Jakarta’s Cartesian Train

Jan 12th, 2011, in Featured, Travel, by

Back in 2007 when Sutiyoso was Governor of Jakarta, a new train commenced operations: the Blue Line. It was a plank of the then Governor’s desire to improve public transport in Jakarta and turn Dukuh Atas into a 5-way transportation hub with busway, monorail, boat, MRT and city/airport train. Unfortunately, today only the busway currently exists, and that had already commenced operations in 2003.

Ciliwung River
Ciliwung River

Three years later, the train still operates but is sadly bereft of passengers, both residents and visitors. KAI have tried reducing the price from Rp5000 to Rp3500, to no avail.

Curiously, KAI also renamed the train to KA Ciliwung, a very brown river that runs through Jakarta (or over it when it floods) and that you can smell before you see.

What would be a more suitable name? Here are some ideas:

Norwegian Fjord
A Norwegian fjord

1. Jakarta In A Nutshell

This name is inspired by the famous Norway In A Nutshell day-trip from Bergen or Oslo, designed for those who want to see a few fjords, and don’t have the time/money to head further north and see more remote ones.

Similarly, KA Ciliwung does a one-hour tour of the best and worst of Jakarta. On the good side, you can get a bird’s eye view of tourist attractions in Jakarta (e.g. the theme parks at Ancol) and new/modern infrastructure; the eagle-eyed might also be able to spot some historical landmarks, like the only remaining Dutch drawbridge in Kota, North Jakarta. You can also get a perspective on the daily struggles of many of Jakarta’s poor, with a ringside seat to the many surprisingly close rail-side slums and shanty towns. On a lighter note, you can also see some local Indonesian train customs: conductors receiving a small tip from ticketless passengers rather than giving a fine (for a bit of additional income), or other trains having people sitting on the roof despite the overhead power lines.

And you can do all this in air-conditioned comfort for the amazingly low price of Rp3500 (about 40 cents), a fraction of the many Kroner it costs to do the Norway In A Nutshell tour.

"Misteri" Magazine
"Misteri" magazine

2. Jakarta Mystery Train
Like a good ghost story, a few people have heard about it, but nobody really knows where/when to find it. Similarly, Indonesians love a good mystery, and many of Indonesia’s most popular magazines and horror movies plumb the depths of the supernatural and curiously unexplained.

Indeed, few people have heard of the KA Ciliwung train, including staff at the new Jakarta Tourist Information booth in FX Mall on Jl Sudirman and Pt KAI (the Indonesian Railways Management). It rates a small mention on the website here, but clearly hasn’t been updated for a while.

With this name, it might even get some interest from Beatles fans remembering the album “Magical Mystery Tour”.

You could alternately call it the “Jakarta Cartesian Train” as a in-joke, after the famous quote of French philosopher/mathematician Rene Des Cartes “I think therefore I am/exist”. That is, no one knows about it, therefore no one uses it because to all intents and purposes it doesn’t exist/operate. Unfortunately, similar to the Visit Indonesia 2008 slogan the idea would probably be lost on most international visitors, let alone many less than well-read locals.

Melbourne's City Circle Tram
One of Melbourne’s
famous City Circle Trams

3. Jakarta City Circle Train

Like the Melbourne City Circle Tram, it does a clockwise loop around Central Jakarta, starting at Manggarai, then continuing to Sudirman (Dukuh Atas), Karet, Tanah Abang, Duri, Angke, Kampung Bandan, Kemayoran, Senen, Jatinegara and terminating (temporarily) at Manggarai. One loop of the city takes about an hour.

Like in Melbourne, you can board and get off the train at any station; for most visitors, the Sudirman (Dukuh Atas) station would be the closest and easiest to access.

Sudirman Station is walking distance from the Dukuh Atas and Tosari Busway stops, as well as being near the following hotels: Four Seasons, Intercontinental, Hotel Indonesia Kempinski, Grand Hyatt, Nikko, Grand Sahid Jaya, Shangri-La.

Unfortunately, the KA Ciliwung Train leaves Sudirman Station a little less frequently than Melbourne City Circle Trams; there is only one train, and it goes in only one direction: clockwise.

Here is a current timetable:

KA Ciliwung Timetable
KA Ciliwung Timetable for Sudirman Station

The locomotives and carriages aren’t quite as old as Melbourne City Circle Trams, and small signs on the carriages suggests they are imported second-hand from Japan. However, the felt chairs were comfortable, the ride smooth and (unlike inter-city trains) the air conditioning was not set too cold.

Comfortable ride
KA Ciliwung is comfortable for people of all ages and backgrounds

Another difference is Melbourne City Circle Trams have a commentary about:

– The attractions being passed
For example, a voiceover or conductor saying, “On the left, you can see… ” and then giving some historical background to that place. This being Indonesia, however, it is likely that only the positive sites of interest would be highlighted, even though some of the less positive ones might be just as interesting to visitors.

– The name of the stop/station
This would be particularly useful in Jakarta, where many of the train stations have little or no signage.

– Advice on how to visit nearby places of interest
For example, a voiceover or conductor saying at Tanah Abang station, “Get off here for the famous traditional Tanah Abang textile market and the National Textile Museum”.

This would create more interest for foreign and domestic visitors to Jakarta, as well as helping many (especially the less famous) Jakartan tourist attractions.

If you were the President of Pt KAI (Indonesian Railways Management), what would you call this train?

  1. Jakarta In A Nutshell
  2. Jakarta Mystery Train
  3. Jakarta City Circle Train
  4. Other (suggestions welcome)

Please add your vote below.

It would also be interesting to hear the views of others who have also taken this train.

Or if you haven’t yet, why not go try it out?

5 Comments on “Jakarta’s Cartesian Train”

  1. angelk says:

    Nooo, not no. 3. The Melbourne City Circle tram is actually free, targeted mostly at tourists as it only gives you a mini, sightseeing trip around the Melbourne CBD. Its purpose is quite different to that of Jakarta’s Cartesian train. How about something simple like Jakarta Metro?

  2. atrix says:

    Until these day Jakarta tourist spot still lack of signage, especially prior sign that redirect tourist to the exact location of the venue. Unlike in other country, if you arrive in Jakarta it’d be difficult to find promotional brochure, accurate maps freely available in airport (if you backpackers). Different story if assisted with tour guides, got it from hotel where you stay or print out from the web.

    Unutilized transport such as water way (short course of ciliwung boat trip), loop train from Dukuh atas – Tangerang, this town has flock population need to handle. So far except lame progress of MRT and Monorail, we could only rely on cabs, public buses and busway.

  3. sputjam says:

    maybe with some modification to the tracks, they could introduce both clockwise and counter clockwise routes. And with more used railcars, a frequent service, and hopefully, more regulars commuters.

    Then you can call this jakarta circle line.

  4. Claire says:

    I am very interested with the “mystery train”. =)

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