BULLET TRAIN IN INDIA
This is a guest blog by Aneesh. A wave of enthusiasm is being witnessed throughout the nation with the news introduction of high speed bullet trains in the near future. A luxury which was thought only to exist in the developed parts of the world will soon become a reality for the people of India. There has been much speculation both for and against the venture. It is time to take an unbiased look into the subject.
What are Bullet Trains?
Bullet trains are generally classified as high speed trains having speed of 300 kmph. These trains are currently running in many countries including China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan etc. to connect major cities. The commercial speeds of the Bullet Trains are hovering between 300 – 430 kmph in a typical track vehicle interaction mode. The track gauge is generally standard gauge (1,435 mm) in Japan and European countries resulting in that most of the high speed technologies have been developed on standard gauge viz. track, coaches, engines, signalling, telecommunications, and electrical systems.
The Shinkansen is a network of high-speed railway lines in Japan operated by five Japan Railways Group companies. Starting with the Tōkaidō Shinkansen in 1964 the network has expanded to currently consist of 2,764.6 km of lines with maximum speeds of 240–320 km/h, The network presently links most major cities on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu, and Hakodate on northern island of Hokkaido, with an extension to Sapporo under construction and scheduled to commence in March 2031.
The maximum operating speed is 320 km/h (200 mph). Test runs have reached 443 km/h (275 mph) for conventional rail in 1996, and up to a world record 603 km/h (375 mph) for maglev trains in April 2015.
Contract with India
In December 2015, India and Japan signed an agreement for the construction of India’s first high speed rail link connecting Mumbai to Ahmedabad. Funded primarily through Japanese soft loans, the link is expected to cost up to $18.6bn and should be operational in about 7 years. This followed India and Japan conducting feasibility studies on high-speed rail and dedicated freight corridors.
The Indian Ministry of Railways’ white-paper Vision 2020 submitted to Indian Parliament by then Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee on 18 December 2009 envisaged the implementation of regional high-speed rail projects to provide services at 250–350 km/h.
Recently, PM Modi announced that India’s first bullet train would be launched in 2022, coinciding with 75 years of independence, and dubbed it as a definite step towards ‘New India’. The project will be funded by Japan via 50-year loan amounting to ₹ 88,000 crore at 0.1 % interest.
PROS AND CONS
High Speed: The obvious pro and the main reason for the introduction of bullet train. Major cities connecting with towns of economic growth face the problem of fast transportation. This would save time and boost business. Reduction in commuting time is greatly required in today’s world which is developing with every blink and failing to keep up directly amounts to obsolescence.
Safety: Safety is one of the major highlights of the Shinkansen. Ever since the bullet trains started in 1964, the Shinkansen has reported zero fatalities. With successful implementation of their Japanese safety heritage, India might look forward to a new era of safety standards which are being blatantly ignored in the present scenario.
Comfort: These trains would utilize high grade technology to provide comfortable journey of long hours within just a few hours. Improvising on the comfort level of train journeys have been a missing factor in Indian Railways and the introduction of bullet trains would be a great development in this factor.
Cost: Even though it is being advertised that the project is free of cost due to the 50 year extensive repayment term, wise men know that nothing is free in the “free market”. The exchange rate between the currencies of two countries is determined by their inflation differential. If India’s inflation rate is average 3% over the next two decades and Japan’s inflation rate is zero, as is widely anticipated, then by default the rupee will depreciate 3% every year because the rupee’s value is eroding by 3% against no erosion in the yen.
So, the rupee is bound to weaken by over 60% in two decades. This means that on a loan of ₹ 88,000 crore, the repayment, in rupee terms, goes up to more than ₹ 150,000 crore at the end of 20 years.
High fares: Fares of these trains would be high too in order to compensate the expenses and maintenance. One way fare on Mumbai-Ahmadabad route is projected to be around ₹ 5,000 which only a few would be able to afford.
Time: The project is at its initial stage of planning and it is predicted that the implementation of the plan would take years. In between if there is a change in government, there could be delays.
Land: For laying tracks, there would be issues of land acquisition which might trigger anger among people whose lives may be affected. In India where land is scarce compared to the population, not many will be willing to sacrifice their land for the sake of so-called development.
Overhead: Apart from the construction cost, the day-to-day maintenance and upkeep cost for such a vast & delicate project would be skyrocketing which would further prove to be a strain on the Govt. expenditure which in turn means strain on the common man’s ever shrinking wallet.
The Indian Bullet Train though a very ambitious endeavor puts on the scale the simple common sense. The Indian Railways, though poor in standards, is still one of the best in Asia in terms of commuting and end to end connectivity. There is also no shortage of roadways connectivity which reaches even in the areas where it would definitely be impossible to introduce the bullet train. Also due to the recent UDAN scheme the domestic air travel sector is also picking up wind.
In the light of such evidence how sensible would it be to enlarge the ever growing debt on the national treasury under the tag of growth? Wouldn’t the money be better spent on projects which would increase the Human Development Index rather than growth for once?
Pragmatically, a country where the basic needs of majority of the population are not being met does not require faster means of transportation meant exclusively for the elite. Rather it requires policy reforms for poverty alleviation.