Indian Railways Plans $9 billion in Investments for 2010, Advances High-Speed Rail

» Six new passenger lines being considered for service at speeds above 250 km/h.

Revealing her plans for India’s railroads in a speech this week on this year’s budget, Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee committed to the development of high-speed rail corridors throughout the country, even as she reaffirmed her promise to ensure continued investment in India’s conventional train network, which she framed as a social necessity. Her budget includes $9 billion in spending on the maintenance and upgrading of existing rail corridors, up 2.8% from last year’s budget.

With 18 million daily passengers, a staff of 1.4 million employees, and 17,000 trains operating on 64,000 kilometers of track, India maintains one of the world’s largest rail systems, arguably only matched by China’s. Yet it has thus far been unwilling to commit to a major speed-up of any of its corridors, so even the most-used intercity routes operate on decrepit tracks.

Indian Railways runs many of the local commuter rail systems in the nation’s largest cities, including Mumbai, which will get 101 new daily services according to the budget plan.

Most of the nation’s rail network was built by the British colonial government during the period of economic subjugation that concluded with India’s independence in 1947.

Plans for high-speed corridors have been discussed for years, but Minister Banerjee’s budget is the first to include a plan to establish a National High-Speed Rail Authority, which would coordinate planning and eventually construction on selected lines.

Indian Railways’ Vision 2020 proposal, released late last year, selected six priority routes (“Golden Rail Corridors”) designated for trains to operate at speeds above 250 km/h, or 155 mph. These six lines would connect the nation’s largest cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, and Calcutta. High-speed trains in India would operate in corridors reserved for passenger trains, unlike the mixed routes shared with freight trains that slow down the system today. Most of the running ways would likely be constructed elevated over the surrounding cities and countryside.

But India’s focus remains clearly on the operation of the system that already exists. Ms. Banerjee suggested that her Ministry’s “Objective is inclusive growth for all, and our goal is to unite the country with connectivity.” To the Minister, the rail system is more about “social responsibility” than “economic responsibility.”

It’s a nice mantra for a country so reliant on its trains, and indeed, her budget is designed to begin the effort to spread railroad service to isolated areas of the country with 25,000 kilometers of new track by 2020. Over the next year, the Ministry will add 3,200 passenger coaches to the system and introduce 28 new passenger services. Ms. Banerjee has made this commitment without raising fares, a reflection of her efforts to reduce social inequalities through improved transportation. She is the founder of the Trinamool Congress Party, a democratic socialist member of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, which won reelection in 2009.

Yet one wonders how serious the Minister can be in advancing major social goals through the railway network when she is openly pushing for public-private partnerships that will diminish the degree to which the system can work to reduce economic inequalities.

Similarly, China’s foray into high-speed trains has been spectacular but the fares its customers pay are simply too high to make the service beneficial to a large percentage of the population. The poor continue to be relegated to the slow train.

Will India advance an alternative approach for high-speed rail, perhaps modeled on that of France, where fares on fast trains are low enough that equivalent standard-speed service is simply eliminated? That’s a much more equitable strategy in line with Ms. Banerjee’s ideals.

If built, the high-speed system would interface nicely with public transportation in many of the cities where trains will stop. The Indian national government has provided a 50% funding share to any state that agrees to finance a metro system in a city of more than one million people. This commitment to local transit, based on the success of the Delhi Metro, has made possible the construction of new lines in Mumbai, Bangalore, and Chennai, all of which would receive high-speed service according to plans. Planning for new metrorail lines in several other affected cities is underway.

22 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Petrograd

    Russian Railways has 1.2 million employees, 85,000 km of track and 35.6 million average daily passengers according to Wikipedia.

    • Andy K

      Ah, yes, Indian bureaucracy at it’s best. The numbers for Indian struck me as out of whack on face value (18 mil passengers, 1.4 million employees). Thanks for the context.

  • HSR could be a huge hit in India. It is on track to be the world’s most populous nation and trains represent one of the highest if not the highest percentage of intercity travel of any country. That said I have been to India and their trains are pretty run down. They also run pretty far behind schedule at times due to the monsoon season and the flooding it causes. I think elevating the high speed rail is a good idea for this reason in most places. It may take as long if not longer to build out HSR in India than in the US. This is due to the high level of democracy and high level of autonomy of the states. Then again they have been building metro systems pretty fast. So why do the proposed corridors not connect? I mean certainly a link between Mumbai and Delhi would be among the most profitable. Also what is that little line out of Calcutta? It looks like high speed commuter rail or something. Either way riding on trains in India is usually more pleasurable than the insanity of the roads except when the train is so full you have to sit on the roof.

