Cabinet clears Japanese plan to build high-speed rail. The decision ahead of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit beginning on Friday gives Tokyo an early lead over China. India, Japan to sign pact for Shinkansen High Speed Rail connecting Mumbai and Ahmedabad
New Delhi: India’s cabinet has cleared a $14.7 billion Japanese proposal to build the country’s first bullet train line, a Cabinet Minister and an official said on Thursday, one of the biggest foreign investments in Indian infrastructure.
The decision ahead of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit beginning on Friday gives Tokyo an early lead over China, which is also bidding to construct high-speed train lines along large parts of India’s largely British-era rail system.
“It’s been done,” a Cabinet rank Minister who attended the meeting headed by the Prime Minister of India on Wednesday night told.
“We expect to make an announcement during the visit,” the official said. Both the minister and the official spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The highly-anticipated multi-billion dollar deal is being touted as one of the biggest foreign investments in India’s ageing infrastructure. Japan offered an attractive financing package on the railway project to win over Indian leaders. Japan has offered to finance the project with a 50-year loan at an interest rate as low as 0.1%, the official said. India won’t have to start payment on the loan for 15 years, said another official familiar with the negotiations.
The bullet train line is expected to link the financial capital Mumbai and Ahmedabad in the state of Gujurat, cutting the 505km journey from at least eight hours to just two.
Japan is expected to lend India more than half the cost for the project – about $8bn – at very low interest rates for up to 50 years.
The Modi government has committed to invest $137bn in the country’s vast, but antiquated railway system over the next five years.
Last month, US’s General Electric and France’s Alstom also won billion-dollar contracts to provide India’s railways with new locomotives.
Japan couldn’t confirm whether the final decision had been made, the details of the deal or when any decision would be announced but the country is looking forward to backing the project if picked, said one senior Japanese government official familiar with the negotiations on Wednesday.
“If the Japanese system is chosen, we would work hard to ensure its smooth implementation,” said the official in Tokyo who asked not to be named.
Japan and India have been strengthening ties in the last 18 months as Asia’s two largest democracies look to build a counterweight to China.
In October, warships and aircraft from the U.S., India and Japan practiced hunting enemy submarines together in exercises in the Bay of Bengal, signaling the their deepening relationships and rising concerns about China’s growing military and economic influence in the region. China has been growing closer to many of India’s neighbors by backing big infrastructure projects.
A huge deal in India would help make up for Japan’s embarrassing losses in bids for high-speed rail contracts in Indonesia and Thailand to China. Japan’s failure had alarmed officials in Tokyo, heightening concerns that China is eclipsing Japan as the main economic partner for key countries in Southeast Asia.
The high-speed corridor is a pet project of Mr. Modi, who is trying to modernize the Indian economy. Under the Japanese proposal, construction is expected to begin in 2017 and be completed in 2023.
Indian Railways moving on the fast track
With 23 million passengers travelling on its 65,000-km network, the Indian Railways move an entire Australia every day. So, instead of putting more trains on the already crowded tracks, railway minister Suresh Prabhu’s strategy has been to give passengers more bang for the buck by speeding up the existing trains, for which a major exercise is now underway to upgrade no less than nine corridors. This will not be as good as the high-speed Mumbai-Ahmedabad super-fast train but still quite good.
But unfortunately, the gestation period for such complex civil engineering projects is years, not months. Till then the passengers will have to just wait.
This fast-train service is provided to suit all kinds of passengers, with the Rajdhani Expresses whisking away the well-heeled who may be averse to flying. On the other hand, daily wagers, migrant workers, students going home for a break, etc. have the Garib Rath, Sampark Kranti Express and other such long-distance super-fast trains to travel in comfortably without burning a hole in their pocket. Business people who wish to make a quick day-trip to major metros find the Shatabdi Inter-City Express trains useful.
The following corridors are slated for a rise in the maximum speed to 160-200 km per hour (kmph), for which feasibility studies are underway: New Delhi-Chandigarh, New Delhi-Mumbai, Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysore, Delhi-Kanpur, Nagpur-Bilaspur, Mumbai-Goa, Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Chennai-Hyderabad and Nagpur-Secunderabad.
A Chinese team is looking at the problems of the difficult Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysore section, 500 km, which is full of gradients and sharp curves. The Bengaluru-Mysore stretch was till recently metre gauge, an alignment which has been mostly retained even after its conversion to broad gauge.
The Konkan Railway, which will be upgrading the 700-km Panvel-Madgaon section (Mumbai-Goa corridor), may find the going relatively easy as the track is already laid for 160 kpmh, thanks to the far-sighted policy of E Shreedharan when he headed it as its first managing director.
With the LHB and the WDP4 locomotive diesel fit for 160 kpmh, trial runs had been undertaken as far back as in 2003, and speed up to 130 kpmh could be permitted right away. Increasing it to 160 kpmh would involve certain signalling and other inputs.
Seventy-seven projects for doubling, tripling and quadrupling very high-density corridors are being executed on a war footing. This will help decongest and considerably speed up trains and improve their punctuality.