High-Speed Rail India

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.

DOT Finance India Metro Rail

Indian Commitment to Heavy Rail Adds Perspective on U.S. Funding System

Indian national government would finance 50% of locally-approved metro rapid transit projects in cities with more than one million inhabitants. The United States, meanwhile, has no set policy on how to finance public transportation.

Jeff at the Overhead Wire pointed to the Indian parliament’s recently approved bill that will provide a 50% commitment from the national government for any metro rail projects that have received a 50% financial guarantee from their respective cities. The U.S. government, on the other hand, has been unable to establish similar uniform standards that define how new transit projects are financed. India could provide a useful example to demonstrate how funding relationships between multiple levels of government can be standardized.

Apart from China, India’s cities collectively have the largest heavy rail transit expansion program in the world. Of the 42 cities in the country with more than one million inhabitants, thirteen are advancing the transportation mode. The Delhi Metro opened in 2002 and has been wildly successful, serving one million riders a day; the system will expand to 200 km of track by 2011. Bangalore, Chennai, and Mumbai have lines currently under construction, while Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Gurgaon, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Kanpur, Kochi, Kolkata, and Pune are all actively planning the construction of major new lines.

The Delhi Metro was constructed with a 50/50 national-state financing arrangement, with half of funds coming from local authorities. The bill passed by the Indian parliament extends the same promise to any city with more than one million people that is able to assemble a financial package that covers half of the project’s cost. The parliament doesn’t appear to have placed any limits on this obligation, and it could theoretically finance systems in all 42 of the qualified cities. There is no cost-effectiveness requirement for new lines, which means that if cities are able to come up with their half of the funds, any project, no matter how complicated or expensive, will get national government money.

There is no such guarantee in the United States. That said, American cities are working hard to build up their transit systems, which means that there is a need for the federal government to be more clear about how much money it will be willing to contribute to new systems. Today, there is no such clarity:

Recent U.S. Federal Commitment to Heavy Rail Metro New Starts
Project Cost Federal Commitment Ridership/Mile* Cost-Mile/Rider // Cost/Rider *
New York City Second Avenue Subway Phase I
$4,867 m 27% 87,000 $56 k // $24 k
Washington Largo Metrorail Extension
$607 m 60% 6,500 $93 k // $30 k
Washington Dulles Corridor Metrorail $3,142 m 29% 7,300 $430 k // $37 k
Chicago Ravenswood Line Renovation $530 m 46% 7,500 $71 k // $8 k
San Juan Tren Urbano
$1,250 m 25% 10,600 $118 k // $11 k
San Francisco BART Airport Extension
$1,510 m 50% 8,500 $178 k // $20 k
Los Angeles Red Line North Hollywood Branch
$1,311 m 52%
Chicago Douglas Line Renovation
$483 m 66% 4,100 $118 k // $18 k
Atlanta MARTA North Springs Extension
$463 m 66% 14,300 $32 k // $14 k

* These are not “real;” rather, they’re pre-opening predictions calculated by the respective transit agencies and approved by the FTA. If the FTA were basing its financial commitment on ridership or cost effectiveness this number would presumably be relevant.

In the last ten years, the FTA has doled out billions of dollars for new rail lines, with the largest commitments generally going to heavy rail construction or expansion. Like with other New Start projects, from bus rapid transit to light rail lines, however, the U.S. has arbitrarily contributed between 25 and 66% of the cost of projects. Once a project has been approved for national financing by making it through the New Starts process, Washington will pay something, but each project’s sponsor much negotiate its own deal.

The results are inexplicable. There is no clear correlation between federal government responsibility and total cost or ridership per mile, or even cost effectiveness. What appears to be happening is that representatives from states and cities go to Washington and hope to get the best deal, and then the FTA makes a financing decision that has nothing to do with relative merit. In terms of per person benefits, the construction of New York’s Second Avenue Subway may be more important than that of any other transit line in the country. Yet the corridor only has a 27% commitment from the FTA; on the other hand, the short extension of Atlanta’s MARTA finished earlier in this decade got a 2/3 sponsorship. Why? Similarly, based on the numbers above, the San Juan Tren Urbano and the Chicago Douglas Line Renovation would cost the same to build per rider-mile, yet the feds allocated 25% of the price to the first and 66% to the second.

