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Jakarta Post

Vast tea plantation becomes center of railway project

  • Stefanno Reinard Sulaiman

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, February 26, 2019   /   08:04 am
Vast tea plantation becomes center of railway project A worker cleans debris out of the construction site of a giant tunnel for the Jakarta-Bandung High Speed Train in Walini, West Bandung regency, West Java on Thursday. The railway is to stretch about 142 kilometers from Jakarta to Bandung. (The Jakarta Post/Wienda Parwitasari)

The moment could not be more perfect for the Walini Tea Plantation in West Java four years ago when the High-Speed Train project, which will connect Jakarta and Bandung, West Java, was being discussed by the government.

Several years before the US$6.07 billion-train project officially kicked off in January 2016, the 1,200-hectare plantation, which is owned by state plantation firm PTPN VIII, had become unproductive, both for tea and other kinds of fruits.

“Due to its proximity to the [Cipularang] toll road, the heat [negatively] affected our plantation. Hence, it is no longer suitable for any crop, so we had to come up with other options,” said Denny Yusdiana, a former employee of PTPN VIII.

“We came with a plan to turn the land into an agroindustrial complex in 2010, not long after the train project came. So, the moment was perfect; at a time when we wanted to find added value for this land.”

PTPN VIII also benefited from being included in the project’s consortium, which is made up of three state-owned enterprises (SOEs), namely state construction company Wijaya Karya (Wika), state rail firm KAI and state toll road operator Jasa Marga.

Called Pilar Sinergi BUMN Indonesia (PSBI), the consortium then created a joint venture firm with five Chinese firms (Bejing Yawan), resulting in the creation of PT Kereta Cepat Indonesia China (KCIC).

As a train and property developer, KCIC recently pledged to finish the 142.3-kilometer project, which is fully funded by China Development Bank (CDB), by 2021.

The whole project is called the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Train (KCJB) and it will drastically cut travel time to only 36 minutes (direct trip) from the current three and a half hours by regular train.

It will also be followed by major transit-oriented development (TOD) projects at four locations along the railway: at Halim in East Jakarta, Karawang in West Java, Walini in West Bandung and Tegalluar in Bandung.

Watch your step: Workers stand on scaffolding above a giant tunnel built for the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway project in Walini, West Bandung regency, West Java, on Feb. 21. 
Watch your step: Workers stand on scaffolding above a giant tunnel built for the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway project in Walini, West Bandung regency, West Java, on Feb. 21. (The Jakarta Post/Wienda Parwitasari)

Denny, who is now KCIC’s spokesperson, said Walini is one of the project’s “22 critical spots” or a subproject that needs to be finished first due to its complexity.

“Walini has a hilly topography. And a high-speed train needs a relatively straight railway that is not too tilted. The structure of the land means it’s also prone to landslides,” he said.

There are at least three tunnels in the Walini are that in total will stretch 7.44 km. As of Thursday, 240 meters of one 800-m tunnel and 108 m of a 2.19-km have been excavated.

Meanwhile in terms of land procurement, though he did not disclose the exact percentage, Deny said there were no problems as some the affected areas were owned by PTPN VIII.

“Some locations [in Walini] still need to be released and are currently in a legal process through the court using Law No. 2,” he said, referring to the Law No. 2/2012 on land procurement for public infrastructure.

During Thursday’s visit, The Jakarta Post observed that the tea plantation lacked farming activities, with only one or two farmers were seen collecting grass. A small village and an elementary school were still seen near the project site.

In total, the whole project will have 13 tunnels, seven of which have started their excavation phase, putting KCJB’s progress at 8 percent completion as of December 2018.

Previously, Wika president director Tumiyana said the company expects to wrap up 60 percent of construction this year, before its full completion in 2021.

“Current development is going well as the company has reached 8 percent of the target by the end of last year, while 90.1 percent of the land has been cleared,” he said.

The excavation of tunnels will become the biggest boost to development, comprising 60 percent of the target, Deny said.

He added that the target was realistic, given the fact that work involving external parties, such as land procurement, was complete, leaving only construction.

 “The 60 percent work by the end of this year will be in the form of several completed tunnels and finished foundation, such as piles for elevated bridges,” Deny said.

According to data from KCIC, the construction of bridges will be its greatest task as they will span 68 km, while the tunnels will altogether be 16 km long.

Local farmers become construction workers

Basor, 47, a health, safety and environment (HSE) officer at the Walini site, said local residents have responded positively to the project as it would provide job opportunities.

“Some residents are now part of the cleaning staff, some are working in steel processing and some in welding. They will also be [trained and certified],” he told The Jakarta Post.

Basor, who lives about an hour from the site, further said that some residents were able to sell their land for 10 times their original price.

 “[Land acquisition wasn’t] that bad, I heard that some of them were able to go to Mecca [for haj]. Prior to the project, they would have received Rp 10,000 [71 US cents] per meter, while at present, they could get up to Rp 100,000 per meter,” he added.

China’s hands all over the project 

During Thursday’s visit to the Walini site, it was hard not to see the “China factor” in the project, as almost aspect of it – from the heavy equipment to technicians – was from China.

The ratio between China’s workers and Indonesian workers was set at 1:4, meaning there must be four Indonesian workers for every Chinese worker.

According to KCIC data, the project involves 4,749 workers.

Into the light: Workers arrange equipment inside a giant tunnel built for the Indonesia-China high-speed railway project in Walini, West Bandung regency, West Java, on Feb. 21. 
Into the light: Workers arrange equipment inside a giant tunnel built for the Indonesia-China high-speed railway project in Walini, West Bandung regency, West Java, on Feb. 21. (The Jakarta Post/Wienda Parwitasari)

One of the Chinese’s workers is Nan Lee, 30, a quality control and safety officer who said he had worked at the Walini site for three years.

“I am happy to have the chance to work here in Indonesia. […] I have no problems so far in communicating with the fellow Indonesian workers as we have translators,” said Lee, who comes from Shan Xi province in northern China.

The Walini site has 63 local workers and 27 Chinese workers, which does not meet the set ratio, but Deny said the former did not include indirect workers such as third-party truck drivers.

One of the brands of heavy equipment roaming the Walini site is China’s Sany Heavy Industry Co., Ltd.

When asked about the proportion between China and Indonesia in terms of used equipment or material, Deny acknowledged that China contributed mainly to the project’s heavy equipment.

“That’s what the contract [KCJB] stipulates, as we also need [the heavy equipment] to comply with the technology that we use. But the raw materials we use, like sand, are from [Indonesia],” he said.

Agus Supriadi, 43, a Wika workshop supervisor for the KCJB project at Walini, said the technology from China helped minimize the manpower required on-site, such as the rebar cage machine.

“Besides allowing us to learn about the technology, these machines also help us work faster,” he said.