NEW DELHI - Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe on Thursday (Sept 14) launched India's first bullet train project, setting into motion a new wave of rail modernisation in the South Asian country and further deepening cooperation between the two countries.
The two leaders took part in a groundbreaking ceremony in the city of Ahmedabad, which signalled the beginning of work on the bullet train link connecting a 508km stretch from Ahmedabad in Mr Modi's home state Gujarat to Mumbai, the country's financial capital. The project includes the construction of a 21km tunnel, of which 7km will be under the sea.
The rail link will cut journey time between the two cities from the current seven to eight hours to under three hours.
The project, which will see Japan bring its Shinkansen technology to India, is being built at a cost of 1.08 trillion rupees (S$22.7 billion), with the Indian government hoping to complete work by 2022.
"Today Japan has shown what a firm friend it is of India. India's first high speed rail project is an example of the strength of ties between the two countries,'' said Mr Modi, who called it a historic day for bilateral ties.
Mr Abe said the "bullet train project symbolises friendship'' between the two countries.
"I really like India. I will do whatever I can for India,'' he said at the ceremony, noting that India and Japan are key partners in the Indian Ocean.
The Modi government, fielding criticisms that the bullet train project is too expensive and that money should be spent on improving rail safety, has said that Japan has given "favourable terms'' for the project
Japan is providing a loan covering 81 per cent of the project cost at 0.1 per cent per annum with the repayment period stretching to 50 years, according to the Indian government
The project is part of the Indian government's plan to build a 10,000km high speed rail network linking key cities under the "Make in India" programme to boost infrastructure. The government estimates the programme will create 44,000 jobs including in construction.
"Next generation growth will happen where there are high-speed corridors,'' he said.
Mr Abe is on a two-day visit to India for the annual India-Japan summit in Gujarat.
Over the last decade, ties between India and Japan have improved dramatically, with Mr Modi making it a priority to improve ties with Japan amid the growing assertiveness of China. India and China had recently ended a tense standoff along their Himalayan border.
Japan is seen to have beaten China in bagging the first bullet train project in India. China is currently doing a feasibility study for a high speed rail link between Delhi and Nagpur.