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Half a good idea

DC
Published Jul 5, 2014, 10:25 am IST
Updated Mar 31, 2019, 9:16 pm IST
Project delays are already said to be costing the railways Rs 25,000 crore
A high speed New Delhi Agra test train leaves New Delhi station on Thursday. The train is expected to reach a speed of 160 kmph (Photo: PTI/AP)
 A high speed New Delhi Agra test train leaves New Delhi station on Thursday. The train is expected to reach a speed of 160 kmph (Photo: PTI/AP)

India’s “half-bullet” train touched 160 km per hour on an experimental run from New Delhi to Agra on Thursday. Given the Indian Railways’ safety record, this itself must be considered an achievement. While no one begrudges the ambition of people and governments to run bullet trains that exceed 300 kmph, we must stop to consider whether high-speed trains are a national priority.

First, Indian Railways must augment passenger capacity to serve its potential customers, who are all forced into alternative modes of inter-city transport, particularly in the shorter segments, because of the difficulty of finding a place on a train. So overbooked are the railways that the load gets pushed on to the roads. Second, the railways must modernise safety systems across their entire infrastructure, from tracks and signals to rolling stock, locomotives and energy systems. Project delays are already said to be costing the railways Rs 25,000 crore in cost overruns even as expenditure on safety systems remains a low priority.

 

Do we need superfast trains to transport the affluent at inflated costs or do we need to serve more people in their aspiration to travel across the country in reasonable comfort and first-rate safety? The cost of bullet-train infrastructure is so prohibitive — estimated to cost at least Rs 120 crore per km — as to make air travel twice as economical. Let us just say that India will put a man on the Moon and a rover on Mars sooner than it would run a bullet train from New Delhi to Mumbai.

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