Travelling on high-speed trains may be a reality now

India’s dream of travelling on high-speed trains may finally get fulfilled in this rail budget. While the promise of a Bullet train has remained just a promise so far, sources say Railway Minister Pawan Bansal’s rail budget speech on February 26 may hold the announcement for introduction of modern electrical multiple units (EMU), which provide safer, faster, cleaner and comfortable passenger-friendly alternative.

Even though the initial announcement for introducing Bullet trains in India was made during the tenure of RJD leader Lalu Prasad, paucity of funds and high costs involved saw proposals not progressing much further. Officials say Bansal may make announcement for increasing speed of existing Rajdhani and Shadabdi trains with the help of EMUs on existing tracks like Delhi-Chandigarh, Delhi-Amritsar, Delhi-Kolkota, Delhi-Mumbai and Mumbai-Ahmadabad.

EMU trains are not the same as Bullet trains that run on dedicated high-speed corridors at speeds 350kmph and above. EMUs are designed for operations at the maximum speed of 130kmph/150kmph, exceeding up to 200kmph but without any additional expenditure on existing tract or signalling infrastructure. Officials explain that they have no link with separate high-speed corridors being planned for Bullet train operations for which another announcement is possible in the rail budget.

Highly energy efficient and aerodynamically designed light weight, the EMUs ply on existing tracks on Rajdhani and Shatabdi routes which are fit for running trains up to a speed of 150 kmph. Even though the premium trains are expected to run at a maximum speed of 100 kmph to 120 kmph, their average speed is usually less than 90 kmph due to a large number of speed restrictions and poor acceleration and deceleration characteristics of existing trains.

The officials explain that the EMU train sets will be free from these bottlenecks and provide faster and safer movement while substantially reducing run time. Since EMU Train sets have very high acceleration and deceleration, it takes them much lesser time in negotiating speed restrictions and achieving maximum permissible speed. For example, it is possible to reduce the run time between Howrah and New Delhi by 2.5 to 3.0 hours by operating train sets at existing speed of 130 kmph without any additional expenditure on track and other infrastructure.

A train set can do extra trip/day for inter-city travel, are eco-friendly, noiseless, consume 30% less energy, and do not pollute the environment as in case of conventional loco-hauled trains with diesel power cars. Since there are cabs at both ends, turn-around time required at a station is less than 15 minutes, thus leading to improved utilisation.

Safer, faster

EMU trains are not the same as Bullet trains that run on dedicated high-speed corridors at speeds 350kmph and above.
The EMUs are designed for operations at the maximum speed of 130kmph/150kmph, exceeding up to 200kmph but without any additional expenditure on existing tract or signalling infrastructure.
Officials explain that they have no link with separate high-speed corridors being planned for Bullet train operations for which another announcement is possible in the rail budget.

Railway ministry plans to set up National High Speed Rail Authority

he Indian Railways does a commendable job transporting an estimated 20 million people to the remotest parts of the country every day. Yet, modernisation eludes it even as nations like China and South Korea have stolen a march over us.

Indian Railways may have the most extensive network in the world, but its trains still run at speeds between 60 kmph to 130 kmph. Successive populist union rail ministers have turned down every attempt to raise fares, which would have helped upgrade the network and offer more comfort to commuters.

So far, the ministry has only proposed feasibility studies for high speed trains. The ministry of railways, in consultation with state governments, proposed high speed corridors between Delhi-Chandigarh-Amritsar, Pune- Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Hyderabad-Dornakal-Vijaywada-Chennai, Chennai-Bangalore-Coimbatore-Ernakulum, Howrah-Haldia and Delhi-Agra-Lucknow-Varanasi-Patna. The ministry also planned to set up a National High Speed Rail Authority for standard setting, implementing and monitoring these projects. The estimated cost of construction cost per km would be up to Rs 100 crore.

The Railways intends to run high-speed passenger trains at about 250 kmph on these routes.

While India’s ambitions are still on paper, Japan, which was completely devastated in world war II, introduced its first Bullet Train way back in 1964. The Shinkansen— as the Bullet Train is more popularly known all over Japan— revolutionised train travel when it took to the tracks, touching speeds of 210 kms an hour.

Today, it criss-crosses across Japan at speeds of upto 300 kms an hour. This correspondent was fortunate to travel on a bullet train some years ago. We were on our way to the city of Kitakyushu, a distance of 67.2 kms from Fukuoka. At precisely 12.59 pm, the Shinkansen starts its run. The urban landscape whizzes past the window at almost the same speed as a Boeing 737 taking off a runway. The scenery changes so swiftly, it is hard to believe a train can move so fast. At exactly 1.15 pm, our Shinkansen enters the Kokura station in Kitakyushu—a distance of 67.2 kms covered in just 16 minutes. It is akin to travelling from Churchgate station to Palghar (a little beyond Virar) in such little time.

Hopefully, someday in the distant future, a passenger will be able to travel between Mumbai and Ahmedabad in less than three hours.

