Future of Indian High Speed Rail
PM Modi is all set to embark on his first Japan visit as the PM tomorrow and the high speed bullet train project will be high on his agenda for discussions. The modern high speed bullet trains first originated in Japan in 1964. Japan is India’s biggest bilateral economic donor. Japan assisted India during the setting up of the Delhi Metro system. Therefore, ties between Japan and India extend beyond being ceremonial to being built on the foundation of concrete partnerships. Japan and India have the potential to create a more concrete partnership based on mutual trust and friendship. Friendship between Japan and India is all set to surge to a new higher level. The future is here now!
It is well known that projects such as: metro trains (MRTS-Mass Rapid Transit System), LRTS (Light Rapid Transit System), monorails, dedicated bus corridors, etc.; are in design, construction or feasibility study phase in numerous cities in India. It is therefore only reasonable that India must have high speed transit systems between the cities as well to make inter-city and inter-state transportation quick and safe.
Recently there were reports that India may opt for Maglev bullet trains (Magnetic Levitation) for the high speed rail network being planned for the country. This is a commendable decision given that India has an excellent opportunity to leapfrog into the next generation of bullet train technology simply because it does not have to replace any existing high speed network, problems that the developed nations in the world are facing. Maglev trains travel at higher speeds than conventional bullet trains due to reduced friction. The Maglev train typically gets lifted a few inches above the track when it races to its destination, thereby eliminating contact between the train and the tracks. It is a method of propulsion that uses magnetic levitation to propel vehicles with magnets rather than with wheels, axles and bearings.
The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which is carrying out a joint study with India on the 534-km Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train corridor, is expected to submit its second report in November. Currently, the JICA and French railway are involved in the feasibility study of the Rs. 62,000 crore Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project. While the French report will focus on the project’s business development model, JICA’s study will cover alignment, scheduling, tariff, technology, traffic, funding pattern, environment and social impact, passenger profile, number of station among other aspects. A sum of Rs. 100 crore has been allocated in the Rail Budget for preparatory work of the bullet train project. The nations, France, Italy, China and Japan are competing to partner with India for the implementation of the project but China and Japan are the frontrunners in this race. While China is promoting low cost as its USP, Japan is pushing its higher safety records.
The argument that India is not yet ready to embrace high speed rail is irrational, misplaced and politically motivated. While it is admissible that not all will be able to afford travelling in a bullet train in the initial years, the consequent indirect benefits that will start to trickle in the near future far outweigh the costs associated with the building of this crucial infrastructure:-
- Economic Impact
First of all, when Japan had planned the construction of bullet train network after World War II, there were similar arguments against it as we are now having in India. Japan’s per capita GNP back then was also very similar to what it is in India right now. Not only did the bullet trains become profitable in 3 years’ time in Japan, they made journey between important cities so quick that it transformed the economic scenario of Japan. The Japanese “Shinkansen”(bullet train) has had a significant effect on Japan’s business, economy, society, environment and culture. The time savings alone from switching from a conventional to a high-speed network have been estimated at 400 million hours, an economic impact of ¥500 billion per year.
Shinkansen connectivity has rejuvenated rural towns and villages that would otherwise be too distant from major cities. They have made remote Japanese towns and villages accessible — stimulating rural economies. They have also dramatically improved city life. In Tokyo you’re never far away from snow, beach and onsen.
You can well imagine how a similar network for India could infuse the much needed investment in our village economies making them far more accessible and nearer to cities than today. It could bring far more villages and towns in the ambit of the “satellite towns” concept. Yoshiyuki Kasai, Chairman of the Central Japan Railway Company says that India does not have the choice but it has to build the high-speed railway system to achieve higher growth rate. According to him, “High-speed railway makes travel time between cities shorter by several hours. Due to this, different cities are integrated into a single economic lifezone. The long-term economic and social impact of such systems will be huge.”
- Promoting manufacturing and utilizing the demographic dividend– India’s transition to “world’s back-office” has helped only the educated and skilled youth of the country. India needs to change itself into “world’s manufacturer” to provide job opportunities to the biggest youth population in the world. India is in an advantage position to take up the leadership position in manufacturing at the cost of China for next 20–30 years, because of India’s demographic dividend which is available for next 20 years or so, before it turns into demographic liability. But, India has plains in interior of India where it can set up large-scale manufacturing bases without causing much environmental degradation. India needs to build infrastructure to connect interior of India to seaports through mega infrastructure projects. High Speed Rail is one of such projects which can accelerate India’s growth rate
- India’s double-digit GDP growth– “Investment cycle” created by the High Speed rail will result in India making a major jump to the double-digit growth rate. Indian economy will be converted from Social sector focused Expenditure based economy with 4–5% growth rate and low value jobs to the Investment based double digit growth rate economy with high-value jobs helping India to effectively use the Demographic Dividend for next 30 years, before it turns into a Demographic Liability without major pension reforms.
