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Analysis: Jakarta-Bandung HSR rushes for commercial operation in August

Jakarta Post - May 31, 2023

Tenggara Strategics, Jakarta – PT Kereta Cepat Indonesia Cina (KCIC) is hitting the gas on the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway (HSR) project to meet their promise of being fully operational by Aug. 18 this year by starting their first tests with a comprehensive inspection train (CIT) last week. Some quarters, however, warned a short testing period could compromise safety.

Prior to the CIT tests, the project had only done tests on each system independently, so this is a vital milestone where KCIC begins integrated testing between multiple systems. This first out of a series of integrated tests was a hot sliding test on the railway's overhead catenary system (OCS). The hot sliding test will be done in phases of increasing intensity.

So far, the OCS installed in the HSR route between Halim station in Jakarta and Tegalluar station in Bandung, West Java, have been able to withstand up to a top speed of 180 kilometers per hour as of the test on last Saturday, which is faster than the average train but still below the 350 km/h expected speed of the Jakarta-Bandung HSR. However, representatives of KCIC said that they will eventually increase the speed of the inspection train performing the tests to 385 km/h.

Before tests are run at speeds that break the sound barrier, walls will be built around the tracks to ensure that nearby residents are not affected by the train, explained State-Owned Enterprises (SOE) deputy minister Kartika Wirjoatmodjo, who is aware of the poor reputation the Jakarta-Bandung HSR project has developed throughout the years.

In preparation for the commercial operation, PT KCIC has been opening recruitment for a number of positions such as conductor, train attendant, passenger service agent at platform and passenger service agent at service counters. PT KCIC has also proposed the fare for the high-speed train of between Rp 250,000 (US$16.72) and Rp 300,000 per trip between Halim and Tegalluar stations. The train will also stop in Kerawang and Padalarang stations.

Some quarters, however, have voiced their reservations over HSR operational target of August. A source said Crossrail International, a United Kingdom-based railway consultant hired by the Transportation Ministry, recommend a longer test run, noting a three-month test run was too short for a high-speed train.

Indonesian Transportation Society executive Aditya Dwi Laksana concurred and suggested KCIC take a longer time for the test run to ensure safety. He compared it with the Jakarta Light Rail Transit (LRT), which runs at much a lower speed on shorter routes, taking a much longer test run. He further suggested the government only symbolically launch the Jakarta Bandung high-speed train during August's Independence Day celebration, but not for commercial operation.

Since the announcement in 2016, the Jakarta-Bandung HSR project has been beset by several delays. To briefly recap, KCIC initially promised the HSR to be operational sometime in 2019. However, that promised date had been moved back repeatedly as the project encountered numerous setbacks one after the other, starting from problems with land acquisition, poor drainage that caused flooding, blasting activities that damaged nearby resident houses, ballooning cost overruns and hiring underqualified contractors.

What's more

Near the end of last year, the project encountered a fatal accident at the West Bandung site that made the Transportation Ministry consider further delay of its operation. This incident, which was due to a work train consisting of a diesel locomotive and railway track laying machine going off track, left two Chinese workers dead and two others injured.

During a meeting with KCIC management, Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi suggested the high-speed train's commercial operation be delayed to give it enough time for a test run. However, KCIC did not want the HSR's operation date to be delayed any further. Furthermore, it wasn't until February this year that KCIC finally resolved the over US$500 million difference between the cost overrun calculation between China and Indonesia. This difference, which came about due to China's assumption that the Global System Mobile – Railways (GSM-R) frequencies used for signaling trains were provided by Indonesia to the HSR for free, prevented the disbursement of a Rp 3.2 trillion state capital injection to pay for the cost overrun.

What we've heard

Sources within the state-owned enterprises (SOE) consortium revealed that the foreign consultants appointed by the government to oversee the trial process of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed train actually recommended a further delay to the commercial operation date of the high-speed train.

They assessed that there are still too many unfinished tasks along the railway line, with many the remaining parts being the most difficult. "They don't want to become the scapegoat if anything happens in the future," said the source.

This recommendation is similar to advice from the Transportation Ministry at the start of the year. At that time, Transportation Minister Budi Karya urged KCIC not to rush the testing and commissioning process of the Jakarta-Bandung HSR. This minister gave this warning based on recommendations from Crossrail, a consultant from the UK.

In their recommendation, KCIC was suggested to extend the duration of the high-speed train trial. According to Crossrail, the trial period set by KCIC was too short, which could impact the safety of the HSR when it's in service.

The Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Train is planned to be inaugurated by President Joko Widodo on August 18 as part of the celebration of Indonesia's 78th Independence Day. However, the project, which was funded by loans from China and experienced cost overruns multiple times, was targeted to be completed and operational by July 2023 in the master schedule that was drafted near the end of last year.

[This content is provided by Tenggara Strategics in collaboration with The Jakarta Post to serve the latest comprehensive and reliable analysis on Indonesia's political and business landscape.]

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2023/05/31/analysis-jakarta-bandung-hsr-rushes-for-commercial-operation-in-august.htm