The problem with this system is that it makes it very difficult for cities to accurately predict how much money they’ll have to raise from local sources, and long-term plans are as a result often inaccurate. A system such as India’s, simplistic as it might be, at least would make clear that if Houston wanted to build a $2 billion rail line, it would simply need to raise $1 billion — and then the federal government would fill in the rest.

That, after all, is roughly how the Interstate System was built. Congress authorized about 50,000 miles to be built, and when a state got around to building a section, the Federal Highway Administration would simply distribute 90% of the necessary funds — no matter how complicated or “wasteful” the project’s specifics turned out to be.

India’s example isn’t necessarily ideal: we should expect a measure of cost efficiency on the part of new transit construction, though it is worth pointing out the FTA’s existing guidelines don’t always produce the most effective projects. And the U.S. tax system, which concentrates most discretionary spending at the national level, suggests that a 50% commitment is too small.

But this act of the Indian parliament does suggest that the Congress has an obligation to reform the manner in which transportation dollars are distributed. States and cities should be able to rely on funding in association with the quality of their respective projects. A system in which better, more effective projects get a larger national cost contribution seems ideal. The existing financing conditions should not be a model for the future.

Bangalore Chennai India Kolkata Mumbai

Indian Cities Recognize that Solving the Climate Crisis Doesn’t Involve Promoting Automobiles

Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, and Mumbai see large new metro networks as true climate solution

Last week in the New York Times, columnist Thomas Friedman wrote about a couple of Americans he met in India who were driving a solar and electricity-powered car around India. They spend their days excitedly showing people there the technology’s potential, hoping to convince lawmakers and entrepreneurs to invest in more sustainable transport. One of those individuals said the following:

“India is full of climate innovators, so spread out across this huge country that many people don’t get to see that these solutions are working right now. We wanted to find a way to bring people together around existing solutions to inspire more action and more innovation. There’s no time left to just talk about the problem.”

Mr. Friedman lauds the pair for their work, but I’m not sure that what they’re doing makes all that much sense. After all, India is developing rapidly, but the vast majority of its inhabitants currently don’t drive cars. Should we be encouraging the use of cars – environmentally sensible or not – in the Subcontinent?

The answer is probably no. India is simply too dense, its urban cores already too crowded, to make cars a sensible mode of transportation. Even if future cars produce little or no emissions directly, their presence still leads to the sprawled-out, auto-dependent and energy-inefficient environment all too common in the United States. The crusade for better mass transit will remain an environmental one, even as automobiles are electrified. Transit encourages dense, walkable, and energy-efficient land use; cars simply don’t.

Mr. Friedman, however, pushes the Americans’ work, convinced of the importance of improving the efficiency of cars:

“After a year of watching adults engage in devastating recklessness in the financial markets and depressing fecklessness in the global climate talks, it’s refreshing to know that the world keeps minting idealistic young people who are not waiting for governments to act, but are starting their own projects and driving innovation.”

What Mr. Friedman doesn’t know – or at least what he refuses to recognize – is that cities and governments all over India are working to develop solutions to the climate crisis – but not through developing new cars. Instead of encouraging the dialogue on developing improvements to automobiles, as does Mr. Friedman, we should be focusing on developing new modes of mobility, based on mass transit. Indeed, Indian cities are building rapid transit networks that are not only energy efficient, but that also encourage the kind of dense land use that’s ultimately best for the environment.Kolkata Metro

In far eastern Indian, Kolkata is laying the foundations of a 15 km east-west line that will be completed by late 2014. The line will run from the Howrah station on the city’s west side, travel under the Hooghly River (the first train tunnel in India), through the central city, and east to Salt Lake. About two-thirds of the system, pictured on the right, will be underground, with the other third running on overhead tracks. The trains are expected to carry about 600,000 passengers daily by 2030. The metro being funded by the national government and the state of West Bengal.

Kolkata has had a north-south metro running since 1984, and it also has an at-grade circular railway. But the new system’s construction was inspired by the incredible success of the New Delhi metro, which opened in 2002. That system, which carries 800,000 people a day on a 46-mile long network, is up to international quality standards and its clean, well-run operations are a remarkable improvement over the packed and sometimes unsafe railways frequently found in India.

On the country’s west east coast, Chennai is developing a 45-km system also inspired by New Delhi. Its two corridors would travel from the center city to the airport, about half underground and half on elevated tracks, with 36 total stations. The project, whose first construction tender was released last week, will be completed by 2015.Bangalore Metro

Bangalore, west east of Chennai, is closer to the completion of its new 2-line system, which will run 33 km mostly elevated with the exception of the portion of the line downtown (map to the right). The project, called the Namma Metro, will be ready for customers in the middle of next year, and carry 1.6 million people daily by 2021.

