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A Closer Look at China-Indonesia Cooperation on Jakarta-Bandung HSR


Published : Nov. 9, 2023 - 15:10

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BEIJING, Nov. 9, 2023 /PRNewswire/ -- A news report from China Report ASEAN:

On September 7, the Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Railway (Jakarta-Bandung HSR), jointly built by China and Indonesia, opened, cutting the travel time between the two Indonesian cities from 3.5 hours to 40 minutes. Commercial operation will start at the beginning of October.

Connecting Indonesia's capital Jakarta and the fourth largest city Bandung, the high-speed railway stretches 142 kilometers with stops at four stations (Halim, Karawang, Padalarang, and Tegalluar) and a maximum speed of 350 km/h. It is the first overseas construction project to fully use Chinese railway systems, technology, and industrial components, and investment, construction, and operation are managed by PT Kereta Cepat Indonesia-China (KCIC), a joint venture between an Indonesian consortium of four state-owned companies and China Railway International Co., Ltd.  The railway is expected to greatly improve local transportation, boost development of industry along the route, and facilitate economic and social progress throughout the country.

On September 6, Chinese Premier Li Qiang inspected the Jakarta-Bandung HSR during his visit to Indonesia. After arriving at Halim Station, Premier Li listened to a report on the construction of the railway before taking the train to inspect Karawang Station. He noted that the Jakarta-Bandung HSR is Southeast Asia's first high-speed railway and a flagship cooperation project between China and Indonesia under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indonesian President Joko Widodo both tracked the progress of the project closely. The railway not only represents aspirations for improved living standards, but also serves as a successful example of the region's developing countries working together to realize modernization.

Why High Speed Rail?

With over 10 million residents, Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia and the political and economic center of the country. Bandung is the provincial capital of West Java and the country's fourth largest city with a population of about 2 million. Before the Jakarta-Bandung HSR, the railway connecting the two cities was over a hundred years old, so outdated that the train could only reach a speed of about 50 km/h, making the journey quite lengthy and uncomfortable for passengers.

The direct distance between the two cities is merely 100 kilometers, but people had to spend at least three hours on the train, which could stretch to four or five hours if the weather turned bad or a traffic problem emerged. The situation would turn even worse during major festivals such as Ramadan, when it often took an entire day to shuttle between Jakarta and Bandung.

"Infrastructure is a great leverage for human development," said Ridha Wirakusuah, Chief Executive Officer of Indonesia Investment Authority (INA). He suggested that improved infrastructure has been a major factor driving China's radical development achievements and empowering it to become an economic power so quickly. 

In 2008, the Indonesian government first announced plans to build a high speed railway between Jakarta and Surabaya, the second largest city in the country. The entire route would stretch over 700 kilometers in total, and the Jakarta-Bandung HSR is the first leg of the project to be completed. 

In November 2014, Indonesian President Joko Widodo was invited to experience the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Railway and was impressed by the speed, safety, and comfort of China's high-speed railway. "Indonesia will build its own high-speed railway," said Widodo, after which cooperation between China and Indonesia on the construction of Jakarta-Bandung HSR officially commenced. 

Why China?  

When Xie Feng, now China's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, served as Chinese ambassador to Indonesia, he revealed in an interview that Japan also bid on the project. In 2011, Japan submitted a feasibility plan for the Jakarta-Bandung HSR. 

According to Indonesia's National Medium Term Development Plan 2015-2019, the country planned to enhance construction of large infrastructure across 12 fields within five years. However, the country's budget could not fund everything planned, so Indonesia's state-owned enterprises as well as foreign and domestic private companies were encouraged to participate.

During the bidding for the Jakarta-Bandung HSR project, the Indonesian government hired the independent international consulting organization Boston Consulting Group to evaluate the Chinese and Japanese plans to guarantee fairness and impartiality in bidding. Indonesian President Joko Widodo expressed hope that the railway would become a business-to-business project instead of a government-to government activity. "The railway should not strain the budget or cause financial stress on the country, and the design should include as many Indonesian characteristics as possible," he said.

In April 2015, China sent engineers to Indonesia to survey the natural conditions for the construction of the railway. They realized that the regions along the line were covered with tropical rainforests and sparsely populated but abundant in dangerous insects and animals. And natural hazards such as volcanoes, landslides, and reservoir bank caving presented daunting geological obstacles. Wearing masks, gripping walking sticks and lugging 20 kilograms of instruments, the Chinese engineers traveled more than 300 kilometers and survived several earthquakes to produce a feasibility report of more than 400 pages before the deadline.

