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HindustanTimes Fri,19 Sep 2014

Bullet train boost ahead of PM’s Japan trip

Srinand Jha , Hindustan Times  New Delhi, August 28, 2014
First Published: 00:33 IST(28/8/2014) | Last Updated: 01:28 IST(28/8/2014)

With days to go for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled visit to Japan, the tracks are being swiftly cleared for India’s bullet train project.

The government Wednesday notified liberalised FDI norms for the railways, permitting 100% foreign investment in areas including high-speed projects, dedicated freight lines and suburban corridor projects.

Funding and technology issues related to the construction of a high-speed corridor connecting the 524km stretch from Mumbai to Ahmedabad are likely to be firmed up during Modi’s visit, which starts August 30. The railways have drawn up an action plan of “pre-construction activities” that need to be immediately taken up.

The Indian delegation is likely to insist on a transfer of technology clause to provide for indigenous manufacture of rolling stock (coaches, wagons, etc) and high-speed technology, officials said.

The Japan International Coope-ration Agency (JICA) —  conducting a joint study with the railways on the `62,410-crore proposed corridor — is understood to have offered an ‘untied loan’ (without preconditions on technology purchase) to build the infrastructure. But the offer comes with a ‘tied loan’ component on mandatory purchase of rolling stock from Japanese firms. This issue is also likely to get ironed out during the PM’s trip.

“I cannot speculate on the outcome of the PM’s visit and technology or funding issues have not been formalized with Japan or any other country. As of now, the railways are preparing to launch preliminary works to implement the high-speed plans,” Railway Board chairman Arunendra Kumar said.

This would include purchasing satellite pictures of the terrain from the Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Centre and engaging the Central Water Power and Research Station in Pune to conduct model studies on constructing bridges along the proposed corridor form.

The officials said other pre-project work, such as geo-technical investigations and hiring of consultants, would also be taken up soon.

The JICA is expected to give its second interim report in November with details on alignment and cost. Another study, by France’s state-owned railway company SNCF, is also on and a report is expected shortly, Kumar said.

Apart from the bullet train project, the new FDI policy will help the cash-starved railways fund other key projects, such as building an elevated corridor in Mumbai and diesel and electric locomotive factories in Bihar.

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