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Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway - the first bullet train in Southeast Asia
Notes on the Jakarta-Bandung railway project, the future tallest building in Cambodia begins construction, the Thai Land Bridge, and more news about construction and infrastructure in Southeast Asia.
Trivia question: What is the world’s most populated island? The answer is Java, which you probably already deduced from the topic of this week’s post. I remember when I found out this fact, as it blew my mind. I was reading my Lonely Planet Indonesia on a train in Java, appropriately enough on the Jakarta-Bandung route. At that time the population was around 132 million people(!). The 2015 census put the population at 142 million people(!!), while the most recent estimates are now saying 150 million people(!!!).
[Bandung Railway Station from my visit in 2013.]
Now, what is the world’s second most populated island? That would be Honshu - the largest island in Japan - with a population of 104 million people. I often think about the similarities of Java and Japan in terms of population and geography (both are basically blobs of volcanos that joined together). The similarities abruptly end when it comes to comparing railway infrastructure.
This week’s article is about the under-construction Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway project, which Japan had hoped to introduce the Shinkansen-style bullet train to Indonesia. Ultimately it was China that won the right to build what will be (if all goes to plan) the fastest railway in Southeast Asia.
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I’ve been following the news of the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway without really getting into the details. Given that it will be the first high-speed railway in Southeast Asia with a speed of over 300km/h, it was time to feature it here.
As I mentioned in the intro, I’ve taken the train before from Jakarta to Bandung. While it is slow going, it’s the best way to escape from Jakarta with the least travel friction if you are heading east. The main train station (Gambir) is just around the corner from Jalan Jaksa, the old backpacker street which is now filled with more upmarket stays. The station in Bandung is also close to the centre of the city, making it a convenient way to arrive.
The current train service between Jakarta and Bandung takes 2h 50m to cover the 168.5 km journey. The new train will take 40 minutes, but after plotting the stations on a Google Map I’m not sure if it’s going to benefit the average traveller.
The new Jakarta station at Halim is 13.5 km away from Gambir, and about 35 minutes by car to get there. If you were to go by public transport it would require two train rides to get there from Central Jakarta. You would get the Central Line from Gondangdia to Cawang (16 minutes) and then change at Cawang for the future LRT Line 3 to Halim.
At the Bandung end, it’s an even worse deal. The new station is 22 km away from the old station, which is conveniently located in the city centre. According to Google Maps, it would take 50 minutes by car. I have found Google’s estimates to be accurate enough, and having experienced Bandung traffic before I believe this estimate.
As a tourist staying near Gambir, by the time you get to Halim station and then add up to an hour to get from the HSR station of Bandung to central Bandung, the time saved is negligible. Of course Jakarta is enormous, so while Halim is inconvenient for some it will be more convenient for others.
The last time I visited Jakarta in 2019 it was announced that Manggarai Station will replace Gambir as the long-distance travel hub. Manggarai Station is not a bad location either, and it would have made more sense to make it a true hub by ending the HSR there. That is easier said than done though when I am just sitting here drawing lines on a map without having to spend any Rupiah.
[Manggarai expansion work in 2019.]
The high-speed rail becomes more appealing once it is extended further to Yogyakarta and Surabaya. Yogyakarta is an underperforming city of Southeast Asia that should get more visitors than it does. A high-speed rail service between Jakarta and Yogyakarta would make a genuine alternative to air travel, and perhaps the railway would encourage people to see more of Indonesia.
The current Yogyakarta station is also conveniently located in the city centre, so it will interesting to see how far out of the city the HSR station is located.
On my last trip to Japan, I got the Shinkansen from Kyoto to Tokyo. I was always going to get the train, but to be fair on air travel I compared my options. The Shinkansen won out because the stations in Kyoto and Tokyo are right in the middle of the city.
Not having the stations in the city centre is a real negative, and I would have preferred they just upgraded the current railways. While Japan didn’t win the high-speed contract, they will be upgrading the Jakarta-Surabaya northern line to a “semi high-speed railway”. Maybe it would have made more sense to upgrade the current Jakarta-Bandung line to semi high-speed, which would get you there in 90 minutes and via the most convenient stations. It’s too late now, so the success of the high-speed railway will depend on it being extended to Surabaya.
Going back to my Japan comparison, ultimately I would like to see the island of Java criss-crossed with as many railways as Japan. Shinkansen in Japanese means “new trunk line”. The eventual Jakarta to Surabaya high-speed railway will be the new trunk line of Java; a high-speed backbone surrounded by semi high-speed railways.
“The Selangor government is still not convinced with the current federal administration’s proposal to revert the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) to its original planned route that had been labelled as costly.”
Added to East Coast Rail Link
“It might take until 2023 for Thu Thiem 2 Bridge spanning the Saigon River to be completed instead of September this year as formerly planned.”
Added to Thu Thiem 2 Bridge
“Two high-speed railroad routes between Hanoi and Vinh and HCMC and Nha Trang are expected to be operational by 2030.”
Added to North–South express railway Vietnam
“Based on the project design, the main feature of Naga 3 will be a 75 storeys hotel tower. “This will be the tallest building in Cambodia upon completion,” its developers noted.”
And this is what the future tallest building in Cambodia is going to look like…
“Pre-commissioning work on the $350 million Dara Sakor International Airport in Koh Kong province remains on schedule, with flight operations planned to start in mid-2021”.
“The minister explained Borobudur Highland will become an integrated destination comprising a number of tourism villages…Borobudur Highland covers the 309 hectares of Manoreh hills tourism area in Purworejo, located 12 kilometers from the Borobudur Temple to the west.”
“Investments will focus on strategic sectors in Indonesia, including infrastructure, roads, ports, tourism, agriculture, and other promising sectors that have potential for growth and can contribute to growth as well as economic and social progress.”
“The building highlights Vietnam’s desire to prevent Laos from spiraling off into China’s orbit.”
“From Mentah Matter to Beu Tan Architect, these folks are giving forgotten structures in Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Melaka a new lease of life.”
“By 2022, the railway route will lengthen to 1,209 km from just 77 km in 2016, while railway stations will increase to 168 from 61 and train cars will grow to 1,381 units from 234 in 2016.”
“The Thai government is pushing ahead with a plan to build a “land bridge” of highways and rail lines linking two new deep sea ports, one on the Andaman Sea and one on the Gulf of Thailand.”
“A third terminal at Krabi Airport is expected to open in October to double the airport's passenger handling capacity, according to the Department of Airports (DoA).”
“New Nordic, the property group formed in Thailand by Kurt Svendheim, has gone bust. The developer, who had plastered the resort of Pattaya with his orange branded apartments and hotels is finished in Thailand. News was broken to investors in a softly worded memo saying New Nordic had applied to the Thai Bankruptcy Court for Rehabilitation.”
“As the market for midrange properties struggles to regain its footing, Thailand’s high-end sector has remained resilient, with foreign buyers waiting for the chance to return.”
“The Grand Marina, Saigon, developed by Vietnam’s Masterise Homes, will feature 4,500 ultra-luxury flats, making it Marriott’s largest branded residence project.”
“The Ministry of Transport is striving to have 5,000 km of expressway by 2030 and over 9,000 km by 2050, according to Minister Nguyen Van The.”