Last week India and Japan signed a Rs 98,000-crore project to lay India's first bullet train network between commercial nerve centre of Mumbai and Ahmedabad.
This came after talks between prime minister Narendra Modi and Japanese PM Shinzo Abe. Modi said that this step would revolutionize the Indian railways and would also speed up India's journey into the future.
How this step will change Indian railways
Apart from high speed rail, India would also benefit from technology transfer which will in turn improve safety of Indian railways. In addition to this, information sharing for environment friendly sanitation technology in trains and know how on Mitigation of natural disasters remain important areas of co-operation.
Apart from this, two more MoUs were signed with Japan during the visit of Shinzo Abe. These MoUs were decided during the visit of the Railway Minister to Japan in September 2015.
One MoU is on comprehensive technology cooperation in railways with Japan and the other is between Railway Research institutions of the two countries viz RDSO of India and RTRI of Japan.
Inclusion of bullet trains in the Indian Railway system can transform the entire Indian Railway sector with the advanced safety, technology transfer, skill development and the huge influx of resources.
Why Bullet trains are important for Indian railways
The Indian Railways, with a network of over 65,806 route km of railway lines is the backbone of the nation's transportation system for passenger. While thousands depend on the railways, the capacity utilisation on certain routes is as high as 150%.
The overcrowding of the system has led to a slowing down of average speeds for passenger and freight trains, which in turn has resulted in shift of passenger and freight traffic from railways to roads and air traffic.
With the introduction of high speed railway system, it would facilitate travelling with enhanced passenger comfort, safety and environmental benefits.
This would also enable faster movement of freight and passenger traffic on the existing lines. The high speed railways system also releases capacity of airports as short haul flights get curtailed. This capacity in turn could be utilised for longer duration flights that improve economics of air transport also.
Achieving resources to build High Speed Railway system
The Japanese government has shown willingness to invest in the high speed railway system between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The JICA has worked with Ministry of Railways over the last two years and prepared a feasibility report.
Japan has offered an assistance package with a loan on very concessional terms of 50 years repayment period, 15 years moratorium and a 0.1 % rate of interest.
First, we are getting this fund at a hugely concessional rate. In fact, once we account for inflation, it comes up at a massive profit.
Second, this loan is exclusively meant for the high speed railways project, which means this money is not available if we decide to use it for poverty alleviation or even upgradation of our Railways. So the moral dilemma of opportunity cost gets nullified.
Boost to Make In India
Transfer of Technology (ToT) and ‘Make in India' will be an essential part of the assistance package. Make in India of high speed railway systems will include manufacture of rolling stock, equipment and machinery to be promoted in a phased manner.
This will be accompanied by development of many ancillary activities around the construction of the high speed line and the manufacture of the coaches in India. The entire concept requires a huge manpower which in turn will provide employment for many.
Why Japan is the best partner
Japanese Shinkansen technology is acknowledged as one of the most efficient and safe with no casualties in 50 years of its operation. Acceptance of Japanese offer, therefore, does not compromise the quality of the project in any manner.
On time performance of Japanese Railways is the best in the world. The average delay time per trip is within one minute.
The Japanese system is disaster resistant with earthquake detection system kicking in the event of an earthquake, which halts the train immediately.