Ahmedabad: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe will break ground on India`s first bullet train project on Thursday in western Gujarat state, as the country seeks faster travel for millions.
Modi has pledged to invest billions of dollars to modernise India`s creaking railway system, with the bullet train one of his key election promises ahead of his landslide victory in 2014.
The leaders will lay the foundation stone of the high-speed rail network between Ahmedabad — the capital city of Modi`s home state — and India`s financial hub of Mumbai on September 14, a statement by the Gujarat government said Saturday.
Japan is a pioneer in high-speed rail networks, and its Shinkansen bullet train is among the fastest in the world. Japan will provide 85 percent of the total project cost of $19 billion in soft loans.
The train will reduce the travel time between the two cities from eight to three-3.5 hours, and is expected to complete by December 2023. It will have a capacity of 750 passengers.
India`s traditional railway network is the world`s fourth largest by distance and remains the vast country`s main form of travel, with 22 million passengers commuting daily.
But passengers have to often endure chronic delays in journeys on the British-era network, where only a few trains hit 100 miles per hour, and which has been hit by series of deadly crashes in past years. Modi recently replaced his railway minister after a series of derailments, including one last month which killed at least 23 passengers in the northern Uttar Pradesh state. In November, 146 people died in a similar disaster in Uttar Pradesh.
Abe`s two-day visit to Ahmedabad comes ahead of Modi`s 67th birthday on Sunday. Modi has a history of `birthday diplomacy` in his home state, hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Gujarat on his birthday in 2014.
The two leaders are expected to sign several agreements during the visit and inaugurate a Japanese industrial park in the state that already hosts Honda and Suzuki auto plants.