Thiruvananthapuram: Billed as the biggest and most expensive infrastructure projects conceived by Kerala, a high speed rail corridor for India's first bullet train is one of the mega projects the state plans to implement.
On completion, it will enable one travel from Kerala's capital Thiruvananthapuram to the state's northern most point Kasaragod in 142 minutes, covering a distance of 526 km.
The project may sound unbelievable, especially in the case of Kerala lagging in industry and infrastructure development for decades.
Estimated to cost Rs 1,18,000 crore on completion, the first phase is expected to cost Rs 43,000 crore. It will also be showcased in 'Emerging Kerala Global Connect' at Kochi from September 12-14.
"If all preparatory works progress on schedule and the project starts by April 2013 as planned, the first phase is expected to be completed in five years and the second in the following two years. The whole project should be complete by 2020," said T Balakrishnan, CMD, Kerala High Speed Rail Corporation Ltd(KHSRCL).
"Work of drawing up the Detailed Project Report is now on.
Alignment study/survey has started; preparatory work on land acquisition has also begun.
Recruitment of key personnel has begun," Balakrishnan,a former bureaucrat, told PTI.
Nine stations are proposed initially - Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Kozhikode, Kannur Kasaragod and in the final stretch to Mangalore in Karnataka.
Three more at Chengannur, Tirur and Thalassery, would come up at a later stage.
The total corridor length (upto Mangalore) would be around 571 km and it will have two parallel tracks each in standard gauge systems, independent of existing rail network in Kerala.
The government has appointed Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation as the nodal agency for the project, which could transform lives and economy by facilitating hassle free movement between cities and towns in God s own country.
"A public transport system of this dimension has so many advantages. Most important,it will help reduce traffic density and improve road safety," said KSIDC Managing Director Alkesh Sharma.
"If you look at it as a purely financial project it may not sound viable since the financial rate of return is estimated at around 5.2 per cent. But it becomes viable and massively so, as an economic project.A high speed rail network covering India can boost economic growth rate by upto 1.5 per cent and then there will be incremental growth as distances come down," Balakrishnan said.
The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation has prepared the pre-feasibility study and meeting at the PMO level has given the green signal to all departments concerned. An all-party meeting at the state-level to form a consensus has been very positive.
"We have started discussing funding options with various agencies, including Japan's JICA and ADB. It's in the early stages and nothing has been finalized yet. However, during the Emerging Kerala event, we expect a lot of international companies and financing agencies to take part. The project will be discussed with them and more options may emerge from these discussions," said the KHSRCL CMD.
The DMRC recommended model in the feasibility report is a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) owned by the Central and Kerala governments with Japanese participation. "But a final decision on this has not been taken yet and the government is keeping all options open, including PPP and hybrid models," he said.
On the technology, he said it was not an issue at all as that was already available worldwide.
If we go by the DMRC recommendation, we can get it from Japan as a whole package, technology, funding, implementation everything. But it is also available elsewhere, in Europe, Korea and even in China, although the Chinese technology has not been fully tested and proven," he said.
About the Karnataka government's response to the project which extends to Mangalore, he said they had welcomed it.
"Karnataka actually wants it to be extended to Udupi, thinking it will attract greater traffic from Kerala, especially as a pilgrimage centre," he added.