Indonesia also considering China for Japan-backed rail project linking Jakarta to Surabaya

Attendants pose for a photo beside the models of a high speed train during the China High Speed Railway on Fast Track exhibition in Jakarta, on Aug 13, 2015.
Attendants pose for a photo beside the models of a high speed train during the China High Speed Railway on Fast Track exhibition in Jakarta, on Aug 13, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Indonesia is also considering China for a rail project connecting the Indonesian capital with the second largest city of Surabaya amid concerns that a potential surge in costs could undermine the project's feasibility, reported Jakarta Post on Thursday (July 6).

"With the financial burden now under scrutiny, Indonesia is looking towards Japan's rival China after it showed interest in participating in the project", said the newspaper.

The project, offered to Japan late last year, is meant to be Indonesia's gift to placate Japan after it expressed its discontent over losing out to China in 2015 for the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail project, said the Jakarta Post.

A meeting on Wednesday at the Office of the Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister rendered a bleak prospect for the Japan-backed Jakarta-Surabaya rail project, reported the newspaper.

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Indonesian officials have previously stated that the project would cost Rp 102 trillion (S$10.72 billion) under a fully conventional track design, but the figure could jump five-fold if the railway were to be built under a fully elevated design to allow faster trains.

Given the complex state of the existing line, with more than 100 turns along the line, the government is considering building an entirely new track because upgrading the existing line will risk a surge in costs and raise questions about the project's feasibility.

"With more than 100 turns in the track, the costs can go up. But we also need to explore whether we need to build a new track," Coordinating Maritime Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said.

When asked whether Japan would be guaranteed to proceed with the higher costs, he said: "It will depend on which country can provide us with the cheapest funding.

"We have always agreed on the scheme offered by other countries. Now, we will come up with our own scheme, and this is still being explored by our team," he said.

"If we can secure cheaper funding, then the burden for the state would be minimal."

China has expressed interest in the project as well.

"Japan and China have shown interest; we are now considering those two," he said.

The semi high-speed railway linking Jakarta and Surabaya in East Java would have trains running between 180 and 200 kmph and would shorten the travel time between Jakarta and Surabaya from more than 10 hours to 3.5 hours.

A string of meetings between Indonesia's President Joko Widodo and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since last year has included the discussion on how to get the Jakarta-Surabaya project off the ground, with Indonesia assuring that the multi-billion-dollar project would be a landmark project for Japan.

The Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail, Indonesia's first high-speed rail project, is scheduled for completion in 2018. With a top speed of 350 km per hour, the high-speed rail project is expected to cut travel time between Jakarta and West Java's Bandung, Indonesia's fourth largest city, from the current three hours to 36 minutes.

Meanwhile, the deputy chief of mission at the Japanese Embassy in Jakarta, Mr Kozo Honsei, said he did not know "to what extent Luhut referred to the new track" as Japan has mainly proposed to improving the Jakarta-Surabaya railway's alignment and electrification, among others.

However, he maintained that despite the technicalities, the leaders of Indonesia and Japan are committed to the project.

"There is already a commitment between President Jokowi and our prime minister. So we have to follow up," he said.

Transportation expert Darmaningtyas from the Indonesian Transportation Society (MTI) believed the project was more a political tool than a necessity.

"I think the project is aimed at pacifying Japan because they were let down after losing the bid against China. It's more political."