Rural rail: Challenges and benefits of South Sulawesi’s planned rail line

Infrastructure gaps have been identified and freight estimates updated as PAIR researchers take a closer look at the South Sulawesi rail project.


Facilitating the movement of seaweed and identifying supply chain challenges is the aim of the Partnership for Australia-Indonesia Research (PAIR) work into the new railway line being built in South Sulawesi province.

Proponents argue the line from Makassar to Parepare can be a boon for the movement of goods and transport of people, greatly increasing regional interconnectivity and industry competitiveness. For example, it has been mooted that the line would contribute to better public transport, which could in turn create educational opportunities for disadvantaged groups such as women and girls. Younger people are also expected to benefit from increased access to jobs. Moreover, the region is linked to the seaweed industry, with better infrastructure expected to contribute to export growth from that vital economic sector.

However, the line also has a range of significant planning challenges, for example some farmers have refused government offers to buy their land, and the COVID-19 pandemic has raised questions about the long-term interest in public transport.

PAIR researchers have previously studied the railway plans to identify and gather information on potential challenges.

The latest project aims to expand on earlier research by analysing transport in the region, identifying issues, risks and hazards, and ultimately providing suggestions to various levels of government for effective solutions to meet stakeholder needs.

Moving to the stage of a Strategic Integrated Project, it builds on the data and learnings about the Parepare to Makassar corridor which identified gaps in master planning and missing connecting infrastructure. Notably, it updates freight estimates for simple commodities like rice and cement and provides more detailed estimates for commodities such as seaweed that were not mapped in the earlier pilot study.

The project notes the value of creating a model for optimal intermodal freight transport, determining the types and location of intermodal facilities along the line and likely use/demand capture by road-based feeder services to support freight transport.

It also seeks to lay the groundwork for organisations that will be involved in planning for the delivery of services on, and related to, shared rail infrastructure. These aims will be achieved via four interconnected sub projects addressing these aims from different angles, including freight compared to passenger transport, master planning and risk/hazard analysis.

“This project will deliver the insights required for stakeholders to maximise their benefits from investment in rail,” said Senior Fellow Professor Andreas Ernst.

“This is by identifying the infrastructure, services and policies required to allow for a strong enabling role in an integrated transport system.”

Senior Fellow Professor Siti Malkhamah said the project was an opportunity for research to bring real benefits.

“This project represents an opportunity for PAIR research to make a significant contribution in filling a gap in systems thinking that is not currently met by other organisations,” Professor Siti said.

Developing such a transport system seeks to cut across key areas of responsibility: local, regional provincial and national governments all have some level of involvement. This research aims to help develop a collaborative bureaucracy.

These aims will be achieved via the project’s four sub-projects:

  • Analyse transport in the Parepare to Makassar corridor and the Mamminasata region
  • Identify potential future issues like gaps between planning and actual needs
  • Suggest any additional infrastructure to support demand
  • Prepare groundwork for future transport related service providers and administrators.

The reports released as a result of these projects to form recommendations for stakeholders to assist them in maximising railway line benefits. Stakeholders consist of local and regional governments as well as private sector representatives.

The Research Team

Photo by Muhammad Taufiq on Unsplash

Picture of Lachlan Brooks

PAIR Intern
The Australia-Indonesia Centre