Indonesia opens first high-speed railway

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Indonesian President Joko Widodo launches the China-backed high-speed railway connecting Jakarta and Bandung called "Whoosh", at Halim station in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 2, 2023. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Indonesian President Joko Widodo officially inaugurated the country’s first high-speed railway last week, marking the beginning of its commercial operations. The high-speed railway dubbed “Whoosh” links Jakarta with Bandung, the densely populated capital of West Java province, and will reduce travel time between these cities from the current three hours to approximately 40 minutes. Its utilisation of electrical energy is expected to contribute to a reduction in carbon emissions.

The construction has been plagued by delays and escalating expenses, leading some observers to question its economic viability. Nevertheless, President Widodo has consistently championed the 142-kilometre (88-mile) railway which recently received its official operating license from the Transportation Ministry.

The project, with a price tag of $7.3 billion, was constructed by a joint venture between an Indonesian consortium of four state-owned enterprises and China Railway International Co. Ltd.

During his opening remarks, President Widodo officially christened Indonesia’s maiden high-speed railway as “Whoosh,” which is derived from the Indonesian phrase “Waktu Hemat, Operasi Optimal, Sistem Handal,” meaning “timesaving, optimal operation, reliable system.”

President Widodo stressed the importance of the railway, saying that “The Jakarta-Bandung high-speed train marks the modernisation of our mass transportation, which is efficient and environmentally friendly.” He also underscored the importance of embracing innovation and learning for the future, furthering the advancement of human resources and the independence of the nation.

Accompanied by other high-ranking officials, President Widodo took a ride on Whoosh from its inaugural station, Halim in eastern Jakarta, to Bandung’s Padalarang station, one of the four stations along the route, located approximately 30 kilometres (18 miles) from central Bandung. He previously took a 25-minute test ride on the train on September 13, during which he expressed comfort while sitting or walking inside the high-speed train, even at its top speeds.

Indonesia initiated the project in 2016, originally planning for it to become operational in 2019. However, various challenges, including disputes over land acquisition, environmental concerns, and the COVID-19 pandemic, led to delays. The project’s initial cost estimate of 66.7 trillion rupiah ($4.3 billion) heavily increased to 113 trillion rupiah ($7.3 billion). This project is part of a larger 750-kilometre (466-mile) high-speed train network that will traverse four provinces on Indonesia’s main island of Java and ultimately reach Surabaya, the country’s second-largest city.

The trains have been adapted for Indonesia’s tropical climate and are equipped with safety systems capable of responding to earthquakes, floods, and other emergency situations. With a length of 209 metres (685 feet), each train can accommodate 601 passengers.

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