AHMEDABAD: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and visiting Japanese PM Shinzo Abe launched work on India’s first bullet train at Gujarat’s Ahmedabad on Thursday this morning. The 508 km high-speed rail link to Mumbai is seen as a centrepiece of PM Modi’s efforts to demonstrate India’s capability to build high-tech projects. The project also signals New Delhi and Tokyo’s close ties amid China’s growing assertiveness in the region. The bullet train is expected to begin operating in 2022.
Japan’s government and its rail companies lobbied the U.S. for years to sell their bullet-train technology and found little success. Finally, there’s an international buyer: India.
India is poised to become the first to import the iconic ‘Shinkansen’ bullet-train technology after Japan’s near-neighbor Taiwan, and that will be a highlight of India’s infrastructure upgrade program. The Japanese government has also agreed to fund most of the $17 billion needed for the project that will become part of Asia’s oldest railway network.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japan’s Shinzo Abe formally kicked off a plan to build the 316-mile bullet train line — roughly the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Financing by Japan also means business farmed out to companies such as Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., Hitachi Ltd. and East Japan Railway Co. and an opportunity lost for China’s CRRC Corp Ltd. and European manufacturers including Alstom SA.
For Japan, which is locked in a strategic rivalry with China for commercial contracts abroad, the Indian project marks a hard-fought victory as companies including Siemens AG, Bombardier Inc., Alstom and, lately, CRRC compete in a global market projected by BCC Research to be worth about $133 billion by 2019. After building the world’s largest high-speed network since the start of the century, covering 80 percent of its major cities, China has been raising its profile.
“The competition between China and Japan, especially in the ASEAN region, has been fairly intense and in India, there will be more competition for other phases of the bullet train project,” said Jaideep Ghosh, partner and head of transport at consultancy KPMG. “Japan has a longer history of operating the system without any fatalities. Politics and strategic considerations do play a part, but finally it is a commercial decision.”
Here is your 10-point cheat-sheet to this story:
1). “A strong India is good for Japan and a strong Japan is good for India,” said Mr Abe after the two leaders laid the foundation stone for the project at the Sabarmati station. He spoke in Japanese but began with “Namaskar” and ended his speech with a “Dhanyawad.” Japan PM Shinzo Abe, who landed to a grand reception on Wednesday afternoon, said Indo-Japan partnership is special, strategic and global.
2). PM Modi said “New India… has taken an important step towards fulfilling a big dream.” He said the “bullet train will bring employment as well as speed,” adding that it was an emotional moment for India and that Japan has proved itself a “strong friend.”
3). The prime ministers of the two countries also laid the foundation stone for an institute in Vadodara where around 4,000 people will be trained for the bullet train project.
4). The two leaders held summit meetings after the function. India and Japan signed 15 agreements to further broad-base their strategic partnership and agreed to strengthen cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region where China is increasing its assertiveness.
5). The Rs. 1.1 lakh crore bullet train project is a joint venture between the Indian Railways and Japanese firm Shinkansen Technology. The Japanese team estimated that the first train would roll out by 2023, but Railways Minister Piyush Goyal said PM Modi wants the train to start on 15 August 2022 – when India completes 75 years of Independence.
6). Japan will fund 81 per cent of the project, nearly Rs. 88,000 crores, in soft loans at an interest rate of 0.1%. The loan will have to be repaid over 50 years.
7). The new train will race between PM Modi’s home state Gujarat and Mumbai, carrying 750 passengers. Travel time will be reduced from eight hours to a little over three hours if it stops at all the 12 stations and around two hours if it stops at only four.
8). At an average speed of 250 km per hour, with a top speed of around 320 km per hour, the train will run at more than double the top speed of the fastest train in India.
9). Of the 508-km stretch, 92 per cent of the route will be elevated, six per cent through a tunnel and the rest on the ground. The high speed train will pass through the country’s longest tunnel of 21 km, of which seven km will be under sea near Thane in Maharashtra.
10). The Maharashtra government is still undecided on where the bullet train will end in Mumbai. The state government this week agreed to spare 9,000 sq metres plot for the station at the Bandra-Kurla Complex on the condition that the railways assess suitability of an alternative site.