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Does India Need A Bullet Train?

Does India Need A Bullet Train?

Assistant Editor

01 Apr, 2019

India is an ambitious country. Be it the idea of metro trains, underground rails, rapid rails or the bullet trains. In the month of September 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe laid down the foundation stone of the ambitious bullet train project which is meant to connect Mumbai with Ahmedabad. The Shinkansen high-speed trains of Japan are colloquially known as bullet trains basically for the way they appear and for their speed. Bullet train is a term used generally in order to describe a high-speed train that runs at a speed of more than 250 kmph. The project of India’s first bullet train commenced way back in the year 2017. It is a 508 km long high-speed rail corridor that is being built with the help of Japan. The train is set to run at a speed of almost 320kmph and is expected to get completed by the year 2022. As far as the finance and technology is concerned, India presently does not have the indigenous high-speed rail technology. India takes the technology from Japan and almost 81% of the project cost is financed by Japan at an interest of nearly 0.01% for about 50 yrs. If we draw a comparison of the costs, we will observe that as per an analysis done by World Bank regarding the costs of High-Speed Rail (HSR) projects in different countries, rail infrastructure requires nearly 82% of the total cost. The cost of Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR project is about $27.44 million per km as compared to the $17-21 million per km of China. The super power, China is not dependant on the Shinkansen technology and although being a late entrant, the HSR projects of China are way cheaper when compared with those of Japan. In the year 2015, China won a project in Indonesia against Japan for its cost competitiveness. The loan and interest rate rendered by Japan which seems quite tempting at the first is actually not. The Japanese Yen is projected to appreciate against the Indian Rupee over the period which has time and again posed a question on the viability of the loan and the project in total. The major benefits of this project are as follows:

(i) High-speed connectivity: India is a very huge country and the requirement to travel faster has become a necessity for Indians. Although air transport can fulfil such needs, but the capacity that it offers just cannot match with that of the railways. Although making incremental changes in order to improve existing infrastructure is needed, it is immensely important to adopt proven state-of-the-art technologies. The High Speed Railway Line will be highly effective in meeting this requirement.

Other than diverting passengers from road and air, Bullet train also generates a new class of passengers. With the average operating speeds higher more than 250 km/h, High Speed Railways will make the distance of 500 km reachable in just a short time of two hours.

(ii) Less stress on the Railways: The conventional Indian Railways lags largely in extending, increasing and modernizing its infrastructure and other services. There is a serious requirement to segregate its passenger business from freight. With the coming of bullet trains the stress on the railways would be reduced to a great extent.

(iii) Employment: The bullet train project will create nearly 4,000 direct job opportunities, along with 20,000 indirect jobs. More than 20,000 construction workers will also be employed during the set up period of Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train.

(iv) Urban expansion: New bullet train stations set to come up along the route will immensely call for urban growth. This will largely shift the pressure of urbanization from the existing urban centers.

(v) Enhanced Safety: High Speed Railways’ safety record is worth appreciation. With a 2,500-km network, providing high frequency, of over 14 trains per hour, the Shinkansen/Bullet train ever since its inception has had a unique record of no deadly accident.

(vi) Other avenues: The major purpose of Bullet trains in India is to provide convenience to its commuters. Indeed, it will also make a huge difference in freight transportation, be it courier mail services, perishables, or other items, any fast alternative to overloaded lorries should be welcomed especially for businesses and for private consumers.

The major cause of concern in this regard are as follows:

(i) High Costs: The Mumbai- Ahmedabad high-speed rail costs nearly one lakh crore Indian Rupee. Keeping in mind the cost overruns due to delays and future fluctuations of inflation, it may further get even higher.

(ii) High fares: It is speculated that the fares may range in between Rs. 4000 to Rs 5000 to make the running of trains economically viable. Such fares would be affordable only by the rich who might actually prefer air travel keeping in mind the lesser margin of fares between them. However, most of the travel by trains in India is done by the poor people only.

(iii) Land acquisition: It is expected to act as another obstacle delaying the project and also causing large-scale displacement of people.

We are all aware that the Indian Railways is in a worrying state. There is an urgent need to strengthen the present infrastructure of the railways. The number of increasing rail accidents and the Elphinstone road station stampede reflects the poor infrastructure. As per the recent report by the Standing committee on Railways headed by Sudip Bandopadhyay, in 2014-15, about 40% of the accidents occurred at Unmanned Level Crossings and in 2015-16, this percentage was 28%. The committee also recommended a total shift to LHB coaches to reduce the loss of lives in times of derailments. Therefore, the argument is, instead of strengthening and upgrading the present infrastructure keeping in mind the safety of millions of passengers, why is there need to invest in a project which will only serve the well-off sections of the society.

By: Anuja Arora