Indonesia abuzz as first high-speed railway nears launch

2023-06-21 16:39:43China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

The Hall of Gambir Station in Central Jakarta, as usual, is crowded with passengers on June 17. Commuters from Jakarta will be able to travel to Bandung in just 40 minutes once the high-speed railway starts operation later this year. (Photo by LEONARDUS JEGHO/China Daily)

Yohanes Efraim can hardly wait for the high-speed train linking the Indonesian capital of Jakarta with the city of Bandung to begin its commercial operations.

The railway, a landmark project under the Belt and Road Initiative between China and Indonesia, is scheduled to start operating in mid August.

"The train will greatly help me with my work. I don't care too much about the ticket prices," Efraim said at a crowded Gambir train station in Central Jakarta on June 17.

He had just got off the Argo Parahyangan train from Bandung, capital of West Java province, after having spent two days there on a business trip.

Efraim, who must take a plane later to reach Surabaya, said that the long-awaited Jakarta-Bandung railway would significantly cut his traveling time from Surabaya to Bandung.

The high-speed railway — developed by an Indonesian-Chinese consortium, Kereta Cepat Indonesia China (KCIC) — is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, covering a distance of 142.3 kilometers. Its trains will have a speed of up to 350 km per hour, and can reach Bandung from Jakarta's Hakim station in just 40 minutes — compared to the three hours and 40 minutes taken by the Argo Parahyangan train to cover the same distance.

Partly funded by loans from the China Development Bank, the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway is part of Indonesia's strategic infrastructure development under President Joko Widodo.

According to KCIC officials, the railway project, whose construction started in 2016, was 91 percent completed by mid-June. This included the construction of the railway's double tracks and its four stations in Halim, Karawang, Padalarang and Tegalluar, which is the train's final destination about 16km from Bandung.

Bandung-bound passengers from Halim station will have to get off the bullet train in Padalarang and transfer to a feeder train to get to the West Java capital. This is because from Padalarang, the bullet train will proceed directly to Tegalluar, without stopping in Bandung, Indonesia's fourth-largest city.

The start of the railway's operations is timed to coincide with celebrations to mark Indonesia's Independence Day, which falls on Aug 17.

KCIC's corporate communications manager Emir Monti on June 18 said: "The fast train will begin to be 'introduced' to people from August.".

Monti had said earlier that the train's soft launch would be held on Aug 18.

Train operations had initially been scheduled to start this month, but according to some media reports, they might be delayed again to early next year because the railway project could not be fully finished by August. However, such reports have been denied by government officials including Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan.

Amid excitement over the high-speed railway, transportation management professor Ahmad Munawar, from Gajah Mada University, said that serious efforts have to be made to get people to travel using the high-speed train. Failure to do so would result in its operational costs being higher than its income, forcing the government to subsidize the whole operation.

"In the initial period of its operation, ticket prices have to be lower (than the quite high prices reported so far)," Munawar said.

With more affordable ticket prices and as travelers get used to the comfort and convenience of using the high-speed trains, more people will switch from using from Argo Parahyangan train and other transportation modes, he said.

"If that happens, its ticket prices can be increased in phases."

Munawar added that connectivity lines to and from the train stations are also crucial in making the high-speed train attractive, something which other transport analysts and members of the public have also highlighted.

Munawar recalled his unforgettable experience in China and Japan, where he had easy access to various transportation lines at high-speed train stations in the two countries. The trains were so comfortable and passengers could immediately get onto connecting trains which took them to many different parts of the city.

Indonesian officials have assured the public that feeder trains and buses to and from Halim are ready for the launch. More feeder transport and stations will eventually be built in the future, officials have said.

Meanwhile, Aditya Dwi Laksana, Indonesian Transportation Society executive, pointed out that top priority should be given to the safety of the high-speed train passengers.

"For any mode of transportation, safety is the most basic factor," he said. He said that commissioning tests on the train project must not be done in a hurry as they have to include careful and thorough examination of all the facilities and infrastructure, while human resources for the train operation must be well-trained.

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