INDONESIA: Indonesia officially launched Southeast Asia’s first-ever bullet train on Monday (2 Oct), marking a significant milestone in the country’s infrastructure development.
The high-speed rail service, part of China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, has been largely funded by Chinese state-owned firms, with a total project cost of US$7.3 billion.
The long-awaited project has faced numerous delays and setbacks but finally opened to the public, offering an efficient and rapid transportation solution for the nation.
The newly inaugurated bullet train will operate between the capital city, Jakarta, and Bandung in West Java, Indonesia’s second-largest city, renowned for its vibrant arts and culture scene.
Spanning a distance of 142.3 kilometers, this high-speed rail line, officially named WHOOSH (an acronym for “time-saving, optimal operation, reliable system” in Indonesian), runs on electricity, producing no direct carbon emissions, and boasts an impressive speed of approximately 217 miles per hour.
As a result, the travel time between Jakarta and Bandung has been dramatically reduced from three hours to under an hour, according to officials.
The rail service is overseen by the joint state venture PT Kereta Cepat Indonesia China (PT KCIC) and operates between the Halim railway station in East Jakarta and Padalarang railway station in West Bandung, seamlessly integrating with local public transport systems.
In addition to its speed and efficiency, the bullet trains have been modified to withstand Indonesia’s tropical climate and are equipped with advanced safety systems capable of responding to emergencies such as earthquakes and floods.
The trains consist of eight cars, all fitted with Wi-Fi connectivity and USB charging points, seat 601 passengers, and offer three distinct classes of seating: first class, second class, and VIP.
A vision born in 2015 as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative
Indonesia, as the world’s fourth-largest country and Southeast Asia’s largest economy, has been actively pursuing investment from China, its largest trade and investment partner.
The bullet train project was initially conceived in 2015 as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, with construction commencing later that year.
China secured the project over Japan, despite Japan’s lower initial proposal of US$6.2 billion and a 40-year loan with a 0.1% interest rate.
China’s winning bid of US$5.5 billion with a 2% interest rate for the same loan term was influenced by three key factors.
First, China offered a business-to-business (B to B) model, meaning that it could be executed purely as a commercial venture between the state-owned enterprises of both countries, without relying on Indonesia’s state budget (APBN).
Second, China assured the Indonesian government that it would not require any guarantees, shifting potential construction and cost overruns to the PT Kereta Cepat Indonesia China (KCIC) consortium.
Third, China promised technology transparency, enabling technology transfer, whereas Japan’s proposal lacked such a clause.
Hurdles and delays on the road to completion by 2019
Initially scheduled for completion in 2019, the project encountered numerous operational delays, primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as challenges related to land procurement and escalating costs.
Dwiyana Slamet Riyadi, director of PT KCIC, praised the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway as a remarkable example of bilateral cooperation between Indonesia and China.
He emphasized that it would not only enhance Indonesia’s infrastructure but also foster the growth of the country’s railroad and manufacturing sectors, further solidifying the relationship between the two nations.
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