Let the Train Take the Strain?

AmCham Indonesia tries out the new Jakarta to Soekarno-Hatta Airport railway

By Karmila Bain
Monday, January 29, 2018

After decades of waiting, the new train service between Soekarno-Hatta International Airport and central Jakarta was formally opened by President Joko Widodo on January 2.

The idea for the airport train was first mooted in the 1990s, but was only solidified in 2011 with the issuance of a presidential regulation. Construction was then bedeviled by land acquisition problems and frequent plan changes, but finally began in 2014 toward the end of President Bambang Susilo Yudhoyono’s second term in office. Cost figures vary, but reported estimates place it at between Rp3.6 trillion and Rp5 trillion.

So, amid much fanfare about how this presumably vital piece of transportation infrastructure would make airport travel easier and boost the growing tourism sector, we asked ourselves, how is it?

There’s only one way to answer that, so AmCham Indonesia bought a ticket, and got on the train.

The route

The planned route from Jakarta is Manggarai-Sudirman Baru-Duri-Batu Ceper-Soekarno-Hatta stations, but, as the construction process is still under way, passengers can only depart from Sudirman Baru (BNI City) and Batu Ceper stations to the airport.

Tickets

The price of a one-way ticket is Rp 70,000, which will later rise to Rp 100,000, and tickets can be bought up to 10 minutes before departure, either through the Railink App, online or at ticket machines at the station. But for on the spot purchases, you will need a credit or debit card because all transactions are cashless and there are no ticket sellers.

Those who are tech-savvy can download the Railink App from the App Store or use the website https://reservation.railink.co.id, and payment can be completed using bank transfer or Internet banking, once you have registered your name, email address, and phone number.

To begin with, passengers are free to choose their seats when they get on board, but a seat number system will be enforced once passenger numbers rise.

“When it was inaugurated on January 2, there were only two people per train departure on average, and sometimes there were no passengers at all,” said Umar, Station Officer at Sudirman Baru. “However, today, the trains are more crowded. I can see today’s passengers will reach 100 people.”

Schedule

The PT Railink trains currently make 42 trips daily. When all the stations are completed, the plan is to run 122 trips daily to transport approximately 33,000 passengers at full capacity.

“Each train consist of six carriages [which will later rise to 10 carriages] with a capacity of 272 passengers,” said Farriz, a cleaner on my train. “The toilets are available at the front and back of the train. There are also USB chargers in the seats, but WIFI is not provided yet.” 

The first departure from Sudirman Baru is at 04:21 am, and the last at 10:51 pm. Going the other way, from Soekarno-Hatta airport, the first departure is 07:10 am and the last train leaves at 11:10 pm. Trains run every 30 minutes, or every hour, at different times of the day –  the schedule is also available on the website.

“Usually the railway from Sudirman to Soeeta [Soekarno-Hatta] will have more people in the morning, with almost every carriage filled by people, and then quiet in the afternoon,” said Farriz. “While the train from Soetta will be busy in the late afternoon.”

The trains can reach 68 kilometers per hour, with an average speed of 51 km/h, and the journey time to the airport is 50-55 minutes – much better than the sometimes two to three-hours by car during peak rush hours.  

Skytrain integrated

Once at the airport, your journey is not yet over. The airport station is integrated with the Automatic People Mover System, more popularly known as the Kalayang or Skytrain.

From here, you can move between terminals using the Skytrain, which is free. There is a 10-15 minute walk to the terminals from the Skytrain stops, except for Terminal 3, where the distance to the gate via a lift is very close.

Passengers are advised to leave their homes at least three hours prior to the departure of their flights.

The railway is best for passengers on business trips because the station is in Jakarta’s business area, and also backpackers/light travelers, and solo-travelers, but less so for longer trips with many suitcases.

“It is my first time using the airport train, and I enjoyed it,” said Ibu Trisna, who had just arrived from Makassar, on the train to Sudirman Baru from the airport. “The [waiting] lounge at the station is very comfortable, as well as the other facilities such as toilets, musholla, convenience stores, ATMs. But I think it would have been easier if I didn’t have a lot of suitcases.”

“It saves you time compared to if you normally take the bus, but it is more expensive when you travel in a group,” said Hadi, a student traveling from Sudirman to Soetta. “I would go by taxi if I have two to four people on the trip, as it is cheaper.”

So how do we rate Jakarta’s train to the plane? There are still growing pains and the struggle will be to lure passengers away from cars and taxis, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. 

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