India moves towards Highspeed Rail systems – Foundation Stone for Ahmedabad-Mumbai Bullet Train project today

‘The bullet train can be Modi’s legacy’ says Analysts. With the laying of foundation for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train and MoU-signing ceremony attracting investments of around Rs.5 Lakh Crore, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi are set to have an eventful Thursday.

AHMEDABAD: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, who arrived in India on Wednesday, will together launch the work for India’s first bullet train, which will connect Mumbai to Ahmedabad on Thursday in Ahmedabad. The project is likely to change the way people undertake the 508 km long journey between the two major cities.

The two leaders will hold the 12th Indo-Japan annual Summit meeting at Gandhinagar followed by the exchange of agreements. An India-Japan business plenary meeting will be held after that.

With the participation of more than 100 Japanese corporates and envoys, the Gujarat government is viewing the annual meet as a modified version of ‘Vibrant Gujarat Summit’. There are at least four Japanese corporate giants which are going to make an investments of Rs 1 lakh crore each.

The bullet train is expected to reduce the travelling time between the cities up to less than half, from the current six and a half hours (by train) to about two hours fifty minutes.  Many traders who frequently make trips between the two cities feel that this will be a boon for conducting their business and don’t mind spending Rs.3,000 for a one-way ticket during their weekly trips.

The rolling stock (carriages) of the ‘Tokaido Shinkansen’ series bullet trains has an impeccable safety record of 50 years with no case of derailment in Japan. Ironically, this launch comes at a time when the Indian Railways is being jolted time and again with cases of derailments across country due to antiquated rail system built over 160 years. Just this month, the railways saw five mishaps in a span of 24 hours.

In 1964, just before the Tokyo Olympics, Japan launched its first bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka. Fifty-three years later, in 2017, India’s Prime Minister Narendra D Modi and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will inaugurate India’s first bullet train project. The 508-km Mumbai-Ahmedabad Rail Project will be built at an estimated cost of Rs 110,000 crore (Rs 1.1 trillion). Japan will lend Rs 88,000 crore (Rs 880 billion) to this project at an interest rate of 0.1 per cent, which has to repaid in 50 years, with a 15-year grace period.

The Indian Railways has a huge problem with safety and maintenance. But this challenge also is an opportunity. It is an inflection point for the railways, where the railways can peter out from a public sector undertaking with huge State patronage, where express trains run at 70km/hour and passenger trains at 35km/hour, to a modern economic and technological power house. One way of looking at this issue is that we can be incremental – on speed, maintenance and passenger friendliness. The other way is to take a quantum leap. A country like India cannot do away with passenger trains, but a country like India, at her current state of development, cannot shy away from bullet trains either. If you want to take a quantum leap, there will be risks and this is a risk worth taking.

Amit Shah, a diamond trader based in Charni Road said that he often carries products worth lakhs of rupees while travelling and the option of commuting in a bullet train will give him the much needed sense of security. He said, “I have heard that a one-way ticket might cost us around Rs.3,000 and our diamond merchant community will be more than happy to pay that amount as we will reach Surat in the same time it takes to go there by a flight.”

However, on the other hand railway officials are happy with the choice of rolling stock because of its safety track record since it was launched in Japan in 1964. A railway official said, “the technology in the Tokaido Shinkansen series is a tested one, the train has not seen even one derailment in the last 50 years. This is a very big plus for us as the recent spate of derailments have damaged the railway’s image to a great extent.”

One of the reasons behind this clean record is probably the fact that not just the train carriages but also the technology that will is used to run the train.