Last month, Achal Khare was appointed managing director of the National High Speed Rail Corporation, which is executing the ambitious Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project. In an interview with TOI, he says the project will be completed by December 2023. Excerpts :

What is the progress on the project?

We appointed a general consultant in December to do the complete design, including areas that have difficult structures which may take more time…We have co-mpleted the ground survey. The next step is social impact assessment. We have invited tenders and shortlisted the parties. By next month, we will be able to appoint the agency.

What are the unique features of the corridor?

It will have a 21-km underground tunnel of which 7 km will be under the sea. This is a first in India. The entire line will be elevated which will reduce land acquisition…There are locations between Ahmedabad and Sabarmati where there are rail overbridges, under construction Metro lin-es, so we have to take our alignment quite high, maybe at 20m.

In Ahmedabad, Vadodara and Sabarmati, we are trying to bring it close to the existing stations…In Mumbai, we are entering at BKC.

When do you expect to complete the project?

The target is December 2023. We are working on Rs 1.10 lakh crore as completion cost.

When will you start work?

Ground work is in two parts— one is for the training institute. We will have an exclusive training institute in Gandhinagar. We have already invited tenders and work will start next year and be completed by December 2020.

Have you identified the vendors?

All contracts will be through open tenders. We have decided with the Japanese about the areas that are open fully to Indian contractors. In civil works, except for tunnelling and two critical areas—Ahmedabad and Vadodara—all are open to Indian contractors without any condition.

Out of 508 km, around 450 km is open to the Indian side. In electrical system, certain areas have been identified which will be done by the Japanese only. Track is for Japanese firms as it will be ballastless track which we don’t have.

Many experts say the project is financially unviable?

Only time will tell… Once the system is operational, the usage will tell whether it is really effective or not. The global experience is 70% switchover to high speed. If that takes place in India, probably these apprehensions about financial viability may remain apprehensions only.

But fare could be an issue?

It could be an issue. Of course, we have to be less than what airlines are offering.
What is the total cost of the project?
We are working on Rs 1.10 lakh crore. This is the completion cost.
Will NHSRC take up other bullet train projects?
Our mandate is to do Mumbai-Ahmedabad and other projects which come in future. But that will depend on the government.
“Mumbai -Ahmedabad bullet train will start running by 2023”

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