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A well-argued case for bullet trains in India

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Public Transport

Given that it is a low-energy, low-emission mode of transportation that can reduce costs significantly, India should not miss the opportunity to develop high-speed rail

- - -HSR is a better option in terms of energy efficiency, carbon footprint and inter-city travel time than air travel

- - -To meet India's rail transport demand, there should be three sets of double tracks: the first one for conventional trains, the second for freight trains, and the third for HSR in the high-traffic-density corridors such as Golden Quadrilateral (GQ) and its diagonals. Ignoring this ground reality would escalate our internal and external costs of transport. This is evident from the fact that in the absence of sufficient rail capacity, both passenger and freight business has moved to road transport - and this trend would continue unabated.

- - -Indian Railways has planned HSR only on these high-demand routes. The government has no intention of developing HSR using its own funds - it would remain the facilitator in the execution of the project. As and when the corridors become financially viable, they would be taken up for HSR execution either with 100 per cent foreign direct investment or through public-private partnerships, or some other format where the government funding would be nil. Thus the question of splurging taxpayer's money on HSR projects does not arise at all.

- - -According to the International Union of Railways, to construct one kilometre of HSR (two lines), 3.2 hectares per km is required, whereas to construct a six-lane highway, 9.3 hectares per km is required.

These are the key take-aways for me from a reading of the column in the Business Standard by Dr Ramakrishnan T S, a PhD in public systems from Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. To read the full text, click here.

I had all along held the view that bullet trains were an overkill for India. On reading this column, however, I am beginning to have a re-thinking.

Muralidhar Rao


srinidhi's picture

..still a overkill

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like we discussed HSRL for airport here on praja..lets first try the exisiting options which are low on costs first before going to the moon..

Lets take Blr - Chennai connectivity - current track distance is about 348Kms, so normal trains travelling at 120Kmph should do the journey in little more than 3 hours ..but the best we can do at this time is little more than 5 hours..

One of the reasons for the delay is accomodating other slow trains on the same track..but the major reason is accomodating local trains as we near Chennai..this adds a lot of time to the journey..

What is the solution?

The Japs who had proposed bullet train btw chennai -blr few years ago had said they would run their trains elevated on stilts over exisitng tracks, as they get close to Chennai. Radical idea but not a bad one!

Why not use the same for the exisitng trains too?

Bullet trains might do the journey in 90 min but 150 min with exisitng trains is worth exploring when the additional  costs involved is a fraction fo what a shinkansen would cost!

Naveen's picture

HSR can't be delayed

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I agree with the points & can add few more benefits as well:

1) Why should we develop HSR when air travel exists for faster travel between cities? Apart from rising transport demand & the negatives such as higher energy consumption with air travel, there is also the need for huge investment increases for air travel infrastructure like airports whereas for hi-speed trains, the number of trains can be increased on same tracks with same stations & with only marginal augmentation of infrastructure for huge capacity increases.

2) Why can't we upgrade railway lines to provide semi-HSR, such as the one proposed for the Delhi-Agra link, with a maximum speed of 160 km per hour? The additional point here is that multiple tracks for different types of trains would enable all types of trains to continue running, at least better than now even if there were track damages or sabotage.

3) Is India at the state of economic development where it could build HSR? India's growth rate is very fast now (& it has overtaken China to become fastest growing). So, even if we start planning HSR now, by the time it materializes, several years would have passed (if not decades) since land acquisition is not going to be easy. Hence, its better to get started than to leave it for later (lest it be "too late" like our metro).

4) Why should the government splurge on HSR when there are other pressing needs, including developing conventional rail infrastructure and social infrastructure such as schools and hospitals? Though private investemnts are being sought, there will be VGP components (viability gap funding) for HSR as full investments being too huge are likely to be unrecoverable. However, even with this it might be sensible to get started lest we leave it for too late.

MaheshK's picture

Look for other alternatives

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As I understand, Bullet trains are expensive. The Mumbai-Ahmadabad is running into more than Rs. 100,000 crores. The two cities are already connected very well. Someone wanted to please the PM I guess.