The plan China proposed fully recognized and respected Indonesia's request to "not use state budget and not give any sovereign guarantee." China promised in its final proposal to "facilitate Indonesia's local production, use locally produced raw materials, machines and equipment, and create as many jobs as possible by hiring Indonesian workers, technicians, and managers." China also agreed to transfer its technologies to support the long term development of Indonesia's railway industry.

On March 26, 2015, Indonesian President Joko Widodo visited China and signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on China Indonesia cooperation on Jakarta-Bandung HSR. On April 22, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Indonesia and signed a framework document on the implementation of the Jakarta-Bandung HSR. On August 19, China submitted a feasibility report on the Jakarta-Bandung HSR. On September 2, China won the project and became the builder of the first high-speed railway in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. 

The KCIC was established in 2015 right after Indonesia officially chose China to build the railway. Indonesian companies together hold a 60 percent stake in KCIC and the Chinese partner holds the remaining 40 percent stake, which guaranteed Indonesia's control of the project. 

On January 21, 2016, a groundbreaking ceremony for Jakarta-Bandung HSR was held at Walini Station, marking the official commencement of construction.

Overcoming Obstacles

The Jakarta-Bandung HSR was originally scheduled to open on May 31, 2019, but construction fell behind due to a series of difficulties. 

The first was land acquisition. Since the land needed for construction was all on densely populated Java, land ownership involved various entities such as state-owned enterprises, private enterprises, and individuals. Relevant parties conducted long and tedious discussions on specific compensation, which held up construction of the railway. 

Another problem was the complex geological environment along the line. According to China State Railway Group Co., Ltd. (China Railway), the Jakarta-Bandung HSR is located at the intersection of the Eurasian plate, the Pacific plate, and the Indian Ocean plate, which makes the region especially prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Therefore, the engineering team spent considerable time collecting large-scale geological maps and satellite images of the region to mark major geological issues such as volcanoes, fault zones, and potential landslides and carrying out detailed on-site geological mapping to analyze the causes and changing rules of regional subsidence and other unfavorable geological characteristics. These efforts provided technical support for the railway to bypass regions with bad geological conditions. 

Railways in Indonesia are more vulnerable than any in China to problems such as earthquakes and lightning, so engineers upgraded the technologies for the HSR. According to construction participants, the trains tailored for the railway adopted intelligent sensing technology and were equipped with an earthquake monitoring and warning system. 

The train design of the Jakarta Bandung HSR also incorporated local cultural and religious characteristics.  The train carriages offer prayer rooms, and demonstrate strong and distinctive Indonesian features in appearance and interior design. The trains are decorated with traditional Indonesian batik patterns and painted in silver and red, reminiscent of the Indonesian national flag. Red polygonal patterns symbolizing "auspicious clouds" were spray-painted on the noses of the trains as well as the joints between train carriages, imitating the skin texture of the Komodo dragon, the national animal of Indonesia.  Because of the special colors and shapes, the trains were dubbed "Red Komodo" by the Indonesian people. 

According to China Railway statistics, a total of 45,000 Indonesian employees have been trained since construction of the Jakarta-Bandung HSR began. Many attended formal training institutions, some learned as apprentices from senior Chinese technicians, and others received on-site training. The project helped train many local workers in multiple fields including welding, electronics, machinery, and concrete pouring, and created a total of 51,000 jobs for Indonesia.

In November 2022, in the presence of the leaders of China and Indonesia, the Jakarta-Bandung HSR was opened for trial operation, and the various indicators and parameters were all within normal range, determining that the first trial operation attained a complete success. On September 7, 2023, the Jakarta-Bandung HSR was officially put into operation, marking Indonesia's entry into the high-speed railway era as well as a landmark achievement of the China-Indonesia cooperation under the BRI.

Calling the high-speed railway a road to integration, openness, and shared prosperity, Premier Li Qiang said that it will not only shorten the time and space distance between cities, but also promote the optimization and upgrading of industrial structure and empower economic development along the route. He said that China is willing to share experience with Indonesia on harnessing the potential of high-speed rail to develop industries and cities. 

Paulus Rudolf Yuniarto is a Jakarta based scholar who works as a researcher at the Indonesia National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN). He called the positive impact of the Jakarta-Bandung HSR obvious because it cuts travel time between the two cities, making the travel more efficient and comfortable. "The advanced technologies adopted by the railway will effectively improve urban transportation by alleviating traffic pressure, improving traffic efficiency, and providing environmentally friendly means of transport," said Yuniarto. "I am looking forward to taking the train and experiencing its speed and performance first-hand."