In­dia starts work on bul­let train line with £12bn loan from Ja­pan

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Michael Safi in Delhi

In­dia’s creak­ing, colo­nial-era rail­way sys­tem is pre­par­ing to take a gi­ant leap for­ward as the In­dian prime min­is­ter breaks ground on the coun­try’s first bul­let train project.

Naren­dra Modi laid the foun­da­tion stone for the high-speed line on Thurs­day dur­ing a visit by his Ja­panese coun­ter­part, Shinzō Abe, to the western state of Gu­jarat.

“This is the new In­dia and the flight of its dreams is end­less,” Modi said at the cer­e­mony. “The bul­let train project will bring speed and em­ploy­ment. It is hu­man-friendly and eco-friendly.”

The high-speed line, which the govern­ment aims to launch by the 75th an­niver­sary of In­dian in­de­pen­dence on 15 Au­gust 2022, will run from Ahmed­abad, the Gu­jarat cap­i­tal, to the fi­nan­cial hub of Mum­bai.

In­dian of­fi­cials say the train will have a max­i­mum speed of 217mph (350km/h), more than twice the speed of the coun­try’s cur­rent fastest train, which runs from the cap­i­tal, Delhi, to Agra at a com­pa­ra­bly slug­gish max­i­mum of 100mph.

The Shinkansen model train will cut the 316-mile jour­ney from Ahmed­abad to Mum­bai from eight hours to around three.

More than four-fifths of the project’s $19bn (£14.4bn) cost will be funded by a 0.1% in­ter­est-rate loan from Ja­pan as part of a deep­en­ing eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship that both coun­tries hope will act as a bul­wark against Chi­nese in­flu­ence in Asia. “Ja­pan has shown that its a true friend of In­dia,” Modi said on Thurs­day.

The fast rail is also sig­nif­i­cant for the Modi govern­ment, which made the bul­let train a key part of the mod­erni­sa­tion agenda on which it cam­paigned at the 2014 elec­tions. It also claims the project will cre­ate about 36,000 jobs.

In­dia is re­port­edly con­sid­er­ing an­other six po­ten­tial high-speed rail cor­ri­dors, in­clud­ing one con­nect­ing Mum­bai and Delhi. But the for­mer chair­man of In­dia’s rail­way board Vivek Sa­hai said that the fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment re­quired to build such fast rail meant it was un­likely to phase out tra­di­tional trains any time soon.

“In­dia runs more than 10,000 trains each day, which carry the equiv­a­lent of the pop­u­la­tion of Aus­tralia – you can’t just dis­con­tinue them,” Sa­hai said.

The coun­try might also find it cheaper to in­vest in medium-speed trains that could run on the ex­ist­ing sys­tem, he added, rather than pay­ing for the spe­cial in­fras­truc­ture re­quired to run bul­let trains.

The spread of su­per-fast trains would ul­ti­mately “de­pend on the fi­nances”, he said. “High speed trains have to come to In­dia ... but how to get it and the fi­nan­cial vi­a­bil­ity of the projects is still to be ques­tioned,” he said.

Trains are still the pre­ferred choice of long-dis­tance travel for most In­di­ans but pas­sen­ger num­bers, par­tic­u­larly in the more ex­pen­sive berths, have started to de­cline since 2014.

Grow­ing in­comes in the past three decades have seen a surge in car own­er­ship, and In­dia’s do­mes­tic flight mar­ket grew 14% last year, sec­ond only to China’s.

The in­dus­try is also marred by a hor­ren­dous safety record: a 2012 govern­ment re­port re­ferred to the an­nual death toll from the coun­try rail­way’s sys­tem as a “mas­sacre”.

More than 33,700 peo­ple died in train-re­lated ac­ci­dents in 2015, the most re­cent year for which data is avail­able, the ma­jor­ity by fall­ing from over­crowded trains or be­ing hit as they tried to cross tracks.

Modi re­placed the coun­try’s rail­way min­is­ter in Au­gust af­ter a hor­ror 12 months that in­cluded an ac­ci­dent last Novem­ber that killed 150 peo­ple.

The govern­ment has com­mit­ted to spend­ing $137bn (£111bn) over its five-year term to up­grade In­dia’s rail­ways, in­clud­ing im­prov­ing track struc­ture and in­tro­duc­ing long welded rails and track pa­trols to pre­vent rail­way in­fras­truc­ture from fall­ing into dis­re­pair.

In­dia’s train net­work, built dur­ing Bri­tish colo­nial rule is Asia’s oldest and the fourth-long­est in the world, cov­er­ing more than 67,000km.

Pho­to­graph: Hand­out/AFP/Getty Im­ages

Naren­dra Modi and Shinzō Abe look at a rail­way sta­tion model at a ground-break­ing cer­e­mony for the Mum­bai-Ahmed­abad high speed rail project in Ahmed­abad.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.