Ahmedabad: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe inaugurated India’s first bullet train on Thursday, with both leader saluting the fast growing ties between Asia’s two biggest democracies.
The 508-km high speed link -- officially, the Ahmedabad-Mumbai High Speed Rail Network -- is built at a project cost of Rs 1.1 lakh crore and is scheduled for completion in December, 2023.
Speaking first, Shinzo Abe hailed this new high in India-Japan ties, emphasising this "special bond" between the two countries.
"The Indo-Japan relationship is not just about bilateral trade. It has developed into a strategic and global partnership in the Indian-Pacific region," Abe said.
Abe hoped this first bullet train in India, popularly known as the Shinkansen in his country, would soon spread to encompass other parts of the country.
India's first bullet train is being built with a Japanese soft loan which India will pay back in the next 50 years at 0.1 per cent interest. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said this was not a loan, but a gift. "We are building India's first bullet train practically free," he said.
"I hope to enjoy the beauty of India through the windows of the bullet train with Modi on my side when I come to India in a few years," Abe told a ceremony in Ahmedabad to much applause.
He said the first letters of his country, J, and that of India, I, together make up the word 'Jai' or victory. "Jai India, Jai Japan," Abe iterated as he ended his speech with a 'dhanyavad'.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Abe his "close friend" and said the dreams and ambitions of this 'new India' is limitless. "India has taken a big leap today to fulfill a long-held dream. Fast trains, top technology will bring us top growth, employment and progress," he said.
"Japan too has shown today what a great friend it is to India. India's first bullet train project is a symbol of this friendship. Abe has ensured this project sticks to time."
"This is not the time to progress at low speed. The speed of this country's progress now depends on the high-speed connectivity of its transport," Modi said, listing the many road and rail projects his government has initiated.
Modi also berated the Opposition for doubting the project. "They first asked why bullet train, then said when bullet train," he said.
Abe, who is on a two-day visit to Gujarat, arrived in Ahmedabad with his wife Akie on Wednesday.
The bullet train, which has a capacity to accommodate 750 people, is expected to reduce travel time between the two cities from seven to three hours.
The target for its completion is December 2023, though officials say there are indications that the government may seek an earlier deadline of 2022.
The train will stop at each of the 12 railway stations on the route, but only for 165 seconds. A 21-km-long tunnel will be dug between Boisar and BKC in Mumbai, of which 7 km will be under water.
The two prime ministers also laid the foundation for an institute that will come up in Vadodara where nearly 4,000 people will be skilled for the bullet train project.
The entire line will be at an elevation of around 20 m which will reduce land acquisition.
After the laying of the foundation stone, an investment summit will also be held between the Indian side and a Japanese delegation comprising representatives from Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Later on Thursday, Modi and Abe will hold annual Indo-Japan summit. Boosting cooperation in defence and security is likely to be a major focus area when they hold the summit.
A media report said Japan was likely to take up the sale of ShinMaywa US-2 amphibious aircraft that India has been interested in for several years.
The aircraft is expected to boost India's maritime capabilities.
On Wednesday, Modi, Abe and Akie set-off on an 8-km road show in an open-roof jeep for the Sabarmati Ashram where apostle of peace Mahatma Gandhi spent considerable time of his life.
Abe, who was in a formal suit when he arrived at the Ahmedabad airport, wore kurta-pyjama and a blue Nehru jacket, while his wife donned red salwar-kameez and a white stole to Sabarmati Ashram.
At the Sabarmati Ashram set up by Mahatma Gandhi, Abe and his wife paid homage to the Father of the Nation.
The road show, designed to showcase India's cultural diversity, saw artistes from several states performing on 28 stages erected by the roadside.
It was for the first time that Modi held a joint road show with a visiting head of government of a foreign country, reflecting the close bonding he shares with Abe.
They later visited the iconic Sidi Saiyyed Mosque and had dinner at 'Agashiye' restaurant located near the mosque.