Real progress for Jakarta's rail project

After 25 years of delays, red tape has been cut so traffic can improve by 2019

There's a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel for Jakarta's stressed commuters - after more than a quarter of a century of delays, Indonesia's first mass rapid transit (MRT) rail system could begin easing the capital's traffic hell by 2019.

With 1,000 new vehicles hitting the roads every day, and facing the grim prospect of complete gridlock by 2020, the authorities have cut red tape and tunnellers on the 22.6 trillion rupiah (S$2.3 billion) project have a new sense of urgency.

But as workers using a giant boring machine push ahead around the clock at about 8m a day, residents remain worried about whether heavy flooding during the rainy season will affect the rail network, about 40 per cent of which will be underground.

Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama is confident, though, and said the recently completed major dredging project at North Jakarta's Pluit dam, and efforts to keep it in good shape, were key to ensuring flooding will not be an issue for the MRT.

"To mitigate flooding risk, we design and build raised entrance stations, adequately higher than the street level," Mr Dono Boestami, president director of MRT Jakarta, told The Straits Times.

"And we will also have rolling doors and pumps."

  • Not shaken by quake possibilities

  • JAKARTA • Although earthquakes are common throughout Indonesia, that danger does not worry MRT chiefs in Jakarta. The citydoes not sit on a geological fault line and the closest source of quakes is 100km away in southern Java. Jakarta has only been rattled.

    Construction was not affected when a quake measuring 5 on the Richter scale struck southern Java last year, said MRT Jakarta president director Dono Boestami.

    "With a 5 Richter scale quake, the MRT will continue to operate, but above 7 it would have an automatic shutdown, temporarily," Mr Dono said.

    The MRT trains are expected to carry 173,400 passengers a day. Travel time from Lebak Bulus, in the south, to the HI roundabout will be about 30 minutes, one-third of the time a private vehicle would take during rush hour.

    Wahyudi Soeriaatmadja

MRT Jakarta is the municipal government-owned company tasked to build supporting facilities such as the stations and shops underground and to operate the service when construction - mainly funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency - is completed by 2027.

The rail project had faced repeated delays, because of the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis and fruitless national-local government dialogue. However, the first load of dirt was dug on the project in September last year when work began on the 9.3 trillion rupiah North-South line. About 175,000 passengers a day are expected to use the 15.7km route through 13 stations, from the densely populated residential area of Lebak Bulus in the south of the capital, to the HI roundabout in the city centre where prime office buildings and five-star hotels are located.

The second section, which extends to the city's north, is not scheduled for completion until sometime in 2020, and stretches the network another 9km with eight stations.

The finished network will cover 112km, stopping at over 60 stations, compared with Singapore's 178km and 142 stations. That should bring a huge sigh of relief in the city of 9.5 million residents, where a 15-minute car journey on a Sunday can take up to two hours in choking pollution during work-week peak hours.

President Joko Widodo has said that the MRT, which had its first feasibility study done in the 1990s during the Suharto era, was not designed to make a profit but to serve the public. Proceeds from the planned electronic road pricing system on the city's main thoroughfares will be channelled to the MRT to help cover costs.

As in other cities, MRT Jakarta will rent out space to merchants, and charge mobile phone operators to put transceiver devices underground.

MRT Jakarta has so far agreed in principle with 30 office and commercial buildings to connect their basements to the stations' underground areas.

The North-South line will be complemented with the 87km East- West line, which will not only cover Jakarta, but also neighbouring commuter towns such as Bekasi and Tangerang. This is expected to be completed by 2025.

The mega-project also incorporates nine corridors of a light rail transit (LRT) system to criss-cross the network. By sometime next year, travellers will benefit from a special line linking the city centre to Soekarno-Hatta, Indonesia's main international airport.

"Enormous tasks ahead, but we have made a start. If we did not fix the overall transportation system in 'Jabodetabek', the potential economic loss - time, fuel and health problems - would reach 65 trillion rupiah a year from traffic congestion," Mr Dono said, adding that the figure was well above the cost of the MRT project. Jabodetabek refers to Jakarta and all its satellite towns of Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2016, with the headline Real progress for Jakarta's rail project. Subscribe