Thursday, December 4, 2014


Japan was devastated by two atom bombs dropped on it at the end of the Second World War. Their country was in a state of utter ruin and destruction. Amidst this post war chaos and uncertainty, the Japanese worked hard to rebuild their entire nation back from scratch. After years of hard work and dedication Japan introduced the Shinkansen or famously known as "Bullet train" in 1964. Just 19 years after the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

 The Shinkansen went on to become the inspiration to other high speed rail networks in the world. Though the Japanese pioneered the "bullet train" they had to face many difficulties. Several technological, cultural and financial hurdles had to be passed to make the bullet train a reality. India is now at the very same spot that Japan was when it introduced the bullet train. We will also face many hurdles to build a vast nation-wide network of HSR. And India is 10 times larger than Japan. But unlike japan, we have a distinct advantage. Japan had to build everything from zero. But it has been 50 years since BULLET TRAINS have been around. 

Several models have been introduced and HSR technology has seen a lot of improvement over the years. Financially also, India is well-to-do than it was, say 20 years ago. 

Nevertheless we will have to cover a lot of ground to catch up with the rest of the HSR nations (Japan, china, Germany, France, Italy, Taiwan, South Korea, Turkey, Spain and many others). 
Let us see the various aspects of HSR-the hurdles and the opportunities.

Perhaps the most important question on everyone's mind nowadays is this. What might be the cost of a full-fledged vast railway network for India. HSR requires large fixed capital investments and thus necessitate a blend of high density and government investment to be competitive against existing capital infrastructure.

For costs, we have to compare the various HSR nations.

Germany’s high-speed railway between Frankfurt and Cologne cost $ 41 million a kilometre[6].
For Spain, there are estimates ranging from $7.5 million per kilometre (for the Madrid-Seville line, opened in 1992) to nearly $24 million (for the Madrid-Valladolid line) whereas the per-kilometre cost of Italian high-speed rail surpassed $54 million [6].

In Japan, lines generally cost between $43.5 million and $56 million per kilometre to build.[6]

The U.K. has the highest high-speed rail construction costs, with the Channel Tunnel clocking in at $ 87 million a kilometre[6].

China’s high speed rail with a maximum speed of 350 km/h has a typical infrastructure unit cost of about US$ 17-21m per km, with a high ratio of bridges and tunnels, as compared with $25-39 million per km in Europe and $ 56million per km currently estimated in California [7].

The Mumbai–Ahmedabad high-speed rail corridor is an approved 500 odd Km high-speed rail corridor in India connecting the cities of Mumbai and Ahmedabad. The project is estimated to cost between Rs 35,000 to 60,000 crore($ 10 Billion) [8].

Considering the cost of the Mumbai–Ahmedabad high-speed rail corridor, it works out to around Rs 120 crores per Kilometre i.e. around $20 million per Km. Since the purchasing power of Indian rupee is higher; India has a distinct Purchase Parity Power advantage [9]. This translates to around $14 million per Kilometre of high speed Rail investment. Add to this the sourcing of labour, materials and services within the country and the price can be brought down to about $12 million per kilometre [10].
To setup a country wide HSR network connecting all the metro cities of India will come to around 12,000 kilometres.

•          Diamond Quadrilateral (Delhi - Mumbai - Chennai - Kolkata - Delhi)- Around 6,000 Kms
•          Delhi-Chennai-     2,200 Kms
•          Mumbai-Kolkata- 2,000 Kms
•          Delhi-Amritsar   - 450 Kms
•          Rajkot-Veraval   - 350 Kms
•          Chennai-Trivandrum -850 Kms             
•          Trivandrum-Mangaluru High-Speed Corridor-585 Kms    
•          Bengaluru-Mysuru High-Speed Corridor-110 Kms 

Considering a price range of about $ 12-15 million/Km; the cost comes to about $150-180 Billion. Spread out over a period of 10 years (to build the network), India must spend about $18 Billion per year. That is a little above Rs 1,00,000 crores (1 Lakh Crores) every year. Just to give us an idea whether it is feasible or not; India's expenditure in the year 2013-14 was Rs 16 Lakh Crores. 

Around 6% of the budget can be earmarked for HSR. Even then, 6% of our Budget seems quite high. But we need to remember that there will be many stake holders for a project of such important nature. There will be international companies, private companies, public sector units, individual stake-holders and so on involved in the project. Inspite of all this, the government may have to invest substantial resources into HSR, say around 3% of the budget (for 10 years only).

