India's bullet train project about to make tracks

Abe to launch Japan-funded $23b project in Modi's home state as bilateral ties deepen

NEW DELHI • India's first bullet train project, in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home state, will break ground tomorrow to coincide with a visit by his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe.

Mr Abe will lay the foundation stone for the project, in a tightening of ties just days after New Delhi ended a dangerous military confrontation with China.

The move by Mr Abe, who starts a two-day visit to India today, highlights an early lead for Japan in a sector where the Chinese have also been trying to secure a foothold, but without much success.

Mr Modi has made the 500km-long high-speed rail link between the financial hub of Mumbai and the industrial city of Ahmedabad in western Gujarat a centrepiece of his efforts to showcase India's ability to build cutting-edge infrastructure.

The leaders will launch the start of work on the line tomorrow, India's Railways Ministry said in a statement. "This technology will revolutionise and transform the transport sector," said Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, welcoming the prospects for growth brought about by Japan's high-speed "shinkansen", or bullet train, technology.

In Tokyo, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official told reporters that Japan "would like to support 'Make in India' as much as possible", referring to Mr Modi's signature policy to lure investors in manufacturing.

"And for that, we want to do what is beyond the Mumbai-Ahmedabad line and achieve economies of scale," the official added.

India will make "all-out efforts" to complete the line by August 2022, more than a year earlier than planned, the Indian government said on Monday.

Japan is providing 81 per cent of the funding for the 1.08 trillion rupees (S$23 billion) project, through a 50-year loan at 0.1 per cent annual interest.

Ties between India and Japan have blossomed as Mr Modi and Mr Abe increasingly see eye to eye in countering growing Chinese assertiveness across Asia.

Japanese investment in India has surged in areas ranging from automotive sector to infrastructure in the remote north-east, making Tokyo its third-largest foreign direct investor.

India and Japan are also trying to move forward on a plan for New Delhi to buy Japanese amphibious aircraft - ShinMaywa Industries' US-2 - in what would be one of Tokyo's first arms transfers since ending a self-imposed embargo.

Tokyo hopes that by gaining a head start on rival exporters of rail technology such as China and Germany, its companies will be able to dominate business in one of the most promising markets for high-speed rail equipment.

In 2015, China won a contract to assess the feasibility of a high- speed rail link between Delhi and Mumbai, part of a network of more than 10,000km of track that India wants to set up, but little progress has been made.

Bullet train critics say the funds would be far better spent on modernising India's slow and rickety state-controlled rail system, the world's fourth largest.

But a US$15 billion (S$20.2 billion) safety overhaul has hit delays as a state steel firm proved unable to fill demand for new rail.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2017, with the headline 'India's bullet train project about to make tracks'. Print Edition | Subscribe