Xi to test ride Indonesia’s new high-speed train

Chinese President Xi Jinping may be one of the first passengers to ride South-East Asia’s first high-speed rail (HSR) when the Jakarta-Bandung line begins operations in November.

President Joko Widodo will invite his Chinese counterpart to ride on the China-made bullet train that will connect the capital Jakarta to the West Java capital after the G20 summit in Bali on Nov 15 to 16, Indonesian Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi told The Straits Times.

Construction on the 142km rail began in 2016, and it is expected to begin serving the public in November 2023. Running at speeds of over 200kph, it will cut a 2½-hour journey by car to just 45 minutes.

However, the train will take a more leisurely pace of 60kph when Xi and Joko ride a 15km stretch in Bandung, between Padalarang and Tegalluar.

“We will not yet run on the full speed – we have not reached that stage yet in the development,” Budi said.

The HSR project connecting Indonesia’s two major cities is being developed by KCIC, a joint venture between Indonesian and Chinese state-owned companies.

Flare-ups in 2016 between Jakarta and Beijing over Chinese fishing ships entering Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone around the Natuna islands had made relations awkward, but the two countries always ensured economic cooperation continued.

They are set to discuss plans to extend the HSR network eastward beyond Bandung, to the country’s second-biggest city of Surabaya, passing through Purwokerto, Yogyakarta, Solo and Madiun en route.

“We have the concept for the extension ready,” Budi said, adding that the 790km between Jakarta and Surabaya will take less than four hours by HSR, compared to a 10-hour drive currently.

To complement this network that would span southern Java, Indonesia hopes to upgrade an existing track in the north to a semi-high-speed network, to be operated by a joint venture with Japan.

Trains running at 100 to 120kph will cut three hours off the current nine-hour Jakarta-Surabaya rail ride.

A feasibility study by Japan is underway on the technical, economic and social aspects, Budi said. If green lit in 2023, the project may begin in 2024, with a 2028 completion date, he added.

The Jakarta-Bandung line will offer land travellers an alternative, Budi said, adding: “When the Jakarta-Surabaya network completes, we will no longer primarily rely on air transport.”

Indonesia embarked on major infrastructure projects under the Joko administration that began in 2014, following a bold, anti-populist reform that re-channelled outsize, inefficient energy subsidies to transportation, dams and ports development projects.

Other rail projects are the existing LRT networks in Palembang (inaugurated in 2018 for the Asian Games) and nearly-completed networks in Jakarta. Five other places, including in the main tourist island of Bali, have LRT plans in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, the second phase of development for Indonesia’s MRT North-South Line – a Japan-backed venture – will soon be completed, linking Jakarta’s city centre to the northernmost coastal area.

The country’s MRT was inaugurated in March 2019, and connects Jakarta’s densely-populated southernmost Lebak Bulus to the busiest office district Thamrin, in the heart of the city.

The affordable public transport mode is part of the capital’s efforts to ease traffic congestion.

Budi said building an MRT network will require funding of about 20 trillion rupiah (RM6.1bil), but the efficiency gains and economic returns will be multifold.

He added the United Kingdom offered the country soft loans for the MRT last week.

“I asked them to join Japan for the third phase, for the East-West route,” he added. — The Straits Times/ANN

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