because Allied submarine activity in the Indian Ocean meant that the Japanese military headquarters in Bukittinggi was increasingly isolated from the rest of the empire. To construct the line, the Japanese used tens of thousands of Indonesian forced labourers (rōmusha) and from 1944 more than five thousand Western prisoners-of-war and internees. The difficult construction task, passing through swamps and jungles, was made harder by poor conditions in the work camps: meagre shelter, inadequate food and little medical care. It has been estimated that 70,000 workers died on the project before the railway was completed on 15 August 1945, the day of Japan's surrender.
Dulm, J. van, et al. Geïllustreerde atlas van de Japanse kampen in Nederlands-Indië, 1942-1945 Purmerend: Asia Maior, 2000-2002, 2 vols.
Hovinga, Henk, Eindstation Pakan Baroe 1944-1945: dodenspoorweg door het oerwoud Amsterdam: Buijten & Schipperheijn, 1982.