By Charles F. Moreira, Editor
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s most ambitious bullet train project – the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail – is expected to be jointly launched by Modi and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the latter’s visit to India in September 12-14 2017, according to Hindu Business Line.
This launch will come over two and a half years since Modi and Abe signed an memorandum of understanding (MoU) in India on 12 December 2015, whereby Japan offered India a soft loan of US$12 billion to finance India’s first bullet train. Interest on the loan is 0.1% per annum, with repayment over 50 years and a moratorium period of 15 years. Japan will also provide technical assistance to implement the project, which is based upon Japan’s Shinkansen bullet train.
Construction of the 508 km track is expected to begin in 2018, with most of the track elevated, except for 21 km which will run in an underground tunnel between Thane to Virar, seven kilometres of which will run underwater stretch expectedly close to the Thane Creek. The elevated track avoids having to make land acquisitions, whilst the tunnel helps to conserve the area’s lush green cover.
The bullet train is expected to make its inaugural run in 2023. Travelling at over 320k kmph, with a top speed of 350 kmph, the bullet train is expected to make the journey between Mumbai and Ahmedabad in two hours and seven minutes, instead of the current over six hours by fastest train, the Shatabdi.
Video courtesy of Webeo Transportation You Tube channel
“A high-speed railway that is safe, comfortable and punctual will give business people just what they need, and it can trigger significant economic development,” the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s (JICA’s) Takema Sakamoto told the Nikkei Asian Review.
As JICA’s chief representative in India, Sakamoto has worked for many years in India to support the country’s development and he believes that the bullet train system will provide a wide-ranging economic boost to areas along its route. It will also lead to development in areas adjacent to the stations and help spread economic development away from the large cities for a more balanced economic development in India.
Whilst critics argue that a bullet train is an extravagance for a developing country such as India, Sakamoto pointed out that this would not be so. India’s current gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is somewhat similar to that of Japan when the Shinkansen was introduced there in 1964, when compared using an exchange rate adjusted for differences in purchasing power between Japan and India’s currencies.
Sakamoto believes that India’s initial investment can be recovered by employing Japan’s knowledge and experience in raising operational efficiency, such as how to enable a tight timetable, which includes cleaning the inside of trains in under seven minutes at the terminus.
About half the cost of a flight
India’s bullet train operators plan for the fare between Mumbai and Ahmedabad to be about half the average air fare between the two cities but there still are concerns that the bullet train will not be able to compete with budget airlines which have already established a strong presence there. Sakamoto admits that travel time between these two cities by air takes just over an hour, or less than half the journey time of a bullet train. However, once the travel and waiting times to and from the airport are taken into consideration – especially when there is a traffic jam, the check in and pre-boarding times and the disembarkation time – the bullet train will have a significant edge. He also believes that non-fare revenue such as advertisements, sale of goods within the stations, plus development projects in areas around the stations, will all generate large revenues.
After the bullet trains, India has plans to introduce magnetic levitation (MagLev) trains.
Meanwhile, India’s current railway network spans a total of 65,000 km across this vast country, making it the fourth largest in the world after the United States (250,000 km), China (100,000 km) and Russia (85,500 km) and already, the coaches of India’s conventional trains are built locally in factories owned by Indian Railways and some are also designed locally. The diesel-electric and electric locomotives which pull these trains are also built locally according to local designs, whilst others are foreign designs manufactured in India under licence. An electric locomotive draws its power from an external electricity supply from an overhead cable or a live powered rail, whilst a diesel-electric locomotive has a diesel engine on board which drives a generator of electricity to drive its wheels and supply electricity to the coaches for lighting, air conditioning, heating and other electrical needs.
On 22 May 2017, Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu launched the inaugural run of India’s first high-speed train, the Tejas Express, from Chatrapati Shivaji Station in Mumbai to Karmali in Goa. Capable of travelling at 200 kmph, the 20 coach Tejas Express meets the minimum speed definition of a high-speed train and covered the 551.7 km route in eight hours and 30 minutes, faster than all other direct trains from Mumbai to Goa, including the Jan Shatabdi Express, which takes at least 8 hours and 40 minutes to make that run. The WDP3A diesel-electric locomotives which pull the Tejas Express are designed and built at the Kalyan diesel locomotive shed. It is based upon a locomotive made by the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) which became defunct in 1969.
Its coaches are designed by Linke-Hofmann-Busch in Germany (now Alstom-LHB) and built at Indian Railways’ rail coach factory in Kapurthala. They include Wi-Fi facilities, tea and coffee vending machines, magazines and snack tables, individual LCD screens, executive class chairs, infotainment screens for each passenger, reading lights above each seat, e-leather cover seats, touch-free taps in toilets, toilet engagement boards, water level indicators in the bio-vacuum toilets, sensorised taps, hand driers, integrated braille displays, digital destination boards, and electronic passenger reservation charts, whilst the LCD screens used for entertainment will also be used for disseminating passenger-related information and safety instructions. Besides all that, Tejas coaches are equipped with 22 new features, including fire and smoke detection and suppression systems and the improved aesthetics, as well as automatic doors and secured gangways for all coaches, which are a first for the Indian Railways. Passengers can also enjoy local cuisine from the Konkan prepared by celebrity chefs, which will be served on-board.
Video of Tejas Express courtesy of Bloomberg/Quint
However, all that luxury on this premium, all air conditioned train comes at a price, since an executive chair seat on this route costs Rs2,590 (RM172.80), more than an airplane ticket to Goa, which if booked well in advance costs Rs2,000 (RM133.44), according to a railway officials in Mumbai. However, there is a choice of a more basic air conditioned chair seat at Rs1,190 (RM79.40), which is almost half the price of an air ticket.
The Tejas Express is planned to be run also on the Delhi-Chandigarh, Surat-Mumbai and Delhi-Jalandhar routes.