Indian PM Modi, Japan PM  Shinzo Abe to lay the foundation stone of India’s first bullet train in Ahmadabad, Gujarat!

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Despite what our prime minister says, the train isn’t virtually free of cost. Credit: Reuters

-Dr. Abdul Ruff Colachal

Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe is in India on invitation from the Modi government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken the guest to important places in Ahmadabad ahead of the official schedule. PM Modi and his Japanese counterpart Abe will lay the foundation stone for India’s first bullet train project connecting Ahmedabad to Mumbai on September 14. Construction of the corridor will begin by the end of 2018 and is expected to be completed by 2023.

PM Abe’s two-day visit to Ahmedabad comes ahead of Modi’s 67th birthday on Sunday. Modi has a history of ‘birthday diplomacy’ in his home state, hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Gujarat on his birthday in 2014. The two leaders are expected to sign several agreements during the visit and inaugurate a Japanese industrial park in the state that already hosts Honda and Suzuki auto plants.

The leaders will lay the foundation stone of the high-speed rail network between Ahmedabad and India’s financial hub of Mumbai on September 14, a statement by the Gujarat government said.

Modi and Abe will break ground on India’s first bullet train project today in western Gujarat state, as the country seeks faster travel for millions.  Modi has pledged to invest billions of dollars in modernizing India’s creaking railway system, with the bullet train one of his key election promises ahead of his landslide victory in 2014.

Japan is a pioneer in high-speed rail networks, and its Shinkansen bullet train is among the fastest in the world. Japan will provide 85 percent of the total project cost of $19 billion in soft loans. The train will reduce the travel time between the two cities from eight to three-3.5 hours, and is expected to complete by December 2023. It will have a capacity of 750 passengers.

 Mumbai–Ahmedabad bullet train

Western countries have long introduced fast bullet trains to transport people and goods in a couple of hours by cutting short the journey time by several hours.

India is also now trying to catch up with the western advances by borrowing money from abroad.

The Mumbai–Ahmedabad high-speed rail corridor is a proposed high-speed rail line connecting the cities of Ahmedabad, Gujarat and Mumbai, Maharashtra in West India. It will be India’s first high-speed rail line. The ground breaking ceremony for the project is expected to happen during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to India in 14.09.2017. Construction work on the corridor will start by the end of 2018 and is estimated to be completed by 2023

The Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train, running at an operating speed of 320 kmph and the maximum speed of 350 kmph, will pass through 12 stations — Bandra Kurla Complex, Thane, Virar, Boisar, Vapi, Bilimora, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, Ahmedabad, and Sabarmati.

The high-speed train, with ten cars and capacity to accommodate 750 people, is expected to reduce travel time between the two cities from seven to three hours. Later, the train will have 16 cars which will accommodate 1,200 people. Around Rs 1.10 lakh crore will be spent on the project of which Rs 88,000 crore will be funded by a soft loan from Japan.  The Japanese credit will be available at 0.1% interest rate, and India will be able to repay this in 50 years. Repayment will begin 15 years after the loan is received.

Most of the corridor will be elevated, except for a 21 km underground tunnel between Thane and Virar, of which 7 km will be undersea. Of the 508 km corridor, 468km will be elevated, 27 km will pass through an underwater tunnel, and the remaining 13 km will be the ground. The undersea tunnel was chosen to avoid damaging the thick vegetation present in the area. The corridor will begin at the underground station in the Bandra-Kurla Complex in Mumbai and then traverse 21 km underground before emerging above ground at Thane.

The official said India would also get the safe Shinkansen technology and would manufacture parts in the country under ‘Make in India’  “This will help the ancillary industry grow, people will get employment and engineers will get opportunities to learn about new technology,” he said, adding that Japan was also ready to provide training on operation and maintenance of the bullet train to India.

Reports suggest that the completion deadline of December 2023 may be brought forward to August 2022 when the country celebrates 75 years of independence. Though the fare structure is yet to be finalized, it could be 1.5 times the current AC first class fare. For travel from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, a passenger will have to pay between Rs 2,700 and Rs 3,000. The airplane fare on this route is between Rs 3,500 and Rs 4,000. An official said luxury AC bus fares from Mumbai to Ahmedabad were around Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000.

Indian Railways proposes to operate two types of services on the corridor. A “Rapid Train” service with only two stops at Surat and Vadodara, and a slower service that halts at all stations. The “Rapid Train” would complete the journey in 2 hours and 7 minutes, while the slower service would take 2 hours and 58 minutes. In total, 35 daily services will be operated on the line, with three services per hour during peak hours and two services per hour during off-peak hours. The Railways estimates that the high-speed rail corridor will have a daily ridership of around 36,000 in 2023.

