Shinzo Abe in Gujarat today: Bullet train foundation to be laid on Thursday; rundown of Railways' most ambitious project

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe will lay the foundation stone for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train (MAHSR) project at the athletics ground near Sabarmati railway station on Thursday. Described as the Indian Railways' most ambitious project till date, the 550-kilometre bullet train corridor may help rewrite India's transport infrastructure narrative.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

It's success however lies in its execution. If completed, this will act as a powerful agitator to create a culture of project efficiency in India.

What is the bullet train?

The bullet train will ply on a high-speed rail network where trains operate at top speeds of around 320 kilometres per hour or more. At present, the US, Japan, China and several countries have developed high-speed railways (HSR). China, which has over 22,000 kilometres of high-speed railway networks, accounts for two-thirds of the world's total.

India's quest for high speed:

This isn't India's first attempt to ride on high speed trains. In 1989, the then railway minister Madhavrao Scindia proposed a high-speed connection from Delhi to Kanpur via Agra. The project was dropped later.

Nearly 30 years later, India took another step towards high-speed railway, when Gatiman Express from Delhi to Agra was flagged off. Running at 160 kilometers per hour, it is currently India's fastest train.

In 2009, the Ministry of Railways released a white-paper Vision 2020, which envisages the implementation of regional high-speed rail projects to provide services at 250–350 kilometer per hour.

It identified six corridors for technical studies on setting up of high-speed rail corridors: Delhi–Chandigarh–Amritsar, Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Hyderabad-Kazipet-Dornakal-Vijayawada-Chennai, Howrah–Haldia, Chennai-Bangalore-Coimbatore-Kochi-Thiruvananthapuram, and Delhi-Agra-Lucknow-Varanasi-Patna.

India has also tied up with Spanish high speed passenger train company Talgo, to run semi-high speed trains. Unlike the bullet train, Talgo can run on the existing railway network.

Mumbai to Ahmedabad

On 29 May 2013, India and Japan signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to undertake a joint feasibility study of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route. The Ministry of Railways, along with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), studied traffic assessment, alignment and technological options for HSR.

The Railways later dropped the Mumbai-Pune section due to financial constraints and concentrated only on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route.

According to Hindustan Times, the survey team had recommended Shinkansen-style technology for the project. The report recommended constructing 63.3 percent of the route at an embankment slightly above the ground, 28.3 percent on stilts, 5.8 percent underground and 2.2 percent on bridges.

An aerial survey, which was done earlier, is currently being analysed and the route's alignment is being finalised, reported Financial Express. The process of land acquisition will start soon, although most of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad stretch will run on government land.

The route: From the seas, to the skies

Currently 11 stations are proposed in this corridor. The terminal is planned at Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) in Mumbai's financial heart. The station is to be built three levels underground, and will not interfere with the financial center being planned there.

From BKC, the train will traverse 21 kilometres underground before emerging above ground at Thane. Out of these, seven kilometers will be undersea.

From Thane, it will move further north, finally ending its journey in Ahmedabad. The proposed 11 stations are Mumbai, Thane, Virar, Boisar, Vapi, Bilimora, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand and Ahmedabad. The terminal at Ahmedabad is planned near Sabarmati railway station.

The time factor

Currently, trains from Mumbai to Ahmedabad take around 7-8 hours. The fastest train on this route is the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Shatabdi Express, which takes six-and-a-half hours. The new bullet train will cut this down to around two hours, reported The Indian Express.

According to Hindustan Times, railways plans to run two types of bullet trains. One taking approximately 2.58 hours, while the rapid high-speed one will cover the distance in 2.07 hours.

High on money

Although a formal fare structure is yet to be finalised, it is expected to be 1.5 times the first class AC fare of trains running on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route, according to the Hindustan Times report. Currently, the 1AC fare ranges between Rs 1,800 to Rs 3,000. Thus, the fare structure for the bullet train is expected to be anywhere between Rs 3,000 to Rs 5,000.

As per estimates, 36,000 passengers are expected to commute daily when the service will start and will eventually go up to 1,86,000 passengers per day in 30 years' time, by 2053. During this period, the one-way 35 daily trains will go up to 105. The prices of tickets are expected to be 1.5 times that of the air-conditioned first class and may be in the range of Rs 2,700-3,000, reported Economic Times.

Most expensive project

The bullet train project will be the costliest project undertaken by Indian Railways. Originally estimated to cost Rs 97,636 crore, the cost has now shot up to Rs 1.08 lakh crore. This includes interest during construction and import duties. Japan has agreed to fund 81 percent of the total project cost through a 50-year loan at an interest rate of 0.1 percent, and a moratorium on repayments up to 15 years.

The Indian Railways will invest Rs 9,800 crore, with the rest of the cost being borne by state governments of Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Technology involved

A large part of the project focusses on bringing new technology to India. According to The Times of India, the railways used a helicopter mounted with a 100-megapixel high-resolution digital camera, a Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) scanner, a data recorder and other equipment to carry out the survey.

The MAHSR project is being implemented based on the Shinkansen design, which has zero passenger fatalities in more than 50 years of operation.

A dedicated high-speed rail training institute is being developed in Vadodara. The institute, set to be fully functional by 2020, will be fully equipped with simulator technology.

The technology regarding disaster prediction and prevention will also be acquired as a part of the project. Such safety systems ensure that the train's safety is maintained in case of natural calamities like earthquakes.

Salient features

The 731-seater Japanese E5 Series Shinkansen, which will serve as the bullet train in India, runs at 320 kilometres per hour, with the capacity of touching 400.

The train has an extended long nose stretching up to 15 metres, which prevents damaging tunnel boom, meaning the sound produced when a train exits a tunnel at an extremely high speed, creating uneven air pressure. The soft full bogie covering on the cars, along with the sound absorbing materials mounted below, keep the travel highly noise free, according to The Indian Express.

Make in India

The project will give a massive boost to the Narendra Modi government's 'Make in India' programme. The project will enable the creation of around 15 lakh jobs, while units to manufacture rolling stock and other components will also be set up in India with Japanese partnership, said a report on Hindustan Times.

Less than 20 percent of the components required for the project will be sourced from Japan, and even these will be manufactured in India. Four sub-groups with representatives from Indian industry, Japanese industry, DIPP, NHSRCL and JETRO have been formed to identify potential items and sub-systems for Make in India.

The future

Apart from Mumbai-Ahmedabad, the Railways is also undertaking a feasiblity study on bullet trains to run on the Delhi-Amritsar via Chandigarh corridor, according to Financial Express. The proposed bullet train will cover the 458-km journey in two hours and three minutes, at speeds of 300 kilometres per hour.

Also, Railways has drawn a blueprint for a semi-high speed corridor linking Nagpur and Hyderabad, which will bring travel time down from nine hours to three.

Apart from bullet trains, the Railways is also planning to introduce hyper-loop, a technology which uses a low pressure tube to transport people at speeds as high as 1,200 km per hour, reported The Times of India.

Currently, a new corridor connecting Amravati (the proposed new capital of Andhra Pradesh) with Vijaywada is under consideration. When ready, it will cut down the travel time from nearly one hour to a mere five minutes.

Updated Date: Sep 13, 2017 09:13 AM

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