Why not increase the speed of existing trains? What we are lacking is the tracks. Please compare the km tracks laid by British before independence and India after 1947. Now there are more trains on existing tracks as every railway minister wants to please others and sanctioning trains left and right. This has created jams at the rail stations where trains have to wait for the signals. In the last few months I have been traveling from Bluru to Mysuru by train. It’s so ridiculous.

What I am saying is that the money for bullet trains can be used to upgrade the trains, increase speed, develop the stations, etc rather than pouring such amount of money just on one train where the two cities are already well connected.   

ajay73's picture

Look for other alternatives

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The bullet Trains projet will be implementby privae people ot by IndiaGovt.The India Govt do not spend even single paise on this project.

Who will have interest in investing money to improve the current trains speed & quality of tracks..with suc a low cost of tickets..





srinidhi's picture

Talgo emerging better option

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Talgo coaches being lighter and can run on exisiting tracks are a viable HSR option.

The maiden trip btw Delhi and Mumbai was faster than the Rajdhani by 3 full hours though the train itself was delayed by 2 hours due to rain conditions.

I hope the bullet train plans are shelved and India goes with these Talgo trains..better still Modi can request the Spainards to 'Make in India'..I am sure they will oblige!

Btw he hasnt travelled to Spain yet rt?!



abidpqa's picture

Bullet train

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Bullet train cost is inclusive. For air travel, cost of planes, airport etc. are separate. Bullet trains can come closer to city. In case of trains, each stration is almost equal to airport, so if 5 stations are built on a route 5 airports built. Bullet trains are best for regional travel.

murali772's picture

lessons from the Indore-Patna express tragedy

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Shaken from its slumber by the worst train accident in six years, the Railways has promised to step up production of modern Linke Holfmann Bush (LHB) coaches to replace old Integral Coach Factory (ICF) designed coaches and to resist the temptation of announcing new trains on overburdened routes.

The toll could have been much lesser had the Railways completely switched over to the manufacture of LHB coaches -which do not pile up unlike the earlier coaches in case of an accident -as suggested by the Anil Kakodkar panel on railway safety in 2012.

- - - Poor track maintenance including lack of proper fittings and ballast on the rail lines caused fractures which seems to have been among the causes contributing to the accident according to initial findings.

Rail tracks have deteriorated as the Railways is running more and heavier trains to raise higher revenues.

For the full text of the report (emphasis added by me) in the ToI, click here.

A terrible tragedy indeed - but, wasn't it waiting to happen, when you try to speed up trains with outmoded coaches, and on tracks that are perhaps not designed for such high speeds, particularly considering the lax maintenance regime (a legacy passed on from the past)? Apparently, even as grounded a minister as Suresh Prabhu got carried away by the hype that the NaMo government has become known for, and focussed on the various more visible aspects (not that they are not important) instead of paying attention to these basic aspects, ending up with such tragedies. Well, it must be stated to his credit that he has, at least now, admitted to the mistake in quite a forthright fashion, and has expressed a resolve to undertake a course correction.

A question also arises as to whether the country should continue to rely on just a government-run ICF to build coaches. PSUs' (particularly the monopolies) track records have been far from exemplary in all of the fields they are in (check here). Isn't it high time the private sector is facilitated into entering these fields too?

Muralidhar Rao
Vasanth's picture

Existing Trains Need to be optimized before going for High Speed

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Current train infrastructure can do better job than what it is doing now. For instance Bangalore Mysore Shathabdi can easily do in 1hr 45 mins and Non Stop trains like Tippu can do in 2hrs and express trains in 2hrs 30 mins. They are  made to wait unnecessarily and Shatabdi completes its journey in 2hrs, Tippu in 2hrs 20 mins and Express trains in 3 hours.

Same is the case in many routes and many trains. 

Current LHB coaches can do 160 kph if the tracks are optimized which should be a good speed to start.

In this current accident, train was not run at high speed, it was the track maintenance problem.


MaheshK's picture

Tracks have to be added

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Every railway minister announces new trains, feasible or not. Trains have increased but the number of tracks have not. I read somewhere that after 1947, India has built about 16,000 km of new tracks. This is not acceptable but that is the reality. Blore-Mysore trains have to stop to let other trains go. I have gone thru this many times in this route. Hope the double tracking is done quickly. comment guidelines

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