Visits by Japanese, Chinese give a push to high-speed rail corridor projects
Officials hope Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad and Mumbai-Delhi corridor proposals will gather steam following discussions on technology, funding and revenue models
High-speed rail corridors connecting the city to other important centres in the country have been talked about a lot in recent times without any concrete plan coming out of it. Now, recent visits by Chinese and Japanese delegations to the city have given new hope for the implementation of such projects in the near future.
There are two different high-speed corridors involving the financial capital of the country that are being talked about in railway circles, namely Mumbai-Delhi and the recently suggested Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad.
The Indian Railways requires anywhere around Rs 60,000 crore to develop high-speed corridors throughout the country, and it expects the funds to come via investments from different countries.
MoU with Beijing
Only a couple of days ago a 33-member Chinese delegation visited the world-heritage railway station of Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and was said to be impressed by what it saw.
Railways sources said the Railway Ministry and the Chinese delegation had a meeting to discuss sharing of technology for high-speed rail corridors, station development and making available other expertise in the near future.
It is learnt that closed-door talks were held on the possibility of running high-speed trains and that the Pune-Kalyan-Vasai-Ahmedabad route, which will involve both the Central and Western railways and cover the northern suburbs of the city, was also discussed.
“It all started months back when senior railway board members had visited China and discussed about getting their cooperation for introducing high-speed trains here,” a senior railway official said on condition of anonymity.
If sources are to be believed, then there were discussions about developing the Pune-Ahmedabad high-speed corridor, allowing its commercial exploitation to an extent for the Chinese to generate revenues, and subsequent handover to the Indian Railways.
In Delhi, the Chinese delegation, which was headed by officials from China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Indian Railways as a long-term arrangement.
“We have signed an MoU for sharing technology for high-speed corridors and other expertise,” said AK Saxena, additional DG (PR), Indian Railways.
Officials said now the biggest issue was arranging investments for such huge projects. They said they were looking at the option of international banks initially providing soft loans of Rs 10,000 crore or more.
Officials also sounded a note of caution about the technology sharing.
They said just signing an MoU did not indicate much and there was a need to be careful before investing in Chinese-made technology; in July 2011 two high-speed trains crashed at the south-eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou, claiming over 40 lives and injuring nearly 200 people.
Tokyo shows interest
In October, a delegation from Japan visited the city and also met railway officials in Delhi. A feasibility study for the Mumbai-Delhi high-speed corridor project was then presented in the railway board meeting in November.
At the time, highly placed officials from the Western Railway had said the project was in the nascent stage.
The Japanese Government seems to have shown interest in funding the multi-crore corridor, but with the condition that the Indian Railways buys the necessary infrastructure, electrical fittings and technical know-how from Tokyo.
The approximate cost of each high-speed rake is Rs 550 crore and investment of over Rs 4,000 crore will also be required on basic infrastructure like tracks, the signalling system and other components.
“We are looking at many countries, like China, Japan, Germany and other European nations, where high-speed trains operate,” a Railway Board official said.
According to the plans, the speed of passenger trains between the city and Delhi will touch 200 kmph, which can reduce travel time by four to five hours. The probable route studied for the 1,400-km corridor goes through Mathura, Kota, Ratlam, Vadodara and Surat.