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Transportation

Traffic-choked Jakarta opens first light railway line

Infrastructure development a top priority in President Jokowi's second term

An LRT Jakarta train on trial run last year. (Photo by Rie Ishii)

JAKARTA -- Commercial operations started Sunday on Jakarta's first light rail transit line, the second modern public transport service opened in the traffic-clogged Indonesian capital this year.

The 5.8-kilometer segment of LRT Jakarta connects an industrial and commercial area of Kelapa Gading in North Jakarta with a residential area in the city's east. Built at a cost of 5.8 trillion rupiah ($412 million), the line is part of a planned 20-km stretch that will include an airport transfer and connections with the old commuter rail network serving greater Jakarta.

The track was initially scheduled to open ahead of the Asian Games co-hosted by Jakarta and the city of Palembang in South Sumatra Province in August last year. The network in Palembang commenced operations last year, but the Jakarta project has been hit with delays.

"We were told to aim for 14,000 passengers per day," Indarto Wibisono, operational and technical director at LRT Jakarta, told reporters recently. "But we're optimistic enough with a target of 7,000 passengers per day."

Indeed, LRT Jakarta hasn't received as much fanfare as MRT Jakarta, Indonesia's first metro service that started running in March. The 16-km MRT line runs through the main business districts in the central and southern parts of the capital.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo made a point of riding the MRT several times ahead of April's presidential election, touting it as a major achievement in his infrastructure drive. The MRT, whose construction was backed by Japan, has proved to be very popular.

Widodo, whose signature infrastructure push helped him get reelected, has said infrastructure development will remain -- along with human capital development -- a top priority in his second and final five-year term in office.

LRT Jakarta was developed by Jakarta Propertindo, a company owned by the Jakarta government, and state builder Wijaya Karya. Indonesia's biggest construction company was also involved in building the MRT and is working on a China-backed high-speed railway that will connect Jakarta with Bandung, the capital of West Java Province. The eight two-car trains running on the service were made by South Korea's Hyundai Rotem, a rolling-stock company.

The LRT was initiated in 2015 by former Jakarta governor and close Widodo aide Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly known as Ahok. But it has been reported in local media that the current governor, opposition member Anies Baswedan, has not given the project as much backing. Neither Widodo nor Baswedan appeared at Sunday's launch ceremony.

Indonesia's capital is one of the most traffic-choked cities in the world, with jams across greater Jakarta estimated to cost Southeast Asia's largest economy 65 trillion rupiah in annual losses.

To address these congestion woes, the capital is building a separate LRT network to connect with several satellite cities. Plans are also underway for more MRT Jakarta lines, with a target of stretching the network to 230 km.

Cheaper than the MRT, the LRT construction in Palembang and Jakarta has inspired other major Indonesian cities to follow suit, including Bandung, Surabaya and Makassar. Costly land acquisitions and funding, however, remain the biggest hurdles.

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