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September 24, 2017

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Abe launches India's first bullet train project

NEW DELHI - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi on Thursday launched work on India's first high-speed train, estimated to cost over 17 billion dollars.

The 508-kilometre network between Ahmedabad, the main city in Gujarat, Modi's home state, and India's financial capital Mumbai, is expected to start operations by 2023.

"My dear friend Modi decided to bring high-speed railway and build a new India for which he chose the Shinkansen (bullet train). We are fully committed to support this initiative," Abe said after launching groundbreaking work for the project, being built with financial assistance from Japan.

"A strong India is good for Japan and a strong Japan is good for India."

The project costs 1.1 trillion rupees. Japan will fund 81 per cent of the outlay, nearly 88 billion rupees, in soft loans, at an interest rate of 0.1 per cent. The loan will have to be repaid over 50 years.

India's railways carry an estimated 20 million passengers daily and have a poor safety record. The launch comes amid criticism that investments need to be directed to improve safety of the country's ageing railway infrastructure.

Modi defended the project saying it would provide a big boost to India's employment and growth, adding that the project was a gift from Japan to India given the concessional terms.

Abe and Modi are expected to sign a slew of pacts after holding talks.

Abe's visit and the launch of the projects are seen as symbolic of the growing ties between New Delhi and Tokyo amid China's growing assertiveness in the region.

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