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Indonesia scraps bullet train, seeks new bids from China, Japan

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Indonesia is asking Japan and China for new bids for a major rail link as a US$6 billion high-speed train is no longer seen as commercially viable, the minister coordinating transport policy said.

[JAKARTA] Indonesia is asking Japan and China for new bids for a major rail link as a US$6 billion high-speed train is no longer seen as commercially viable, the minister coordinating transport policy said.

A 200-kilometer (120 mile) per hour locomotive between the capital and the third-biggest city Bandung would be 30 per cent to 40 per cent cheaper than a bullet train, Rizal Ramli said in an interview Thursday with Bloomberg News, his first with international media since taking office last month. The need for new proposals will delay the decision by several weeks, he said.

China and Japan have been lobbying Indonesia's government for the contract for a high-speed train, which would be the biggest infrastructure project started by President Joko Widodo. The president, who took office last year vowing to overhaul railways and ports in the world's largest archipelago, has made little progress.

"We don't need a high-speed train but a medium-speed one," Mr Ramli said after meeting other ministers. "Japan and China are competing very hard, we should let them compete to the maximum."

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Push China has been pushing aggressively to sell its rail technology overseas, using it to project diplomatic and economic clout as Premier Li Keqiang inks rail deals on trips around the developing world. That has put China in competition with Japan, which sees high-speed rail as a promising export as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe fights to revive the country's economy.

China's proposal the for Indonesian line involved funding through a Chinese loan and Indonesian state companies, whereas Japan's proposal was to be funded through the Indonesian budget and a low-interest loan from Japan. Mr Ramli said the government doesn't want to use the state budget for the train so it can focus instead on projects outside the main island of Java.

A high-speed train would cut travel times between the capital and Bandung to about half an hour from the current three hours on a line that winds its way through mountains and rice paddies on Java island.

After more than five years of feasibility studies and high- level lobbying, Japanese officials expected to bring bullet trains to Indonesia, until Indonesia announced in April that it also was talking to China about the project. Jokowi's government has been more open to Chinese investment than its predecessor as it seeks infrastructure funding.

Indonesia estimates it needs to spend US$450 billion on roads, railways, ports and power stations to revive an economy growing at its slowest pace since 2009. The state budget can only cover about 30 per cent of that amount, according to the country's investment board.

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