On 9 January 2017 at Vibrant Gujarat Summit, the Gujarat Government and the National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRC) signed a MoU worth ₹67,000 crore (US$10 billion) for component manufacturing for the high-speed rail corridor. The Gujarat Government will bear 25% of the total project cost and provide land for the project.

Background story 

The Mumbai–Ahmedabad corridor, along with five other high-speed rail corridors, was introduced for a feasibility study in the 2009–2010 Rail Budget. A 650 km long high-speed rail corridor was proposed to run from Pune railway station to Ahmedabad railway station via Mumbai. The point at which this route would touch Mumbai was to be decided when the feasibility report was prepared. The pre-feasibility study for the Ahmedabad–Mumbai–Pune corridor was completed by a consortium of RITES, Italferr and Systra The top speed expected for the corridor was up to 350 km/h The proposed stations included Lonavala on Mumbai–Pune section and Surat, Bharuch and Vadodara on Mumbai–Ahmedabad section. It was proposed to have 32 services between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Railway officials also proposed extending the corridor up to Bangalore later.

A MoU was signed in New Delhi on 14 February 2013 between the Ministry of Railways and the Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF), the French national railways, for technical cooperation in the field of railways. The parties agreed to carry out jointly an “operations and development” feasibility project on the Mumbai–Ahmedabad high-speed rail corridor. The project was funded by the SNCF with support from the French Ministry of Finance. In March 2013, the Railway Board decided to drop the Mumbai-Pune section and operate the high-speed rail service only between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The Board decided due to financial constraints because the ghat section between Pune and Mumbai would escalate the budget for the project. According to V.A. Malegaonkar, Chief Public Relations Officer (PRO), Western Railway, “It’s a Western Railway project and a very little portion of Maharashtra was being covered under it. Hence, the Maharashtra government was showing little interest in the project and was also reluctant to bear a financial burden. That is the reason why the Railway Board has decided against including the Pune-Mumbai portion in the high-speed corridor”.

India and Japan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to undertake a joint feasibility study of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route in New Delhi in September 2013.  This was in pursuance of the Joint Statement between then Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh and the Prime Minister of Japan Shinzō Abe on 29 May 2013, which provided that the two sides would co-finance a joint feasibility study of the route. The objective of the joint study was to prepare a feasibility report on the system with a speed of 300–350 km/h. The cost of the study (¥500 million) was borne equally by India and Japan. The study was scheduled to be completed within 18 months from its commencement, i.e., it would complete by July 2015. The study carried out traffic forecasting, alignment surveys and undertook a comparative Study of high-speed railway technology and systems.

Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the SNCF carried out studies on the project. JICA researched the technology, alignment, and traffic-related aspects, while SNCF worked on business projections. The feasibility study included an alignment survey concerning aspects such as land acquisition, environmental challenges, and building of tunnels and bridges, etc. It also suggested a financial model based on fare and non-fare box revenue.

In May 2014, the project was approved by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a meeting with the chairman of the High-Speed Rail Corporation of India. The feasibility study on the project was carried out by RITES, Italferr and Systra in July 2015.  On 20 July 2015, a joint Japanese-Indian survey team recommended a Shinkansen-style system for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad line, including the adoption of Automatic train control and dedicated tracks. JICA’s report recommended constructing 63.3% of the route an embankment slightly above the ground, 28.3% on stilts, 5.8% underground and 2.2% on bridges. Minister of State for Railways Rajen Gohain informed Parliament on 15 March 2017 that under a new plan the entire corridor would be elevated except for the tracks that were proposed to be built underground.

A MoU was signed by the governments of India and Japan on 12 December 2015. The Ministry of Railways, based on the recommendation of the NITI Aayog, announced that Shinkansen technology would be adopted for the line, with technology transfer to support the Make in India program. Japan would also provide staff training. In January 2016, the Ministry of Railways fast-tracked the project and set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) named the National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited to build and operate the corridor. The company was registered in January 2016 in the name of Indian Railways. It was planned for the company to eventually be made into a joint venture with equity participation of the Maharashtra and Gujarat governments.

The Public Sector Company is expected to build and also carry out train operations. The Ministry of Railways, the National High-Speed Rail Corporation (NHSRC) and JICA signed a tripartite consultancy agreement in December 2016 to implement the project. The NHSRC is a new agency floated to implement the project. A joint venture between Japan International Consultants for Transportation Co (JIC), Nippon Koei Co, and Oriental Consultants Global Co. Ltd. was appointed as the general consultants for the project,[20] and prepared design documents, bidding documents and technical standards and specifications for the project.

In late 2016, JICA awarded the detailed design study for the project to a consortium led by Japan International Consultants for Transportation (JIC), a subsidiary of East Japan Railway, West Japan Railway and the Tokyo Metro. The study formally began in March 2017. JIC will forecast demand, set fares and devise a train operation plan, handle preliminary design work for structures such as tunnels and bridges, and draw up an overall construction schedule. Japan Project Manager stated that “conditions surrounding the construction of a high-speed railway in India – such as weather, which is harsh there, and the quality and standards of materials – are considerably different from those in Japan.

