The foundation stone for India’s 1st high-speed rail (HSR) project was laid on September 14th between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. Japan has pledged financial support for this project on 12th Dec 2015. Japan has committed 85% of the total cost of this project as a loan which will have an interest rate of 0.1% and 15 years of moratorium with a repayment period of 50 years. Therefore, when you look closely at the expenses on this project, the people who claim that tax-payers money is being wasted on the bullet train, is completely false.
Indian Railways has a history of accidents that have been taking place from time to time. Therefore, it is a viable question that would the Indian Railways be able to operate the HSR at full speed of 320 Km/h without any accidents. Currently, our normal trains run at a top speed of 160 km/h or less. As the railways is a guided transportation system, it is safer than unguided transport system such as the road. As there are very few people who control rail and air transport system, these are much safer than regular road transport. Therefore, very few incidents occur with this form of transportation system across the world.
Although the rail accidents are few, they are taking place frequently now. Therefore, this issue must be addressed first. The Indian Railways carries about 10% of the passenger traffic and more than 80% is carried by road and for freight, the railways carry 35% compared to 65% carried by road. If you compare the number of accidents that take place on road, railways are very safe means of transportation. The detailed analysis of the report on train accidents that took place between 2011-12 and 2016-17 tells us that in 50% of accidents, train derailment took place, 40% accidents happened because of collisions at level crossings and 10% accidents were caused due to other reasons.
Therefore, it is very clear that the current railway system is suffering from overloading of tracks and also lack of adequate maintenance as the staff does not get uninterrupted 2-3 hours to maintain the infrastructure. This inadequate maintenance has been the root cause of train derailments. In case of bullet trains, these trains do not run at night time generally from 23:30 to 05:00, which gives the maintenance team more than 4 hours to do their maintenance work on a regular basis.
India has one of the largest railway networks in the world. Therefore, there are thousands of manned and unmanned level crossings at road passings and there is no isolation for railway lines. Therefore, the right of way of the traditional rail network is restricted in reality. The bullet train is to be constructed on an elevated track for the maximum part and it will go underground in some urban parts. Therefore, the right of way of the bullet train will be isolated completely and there will be no issue of collision with any other transport mode which will make the bullet train very safe to travel in.
Indian Railways has been operating on the same railway system that the British built in the 19th century. The railway system has never been replaced, it is only been slightly updated over the years. The signal system has been improved greatly but it uses a spatial signaling system as opposed to in-cab signaling system and automatic train stop systems which are used by all the developed nations. The existing spatial system is vulnerable to human error and it also reduces the overall output of the railways because only 1 train in one direction can run in block (let’s assume 15km) at a given instance.
The in-cab signaling and automatic train stop systems aren’t vulnerable to human errors. This system will be installed in the bullet train. Due to this system, the trains will be able to run with a headway of around 4 minutes without any chance of collision. Therefore, the bullet train will have the running capacity of more than 5 times when compared to our traditional railways. The bullet train will have a two-line system without any crossings between these lines. Therefore, there won’t be any possibility of trains colliding face to face.
The ICF coaches have been proven to be killers time and over again in cases of accidents. The advanced countries have moved towards train sets which have the modern German technology-based LHB (Linke Hofmann Busch) coaches. The railway minister, Suresh Prabhu, stopped the productions of the ICF coaches recently when he took the charge of the Railway Ministry. The LHB coaches are way more secure compared to ICF coaches, therefore, the existing ICF coaches are being retrofitted with the safety features of the LHB coaches.
I think the High-Speed Rail (Bullet Train) network is a great opportunity for the Indian Railways to make huge improvements in the field of technology, speed, and safety of rail travel. It will be a very difficult and expensive task to upgrade our existing railway system into an HSR network and even if we attempt to do it, it will never be as good as an HSR network that is newly built. Therefore, new HSR track and the overall system is a great step towards the modernization of Indian Railways.
Now let’s talk about the fundamental and more practical point that every taxpayer wants to know about – Cost. An average HSR railway system costs somewhere around Rs 2 billion/Km. It seems quite huge but you should consider the fact that a Metro Railway system costs about Rs 3-4 billion/Km. Therefore, actually, an HSR railway system is less expensive, although it will never be as cheap as our traditional railway system. But, we are far away from the ideal Railway Network that this country deserves and badly needs. Therefore, we need to take big steps like this to revolutionize our railways. With all this said, I welcome this step by the government to built HSR corridor, but I hoped that instead of building a network between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, they should have built this between the 4 big capitals of this country which are Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai. I still hope that they will take the decision to join all these capital by HSR very soon.
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