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Construction begins on India’s $17bn ‘bullet train’ railway

Work has started on a high-speed train line using bullet trains to connect cities in the western Indian states of Gujarat and Maharashtra.

The ‘bullet train’ will link Ahmadabad, the main commercial city in Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s native state, to India’s financial capital of Mumbai.

The 500km project will be financed by Japanese credit of $17bn and is expected to be completed by 2022. Japan initially offered a loan of $15bn in 2015 when the project was still out for tender although increased budget estimations presumably forced the country to increase their offer. 

The loan carries a nominal interest of 0.1 per cent to be paid over the next 50 years and represents an attempt by Japan to fight against China’s aggressive approach to tendering in large infrastructure development in South Asia.

Prime ministers Shinzo Abe (Japan) and Narendra Modi (India) also laid the foundation stone of an institute that will be set up in Gujarat’s Vadodara city to train around 4,000 people to run the high-speed line.

Analysts say building the high-speed railway will give a boost to infrastructure development in India’s fast-growing western industrial region, contribute to economic growth and decongest crowded cities.

“A strong India is in Japan’s interest and a strong Japan is in India’s interest,” Abe said soon after he and Modi pressed a button at the foundation-laying ceremony for the high-speed line.

Talks between Modi and Abe are expected to focus on security at a time when both countries share security concerns about a rising China.

The two countries will also announce progress on an Asia-Africa growth initiative to pool Indian and Japanese efforts to strengthen infrastructure in African countries.

Defence technology and cooperation in manufacture of military hardware, including a possible breakthrough on the US-2 amphibious aircraft, and technology cooperation on making unmanned ground vehicles and robots will also figure in Thursday’s talks.

The two leaders are also likely to consider progress in a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement between India and Japan, which was ratified and came into force in July.

The countries are almost polar opposites. India’s chaotic cities and its youthful population contrast starkly with Japan’s orderly society, immaculate streets and mature economy. But those differences complement each other, and Abe and Modi repeatedly have emphasised shared interests and values.

In May, it was announced that Japanese firm Hitachi would construct 65 new trains using bullet train technology for use on the East Coast main line in the UK. 

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