After months of careful deliberations, Indonesia finally made a decision yesterday regarding competing offers from China and Japan to construct a multi-billion dollar high-speed railway link between the capital of Jakarta and textile town Bandung. And the winner is [drum roll please]… Nobody!
At the last moment, Indonesian president Joko Widodo decided that rather than pursue an unnecessary and expensive high-speed rail link, in fact, a regular old medium-speed rail would do just fine.
This has thrown both investors in China and Japan for a loop after they spent most of this year trying to outbid the other while sending envoys to Jakarta to schmooze politicians to their side.
Indonesia’s chief economic minister Teten Masduki told Reuters the (very reasonable) logic behind his country’s 11th-hour decision.
“It looks like a sudden move because the recommendation was made after a review of both proposals,” Mr Teten Masduki, presidential chief of staff, told Reuters. “But the recommendation is in the best interest of the country.”
“It was the recommendation from independent consultants that suggested to the government that a medium-speed rail was a better option because the cost is cheaper and the time of the journey isn’t much longer,” Mr Masduki said.
Darmin Nasution, Indonesia’s new coordinating minister for economic affairs, added that the distance between the two cities is just 150 kilometers with a number of stops along the way, so it’s unlikely that the high-speed train would have reached its 300 kilometer per hour top speed anyway.
A medium-speed railway link would cost 30% to 40% less and still be only around 10 minutes slower, cutting the trip from three hours to 45 minutes instead of 35. With the high-speed railway projected to cost about $5 billion, Indonesian politicans have apparently decided that those extra 10 minutes of inconvenience aren’t quite a few billion dollars.
Of course, China and Japan are now perfectly welcome to try their luck at winning a chance to build a reasonable medium-speed rail.
This seems to fall in to the general pattern recently of China trying to build railways roughly everywhere, particularly in Southeast Asia, but being forced by bitter realities to do so more conventionally than they are used to. In June, China decided to build a medium-speed railway through Thailand, rather than a sexier high-speed one.
“We invited them to do high-speed [railways], but they chose to do medium speed … because they want to have cargo transport as well,” Thailand’s deputy prime minister, Pridiyathorn Devakula, said in an SCMP report. “It’s a choice of China, not a choice of Thailand.”
We’re still waiting on that railway tunnel under Everest as well.