Could Jakarta-Bandung Future High Speed Train Derail?

Despite having confirmed to build a high speed train link between Jakarta and Bandung, reducing travel time to only 40 minutes compared to a current travel time of over three hours by regular train. The project would cover a length of 146 km and has been attributed to a joint venture between Indonesia and China PRC. The project will request an investment of US$5.5 billion with a likely opening in 2019. The railway will have four intermediary station-stops at Halim, Walini, Karawang and Tegalluar. halim will offer a connection to the future Airport Express Rail Link.

However, since the concession has been attributed to China, more and more voices vow their concern and their opposition against the project. Two battles are being fought. The first is supported by Parliament members who request that President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo stop the project, citing environmental damages and extremely high costs of construction. According to House members, “the project is expensive and will cause damage to areas around it that are prone to landslides”. Concerns also linger over the use of State assets as some public land concessions will now be used for the project.

In a move to speed up the development of the high speed train track, President Jokowi wants to turn the Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Rail into a national strategic project, helping to secure all of the required permits and reducing environmental assessment. This latter element is infuriating consumers and local associations which are now protesting against the project. Many now call for a revision as the attributed concession is deemed irregular and non transparent. Talking to the Jakarta Post, public policy expert Agus Pambagio stressed that the consortium needed to review its feasibility study and strategic environmental assessment if it wishes to go ahead with construction. Despite the groundbreaking ceremony three weeks ago, there has been no sign of any construction since. The Transportation Ministry has not yet issued a building permit for the train due to a lack of required documents, as well as a disagreement over points in the concession agreement.

Indonesia-China consortium PT Kereta Cepat Indonesia China (KCIC) is indeed getting angry over the lack of concession guarantees.  The consortium is asking now the Indonesian government to give it an exclusive right for the rail track as they are now rumours about the construction of another high speed rail link between Jakarta and Surabaya, which would run partially in parallel to the Jakarta-Bandung route.

The Transportation Ministry pledged  it would provide a political guarantee to the consortium to ensure that the rail project would not be affected by any future changes in legislation. The Ministry has proposed nine points of agreement to be stipulated in the concession. The consortium has in principle agreed with most of the proposals, except those related to the starting point of the 50-year concession and the government’s ability to allow other high-speed rail operators in the same corridor.

The consortium wants the starting point of the concession to be calculated from the launch of the commercial operation of the train, not from the issuance of the concession, as proposed by the government. The opposition around the project will definitely have a consequence: it will definitely delay the project. Which finally will penalize Indonesian travellers who spend hours on crowded tollways and trains to commute between both metropolis.