The countdown to India's first bullet train from Ahmedabad to Mumbai began on Thursday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe launching the Rs 1.10 lakh crore project.
Modi described the ambitious project, which is expected to be completed by 2022 and will cut travel time between the two cities from seven hours to less than three, as a "big gift from Japan to India".
Addressing crowds gathered at the Athletics Stadium in Sabarmati for the event, Abe said the Indo-Japan partnership was special, strategic and global.
"A strong India is in Japan's interest and a strong Japan is in India's interest," Abe said after the two leaders pressed a button, unveiling a plaque.
"My good friend Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a farsighted leader. He took a decision two years ago to bring a high-speed train in India and to create a new India," he said.
The Japanese prime minister added that he hoped to enjoy the "beautiful scenery of India through the windows of the bullet train" when he returns in a few years.
He said the launch of the bullet train by Japan's Shinkansen Technology, which will also provide technology for India's project, had changed the country's economy, society and people's lives.
Congratulating the people of India, Modi said this was a "a bold step towards realising an old dream of a bullet train".
Lauding Japan, he said the country was such a friend that it gave a loan of Rs 88,000 crore at 0.1 per cent interest for the project.
Modi also took a dig at the opposition which had often sounded sceptical about the bullet train project.
"When earlier I talked about bullet train, they (opposition) used to say it was big talk, and now when it has come they are saying what is the need for it," Modi said.
"Our stress is now on high-speed connectivity which will improve speed, reduce distance and ensure economic progress," he added.
In 1964, Modi said, Japan started the bullet train and now this technology was in 15 countries.
"From Europe to China, the bullet train's image can be seen everywhere. Not just economical but also societal changes have been brought about by these trains," said Modi.
The government wants to start the Ahmedabad-Mumbai High Speed Rail Network on August 15, 2022 to mark India's 75th year of Independence.
The train would cover the distance of over 500 km between the two cities in less than three hours.
Japan has extended a soft loan for the ambitious project conceptualised by Modi. The project is a joint venture between Indian Railways and Japan's Shinkansen Technology.
The prime ministers of the two countries also laid the foundation stone for an institute that will come up at Vadodara where around 4,000 people will be trained for the bullet train project.
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and his Maharashtra counterpart Devendra Fadnavis were present on the occasion.
While Abe, who arrived here yesterday on a two-day visit, spoke in Japanese, Modi spoke in Hindi. Abe's speech was translated into Hindi. According to Achal Khare, CMD, National High Speed Railway Corporation, bullet train fares would be 1.2 per cent more than the basic fare of AC first class.
"If, for example, the air fare in this route is Rs 4,000, then the bullet train is expected to be Rs 3000. We will try to keep it competitive," he added. PTI