AHMEDABAD, India/NEW DELHI - Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday launched a third Indian-made high speed train in his home state of Gujarat, as a part of plans to modernise the country's rail network.
New Delhi plans to launch 75 of the Vande Bharat Express trains by August 2023 to connect all major industrial and business cities. The trains have a top speed of 160 kilometres per hour (kmh) (99 miles per hour).
The average speed of Indian trains has remained around 50 kmh, and of freight trains around 25 kmh, hitting the state-owned railways' earnings, according to a national auditor's report in April.
The 16-coach Vande Express, with a capacity of 1,128 passengers, will provide a better experience for travellers even compared to flying, Modi said after the launch.
The latest train - with updated passenger facilities compared with the previous two launches - will connect India's financial capital Mumbai with Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat state, a senior railways official said.
Pathik Patwari, President of the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry, welcomed the launch. "Many businessmen who do not travel much on trains due to long travel time will start travelling on the train now," he said.
The weight of the latest train has been reduced by 38 tonnes from earlier versions to 392 tonnes, ensuring a more comfortable ride, and it can continue functioning even in two feet water, officials said.
A spokesperson for Integrated Coach Factory, Chennai, which manufactured the train, told Reuters it was fully designed in India, with 80% local materials, and would cost about 11 billion rupees ($135 million).
He said the state-run factory aimed to produce at least 27 by March 2023, besides high-speed freight trains soon.
Indian Railways, which posted a fall in passenger earnings during two years of the pandemic, is on a path to recovery, with total revenues up 37% year-on-year to 964.3 billion rupees ($11.82 billion) in April-August.
(Writing by Manoj Kumar, Editing by Mark Potter)