The Trans-Sulawesi Railway

The Makassar to Manado railway on the island of Sulawesi is one of the major "trans-island" railways planned for Indonesia.

Greetings from Sapa, Vietnam. It’s a foggy day here high up in the mountains, so an ideal day to put together this week’s newsletter.

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The Trans-Sulawesi Railway is a proposed railway that would connect the two biggest cities in Sulawesi, from Makassar in the south to Manado in the North.

I’ve been watching with interest with how the Maritime Southeast Asian nations are going about developing new railways. In the Philippines the next big project outside of Manila is the Mindanao railway. In Indonesia almost all of the railways are in Java. There are plans to expand the Sumatra railway, there’s talk of a Bali railway, and the next big islands are Borneo and Sulawesi.

I visited Sulawesi in 2015 and did two road trips from Makassar. On the map the places I visited didn’t look far from Makassar, but they turned out to be arduous journeys. It is on such long bus and van rides that I have thought what life would be like with a railway system.

There is a plan to create a Trans-Sulawesi that will connect the two biggest cities at either end of this oddly-shaped island. So far only only about 100 km of 1700 km is under construction. The Makassar-Parepare section was meant to be finished by now, but like most first railways it is facing delays.

Sulawesi isn’t on the tourism radar, but if there was better infrastructure then beaches like Bira might be more well known around the world.

[Bira, South Sulawesi.]

The most likely scenario though is that the railways will prioritise freight destinations first. An example is the South Sumatra railway, which is primarily a coal railway that runs an occasional passenger service.

I said that I would revisit Makassar whenever the first section of the railway is running. That could be years away at this rate, so I am not making plans any time soon.

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