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Indonesia-Japan rail project to be integrated into Chinese one

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, second right, inspects readiness to implement new normal procedures during the coronavirus outbreak, at Bundaran HI MRT Station in Jakarta, Indonesia on May 26, 2020. (Anadolu Agency/Getty/Kyodo)

JAKARTA (Kyodo) -- Indonesia plans to integrate a medium-speed rail service connecting Jakarta and its second-largest city Surabaya, and built with Japanese assistance, into a high-speed one, built with China's assistance, connecting the capital and the city of Bandung, a Cabinet minister said Friday.

    Coordinating Minister for the Economy Airlangga Hartarto revealed the plan, proposed by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo, to reporters after attending a limited Cabinet meeting on the evaluation of national, strategic projects that will be continued to recover the country's economy after the COVID-19 pandemic.

    "To be more economically viable, according to the president, the (Jakarta-Bandung railway) project should not only end in Bandung, but continue to Surabaya," Hartarto said.

    Jokowi, according to the Cabinet minister, also proposed to bring a consortium of Japanese investors in, joining the Indonesia-China consortium currently constructing the railway between Jakarta and Bandung, the capital of West Java Province.

    The construction of the Jakarta-Bandung project itself has been postponed for a year since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic that caused a "budget overrun," Hartarto said.

    Asked whether it means that the Jakarta-Surabaya railway project will be scrapped, the minister quickly answered, "It will be integrated (into the Jakarta-Bandung railway project)."

    "The Ministry of State-Owned Enterprises will study further, including on members of the new consortium, routes of the railway and total project cost," he added.

    In September last year, Indonesia and Japan reached a deal on the outline of the Jakarta-Surabaya railway project, which is expected to fully operate in 2025, after two years of negotiations.

    The train service is expected to initially begin operating between Jakarta and Cirebon, a city in West Java that lies about 219 kilometers away from the capital, in 2024.

    In the following year, it would cover the full 720 km distance between Jakarta and Surabaya, the capital of East Java Province.

    The project will double the current speed of the existing train from between 80 and 90 km per hour to 160 kph, or cutting the travel time by 3.5 hours from 9 hours to 5.5 hours.

    When completed, the route will serve 54 trips, each carrying 900 passengers, a day, linking the two cities.

    Indonesia's Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology has predicted that 12.4 percent of airline passengers between the two cities, which totaled around 8 million last year, will shift to the trains.

    In 2018, a "political decision" was made by Jakarta to have only Indonesian and Japanese companies participate in the tender to build the railway network.

    Indonesia has been leaning toward choosing Japan for the project in an apparent effort to ease Tokyo's disappointment at losing to China in 2015 in bidding to construct the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway.

    The construction of the Jakarta-Bandung railway project itself had earlier been delayed for three years due to mismanagement and incompetence of the people dealing with the project, said then Investment Coordinating Board Chairman Tom Lembong last year.

    But more competent people have since been put in the management of the project and the project continued until the COVID-19 pandemic halted it again.

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