Think of it as spending Rs 3 daily out of a total daily expenditure of Rs 100 on transport. It is common knowledge that a person who commutes to work daily spends much more than 3% of daily average expenditure on travelling alone. Furthermore, as our economy is growing in size the money to be set aside will be lesser than 3% of our budgetary expenditure.  On a national scale for an economy like ours, HSR is affordable and well within our financial means.

To build a network of reliable HSR in India is to take a quantum leap in technology. Fresh new tracks have to be laid, signalling system has to be advanced, new set of engines, and compartments, electrical systems etc. have to be built. The HSR track, unlike normal Railway tracks, has to be fenced and isolated from the external environment. 

This is because at speeds if greater than 350 km/hr, the train tends to suck in air onto the tracks due to the high speed and if any cattle or people are near the tracks, it will pull them in with disastrous consequences. It is also for this reason that level crossing gates will be eliminated. The HSR will pass either above or under the roads, but never in level with it. Thus chances of collisions with automobiles will be almost eliminated.
In India, some people have a habit of defecating on railway tracks. Well, the bad news is, they no can't do that on HSR tracks as the tracks will be raised and present within a well fenced area. 

This is the cultural aspect of the HSR that needs to be incorporated into any planning that is done in this regard. Villages nearby the HSR tracks need to be provided with proper toilets and the people should be educated about HSR trains and tracks passing through or nearby their villages. That way, the Swach Bharat Mission is intricately linked to any future HSR that will be built in India.

Indians, especially children are also in the habit of pelting stones at moving trains with catastrophic results. Many train passengers have lost their eyes and limbs because of such mischievous elements.

A stone tossed in the direction of a 350 Km/h train, when it hits the train, creates a similar impact like a bullet being fired. It can shatter glasses and injure passengers can even damage engine and cause accidents. Indian HSR may have to use sturdier materials to protect the train's body.

The stone-pelters may have no mala-fide intent and they sometimes do it to while away their time. But irrespective of the intent, such hooliganism should not be tolerated and must be dealt strictly as per the law. Therefore, the policing on railways must be up-graded with latest technology and training. 

Similarly, littering along railway tracks by passengers or public has to end. Litter and debris on HSR tracks can cause problems in the movement and attainment of required speed. The public should be educated and law implemented regarding this matter. Some people may say that such kind of "western" cleanliness is not possible in India. I would advise them to go see the Delhi Metro. It is one of the cleanest Rail Setup in Asia.

Likewise the direct discharge toilet system followed on Indian Railways has no scope whatsoever in the future HSR. In the direct discharge toilet system, feces are discharged directly onto the tracks. Faeces on the tracks cause corrosion and degradation of track materials. Moreover it spoils the aesthetic appeal of trains and stations. We can't afford to spend lakhs of crores on building a new network only to have it degraded by feces discharged on the tracks. Moreover, at such high speeds implementing a direct discharge toilet system is not possible. Air pressure variations will have to be taken into account which makes direct discharge impractical. Bio-toilets or other system will have to be installed.

Since high speed is needed, HSR will use electricity to run. There are certain advantages to it. Electric HSR promotes energy independence and ecological sustainability. Electric trains use less energy to transport people and goods on a per unit basis and can draw power from a wide array of sources of energy including renewable sources than automobile and aeroplanes, which as we know are heavily dependent on imported fuel[#]. 

How much energy does HSR involve in terms of operations? I.e. How much energy will be spent in carrying a person from one place to another by HSR.

This estimate is important for two reasons. One, it allows us to calculate operational cost of which energy (or fuel) is the major component. 
Second, it lets us monitor the carbon footprint and hence assess the efficiency with respect to environmental impact. 

Estimates show that a 12,000 Km HSR carrying around 15 million Passengers annually will need around 4,400 Gwh (Gigawatt Hour) of energy to run. This is around 0.4% of India's annual electricity Production. A separate High Speed Rail Grid is necessary to ensure uninterrupted power supply to the network. 

A nuclear reactor consisting of 4 reactor units, each producing 1,600 Gwh annually can be earmarked to supply power to the HSR grid.
                                                                - Dr.Kartik Hegadekatti.

Dr.Kartik Hegadekatti is an Indian Civil Service officer presently serving in the Ministry of Railways in India.Views Expressed are Personal. 

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