How Japan’s bullet train can transform Indian Railways into a global leader in size, scale & skill

How Japan’s bullet train can transform Indian Railways into a global leader in size, scale & skill

Written by admin , September 18th, 2017   // Transport & Aviation

Ezra Vogel, whose 1979 classic Japan as Number One: Lessons for America became a bestseller, believed that Japan will revitalise itself through technology, transportation and economic integration with Asia. In many ways, the high-speed train collaboration between Japan and India vindicates his belief.

The foundation stone for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Railway Project (MAHSR), laid on September 14 by the two prime ministers, Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe, is a huge leap towards India and Japan converging and integrating themselves in a long-term sustainable economic relationship.

The project will enable Indians to learn the Japanese art of perfection in engineering and execution, and pick up innovative and sustainable practices through the Make in Indiainitiative. The launch also culminates a long process of preparations and negotiations between the two countries. It is an occasion to reflect on some of the key aspects of the project and the process followed in reaching this milestone.

The first firm step towards implementation of the MAHSR project was the initiation of the detailed feasibility report by JICA and the Ministry of Railways. Work on the feasibility report started in 2013 and concluded in July 2015. However, the formal decision to go ahead was taken only after a rigorous project appraisal by the Committee on Innovative Collaborations (CoIC), which was set up in 2015 to consider such high-value projects. This committee comprised the vice-chairman of NITI Aayog, chairman of the Railway Board, secretaries of DIPP (this writer was the DIPP secretary then) and DEA, former cabinet secretary KM Chandrasekhar and ex-CVC P Shankar. The issues considered in detail included the relevance of highspeed rail for India and why the Japanese proposal was technologically and financially the best. The project could be taken forward as it had high level of political commitments driven by the prime minister himself who wanted high-speed transportation to reach the masses.

The argument for HSR is that it is a different level of technology and India can ill afford to ignore it at this stage of its national development. A network of HSR in the longer run would facilitate travelling with enhanced passenger comfort, safety and environmental benefits. An HSR system would also release capacity of existing rail lines, enabling faster movement of freight and passenger traffic on the existing lines. The HSR 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. In addition, development of new cities, promotion of manufacturing to supply equipment and components for the HSR system would provide employment to a growing and better skilled workforce. Investment in HSR is a highly beneficial system because of its various spinoffs, including infusion of new technology in the country which in the long run would lead to improvement in the operations of the existing railway network also. The project is being structured in a manner that it leads to large-scale manufacturing of rolling stock, signalling systems and other electrical equipment and components under Make in India.

All the major suppliers of HSR technology — Japan, China and European countries — were willing to share it with us. But the crucial factor that convinced the CoIC to choose Japan was that it was the only country that offered both technology as well as a unique funding package for the HSR project. The concessional funding proposed by the government of Japan for HSR was specific to the project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad and was not available for strengthening the existing rail network.

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