Five decades after bullet trains (“Shinkansen”) revolutionized land transportation in Japan, it is the turn for India to enjoy such high-speed mode of travel with its speed, convenience and elegance. Japan is funding most of the investment required for the bullet train service between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, and if this proves successful, then we can see all the key land corridors connected by bullet trains in the next couple of decades.
This is a huge milestone in the relationship between the two most powerful democracies in the world – Japan and India. Japan has also agreed to transfer nuclear technology to India after a long period of reluctance. In combination, these two milestones will provide the much needed boost for the Indian transportation and energy sectors in the years to come and further, solidify the partnership between India and Japan.
The Shinkansen system has not had any accidents over the past 50 years or so, as against the bullet trains from China which has had one major accident in the recent past. The reliability of the Shinkansen, combined with very low interest financing by Japan, and transfer of technology for local manufacturing clinched the deal for Japan.
However, one cannot ignore the Chinese competition. China has been working aggressively over the past couple of years in conducting feasibility studies for the New Delhi – Mumbai and New Delhi – Chennai corridors. These implementations will entail a very huge investment due to the distances involved, and my view is that the Indian Government will be hard pressed to ignore a competitive offer from China. The bullet trains from China are obviously lower-priced (like anything else) as compared to the Shinkansen which comes with a very long experience and expertise of inventing and running such systems with an impeccable accident record. However, a developing country like India will need to consider both the countries’ offers before making decisions on every corridor, and politics might eventually dictate such decisions.
India deserves to be served by such fast bullet trains as trains will become an “economic” mover. For the Indian economy to continue to flourish, the efficiency of the transportation sector, especially rail transport, is crucial. This combined with improving infrastructure logistics, will pave the way for the “make in India” campaign to be successful over the next decade. It will be easier to connect the metros with bullet trains than with roads, if one ignores the financing required. Further, trains provide mass transportation as compared to roads in India which still do not measure up to international standards – most people on the roads seem to be driving their cars followed by lorries. It is obviously not possible to run very long distance buses (for more than 500 KMs) due to passenger fatigue and other considerations.
Given the above situation, bullet trains provide an excellent alternative to the congested road systems of India. If one can travel at the speed of 300 KM per hour on bullet trains, why bother using flights for shorter distances ? It takes a long time door to door when one uses flights anywhere in the world, even for shorter flights. One prime example is the time it takes to reach your hotel in Kuala Lumpur from your home in Singapore. It takes not less than four good hours to go through the two airports, with the flight taking up less than 40 minutes. This is the reason why a high-speed bullet train is being contemplated between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. This is one of the highest air traffic routes in the world.
I am happy to see the closeness developing between India and Japan, this is a much needed collaboration. The Indian Prime Minister has taken a fascination towards the Japanese Prime Minister, and personal chemistry does deliver some wonders in due course of time. Japanese technology for anything is one of the finest available anywhere in the world (I am making this statement in a generic sense), and if India could find a financially meaningful way to leverage various Japanese technologies in its “Make in India” Campaign, then both countries would benefit enormously.
Let us not forget that this is a Democracy to Democracy partnership. The Japanese apparently see value in catering to the large Indian population, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this partnership becomes the most critical, defining strategic partnership in Asia, between any two countries.
13th December 2015