  • 18 million passengers isn’t a large number when you consider the fact that about half of this traffic is just suburban rail services in Mumbai, which has no other rapid transit. To put things in perspective, Greater Tokyo, with about 3% of India’s population, has 36 million railway passengers per day.

    I’m surprised India isn’t planning HSR between Mumbai and Delhi. Currently the fastest conventional trains run on the Mumbai-Delhi line, averaging about 90 km/h, and those cities are by far the two largest in the country. So on the surface this would seem like the ideal first corridor.

  • Joseph E

    Mumbai to Delhi is over 700 miles, a little far for HSR if a plane ticket is an alternative.

    The other proposed lines have several large intermediate cities on the way, with no gaps bigger than 200 miles between cities.

    Certainly, connecting Delhi to the Mumbai line would be a good second step, if oil and jet fuel become scarce.

  • Joseph E

    India’s employee to rider ratio is reasonable, when you consider how cheap labor is in that county, and the huge number of people in need of employment. Many jobs can be done cheaper by hand, which might be done by machine here.

  • Ethan

    What sets India from China apart is that the former is a democracy, and a deeply religious one.

    It’s not unheard for roads to be bent in order to respect an ancient Hindu holy tree or even stone. So compared to China, you can expect India to be much slower at major infrastructure projects.

  • Jeff

    2020 seems to be a hot number in India. India will be doing this by 2020, doing that by 2020. I’d be really surprised if any of this vision gets realized. This is India after all, a land in which many grandiose plans are cooked up, but little is ever realized. It makes our inaction look downright efficient. When China announces a plan to get something built by a deadline, I believe it, and I also believe that it’s going to be done ahead of time. When India announces a plan, I expect the plan to be quietly dropped in 20 years time, with nothing whatsoever done.

    • CynicalOrWhat

      2020 is the year India will become a SUPERPOWER. Not only will HSR criss-cross India. India will send a man to the moon. It will hold the most spectecular Olympic Games in Delhi. It will trump both China and the US to be the largest Economy in the world. It will have the largest popultion in the world and enjoy the DD (demogrphic dividend). It will change her name to CCland (CC = Cloud Cuckoo)

  • ApSi

    It is overwhelming to see that so many people are concerned how we Indians are living. However, the comments are only touching upon a few externals. Wish it was that easy as the suggestions here!

  • Investing in infrastructure such as new rail networks and high speed trains is also a strategic moves in terms of technology development. Countries such as India ensure that while this advanced locomotive technology is not locally available, they eventually gain the knowledge to build and operate them. This is what China is doing, and in the process posing serious challenges to established rolling stock manufacturers.

    • Tom West

      China steals intellectual property from other nations, and then sells the resulting products to countries too poor to care.

  • Kris

    Incorrect Tom.

    China bought rolling stocks from all the manufacturers and the license to manufacture the bullet trains for domestic market. The internal guts of the export trains have modified and improved without license infringe. More important, they don’t need Kawasaki as part supplier.

    Kawasaki only sold the old 200kph trainset to China and China improved it to 350kph in 3 years.

    In fact, other companies, Simens and Alstom are collaboration with China to bid on the HSR contracts. While China provide the rolling stocks, and perhaps track construction and other companies do signaling technology etc.

  • Satadru

    It is not the actual india;s map. where are kashmir and Arunachal pradesh?

  • Satadru

    Just remove this map attached to it and attach proper map.

  • I really hope this project does go ahead in 2020 as it would be great for India

  • indi

    look at the map… lol (somebody saw the future i guess)

  • deepak

    u missed the link between Kashmir to kanyakumari in the MAP…. it will come and forced will forced to change the Map u’r self… Jaihind

  • John

    You have got the Indian map wrong. Kashir is an integral part of India. Please correct your map to Kashmir

  • Jaimon

    Appreciate the column for proposed high speed rail corridor in India.

    But be careful to draw the map of India by someone who is not “belongs” to India. See the Indian Map above without the precious part (Head part) Kashmir.India was parted for many reasons by outsiders. But don;t do again.

    Don’t think that Democracy is a weakness of India.

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