Tuesday, December 30, 2008 3:33 PM
World crisis means French bread for Alstom
Kornelius Purba , The Jakarta Post , Paris | Tue, 12/30/2008 11:02 AM
Paris-based Alstom, a major company in power generation and rail transport, invited The Jakarta Post's Kornelius Purba, along with some other Asian journalists to visit its headquarters in Paris earlier this month, and some other cities in France and Switzerland to pick up first hand information and experience about the company's products.
Alstom chairman and CEO, Patrick Kron, apparently believes that he could turn the global financial crash into a blessing in disguise for his company because many countries in the world, including the United States, China, Japan, and also Indonesia, plan to launch infrastructure mega projects to create new jobs and provide financial stimulus for their economies.
"In power, 80 percent of our customers are either state companies or private companies with a very strong balance sheet. And in transport, 90 percent are in the state sector," Kron said told the visiting journalists in Paris.
The journalists came from Indonesia, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam where Alstom have offices and ongoing projects. Alstom senior executives demonstrated their products to us, which they say are sold for reasonable prices compared to the quality of their products.
I felt at that time as if I were an Indonesian minister who had the authority to have the final say what products Indonesia could buy from the company.
We traveled to Bordeaux to enjoy the tramway, then to Valenciennes to visit its train production center: from tram, to metros to double deck regional trains.
Then we flew to Birr, near Zurich in Switzerland to visit Alstom's Power Systems center and the Alstom Power Service center.
As a journalist who has very little -- if any -- knowledge about power technology, I could not comment much when the company was described as the world's largest producer in hydropower, integrated thermal power plants, nuclear power stations, conventional and island plants and air quality control systems.
The most scary visit for me was when we visited a nuclear power plant.
Alstom's products include trams, metro, super-speed trains, conventional power plant and nuclear power plants.
The company has operated in Indonesia since 1966, and its factory in Surabaya produces boilers and heat recovery steam generators (HRSG) for the global market since 1998. It supplied the boilers to the first independent power plant (IPP) in Indonesia, the Paiton plant.
Other power projects include the Muara Tawar Power Station in Bekasi, West Java. In rail transport, it was involved in the Cikampek-Cirebon double-track railway.
Kron described that one in four of the world's light bulbs are powered by equipment which uses Alstom technology. It is also number two worldwide in equipment and services for rail transport.
The company provides very high speed rail transport and complex signaling systems, and supplies urban transport systems, especially trams and metro technology. The group's sales totaled Euro 16.9 billion for the 2007-2008 fiscal year.
We were given the chance to go to Bordeaux where the company showed off its most successful stories in providing technologically advanced trams, including wireless controlled trams for the famous wine producing area. Trams can work without overhead wires using batteries. Traveling from Paris to Bordeaux we traveled on the high speed train (the TGV), which is also produced by the company. Another type, the AGV is also produced by Alstom.
In April last year, the high speed train produced by Alstom and its partners was able to set the world rail speed record of 574.8 km/hour.
In the recent Indonesia Japan Expo 2008, Japan demonstrated the three-dimension Shinkansen stimulator in Indonesia. With Shinkansen the 683 kilometers distance between Jakarta and Surabaya can be reached within 2 hours and 20 minutes. The project would be expected to involve Indonesia's train car producer, PT Inka. The Japanese government is also ready to provide financial scheme for the project.
In the 1990s, the Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer (SCNF) estimated the Jakarta-Surabaya super-speed train project would cost US$ 6.14 billion.
Getting to see the Alstom produced trams in Bordeaux, reminded me of the plan of a private company in Jakarta to open tram transport next year. According to a news report, the tramway will operate in the Kuningan area, in Southern Jakarta and will be privately managed and owned. And perhaps can be connected with the busway track. This transport mode can also built in other super block areas, like the Sudirman Central Business District (CBD).
Jakarta also plans to develop mass-rapid transportation (MRT). So far Japan is the leading contender for this project.
Alstom offers turnkey systems for its metro products, including rolling stock, signaling, infrastructure and services. The driverless North East Line of Singapore's metro system is claimed by Alstom as the first fully automated "heavy" metro.
Alstom can provide what the Indonesian government needs in its ambitious infrastructure projects. The question is whether the government has the money for it. Alstom itself did not explain much about costs and financing schemes. As a journalist, for me, the questions about cost and financing problems were just far beyond my imagination.