- Poverty alleviation-India’s expenditure-based poverty alleviation has been a failure against the investment-based growth. GDP through job generation against the one-time subsidy payouts have helped India to uplift record number of people out of poverty, year after year. As seen in Japan, HSR lines bring along with them investment and prosperity.
- Job generation– Micro, small, medium and large-scale industries will benefit by the HSR. A company manufacturing nut and bolts to the company working on high tech steel will all get benefited, taking India’s manufacturing share to 25% of the GDP. It all depends on the government’s domestic content, technology transfer and competitive-bidding policies.
- Corporate muscle-flexing– Investment in this sector will result in genesis of companies with unmatchable know-how and money power, which will go on to acquire companies and invest in this sector across the world. India’s investment in airports, space, petroleum, telecommunication, renewable energy etc. have created companies, mainly in private sector which have gone international and acquired companies worldwide:- e.g. GMR (Istanbul and Mactan-Cebu), GVK (Bali airport), Airtel (Africa), Indian Oil, ISRO, ONGC Videsh, Suzlon (5th-largest in the world).
- Tourism– Access to the eastern and north-eastern states (Meghalaya, Assam, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, West Bengal and Odisha), Kashmir and South Indian states will be hours of travel from days. Foreign and domestic tourists can cover more places in the same time, thus bringing wealth to more places. Tourism may emerge as a major source of Income, if enabling environment is created.
- Efficiency- The delay time per train per year of the Japanese Shinkansen is only 6 seconds! Enough said!!
Personally, I am more for the Japanese “Shinkansen” than the lower cost Chinese version of it, due to Shinkansen’s best safety record in the world for high speed railways. Low cost is just a short term advantage while higher level of safety is a long term profitable bet according to me. Japanese bullet trains (Shinkansen) have the best safety record on the planet: beating conventional trains, automobiles and flying. They have served 7 billion passengers without a single passenger fatality due to a derailment or collision.
Japan was the first country to introduce an extensive bullet train system (1964). Since then, only one passenger has died as the result of an accident (involving the doors of a train). Trains now have a variety of systems and procedures to prevent this from happening again. The Shinkansen’s near-perfect safety record is remarkable considering that Japan is the most seismically active country in the world.
Shinkansens are wired into Japan’s earthquake early warning system. In most cases, a Shinkansen has time to brake before an earthquake arrives. While its automatic train control (ATC) keeps tabs on the distance to a train running in front and stops itself if necessary, the new Center-Fastened Brake Disc has high braking performance. The new braking system is also called an earthquake-triggered brake. When electric power is cut by an earthquake, the braking system detects it and automatically starts functioning. It also increases braking force applied to the disc by 15%. When the Great East Japan Earthquake hit in March 2011, 10 Shinkansen trains were speeding on a stretch hit hard between Fukushima and Iwate prefectures, including five trains running at 270 km/h. But all the trains were able to make an emergency stop and none of them derailed or rolled over. Another feature of the current Shinkansen is a fixed-speed travel device that automatically speeds up or slows down the train taking into consideration changing land conditions ahead on the line. The device stores in itself all data about steepness, bends and tunnels waiting down the line, calculates their impact on the running of a train and generates signals giving proper speed instructions. In normal times, Shinkansen trains are driven manually without the fixed-speed travel device online. But when the timetable is disrupted in bad weather, the device is switched on, allowing recovery from train delays much faster than before.
India needs bullet trains with similar systems as the northern plains lie on the mid-continental earthquake belt and so are prone to earthquakes.
Globally too, bullet trains have beaten other modes of transportation as the safest bet to travel.
Bullet trains will bring the much needed and additional dimension of safety in Indian Railways, especially when the country witnessed several severe train accidents in the previous year due to increasing passenger load, obsolete safety mechanisms and lack of coordination.
- Environmental Impact
Bullet trains produce much less air pollution than automobiles, planes and conventional trains. Traveling the Tokyo-Osaka line by Shinkansen produces only around 16% of the carbon dioxide of the equivalent journey by car, a saving of 15,000 tons of environmentally degrading carbon dioxide per year.
Long-distance travel (air and rail) will move away from petroleum-based inflationary fuel to the electricity, whose real cost of production is decreasing and is non-inflationary, as India is one of the biggest producer of renewable energy in the world.
- Rail Diplomacy
Like China, India too can have a chance at strengthening her economic and strategic partnerships with the neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar by building high speed rail links for transportation across the border. This can lead to cross border integration in all aspects: cultural, economic, tourism, security, etc. International tourist circuits in South Asia on similar lines of European tourist circuits could be formed.
- National Integration
India has multiple cultures and languages, as the rivers, mountains and forests have hindered the people to people contact. This has an impact even now as regionalism and communalism have an upper hand in national politics rather than patriotism. High speed railways will change that as India will move to a single identity and culture, similar to what happened in Japan after the introduction of bullet trains.
Here are some pictures from my travel in China:-
—> Yeah, that’s me 😀
—>The speedometer inside the bullet train showing travel speed of 285 kmph!!
—>No, this is not an airport, it is a railway station!!