Visualize yourself, commuting by the posh, cozy, super-fast bullet trains whose experience, in a word, would be “smooth sailing.” Imagine reaching Mumbai from Ahmedabad in just three hours! Already feeling fascinated? Well, the fascination is worth it! This is something all Indians have been manifesting since around 2014 when the BJP voiced its desire to initiate the culture of bullet trains in India.
About Bullet Trains-
High-Speed Rail, popularly known as Bullet Train, is a type of rail transport that runs significantly faster than traditional rail traffic using an integrated system of specialised rolling stock. Bullet trains have bought a revolutionary leap in rail transportation. The first bullet train, the Tokaido Shinkansen of Japan, had a speed of about 200 km/hr. Since then, Bullet trains have stretched their tentacles in France, Austria, Belgium, China, and Russia and are even budding in India.
How and when the breeze of Bullet Trains blew to India-
Are you of the opinion that the notion of Bullet Trains was implanted in the brains of Indians by the BJP administration when it came to power? However, the roots of Bullet Trains were planted much earlier in India.
It was initially in the 2009-10 Rail Budget when a word like bullet train was immersed (something as children, we were fascinated by, watching Japanese anime, especially Doraemon). The feasibility studies of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor along with the five other high-speed rail corridors were introduced in the 2009-10 rail budget. Moreover, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor was primarily the Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor and was proposed to run from Pune to Ahmedabad via Mumbai.
Story of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Corridor:
A Memorandum of Association (MoU) was signed between the Ministry Of Railways and the French National Railways, SNCF on 14th February 2013 in New Delhi for seeking technical cooperation. However, in March 2013, the Railway Board decided to drop the Mumbai-Pune portion from the corridor due to financial constraints as the Maharashtra government was not ready to bear a large financial burden. In this way, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor was finalised to be the first-ever High-Speed Rail Corridor in India.
Now comes Japan to the board! India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe entered into an important collaboration. Another Memorandum of Association (MoU) was signed between India and Japan to carry out the joint feasibility study for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Corridor. Japan and India equally shared the cost of the study. Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is the Japanese body that carried out the study with regard to aspects such as land acquisition, environmental challenges, building bridges and tunnels, etc.
As a result, JICA and SNCF collaborated with India on the project. JICA investigated technology, alignment, and traffic-related difficulties, while SNCF carried out business projections. In April 2014, the project conducted its full-fledged meeting to achieve broad consensus on the project. Officials from the governments of Gujarat and Maharashtra, as well as JICA and the Railway Board, were present at the conference.
In May 2014, the project was approved by Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and officially a seed of anticipation was sown in the minds of Indians to travel by bullet trains. Moreover, inspired by Japan, India’s first bullet train was constructed on the Shinkansen technology (Shinkansen was Japan’s and the world’s first-ever bullet train). A separate body, National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) was incorporated in India other than the Railway Board to build and operate the corridor in January 2016. Finally, after ample meetings, the foundation stone ceremony was held on 14th September 2018 and construction began from the hometown of Prime Minister Modi-Ahmedabad.
Cost and Funding-
The project is estimated to cost around 1.1 lakh crore which includes the cost of 24 train sets, interest during construction, and import duties of the components imported from Japan.
As a result of fruitful collaboration with Japan, 81% of the cost would be met by Japan through a lucrative loan for 50 years at a minimal interest rate of 0.1% with a concession on repayment in the form of a moratorium for 15 years. The remaining cost was to be borne by the state governments of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Proposed High-Speed Rail Corridors and different Route Plans-
The on-going progress of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Corridor is disappointing. The project missed its 2022 deadline.
Challenges to the project-
The 2 major hurdles that the project is facing or has faced are the Covid-19 pandemic and Land acquisition. The project had to take a back seat due to lockdowns. Another key factor contributing to the delay was land acquisition. According to a status report issued by the Ministry of Railways, virtually all of the land (98.68% of the required land) has been purchased in Gujarat despite difficult efforts, while land acquisition remains a struggle in Maharashtra. In Maharashtra, 94% of the land has already been bought. However, land acquisition in Maharashtra has accelerated since the formation of the new government. The Surat-Bilimora route is anticipated to be completed by 2026. Considering all of these problems, the corridor’s completion timeline is highly questionable. It is anticipated to be finished by 2028, which means India would have to wait another 5 years.
Budget, 2023- Setting a milestone for the Bullet Trains paving way!
The recent budget of 2023 brings with it robust opportunities for the ongoing Bullet Trains project and would potentially fuel up the current status of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Corridor. The Railway sector has got a tremendous impetus as the Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitaraman announced the highest capital outlay of Rs. 2.40 lakh crores since 2013-14. The hike in allocation is optimistic and would go a long way to fund the ambitious Bullet Train plan. Out of the total outlay, Rs. 40,184 crores has been earmarked for the National High-Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRL) for the bullet train project. Out of this 40,184 crores Rs. 19,529 crore is the budgetary support while the rest would be raised through PSUs, markets, and other internal and Extra Budgetary Resources. Present Railway Minister- Ashwini Vaishnaw in one of his speeches, addressed and mentioned that the work on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Project which was slowed because of clearance issues is likely to get expedited. The budget-2023 has thus, successfully met the expectations with regard to the bullet trains.
What’s in store and what’s at stake?
Undoubtedly, Bullet Trains would bring a sensational revolution to India! It has enticing benefits making it alluring for Indians. These include-
However, with roses come spikes. Bullet trains although look lucrative and fascinating but in the context of India, it carries certain cons-
Is India ready for bullet trains?
Following such a rigorous analysis and appraisal of benefits and drawbacks, the question that remains unclear is whether India is prepared for bullet trains. The most apparent issue that arises, especially when considering the expense of constructing only one corridor, is why such a large sum is not being allocated to improving the existing railway conditions. Bullet trains will consume massive amounts of power, when India is already unable to fulfil its basic domestic electrical needs. Given the exorbitant fares, the purpose of bullet trains is questioned if they are not accessible to the majority of the population.
However, we must not forget that the problem of fares was raised even during the construction of the metro in India, and living without a metro is today unimaginable, more so for a middle-class person! As a result, India must address current socioeconomic challenges to the point where bullet trains may truly contribute to an economic boom.