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Indonesia’s new train offers chance to improve views of China

Written by Nikkei Asia Published on   2 mins read

With occupancy above 80%, discontent about project turns into praise for technology.

Two months after its opening, Indonesia’s high-speed railway is off to a strong start, increasing service frequency and maintaining occupancy above 80%. Riders are impressed with train technology from China, suggesting this may lead to a change in locals’ mostly unfavorable attitudes toward that nation.

In early December, Halim station in Jakarta was crowded with people taking pictures of a train arriving at the brand-new platform. Departing the station about 5 minutes behind schedule, the train reached just under its top speed of 350 kilometers per hour in about 10 minutes.

With low noise and vibration levels, some passengers were admiring the ride. “I can’t believe we’re going this fast,” said one rider.

Opened in October, the so-called Whoosh railway connects the capital city of Jakarta to Bandung, the West Java provincial capital about 140 km away. Indonesia had initially considered tapping Japan’s shinkansen bullet-train technology, but changed course at the last minute and picked a Chinese company instead. Construction of the project, under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, took seven years to complete.

Whoosh’s service frequency has improved from eight trains a day initially to 40 trains on a weekday. Average train occupancy from the opening to early December hit 85% to 90% during the week and exceeded 90% on weekends, the rail operator said.

Passengers can book and pay for tickets online, and can enter the platform by simply showing the QR codes on their phones. Local media has given high marks to the railway’s advanced facilities as well as Chinese technology that combines both high-speed and low-noise levels.

But riding the Whoosh line is not all roses. To get to central Bandung, travelers need to exit one stop before the last one and transfer to a feeder train. While the travel time on the high-speed portion is only about 30 minutes, the journey to downtown Bandung takes roughly an hour in total. Local trains are also crowded and often no seats are available. Despite these challenges, the rail service is generally considered a success for now.

During construction, opening delays and cost overruns provoked unfavorable feelings toward China. Demonstrations also erupted, protesting a huge influx of Chinese workers.

Asked if China contributes to international peace and prosperity, a majority of Indonesians gave a negative response in a survey by Singaporean think tank ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

But such feelings may be shifting.

“The opening of the railroad will help improve Indonesian trust in China,” one passenger said recently. With Indonesia asking for Chinese support for a railway extension and the bilateral economic ties growing stronger, the launch of the rail service is starting to have an impact on how Indonesians view the world’s second-largest economy.

This article first appeared on Nikkei Asia. It has been republished here as part of 36Kr’s ongoing partnership with Nikkei.


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