Design work, JV talks for Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train already underway

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Bengaluru: A team of Japanese engineers in India has started design work for the country’s first bullet train project connecting Ahmedabad and Mumbai, which was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart earlier this year, a top executive associated with the project said.

The project will need plenty of joint ventures between Japanese and Indian companies, discussions for which have already begun, Sanjeev Sinha, adviser to the Indian High-Speed Rail Project, said in an interview.

The 100-member design team is mainly working on tweaking the engineering of the Shinkansen technology to mould it to Indian conditions, Sinha said on the sidelines of the Global Technology Summit hosted by policy think-tank Carnegie India in Bengaluru.

“It is micro-level design work that is underway. Because of the salty and humid climate near Mumbai, steel corrosion and even concrete corrosion is higher than in Tokyo. There are challenges and they are being considered. That’s why some research and development (R&D) and customisation is needed,” said Sinha, who is also the president of the India Japan Partnership Group and the chief executive of the India Japan Partnership Fund LLP.

The Indian government has decided to create an institute in Vadodara, Gujarat, to work on R&D for the bullet train project. That institute is under development and Japanese officials are regularly visiting Vadodara to facilitate it, Sinha added.

On 14 September, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe launched the Rs1.10 trillion bullet train project in Ahmedabad.

Japan is extending a soft loan of around Rs88,000 crore for the project, at an interest rate of 0.1%, to be repaid in 50 years with a 15-year grace period.

The Indian Railways will require only around 825 hectares of land for the project as 92% of the route will be elevated, 6% will go through tunnels and only 2% will be on the ground.

Sinha also said the government does not need to wait until it has acquired all the land to start construction for the project.

“Construction can go in parallel. Roughly 20-30 km is needed for pre-fabricated concrete blocks to be transported for the tracks. Concrete manufacturing facilities will be created in a number of places and then they will be transported a certain distance to create the elevated track. That doesn’t have to wait for the whole land acquisition to be completed,” he said.

Collaboration between companies in Japan and India may be necessary across all areas of the project, Sinha said. Those range from civil work, track work, electrical work for the train’s power systems, electronics manufacturing, rolling stock manufacturing and urban development, i.e. building stations and station-cities or stations that also house commercial complexes, hotels and the like.

Through his $200-million India Japan Partnership Fund, Sinha is also looking to kick-start some of the joint ventures that are necessary for the bullet train project.

The fund will, however, look at investing in Indian companies across sectors over and above the bullet train project. The fund has a pipeline of investments and it will take a few months before it starts to invest in India, once due diligence is out of the way.

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