On the one hand, Jakarta, the sprawling capital of Indonesia with 13 million inhabitants, all ministries, institutions, banks and headquarters of Indonesian companies. On the other, 150 km away, Bandung, the third largest city in Indonesia with 2.5 million inhabitants. Capital of the province of West Java, Bandung is the first university center of the country. It is a city where the creative and high-tech industries have made their home.

Yet getting from one city to the other is a nightmare. There is a highway, inaugurated in 2005, which connects the two cities. Officially, the journey takes 1h30. Except that, in reality, it is…

On the one hand, Jakarta, the sprawling capital of Indonesia with 13 million inhabitants, all ministries, institutions, banks and headquarters of Indonesian companies. On the other, 150 km away, Bandung, the third largest city in Indonesia with 2.5 million inhabitants. Capital of the province of West Java, Bandung is the first university center of the country. It is a city where the creative and high-tech industries have made their home.

Yet getting from one city to the other is a nightmare. There is a highway, inaugurated in 2005, which connects the two cities. Officially, the journey takes 1h30. But in reality, it often takes up to five hours to get from one point to the other – especially on weekends. There are also relatively comfortable trains. But again, on average, it takes 3 to 3.5 hours to get there.

Hence the idea for more than a decade to build a high-speed rail line between the two cities. It would be the first step in a network of high-speed trains crisscrossing the island of Java. This would include the Jakarta-Surabaya axis, Indonesia’s largest port with more than 3.5 million inhabitants.

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The Jakarta-Bandung high-speed train project, 150 km long, was put out to tender. The Japanese and Chinese competed for the contract. The latter country won the contract. For China, this is the most important project in its “Belt & Road” program in Indonesia, which is intended to develop land-based infrastructure throughout Asia.

Nearly four years behind schedule

Except that nothing seems to be going according to plan. The project is almost four years behind schedule. The Covid crisis is a first reason that has slowed down the work. But there are other factors. The geological relief on the route is complex with the crossing of mountains and the risk of earthquakes requires special techniques. Then there is the soaring cost of materials and raw materials. And finally, there is the notorious difficulty of working with the endemic Indonesian administration.The Jakarta-Bandung route is currently the only line. The continuation of the route to Surabaya has since been replaced by a new one.This project is being replaced by a less expensive Jakarta-Cirebon-Semarang-Surabaya high-speed train project (140km/h to 160 km/h) developed by Japan (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Inflation of costs and chain of delays

All in all, the project is expensive, much more expensive than originally planned. Estimated at $5.5 billion in 2015, it is now expected to represent a total investment of $7.9 billion. There is now talk of 40 years to recover the investment – twice as long as originally planned.

China has refused to put its hand in the wallet. It is therefore the Indonesian state that will pay the difference, causing political upheaval. Many in the country believe that it would be necessary to get rid of the Chinese partner in the consortium created for this line. The Indonesian state owns 60% of the shares, the rest being in Chinese hands. With a real dilemma. From now on, what the Indonesian government will bring in to cover the costs will probably be taken from other infrastructure expenses…

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There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel: earlier this year, the KCIC consortium announced that the project was 80% complete. Only the stations on the line are still far from completion, with rates ranging from 40% to 60%.

The governor of West Java province said this week that the first train trials will start in November. The trains will offer three classes of service, VIP, First and Second Class, as well as a dining car. The Indonesian high-speed train is expected to enter service in June 2023 – four years later than originally planned. It will also offer a journey time of 35 to 40 minutes between Jakarta and Bandung.