Lalu Prasad wants Japanese style high-speed trains for India

January 17th, 2009 - 4:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Singapore, Jan 17 (IANS) Flush from his exhilarating ride on a Japanese high-speed train, Indian Railway Minister Lalu Prasad said Saturday that he plans to introduce bullet trains to link major metropolitan cities in India.”Such bullet trains can link city to city. Very soon we shall be inviting global tenders for pre-feasibility studies and I plan to place the proposal before parliament,” Lalu Prasad said.

The minister was addressing a jam-packed auditorium at Singapore’s prestigious Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Lalu Prasad, who travelled from Tokyo to Kyoto on Japan’s famed Shinkansen high-speed train earlier this week, said he had met Japanese railway officials to discuss the possibility of introducing the bullet trains on high traffic rail sectors in India.

But the primary focus of the minister’s visit to Japan was to smoothen out details of the nearly $4 billion soft loan that India is seeking for a dedicated freight corridor project. The first phase of the corridor will link New Delhi and Mumbai.

The second phase of the freight corridor would link Mumbai to Chennai, with the Chennai to Howrah corridor forming the next phase of the mega project, the minister said.

The dedicated freight corridor would reduce the pressure on existing railway lines, ease congestion, reduce delivery times and improve overall efficiency and productivity, he added.

The protracted talks with the Japanese on the terms of the loan are now at an “extremely advanced stage” an Indian official present at the talks told IANS.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has agreed to the loan in principle, but the Japanese are demanding that 30 percent of the work, including technical assistance, be provided by Japanese companies.

“We have made a lot progress at the talks this week. The discussions centred on the terms of the loan, on what kind of goods and services the Japanese can provide,” said Minister of State for Railways R. Velu, who is accompanying Lalu Prasad on his tour of Japan and Singapore.

In Singapore, Lalu Prasad was preceded by his reputation as a charismatic speaker as evidenced by the huge crowds that descended on the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy’s auditorium. As the hall overflowed, the organisers hastily arranged a large screen video in an adjacent hall. And the minister did not disappoint.

Singaporeans and non-resident Indians hung on his every word as he pithily explained his mantra for the turnaround of Indian Railways.

Lalu Prasad explained how he shunned advice from World Bank acolytes who had recommended that he downsize the mammoth organisation and privatise parts of it. How, instead, his ministry had opted for more efficient use of railway assets, cutting back on the turnaround time of freight trains and utilising longer trains to carry greater loads.

With 1.4 million employees making it among the world’s largest employers and a 64,000 kilometre-long network, his aim, the minister said, was to make Indian Railways the cheapest railway transportation system in the world.

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