New line to significantly cut traveling time between Jakarta and Bandung
Company director David So, who is based in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, is looking forward to the bullet train service connecting the city with Bandung, the provincial capital of West Java and the country's third-largest city. The line is scheduled to be completed next year.
"A dream is coming true. The capital will have a fast train service that will be very beneficial for families and for businesses," he said.
So's company, which sells electrical products, has customers in Bandung and elsewhere in West Java, and he has long dreamed of a bullet train route being introduced in Indonesia after traveling on such a service overseas.
The new line is the first project contracted overseas as part of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative. Thailand will be the second country in the region to have a similar project.
The line, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, includes 22.5 kilometers of tunnels.
The bullet train service between Jakarta and Bandung will give company executives and their staff members plenty of time to inspect projects or hold meetings in either city before departing the same day.
The project was due to be completed in 2018, with services starting the following year, but issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in delays and disruption to the schedule.
With a top speed of 350 kilometers per hour, the bullet train will cover the 142-km journey between Jakarta and Bandung in about 40 minutes. The trip currently takes 3 hours 15 minutes.
The project is now due to start commercial operation by the end of next year after a three-month trial. Despite the pandemic, about 74 percent of the work had been completed as of June.
Speaking at the groundbreaking ceremony for the project in January 2016, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said, "Speed in population mobility and in transporting goods is a crucial factor for us to compete with other countries."
He repeated this message when he inspected the project this year. "There will be time efficiency and speed. We hope this project will enable us to compete (with other countries)," the president said.
Widodo stressed that the new Jakarta-Bandung line is part of his massive flagship development program to build Indonesia's "competitiveness and civilization", with the aim of ensuring equal distribution of development nationwide.
The line is being built and will be operated by the joint venture company PT Kereta Cepat Indonesia-China. Abbreviated as KCIC, it is jointly owned by PT Pilar Sinergi BUMN Indonesia, a consortium of Indonesian state companies, and Beijing Yawan Co, a syndicate of Chinese railway companies.
China is the second-largest investor in Indonesia after Singapore.
In June, KCIC spokesman Denny Yusdiana said, "We now expect all the work to be finished by the end of 2022 and for commercial operation to start immediately." All land clearance and environmental issues have been fully resolved, he added.
Yusdiana said work on the project included building four stations, elevated facilities, tunnels, and laying tracks.
Turning to the project's economic impact, Yusdiana said, "It will result in economic and business activities related to creative industries, the development of information about marketing agricultural products, and offer typical products from TOD(transit oriented development) locations."
He added that the project is expected to trigger growth for businesses along the new rail line.
In June, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and the visiting Indonesian president's special envoy Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan agreed on the project's scheduled completion. The agreement was reached at the inaugural meeting of the China-Indonesia High-Level Dialog Cooperation Mechanism in Guiyang, capital of Guizhou province.
The project was part of the all-around development of China-Indonesia relations discussed at the meeting.
Meanwhile, the erection of box girders, a highly complex part of the line, was completed on Aug 23, Xinhua News Agency quoted KCIC as saying.
Widodo's predecessor, Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who ended his second five-year term in October 2014, initiated the project.
China saw off competition from Japan for the project tender launched by Widodo's government. The bidding was based on feasibility studies jointly conducted by Indonesia and the Japan International Corporation Agency on the 748-km Jakarta-Surabaya bullet train line, in addition to the Jakarta-Bandung line.
In July, West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil said the project would result in new towns being built in TOD areas such as Karawang, Walini and Tegalluar.
"Without such a line, these new towns would probably not be created, as it is not easy to attract investors," Kamil said.
He added that he was eyeing businesses relocating from China to Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, member states.
Top trading partner
China is Indonesia's biggest trading partner and its major investment source. Last year, the two countries celebrated the 70th anniversary of establishing bilateral relations.
Analysts have said they hope the new Jakarta-Bandung rail project will provide technology transfers and support Indonesia's human resources development.
Aditya Dwi Laksana, chairman of the Indonesian Transportation Society, said, "Technology transfers from China should be undertaken thoroughly from the point of view of infrastructure, facilitation and operations.
"Although local content for the railway's facilities and our capacity for its operational system may still be limited, we need to avoid continuously relying on foreign technology," Laksana said.
International relations expert Aleksius Jemadu praised China's involvement in the bullet train project.
He said that in addition to its technological supremacy, the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed line shows China's desire for development projects to reach out to the people.
"It is not about preaching (values), but about real problem-solving for the economic rights and economic needs of people at societal and grassroots levels," Jemadu said, pointing to China's outstanding achievement in lifting its rural poor population above the national poverty line.
Jemadu, a professor of international politics at Universitas Pelita Harapan on the western perimeter of Jakarta, said China's success in the Jakarta-Bandung rail project would provide good momentum for it to offer similar projects to other countries.
ASEAN is a gateway for China to reach out to other developing countries with its capital and problem solving capabilities, notably for infrastructure and transportation development, said Jemadu, who holds a doctorate from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, a leading university in Belgium.
Andyka Kusuma, a professor and researcher of transport planning at Universitas Indonesia, said rail lines already serving Jakarta and Bandung may need to focus on transporting cargo.
"In China, operation of the Beijing-Tianjin fast line led transportation authorities to issue a policy instructing conventional rail lines to only transport cargo, and to encourage passengers to use fast trains," Kusuma said.
Indonesia should also build high-speed rail lines linking Jakarta to other areas, and between cities outside the capital, Kusuma said, adding, "This way, competition will not merely grow between land transportation systems, but also between land and air transportation."
West Java has the largest population in Indonesia, and its economy is based on industries such as electronic goods and automotive products, as well as agricultural produce for export.
The 2.5 million people living in Bandung form part of West Java's population of 50 million. The province is Indonesia's largest in terms of population.
When he became president in 2014, Widodo launched a massive nationwide infrastructure development program to support his "pro-common people "approach and narrow the economic gap between different groups of society and regions.
The program's projects include toll roads, national roads, border roads, suspension bridges, airports, mass rapid transit and light rapid transit networks, and dams.