Railways PPPs need Rs 80,000 cr

n estimated Rs 80,000 crore of private investment will be required for implementation of various PPP (public private partnership) projects identified by the Railways. The areas to be covered under PPP will include an elevated rail corridor, high-speed corridors, redevelopment of stations, logistics parks, private freight terminals, port connectivity, dedicated freight corridor, loco and coach manufacturing units, energy conservation, etc. The projects identified include the Rs 20,000-crore Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed corridor, the Rs 20,000-crore elevated rail corridor between Churchgate and Virar in Mumbai, Rs 10,000 crore for redevelopment of stations, the Rs 10,000-crore dedicated freight corridor between Sonnagar (Bihar) and Dankuni (Bengal), Rs 6,000 crore for energy projects, Rs 5,000 crore for port connectivity projects, Rs 3,000-crore loco and coach manufacturing units, Rs 3,000-crore logistics parks and Rs 2,815-crore private freight terminals and other freight schemes. A modified outlay of Rs 5.48 lakh crore has been proposed for the 12 {+t} {+h} Five Year Plan by the Ministry to Planning Commission for meeting the requirements of expansion, modernisation and safety. For financing this outlay, gross budgetary support, successful implementation of PPP in identified areas and mobilisation of internal resources through conventional and non-conventional means would be necessary. Indian Railways, it is learnt, is open to foreign direct investment (FDI) in PPP projects within the overall FDI policy framework.

The Minister of State for Railways, while replying to a question in the Lok Sabha recently, however, conceded that the completion of the projects might be extended up to 13 {+t} {+h} Plan.


Centre-State drama stalls Ahmedabad airport’s warehouse
The opening of Ahmedabad airport’s perishables warehouse has been postponed, it is learnt. The Airport Authority of India (AAI) is believed to have stalled the commissioning of Gujarat’s first perishable air cargo warehouse at the Sardar Vallabhai Patel International Airport because the State Government-controlled agency entrusted with running the complex has allegedly breached the contract by calling in a private enterprise to manage its operations. The AAI officials say Gujarat Agro Industries Corporation Ltd’s move to employ Cargo Service Centre India Private Limited (CSC) violated the terms under which it was allotted 3,600 sq. m at the airport for seven years. It is complained that Gujarat Agro never declared Cargo Service’ name earlier even though it had signed an understanding with the latter in June 2010 for the management of its operations at the new cargo complex and other places in the State. The rule also says that the basic condition for which the land has been allotted on lease can’t be changed. In this case, the condition was that the land could be used only for handling perishable cargo. The Gujarat Agro Managing Director has been quoted as saying, “CSC will only handle the cargo. They are not a beneficiary as claimed by the AAI. We have written letters to the AAI chairman in New Delhi on numerous occasions in the past one year, but they are delaying it.” Yet another example of Centre-State confrontation.


Idle fleet rising unusually since July
There are 400 per cent more containerships in the 500 TEU-plus range laid up at the end of July than there were at the end of July last year, reports Alphaliner, a Paris-based shipping consultancy agency. At the end of July this year, there were 216 units, aggregating 467,000 TEU against the end of July 2011 tally of 75 ships totalling 115,000 TEU, says a report quoting the agency. Hardest hit are non-operating owners whose share of lay-ups is 79 per cent by TEU and 82 per cent by number of ships. Only one out of five of the lay-ups are carrier-controlled as more carriers download surplus tonnage on ship lessors. Panamax ships of less than 5,000 TEU ships suffer most. The idle fleet has been gradually rising since the beginning of July, and shows a markedly different pattern from the past two years when the idle fleet only started to increase in August and September. Carriers are cutting back capacity much earlier due to the weak cargo demand especially in the euro zone areas, with the expected peak season cargo demand failing to materialise. Unlike recent years, no major new peak season strings have been announced so far on main head hauls.


(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated September 3, 2012)

Hotel reservation with Rajdhani ticket

Talking on the sidelines of the 40th anniversary of the Howrah-Delhi Rajdhani Express, Deepak Krishnan, general manager, Eastern Railways(ER), said, “We are in talks with budget hotels like the Ginger chain from the Tata Group for a tie-up.” As the service is likely to be popular, the Railways is looking at extending this facility to other end-stations on the Rajdhani route, as well. Krishnan did not divulge further details.

Besides, now the Howrah-Rajdhani route will also have wi-fi connectivity on the Delhi-Mughalsarai route. “The facility is likely to be inaugurated by the end of this year and is being implemented by Railways’ own unit,” Krishnan informed. He also added that there was demand for the Kolkata-Delhi Rajdhani Express to run between seven in the evening from Kolkata and reach Delhi by eight in the morning. While this was possible in terms of speed, there were other issues like level-crossing among others that reduced the train’s speed and lengthened the journey. “In most places, the railway tracks are capable of handling a speed limit of up to 200 kilometre per hour(kmph),” Krishnan said.

The Rajdhani now operates at 120kmph. Indian Railways is planning to have four to five high speed corridors between cities like Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Delhi-Lucknow, Howrah-Haldia, Delhi-Patna-Howrah with trains operating at more than 250 kmph speed. This is part of the Rs 24,000 crore Integrated Railway Modernisation Plan 2005-2010.