Finally, Mumbai is developing its first true metro line, which will supplement the city’s suburban rail network. The entirely elevated project’s first phase will extend 63 km but the complete system, to be finished by 2021, will extend to 147 km in distance.

These projects, as well as the expansion of the Delhi Metro and the eventual construction of similar projects in Hyderabad, Pune, and Chandigarh portend well for the future of India. Seemingly unbeknownst to Mr. Friedman, Indian cities are developing transportation alternatives that avoid exasperating climate change while also contributing the to well-being of the population. Solar-powered cars aren’t the solution.

Image above: Kolkata East-West Corridor Plan, from Kolkata Metro Rail Corporation; Bangalore Metro Plan, from Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation

Congress Finance High-Speed Rail India United Kingdom

Transpo Committee Members Oppose Limited Transit Funds in Stimulus; U.K. High-Speed 2; Hyderabad Metro Stalls

House Transportation Committee Members Express Opposition to Transit Funding in Draft Stimulus Bill

We discussed the text of the stimulus bill yesterday, decrying its rather limited investment in transit, and the fact that it would allocate far less to transit and high-speed rail projects than would have Congressman Jim Oberstar’s Rebuild America proposal, even while maintaining the level of support planned for highways. Now the Wall Street Journal reports that some congressmen, especially those on the Transportation Committee, are calling foul:

Some members of the House transportation committee objected to the proposed level of investment during a Democratic caucus session Thursday, and several members later spoke out during a committee meeting. Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D., Ore.) suggested the committee draft a letter or resolution to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi objecting to the transport section of the stimulus bill.

Rep. Oberstar suggested the committee “mobilize those practitioners of infrastructure” at a hearing next week to demonstrate the need to increase spending levels on shovel-ready projects. “Then I think we make the move on the House leadership and the incoming Obama administration,” he said.

The good news here is that the Democratic members of the Transportation Committee are in open disagreement with their House colleagues on the Appropriations Committee. There is, then, a coalition in Congress that will push for improved funding for non-automobile transportation in the stimulus bill. It is our hope, then, that transit funding is pushed up from $9 billion to the $12 billion Oberstar proposed and rail funding pushed up from $1 billion to $5 billion. These would be worthy improvements.

High-Speed Two Advances in the United Kingdom

Even as Transport Minister Geoff Hoon approved plans for the controversial third runway at Heathrow Airport, he also announced that the government would begin the study of the U.K.’s second high-speed rail line. The first, High-Speed One, opened in 2007 between the Channel Tunnel and St. Pancras in London, and is the route taken by Southeastern Main Line trains and Eurostar trains to Paris and Brussels. The country will create an independent corporation – High-Speed Two – that will study how to connect St. Pancras with a new rail hub at Heathrow Airport and a new North-South high-speed rail line, which will eventually extend to Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland, after passing through Birmingham in the West Midlands.

High-Speed Two will have an interchange at Heathrow with Crossrail, a new underground east-west regional rail system being built for London. It will parallel the route of the existing West Coast Main Line, which has reached capacity.

The Financial Times also reports that the U.K. is considering restarting its rail electrification program, a pragmatic move to increase speeds and energy efficiency. The next lines to be electrified (the East and West Coast Main Lines are already using catenaries) would be the Great Western Main Line from London to Wales and the Midland Main Line from London to Nottingham and Sheffield.

Hyderabad Metro Plans Fall to the Wayside

Hyderabad, a 7 million-person city in central India, has been planning a metro system for the past few years modeled on Delhi’s very successful Metro, which opened in 2002 and is rapidly expanding. The first phase of the system would have three lines: a north-south connector, an east-west line, and a northwest-southeast line, for a total of around 70 km of new construction. Trains would run on elevated viaducts around the city.

But the right wing-controlled Andhra Pradesh regional government have pushed out Maytas, which is an Indian infrastructure company. The project’s finances have recently become a bit confused, and the government is interested to rebidding to another contractor, but it’s unclear when or whether that will actually happen. Left and center parties in the region claim that farming out the contract to a private company, rather than the Delhi Metro corporation, for instance, has led to major financial problems and the use of public land and funds for private betterment. As of now, though, the project appears stalled.