India has started drilling its first undersea rail line, as work began on a 21-kilometer (13-mile) tunnel that will form part of a high-speed rail line. The line, which will be elevated to protect the surrounding ecosystem, is the first in a number of ultra high-speed lines proposed for the nation.

When complete, the 508-kilometer (316-mile) corridor will connect Mumbai to Ahmedabad, with trains traveling at speeds of up to 350 miles per hour. The journey, which currently takes around seven hours, will be reduced to just two hours.

“Soil and rocks below the 70-meter-deep sea are being tested as part of the geotechnical and geophysical investigation undertaken for the entire project,” a senior railway official told the Economic Times in a story published Sunday.

High-speed rail projects normally run into trouble over funding, where governments struggle to justify the cost of large-scale railways. The project is expected to cost around $14.6 billion (or 976.36 billion rupees). It’s not as expensive as some lines: California wants to spend $64 billion on a line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, while the UK’s High Speed 2 project is expected to cost around $68.5 billion.

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The line connects Mumbia to  Ahmedabad, pictured above.
The line connects Mumbia to  Ahmedabad, pictured above.

Fortunately, India has a plan. 81 percent of the project’s funds are coming from a loan from the Japan International Cooperation Agency that’s expected to last 50 years. The loan will have an interest rate of 0.1 percent, and it comes with a moratorium on payments that can last up to 15 years.

The line will be owned by Indian Railways, the state-owned railway company. The country has a network spanning 65,808 kilometers (40,891 miles), the fourth largest in the world.

After the soil tests are complete, the corridor’s construction will start in 2018, with the line expected to open in 2023. Although construction has not yet started, it was reported last month that the line will be extended to Pune and Nashik, after a political standoff threatened to derail the project.

Photos via Wikimedia Commons (1, 2)