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Why India’s first bullet train will be based on Japan’s Shinkansen network

The Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train will be based on the Shinkansen super speed trains of Japan.

india Updated: Sep 14, 2017 11:05 IST
HT Correspondent
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe shaking hands in front of a Shinkansen train during their inspection of a bullet train manufacturing plant in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe shaking hands in front of a Shinkansen train during their inspection of a bullet train manufacturing plant in Kobe, Hyogo prefecture. (AFP File Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe will lay the foundation stone of the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train project in Gujarat on Thursday. The Mumbai to Ahmedabad High Speed Rail project will be based on the Shinkansen super speed trains in Japan.

Union railway minister Piyush Goyal on Tuesday compared the introduction of Maruti Suzuki, an Indo-Japanese confluence in manufacturing that became another symbol of reliance and development post-Independence -- to the first bullet train project in India.

Shinkansen’s history

The Shinkansen -- meaning ‘new trunk line’ -- is the symbol of innovation and technological advancements in Japan after the devastation of the World War 2. In 1959, head engineer Hideo Shima was invited to design and plan the new railway network, according to BBC. Shima’s team came up with the express railway that would run on elevated tracks and keep curves to the minimum, but the costs of the project ran over by more than 100%. The head engineer was sacked. He wasn’t present when the snake-shaped technological marvel was unveiled but he is still considered to be the father of Shinkansen.

On a path of rediscovery and recovery, Japan launched the Tokiado Shinkansen before Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Emperor Hirohito, who had addressed the country after Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, launched the Shinkansen that would revolutionise mass public transit in the country. “Japan had stolen a march in railway technology that was part and parcel of its remarkable economic and cultural revival during the 20 years following its political and military collapse in 1945,” a 2014 article in the BBC said.

The first Shinkansen line originated from Tokyo and whizzed past the vistas of Mount Fuji to end in Osaka. It began with 16 cars and a maximum speed of 270km per hour and took two hours to reach Osaka, reducing the travel time by hours.

Shinkansen crosses Mount Fuji, a sight that has come to be associated with an infusion of Japanese development and its vibrant culture. (Shutterstock)

Efficient, fast, accident-free

The ultra-efficient Shinkansen train network connects cities along the length and breadth of the country. Till 2011, it also had the highest ridership annually before giving up the title to its rival China.

The trains, which run every three minute, attain the maximum speed of 320km. They are operated by companies of the Japanese Railways Group and are known for their punctuality and safety record. Sample this: crew members of the Shinkansen trains are asked to give an explanation if the train arrives a minute late to its destination, a report in the Economic Times said.

The network boasts of zero accident fatalities in its 53-year-journey, although Japan is prone to natural disasters like earthquakes. A Google search about Shinkansen accidents streams an incident of self immolation in the train and a minor derailment due to earthquake.

The system has become synonymous with efficiency. A video on YouTube titled ‘The 7-Minute Miracle Of Japanese Train System’ was shared widely on social media websites. The clip showed crew members respectfully bowing as a Shinkansen entering the station, waiting for passengers to disembark and swiftly cleaning every car of the super speed train in seven minutes.

Costly, but environment-friendly

An undated report of the Japan Railway & Transport Review said the Shinkansen project has tried to minimise noise pollution because it passes through high population density areas. Compared to other means of transport, the Shinkansen hardly emits any carbon dioxide, Nitrogen Oxide and other harmful gases. “If the Tokaido Shinkansen had not been constructed, about 15,000 tons more CO2 would have been emitted in 1985. This corresponds to the annual amount of CO2 emitted by industry in and around Tokyo,” it read.

The fares for Shinkansen were, however, costly. Former member of the railway board, RC Acharya, wrote in an article for HT in 2015 that a Shinkansen trip from Tokyo to Kyoto (514 km) costs Rs 7,700. It isn’t surprising too that the estimate fares for the proposed Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train is estimated to range between Rs 3,000 - Rs 5,000.