By Nick Kingsley
Senior Editor, Railway Gazette International
Delegates gathered at the Hotel Borobudur in Jakarta on May 15-16 for Informa’s inaugural Heavy Haul Rail Indonesia conference, supported by the Australasian Railway Association. Central to the two days of debate were two key themes — how safety and technical standards might be developed to help Indonesia’s rail network cope with surging growth in the country’s mining industry, and the practical issues facing promoters of heavy freight railway projects in Indonesia.
ARA Chief Executive Brian Nye opened proceedings by insisting that ‘there is no competition in railway safety’, noting that ‘Indonesia is our nearest neighbour’ and that Australia’s industry would be happy to assist its Indonesian counterparts in any way required. Nye was one of several speakers to outline the clear similarities between Australia and Indonesia’s existing rail network, located on the islands of Java and Sumatra and operated by state railway company PT Kerata Api.
At around 4 700 km, Indonesia’s network is around half the length of Queensland’s, and the operating conditions — especially climatic — are especially similar, Nye suggested. ‘Indonesia does not need to look too far to find every railway operating model there is — we’ve tried them all in Australia.’ Nevertheless, Australia is a global leader in heavy haul, achieving 42 tonne axleloads, but like Indonesia, many Australian railways face the challenge of renewing ageing infrastructure and locomotives, some of which are more than 50 years old, Nye said.
Looking ahead over the next 20 to 30 years, representatives from Indonesia’s Directorate-General of Transportation pointed to the country’s MP3EI economic development master plan which would see up to US$90bn invested in infrastructure, with around 40% of that allocated to rail. DG Transportation is especially keen to involve the private sector in railway development, as permitted under a series of presidential reforms undertaken in recent years. Currently there are three private railway projects underway in Indonesia, two serving mines in southern Sumatra and one in Kalimantan.
The role of private funding
In the afternoon session on May 15, delegates heard more details about the role of privately-funded railways in supporting the mining industry, with Andrey Shigaev of Russian-backed Kalimantan Rail outlining its plans for a network in eastern Borneo linking inland mines with a port at Balikpapan. Meanwhile, Rudiantara, Chief Executive of Bukit Asam Transpacific Railway, updated progress on its 255 km standard gauge coal railway in southern Sumatra. Suggesting that land acquisition and regulatory hurdles still presented considerable challenges to new line development, Rudiantara maintained that ‘wouldn’t have got involved in railway infrastructure’ if it weren’t necessary for effective coal shipment.
Nevertheless, there is an overwhelming sense that Indonesia is ‘open for business’, and the country has undergone rapid and positive change in the past decade, according to Keith Hargreaves, Director of Strategic Asia. Although the country remains at times complex and bureaucratic, infrastructure projects can succeed if they are well-planned and pay considerable attention to corporate responsibility — ‘a well-organised NGO can scupper your business pretty quickly here’, he warned. Hargreaves added that while PPPs are appealing to government, the ‘partnership’ element of the acronym is not always well understood in Indonesia, noting that a concern about ‘what will be said if a PPP project goes wrong’ often hindered progress.
The second day’s presentations focused on technical developments in the heavy haul sector, and how some of these might be adapted to Indonesian market conditions. Topics included the automation of heavy haul railways, based on case studies in the Pilbara region of Western Australia; diesel locomotive technology for sub-tropical operations, offered by David Semple of Electro-Motive Diesel; and the fundamentals of turnout design, presented by Craig Bishop of VAE Rail Systems.
The conference concluded with a commemorative photograph and a commitment from ARA to continue to build relationships with the Indonesian railway industry in a spirit of co-operation and shared experience. Further events are expected to be held in Indonesia, focussing on other areas of railway and mass transit operation where investment is needed to match the country’s burgeoning economy.
The ARA welcomes any feedback or suggestions you may have for future Indonesian rail programs. Please contact Conference Manager Kara Clifton at email@example.com.