Japanese public and private sector companies conducted training programs for railway staff in India. JIC stated that the local expertise in India gained from constructing and operating various rapid transit systems could be utilized for the high-speed rail project. Japan also provided training to Indian Railway Ministry officials, some of whom studied in government-sponsored programs at graduate schools in Japan.

India and Japan signed an agreement to establish an HSR Training Institute in India by 2020 to train railway staff in high-speed rail operations. Survey work on the route began in January 2017. “The geotechnical survey has started along the entire route between Mumbai and Ahmedabad and is expected to take two to three months. The activities that have begun include geotechnical and geophysical investigations into the 21-kilometre, under-water tunnel of the project, right down to the pillars on which the high-speed trains will run.” RITES identified 750 locations along the entire route to carry out soil testing, including 62 locations in the underground section. The agency completed soil testing at a total of 250 locations by 24 February. Officials carried out testing of soil and rocks at a depth of 70 meters underwater for the undersea tunnel stretch.

Railway officials utilized a helicopter mounted with a 100-megapixel high-resolution digital camera, a Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) scanner, a data recorder and other equipment to carry out the survey. This aerial-survey method provides accurate data about land contours, buildings, and vegetation, and will permit the survey work to be completed within 9–10 weeks as opposed to the 6–8 months required for a regular survey. The aerial survey was completed by JICA and the Indian Railways by the end of February 2017. Railway Ministry officials stated in April 2017 that final location surveys had been completed and that consultants to carry out environmental and social impact studies would be appointed within a few months.

New Mumbai terminal

The Indian Railways proposed constructing the proposed terminus at BKC as a three-story underground station. However, the Maharashtra state government planned to construct the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) at BKC on the same plot. JICA’s report had cited the BKC plot as the most suitable location to build the Mumbai terminus.[  In February 2016, the Railways and the state government agreed to construct both projects at the BKC. However, in April 2016, the state government refused to permit construction of the underground station at BKC, citing the lack of availability of land in the area for an underground station after the completion of the proposed IFSC and its multi-level underground car park. The state government also stated that IFSC would begin generating revenue for the government shortly, while the rail corridor was only expected to be completed by 2023. It instead suggested relocating the proposed BKC terminus to either Matunga or Kanjurmarg. The issue was resolved in January 2017, when the Maharashtra Government and the MMRDA agreed to provide 5.4 hectares of land in BKC to construct a terminus

The Sabarmati station will serve as the high-speed rail terminal in Ahmedabad.

In September 2015, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis requested railway authorities to incorporate Nashik into the corridor’s alignment. Railway officials stated that the proposal was not feasible as it would require the entire project to be re-planned, and would greatly escalate costs due to the ghat section between Mumbai and Nashik. In January 2017, Mumbai Mirror reported that the high-speed rail corridor would be extended to Pune and Nashik Stations

The line will have 11 stations. Proposed stations are Mumbai, Thane, Virar, Boisar, Vapi, Bilimora, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, and Ahmedabad. High-speed rail stations will be constructed either above or next to existing railway stations to provide transfer with the Indian Railways network. The Director of the Railway Bureau of Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transportation, and Tourism stated that “this makes construction extremely difficult”.

Cost

The project is estimated to cost ₹1.08 lakh crore (US$17 billion).[31] The cost includes interest during construction and import duties.[32] JICA agreed to fund 81% of the total project cost ₹79,087 crore(US$12 billion), through a 50-year loan at an interest rate of 0.1% and a moratorium on repayments up to 15 years. Indian Railways will invest ₹9,800 crore (US$1.5 billion) in the high-speed rail project, and the remaining cost will be borne by the state governments of Maharashtra and Gujarat. 20% of the components used on the corridor will be supplied by Japan, and manufactured in India.

Japan will provide 85 per cent of the total project cost of $19 billion in soft loans. PM Modi has pledged to invest billions of dollars in modernizing India’s creaking railway system; Modi recently replaced his railway minister after a series of derailments. Most of the line will be constructed on an elevated corridor to avoid land acquisitions and the need to build underpasses. It will also enhance safety by eliminating the need for level crossings. The decision to construct an elevated line raised the cost of the project by an additional ₹10,000 crore (US$1.6 billion).

 Amaravati to Vijayawada in 5 minutes by Hyperloop train!

Meanwhile, Los Angeles-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Andhra Pradesh government to develop a ‘ superfast’ short-distance transport facility between Vijayawada and the state’s future capital, Amaravati.

The project will employ HTT’s patented technology to bring down travel time to less than 5 minutes. During the initial phase of the project, HTT will conduct a six-month long feasibility study from October. The firm will subsequently introduce its Hyperloop Transportation System in India as the project enters Phase 2.

