Former minister Emil Salim says the government should stop focusing on development in Java and look eastward instead. (Antara Photo/Hafidz Mubarak A.)

Transportation Expert Slams Jakarta-Bandung Railway Plans


AUGUST 27, 2015

Jakarta. As Chinese-Japanese competition to win Indonesia's first high-speed railway project heats up, one of the country's most respected transportation experts says the government should actually be focusing on entirely different infrastructure plans.

Emil Salim, an economy professor at the University of Indonesia (UI) who has served both as transportation minister and as environment minister, called the high-speed railway plans counterproductive to Indonesia's moves to boost connectivity between its many islands and the stated aim of accelerating growth in underdeveloped eastern regions.

The government is planning to connect Jakarta and Bandung – already well-connected via a toll road, regular train and flight services – with a high-speed railway. Japan and China are currently trying to outbid each other to win the project.

After completion of the new Bandung connection, the government says it also wants to connect the capital with Surabaya by high-speed rail.

Emil, who has also gained a reputation as an environmental expert over the past decade, labeled the plan as yet another development project that focuses too heavily on Java.

He reminded President Joko Widodo to concentrate on his administration's pledge to develop Indonesia's maritime infrastructure instead, through the so-called “maritime highway” projects, which would entail the construction of sea ports to boost regional interconnectivity.

“These [plans] for Jakarta-Bandung and Jakarta-Surabaya high-speed trains that will be built on Java suddenly came up. What are they for? Is this a high priority?” Emil told a seminar in Jakarta on Thursday.

“Why not [focus] on a maritime highway toward the east, to reduce disparity. Why focus on this project, which will only enlarge the disparity?”

Emil reminded the government that 82 percent of Indonesia's GDP is currently being generated by Java, Sumatra and Bali, reflecting the large development gap between western and eastern regions.

“Meanwhile, Papua only contributes 2 percent of the GDP," Emil said. "I'm a former transportation minister. [I know] railways require investments in terms of railway tracks, telecommunication, safety, bridges, trains, electricity and other things. It's a serious investment.”