By S. Sivathasan –
In the annals of India, 14th September 2017 has become a historic day. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe laid the foundation for India’s first High Speed Rail (HSR). There is another remarkable first. On the date of commencement of construction was announced the date of completion – August 15, 2022. A clean 5 year span also marking the 75 th year of India’s independence.
What is clearly evident are; India’s growing level of confidence to conceive large with timely accomplishment, ever developing technical and administrative capability to match Japan’s and rising fund of goodwill between the two super powers. Still more significant are, political stability being in place and prospects of same party continuity, remaining assured. Pronouncement of a neat 5 years is also encouraged by a well laid out cashflow of $ 18.6 billion, of which 81% is funded by Japan. This is a soft loan repayable in 50 years, along with an 18 year moratorium and carrying an interest of 0.1%
Mumbai – Ahmedabad (M-A) HSR
Mumbai is the state capital of Maharashtra while Ahmedabad is the largest city of Gujarat, 23 km away from Gandhinagar the state capital. The HSR or Shinkansen – New Trunk Line – in Japanese is popularly called ‘Bullet Train’. It was Japan’s first, operational from October 1964. MA HSR, India’s first will be delivered in 2022.
This HSR having a speed of 320 – 350 kmh will traverse a distance of 508 km. High speed will reduce travel time of current 8 hours to 2 hrs. It is proposed that 471 km of the line will be constructed over the existing railway route, at an elevation of 18 metres. Tunnels to a length of 21 km will also be constructed. This strategy eliminates the need for consuming new land together with the attendant issues of acquisition and construction of underpasses.
India and Japan Compared
In 2015, Japan was world’s first in carrying 9 billion passengers. India came second in carrying 8.2 billion. In respect of passenger kilo metres (pkm) travelled, India was world’s second with 1,147 billion pkm in 2015. In the same year, Japan recorded 260 billion pkm and ranked third. The above performance was recorded when India had the 3rd longest rail network at 115,000 km while Japan had 27,268 km.
The contrasting statistics between the two nations reflect the variance between passenger demand and response of technology. India has opted for Japan as the provider of choice and many more years if not decades of collaboration are foreseeable.
India and China
Recent years were occupied by India’s meaningful engagements with Japan and China in mapping out a network of HSR lines to honeycomb the country and to connect major cities. As of now Japan has a few more in hand where feasibility studies are proceeding. China too is carrying out studies in certain major projects, of which the most prominent is the Chennai – Delhi HSR. When done it will be the world’s second longest at 2200 km, after China’s longest with 2298 km, Beijing – Guangzhou BG HSR.
China as the world knows it has an enviable achievement in railway development. She has the second longest rail network at 124,000 km and recorded 1,196 billion pkm in 2015. China’s HSR in 2016 was in excess of 22,000 km and seeks to reach 38,000 km in 2025. As of now top speed reached by BG HSR is 430 kph. At this speed it remains the fastest commercial train in the world.
In 2008/2009 recession struck the world, threatening even a depression. China’s response was not scaling down HSR but expansion in order to stimulate growth. Hence the heavy investment and staggering development. The network is now spread across 29 of the 33 provinces.
India is now poised to draw on the technology, human resources and finances of two of the greatest powers in Asia; Japan and China. India has the technical maturity for collaboration and even to go in for reverse engineering in order to get the best from both these behemoths. At this propitious moment is Modi’s ‘Make in India’ dictum. India has now the potential to develop her own HSR technology in a decade or less. With an array of IITs even Maglev – Magnetic Levitation – at HSR speeds of 320 kph and more is within her grasp. It is likely that as India’s international relations too have got into place, two giants will propel the third into the orbit of exponential HSR growth.
Mumbai – Ahmedabad HSR with a host of other HS rails flow from Modi’s exalted thinking. On 14th September 2017, after inaugurating work on this project he said that his mind had no appetite for small endeavours. At all times only large ones engaged his attention. As Prime Minister he has displayed another characteristic. Convert thought into action and present the end product. So it has been with HSR.
Late Hon. Madhavarao Scindia, a former Railways Minister, reputed for farsightedness envisaged HSR for India and started work on a study. Congress government followed on it with only studies and discussions, but stopped short of bringing anything concrete. Modi had the verve for relentless pursuit. “Stop not till the goal is reached” said his mentor Swami Vivekananda.
Many may think, only one does. What many recall is the world’s first autobahn envisaged by Germany, but made into reality by Hitler’s forceful personality, even in economically inauspicious times. Modi’s powerful character succeeds even in the anarchic disarray of democratic governance.
With HSR he has plumbed new ground to chart a fresh course for India’s transportation challenge.