Indian 'semi-bullet train' sets new national speed record

NEW DELHI (AFP) - An Indian passenger train set a new national speed record of 160 kilometres an hour on Thursday during a test between the capital and the Taj Mahal city of Agra.

The introduction of high-speed links and bullet trains were one of the key poll campaign promises of India's new right-wing prime minister, Narendra Modi, who won elections in May.

Thursday's test, part of the government's plans to upgrade the ageing rail network, saw the train complete the 200 kilometres between New Delhi and Agra in around 90 minutes. The top speed clocked at 10 kilometres more than the previous record.

"This is now the fastest train in India," Delhi divisional railway manager Anurag Sachan told AFP from inside the train. "We are recording all technical parameters during the trial run and hope to introduce it to the public by this November."

While fast by Indian standards, the train is some way from the Japanese "Shinkansen" admired by Mr Modi which reach speeds of 320 kilometres an hour. The Indian media labelled it a "semi-high-speed train" or "semi-bullet".

India is set to roll out extensive plans to overhaul India's massive but loss-making network on Tuesday when the Modi government will present its first railway budget.

Observers say the railways have been neglected by successive governments over the past three decades of rapid economic growth during which car ownership has surged and low-cost airlines have mushroomed.

But it continues to be one of the main modes of long-distance travel for most of India's 1.2 billion people, while increased use of the tracks for freight could help ease road traffic congestion.

Similar high-speed rail corridors are being planned between New Delhi and the northeastern city of Chandigarh, and the national capital and the industrial town of Kanpur 500 kilometres away.

"The cost of upgrading tracks, signal systems and other related infrastructure isn't high on some of the corridors which already have other high speed trains," Mr Sachan told AFP."We are confident of expanding it once this project is completed," he added.

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