To bring bullet train to India has been one of the cherished goals of the current Indian government.
As the feasibility study for the first bullet train (from Ahmedabad to Mumbai) begins formally there is palpable interest in how the famous Shinkansen train technology will change the way India does business and travel.
But why the need for the bullet train?
The Indian Railways’ VISION 2020 on the High-Speed Corridors has the following goals:
-> It recognizes that despite being a major nation, it still does not have a single high-speed rail corridor capable of running trains at speeds of over 250 kmph.
-> It recognizes that these High-Speed corridors have played a major role in the revitalization of Railways in Japan and Europe and that such networks are being built in China, Taiwan, and the USA, and India needs to move with the times.
-> It, therefore, recognizes that speed of segregated passenger corridors on trunk routes using conventional technology needs to be raised from 160 to 200 kmph.
-> It also recognizes that it must recognize the intercity routes, depending on viability, and build state-of-the-art high-speed corridors for speeds up to 350 kmph through PPP mode in partnerships with the State Governments.
-> The goal of the Vision 2020 also states that the partnerships with the State Governments would be crucial as real-estate development would be a key element of the viability of these high-cost projects.
->By 2020, at least four corridors of 2000 km would be developed, and planning for 8 other corridors would be in different stages of progress.
But most importantly it would help in overhauling the dilapidated railway structure which is time-consuming and not exactly punctual.
With Shinkansen technology, the distance between Mumbai and Ahmedabad would be covered in a little over 2hours.
As per asia.nikkei.com, which quotes the feasibility studies done on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai route, there will be 12 stations between the two major economic cities. This train would take a halt at only Surat, another major economic city known for diamond trade and textiles, and at Vadodara famous for oil and allied industries.
India is running a diamond quadrilateral and besides the Ahmedabad-Mumbai corridor these major routes are also doing feasibility studies:
-> Delhi-Mumbai (Package-I)
Feasibility Study contract awarded to a consortium of The Third Railway Survey and Design Institute Group Corporation (China) and Lahmeyer International (India) Pvt. Ltd.
-> Mumbai-Chennai (Package-II)
Feasibility study contract awarded to a consortium of SYSTRA (FRANCE) – RITES- Ernest &Young LLP.
-> Delhi-Kolkata (Package-III)
Feasibility Study Contract awarded to a consortium of INECO (SPAIN) – TYPSA- Intercontinental Consultants and Technocrats Private Limited
The Chinese factor in the bullet train project:
It is important to state here that China has also been aggressive in joining the bullet train projects.
China is involved in the Delhi-Chennai bullet train route through China Railway SIYUAN Survey and Design Group Co but its project feasibility study is yet to begin.
China had defeated Japan in 2015 when the two countries were in a race to win a railway contract in Indonesia. But when the $5.5 billion project hit a deadlock, Japan stood vindicated and the railway contract win in India boosted its morale.
Japan also gave India a lucrative interest rate to beat China. The cost of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train is estimated to be around US$15 billion and the interest rate is less than 1 %. For a cash tied nation like India, this is perhaps the best it could get and China was unable to match this offer and eventually lost.
The 505-km bullet train project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad is just a small part of the Indian plan of building 10,000 km of high-speed trains. What goes also in Japan’s favor is that Shinkansen train technology is fully safe with no fatality/injuries reported ever since it began its operation in 1964. It also boasts of measures for derailment and deviation for anti-earthquake measures in addition to reinforcement of infrastructures.
It is also punctual which is important for Indian railways.
Annual average delay for Shinkansen is 0.9 minutes per operational train (FY2013, including delays due to uncontrollable causes such as natural disasters).
But the cost which would be a little over 3000 in Indian rupees means that this may not fit well with travel plans of the lower middle-class Indian families or businesses.
By Namta Gupta