The building of a new railroad in this country is cause for astonishment. Since the Dutch left in 1945, instead of adding to the rail network, it has been allowed to shrink. A worrying surprise: from 7,500 kilometers, only 4,678 kilometers remain.
This nation has had seven presidents, and none of them have been serious about expanding mass rail transport. According to data from the 2015-2016 infrastructure initiative, railroads account for only eight percent of passengers, compared with roads, which have a 90 percent share. It is no surprise that traffic congestion and air pollution are at such high levels.
In 2011, there seemed to be an awareness of the need to put the railroad system right. The government produced a 2030 National Railroads Master Plan. This master plan, which included the building of railroads in Sulawesi and Kalimantan, was very similar to the railroad blueprint produced by the Dutch in 1925. But once again, it only looked good on paper. Many projects went nowhere. The construction of a railroad from Soekarno-Hatta Airport to Manggarai Station is one example. The project should have been completed in 2017, but was delayed. And almost nothing has been heard of the Jakarta-Bandung fast rail link announced by President Joko Widodo in 2015.
And before it has seen these promises realized, the Transportation Ministry has come up with another proposal: the restoration of 1,600 kilometers of disused railroad tracks in Java and Madura. This has attracted much praise, but the government should stop making unrealistic promises and start taking real measures. They can start by finishing the projects they have promised, such as the laying of double-double tracks in Java.
This nation has been left far behind in terms of railroads. According to data from the McKinsey Global Institute, there are 120,000 kilometers of railroad in China and 65,000 kilometers in India. Indonesia has only 3.8 percent of China’s network. And there is an irony in this country. Railroads continue to be removed to make way for roads, bridges and buildings. This is what happened with the Jalan Diponegoro-Pasar Kembang flyover in Surabaya, even though the tram system was in operation until 1978, and there were plans to restore it.
The politics of neglecting railroads must end. Improvements of the Greater Jakarta Electric Commuter Line should encourage the government to believe that railroads are becoming a necessity. Passenger numbers on the Commuter Line have risen by 122 percent since 2013 to 1,0345,823 per day. This is because of improvements to the system, the addition of coaches from six to 12 per journey and the expansion of stations.
It is important to remember that there is more to building railroads than simply trying to impress. The grinding to a halt of rail projects should make the government evaluate all aspects, from planning and funding to revisions to regulations and acquisition of land. The government must not repeat the errors of the past. Plan railroad projects wisely and in a way that makes business sense. We do not want the bankruptcy of Taiwanese railroads to happen in this country.