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Transportation

Indonesia-Japan rail project to halve cross-Java travel time

Governments set to agree on plan featuring express service and elevated tracks

A train station in Surabaya, Indonesia: The high-speed rail project linking Jakarta and Surabaya will involve upgrading the aging facilities currently in place. (Photo by Jun Suzuki)

JAKARTA -- A planned Japanese-Indonesian rail project on Java will feature dedicated express tracks along part of the route, halving the time needed to cross the island to five and a half hours, according to Indonesia's Ministry of Transportation.

The roughly 750 km high-speed rail link between Jakarta and Surabaya, Indonesia's second city, is intended to bring the deteriorating state-owned infrastructure up to date.

The multibillion-dollar project will upgrade existing track while adding a separate express line between Jakarta and the Central Java capital of Semarang. Elevated tracks will be built in urban areas as well to speed up service on the Southeast Asian country's most populous island.

Indonesia and Japan have solidified construction plans following negotiations that began around 2016. The governments are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding as early as this month. The Indonesian side looks to break ground on the project next year at the earliest.

The two sides also discussed using a fully electric system, but shelved the idea because of cost.

Negotiations continue as the Indonesian government looks to hold the cost down to around 60 trillion rupiah ($4.3 billion). The two sides are also still discussing the extent of Indonesian companies' participation in the project.

Japan and Indonesia partnered on Jakarta's popular mass rapid transit system that launched in late March. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has told Nikkei that he hopes to build more infrastructure with Japan soon, and he has made this a centerpiece of his administration's policy plans for his second term, which starts next month.

But whether the Jakarta-Surabaya link will go as smoothly as the MRT project, or the Japan-backed development of the port of Patimban, remains to be seen.

Widodo confidant Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan -- head of the Coordinating Ministry for Maritime Affairs, which oversees the transport ministry -- met this month with an executive from China Railways Construction and said the state-owned company was interested in the project.

He was forced to walk back the comment after it was interpreted as a hint that Japan could lose the contract to China if better terms were not offered.

In 2015, the Indonesian government snubbed Tokyo in favor of Beijing for a high-speed rail project linking Jakarta and Bandung in West Java, cooling relations between Tokyo and Jakarta.

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