Modi, Abe get In­dia’s first bul­let train go­ing as ties deepen

Business World - - THE WORLD -

NEW DELHI — As In­dia’s pre- mier Naren­dra Modi and his Ja­panese coun­ter­part Shinzo Abe pre­pare to break ground on the coun­try’s first bul­let train project Thurs­day, ex­perts say the col­lab­o­ra­tion could sig­nal a mas­sive leap for its over­bur­dened and deadly rail­ways.

In­dia’s colo­nial- era rail net­work car­ries some 22 mil­lion pas­sen­gers daily, mak­ing it one of the busiest in the world. But it is also among the most dan­ger­ous.

A govern­ment re­port pub­lished in 2012 said al­most 15,000 peo­ple were killed ev­ery year in rail ac­ci­dents, de­scrib­ing the deaths as an an­nual “mas­sacre” due mainly to poor safety stan­dards.

Mr. Modi has pledged to in­vest bil­lions of dol­lars to mod­ern­ize the coun­try’s crum­bling rail­way in­fra­struc­ture, which is plagued by de­lays, and the bul­let train was one of his key elec­tion promises ahead of a land­slide vic­tory in 2014.

As New Delhi and Tokyo seek to forge closer ties to com­bat China’s grow­ing re­gional in­flu­ence, the project of­fers a diplo­matic and eco­nomic boost.

The pre­miers will lay the foun­da­tion for the bul­let train net­work in the western city of Ahmed­abad — con­nect­ing Mr. Modi’s home state of Gu­jarat with In­dia’s fi­nan­cial cap­i­tal Mum­bai.

Ja­pan is a pi­o­neer in high­speed rail trans­port — with its Shinkansen bul­let train ranked among the fastest in the world.

With pro­jected top speeds of up to 350 kilo­me­ters (217 miles) an hour — more than dou­ble the max­i­mum speed of­fered by the fastest trains op­er­at­ing in In­dia — it will re­duce travel time be­tween the two cities from eight hours to at most three-and-a-half hours.

The new train, which will have a ca­pac­ity of 750 pas­sen­gers, is also ex­pected to be safer than the coun­try’s creak­ing rail net­work, the world’s fourth largest by dis­tance.

Mr. Modi re­cently re­placed his rail­way min­is­ter af­ter a se­ries of de­rail­ments, in­clud­ing one last month in which at least 23 peo­ple were killed in north­ern Ut­tar Pradesh state. Nearly 150 died in a sim­i­lar ac­ci­dent in Novem­ber.

The agree­ment for the 508-kilo­me­ter net­work was signed in 2016, with plans to make it op­er­a­tional by De­cem­ber 2023.

Nearly 85% of the to­tal project, which costs $ 19 bil­lion, will be pro­vided by Tokyo in soft loans, with re­pay­ment over 50 years.

‘BAL­ANCE CHINA’S HEGE­MONY’

Mr. Abe’s visit to Ahmed­abad comes ahead of Mr. Modi’s 67th birth­day on Sun­day and many have dubbed it as part of his prac­tice of “birth­day diplo­macy.”

The right-wing Hindu na­tion­al­ist leader hosted Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in Gu­jarat on his birth­day in 2014.

“In­dia’s re­la­tion with Ja­pan is de­signed to bal­ance China’s hege­mony,” Ra­jr­ishi Sing­hal, a Mum­bai- based in­de­pen­dent pol­icy con­sul­tant, told AFP.

The two coun­tries have close se­cu­rity ties and hold reg­u­lar joint mil­i­tary ex­er­cises.

A pro­posed joint in­vest­ment of bil­lions of dol­lars in Africa is set to be the cor­ner­stone of the re­la­tion­ship, Mr. Sing­hal said.

“In­dia truly val­ues the re­la­tion­ship with Ja­pan and we look for­ward to fur­ther boost­ing our bi­lat­eral ties in a wide range of sec­tors,” Mr. Modi tweeted Tues­day.

There are more than 1,500 Ja­panese com­pa­nies in In­dia, in­clud­ing auto ma­jor Suzuki, the largest car maker in the coun­try.

The suc­cess of Suzuki and oth­ers trans­formed In­dia’s auto in­dus­try, which em­ploys mil­lions to­day.

Ex­perts are pin­ning sim­i­lar hopes on the bul­let train project.

“Just like Suzuki changed In­dia’s car mar­ket and brought mil­lions of jobs, the bul­let train will change the en­tire in­dus­try,” Mr. Sing­hal said. — AFP

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