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LRT Jakarta blows away Chicago's 'L'

Theodore Hans

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Jakarta  /  Thu, June 20, 2019  /  04:30 pm
LRT Jakarta blows away Chicago's 'L'

An LRT train is taken on a trial run from Kelapa Gading to Rawamangun Velodrome in Jakarta on Feb. 25. (JP/Seto Wardhana)

Taking the LRT during its third trial run felt like being on an amusement ride. After signing up online for the free trial and presenting my personalized QR code, I was greeted by a smiling "docent" who guided me up through the North Boulevard Station in North Jakarta and scanned my one-way card to get through the turnstiles.

The station was spotless. More than 100 passengers seemed eager to get a glimpse of what could very well dominate the public transportation scene of their city in the near future. 

The train arrived at the station soon after I made it to the platform and people piled into the three cars. Several onboard staff members made sure that everything went smoothly and the light-rail train soon began zipping forward on its elevated rails. 

Most of the people on board immediately began taking and posing for photos as the opportunity to let their friends know they were bypassing the gridlock in the streets below was too good to pass up.

A TV in each car showed a 3D rendering of the construction of the LRT and gave information about the stops along the way. 

The train silently made its way southwest and, as it was doing so, I started thinking about how Jakarta might look 10 or 20 years from now. Will the city be crisscrossed with elevated rails connecting each part of the city and beyond? Will it be catapulted into the future of public transportation and catch up to some of the leading cities in Asia like Tokyo and Hong Kong? Will the entire island of Java at some point be…

As soon as I began to get lost in my wishful thinking, the ride was over. The five stations that make up the LRT route went by in the blink of an eye and as quickly as I boarded at North Boulevard, I was stepping off at the Velodrome Station in East Jakarta. The entire journey took about 10 minutes.

The trial was a brief but pleasant experience and a great sign of things to come.

Read also: Jl. Setiabudi Tengah closed by Greater Jakarta LRT construction

Public transportation is an absolute necessity for cities like Jakarta, just as they are for cities in the United States where I come from. Specifically, I am from the Chicago are, and the Windy City is one of the few places in the country that luckily have an extensive public transportation network.

The train system in Chicago is locally called the “L”, which is in reference to its elevated track. However, the train is more like the MRT in that it uses a mix of underground and elevated rails. 

The L system has eight different color-coded lines that cover roughly 165 kilometers and take Chicagoans and visitors alike to nearly every corner of the city. For example, the blue line can take passengers from the center of the city all the way out to O’Hare International Airport in the city’s northwestern suburbs. 

The L system is also easy to use and much less crowded than Jakarta’s trains. The L serves about 750,000 passengers per day, compared to Jakarta’s daily ridership of more than 1 million across its train options.

However, there are some downsides to the L. The train is loud and I mean really loud. Although it’s nearly impossible to have a conversation while the L is passing above your head, the thunder of the train has become a signature of life in Chicago and has its charms, believe it or not.

The L trains are also not nearly as nice compared to the LRT. The system itself started operating at the end of the 19th century and although it has been updated multiple times since then, the train is much more similar to the commuter line in Jakarta than it is to the LRT. While money has been poured into Chicago’s public transportation recently, the modernity of it doesn’t touch the LRT.

I could not help but think during the trial run that the LRT far and away exceeds anything that my city has back home. With the continued unveiling of new transportation options, Jakarta is not the one needing to catch up between the two metropolises. The entire system was futuristic to me and I, along with what seemed like everyone else on board, hoped this was foreshadowing the future. 

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The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.