HTT is among the few companies to offer the Hyperloop Transportation System that is based on magnetic levitation. Other than HTT, Tesla and the Elon Musk-owned Boring Company are actively involved in providing similar solutions.

According to the state government, the project would take off from Amravati. According to the Andhra Pradesh Economic Development Board (APEDB), the project could shape the future of transportation within the state. “By collaborating with Hyperloop, Amaravati is embracing a prototype for the mobility of tomorrow,” said Krishna Kishore, the chief executive officer of APEDB.

While the Hyperloop technology was conceived to shorten travel time between locations that are far from each other, the state government has decided to use the technology for short distances at the initial stage. “We are extremely delighted to have signed the MoU with the Andhra Pradesh government to bring Hyperloop technology to India,” said Bibop Gresta, chairman, and co-founder of HTT.

The company will be partnering with the AP state government to build regulatory standards necessary for the safe and efficient operation of the technology in India. For this, HTT plans to take inputs from various local stakeholders as well. HTT was co-founded by CEO Dirk Ahlbom and chairman Gesta in 2013 and has a large design and execution team consisting of more than 800 engineers, besides drawing support from 40 other corporate and university partners. HTT said it would conduct a six-month feasibility study commencing in October during the first phase.

Andhra Pradesh is India’s seventh largest state with a population of over 50 million.

The Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), an American research firm formed using crowd collaboration to develop ultra-high-speed transportation system based on Hyperloop concept, has agreed to build India’s first Hyperloop, connecting Andhra Pradesh’s proposed Greenfield capital city Amaravati and Vijayawada.

HTT has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Andhra Pradesh Economic Development Board (APEDB), marking it first such agreement in India for the new transportation system.

The public, private partnership (PPP) model, with funding primarily from private investors, will potentially turn a trip of more than an hour into a 5-minute ride between Amaravati and Vijayawada.  “The project will involve little over $200 million of investment and take a year or so to complete it once all the approvals and Right of Way were in place,” Krishna Kishore, chief executive of APEDB, told ET. “We are extremely delighted to have entered into a MoU with the government of Andhra Pradesh to bring the HTTP Hyperloop to India,” said Bibop Gresta, chairman, and co-founder of HTT, in a statement. “In partnering with Andhra Pradesh, HTT will work with local stakeholders to build the regulatory standards necessary for safe and efficient operation.”

HTT said it would conduct a six-month feasibility study commencing in October during the first phase. Working with partners in the public and private sector, HTT proposes to analyze the surrounding cityscapes to create the best route between the two cities while identifying all pertinent stakeholders in the region. After completing the feasibility, HTT in the second phase of the project proposes to construct and build its first Hyperloop in India.  “By collaborating with Hyperloop, Amravati is embracing a prototype for the mobility of tomorrow,” said Krishna Kishore of APEDB in a statement.

Observation 

India seeks faster travel for millions. Presumably, India is entering into a new era regarding technology, and its goal is to put India on the global map by developing and implementing green technologies, the first Hyperloop in Amravati.

With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe breaking ground on India’s first bullet train project in western Gujarat state, the high-speed rail network between Ahmedabad and India’s financial hub of Mumbai on September 14, Indians stand to benefit. Modi has pledged to invest billions of dollars in modernizing India’s creaking railway system, with the bullet train one of his key election promises ahead of his landslide victory in 2014, although his major premise of sharing the money deposited abroad with Indian citizens remains a bluff, but people still look forward to getting money in the bank accounts. Government promises are a serious thing.

India’s traditional railway network is the world’s fourth largest by distance and remains the vast country’s main form of travel, with 22 million passengers commuting daily. But passengers have too often endure chronic delays in journeys on the British-era network, where only a few trains hit 100 miles per hour, and which has been hit by series of deadly crashes in past years.

Japan is a pioneer in high-speed rail networks, and its Shinkansen bullet train is among the fastest in the world. The train will reduce the travel time between the two cities from eight to three-3.5 hours, and is expected to complete by December 2023. It will have a capacity of 750 passengers. Modi recently replaced his railway minister after a series of derailments, including one last month which killed at least 23 passengers in the northern Uttar Pradesh state. In November, 146 people died in a similar disaster in Uttar Pradesh.

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Dr. Abdul Ruff is a columnist contributing articles to many newspapers and journals on world politics. He is an expert on Mideast affairs, as well as a chronicler of foreign occupations and freedom movements (Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Xinjiang, Chechnya, etc.). Dr. Ruff is a specialist on state terrorism, the Chancellor-Founder of Center for International Affairs (CIA), commentator on world affairs and sport fixings, and a former university teacher. He is the author of various eBooks/books and editor for INTERNATIONAL OPINION and editor for FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES; Palestine Times.