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Published on: July 25, 2022, 5:33 p.m.
Bullet train to go ahead
  • Finally, the bullet train project sees the light at the end of the tunnel

By Rakesh Joshi. Executive Editor, Business India

The Railway Ministry is heaving a sigh of relief as one if its flagship projects, the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train, will finally see movement on the Maharashtra stretch following the change of the state government. But there is no end to the politics dogging the project. 

The estimated cost of the project is Rs1,10,000 crore, of which Rs88,000 crore are being funded by the Japan International Co-operation Agency (JICA). Over 70 per cent land required in Maharashtra for the project has been acquired in Thane and Palghar districts. Of this, however, only 39 per cent is in their physical possession. In order to construct the bullet train project, 433.82 hectares of land are required, of which 168 hectares have been physically acquired by the NHSRC up till now.

Last fortnight, the National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited invited bids for the design and construction of an underground station at Mumbai’s Bandra Kurla Complex and for tunnels for the bullet train project, “Bids invited for design and construction of Mumbai underground station and tunnels for #BulletTrain,” Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said in a tweet. 

This is the first set of bids invited after the rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde-led government came to power in Maharashtra. The new government has given the green light to the project, which remained dormant during the erstwhile Uddhav Thackeray-led dispensation.

Earlier this year, the NHSRCL had cancelled tenders floated in November 2019 for the construction of an underground terminus at the Bandra Kurla Complex for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project after the state government failed to hand over the land. After floating the tenders, the NHSRCL gave almost 11 extensions, while waiting for the land at the BKC to be handed over to it.

Land acquisition, a big issue

Currently, there is a jumbo Covid care facility housed on the same land and the government has instructed the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Authority and the Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation to vacate the space soon. An alternative location will be provided to the petrol pump also on the plot earmarked for the bullet train terminus.

The BKC is the starting point of this 508 km-long high-speed rail line and the tunnels till Shilphata will be more than 21 km long, thus forming a vital component of India’s first such project. Land acquisition has been a big issue for this project, especially in Maharashtra. Against the 70 per cent of the land acquired in the state, in Gujarat more than 98 per cent of the land has been acquired and all five civil packages have been awarded. Of the total 508 km-stretch of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Project, 348 km lie in Gujarat, 4 km in Dadra & Nagar Haveli and the remaining 156 km are in Maharashtra.

The development, however, is not without its share of politics. Sharad Pawar’s party NCP has slammed the Shinde government over the clearances given to the project, saying he should focus more on issues concerning the state. "The illegal government of Eknath Shinde has expeditiously given clearances to the bullet train project," the NCP's chief spokesperson Mahesh Tapase contended.

Thane district, which Shinde represents, is the most urbanised district in the state, with the largest number or municipal corporations, Tapase has argued. "Shinde should focus more on issues concerning the state and Thane district to resolve the urban problems it faces, instead of bowing before neighbouring Gujarat".

There are reports that the NCP may organise protests to gain political mileage among farmers who are against the project and are behind the holdouts. Meanwhile, buoyed by the development, NHSRCL, the body that is undertaking the construction, has stepped up its operations. It is now in the process of acquiring simulators, which will be used to train drivers and staff that will be responsible to operate the high-speed trains. Training of drivers, conductors and dispatchers (who control rail traffic and railway signals) will be undertaken on the simulators.

The simulators will be set up in Vadodara, Gujarat, and will have two types of simulators. The first type will be for training the crew that will be onboard the high-speed train, while the second one will have driver consoles that will allow 10 trainee pilots of the bullet train to have a hands-on experience of operating the train. The contract for supply of the consoles has been awarded to Mitsubishi Precision.

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