Changing tracks to a faster railway

India should be looking at high-speed trains as a mass transport solution and focussing on urban rail networks

China opens about 15 Metro rail lines a year and is building expertise in operating high-speed trains, while India is only slowly warming up to mass transport solutions.

This is the contrast that France is highlighting, as its companies compete to supply a range of transport technologies and services to India. The public sector French train operator, SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français), is emphatic that the possibility of using high-speed trains as mass carriers should not be neglected.

The competition for high-speed rail also involves Korea, China, and Spain which have operational technologies. Brazil is also looking to implement high-speed rail, but has specified that only accident-free systems can submit tenders, reducing China’s prospects.

The focal point of the Indian effort is the Mumbai-Ahmedabad section, for which SNCF is conducting a feasibility study, and for which the French government has contributed €600,000 out of the estimated total cost of €1 million; there is no charge to the Indian Railways.

The study, begun in January, is expected to go on for a year and define high-speed for India (which in France is 320 km per hour for TGV trains); what kind of fares people can be charged; benchmarking of finance practices including public private partnerships; and the roadmap for manpower training.

On what separates the French high-speed train technology from the Japanese, who pioneered the system, Philippe Dumont, in-charge of issues related to transport in the Directorate of European and International Affairs, Government of France, told visiting journalists that TGV trains could be operated at a normal speed (160 kmph), and on special sections, shifted to peak speeds. This made it possible to integrate them easily with the existing railways. Costs are high for such systems, at €20 million per kilometre in normal terrain, going up to €50 million to cover tunnels, viaducts and so on. But Indian labour costs would make construction cheaper.

Operationally, high-speed trains can optimally connect cities 500 to 1,000 km apart, and in one of the best-known sectors, Paris-Lyon, the peak capacity is 12,000 passengers per hour at 1,000 people per train, providing service once in four minutes. TGV fares are not subsidised.

Six per cent of the world’s transport is on high-speed trains, and France operates 600 trains against about 100 in Japan, meeting the 300 km-plus per hour standard and remaining accident-free over a 30-year period. The Japanese rails are installed on concrete slabs, requiring higher maintenance, while the French use ballasts. Ride quality is better on the Japanese trains, however.

Mr. Dumont candidly pointed out that domestic growth prospects for rail were limited, and there was considerable interest in countries like India.

Urban rail

Alstom, the French engineering group, is firmly in place with its Rs.1,500-crore order to supply 168 coaches by 2015 and six additional cars for the Chennai Metro. It has built a Metro rolling stock factory at Sri City, Andhra Pradesh, to cater to Indian demand and will participate actively in future projects. The company competes with Bombardier, Siemens, and General Electric, among others, in Indian railway expansion projects.

On modernisation of the Indian railway system to improve service, passenger comfort and capacity, Jojo Alexander, vice-president for Strategy, Alstom, said there had to be a radical change in approach on the part of agencies such as the Research Designs and Standards Organisation of the Indian Railways. The opening of the electric locomotive tender (to international competition for supply of 1,000 locomotives) represented the first big change.

Bangalore’s model of levying a cess on petrol and diesel to raise funds for its Namma Metro Phase I was encouraging. Such internal funding was important to expand urban rail systems in India, said Sunand Sharma, president, Alstom International, India and South Asia.

The urban rail story in France is centred on improvements to quality and introduction of new options. One component is the renaissance of the tramway system. In the 1960s, all but three cities in the country — Lille, Marseille and Saint-Etienne — had done away with tram tracks to make way for cars. But in the 1970s, the oil shock and car dominance issues helped to change policy, and led to the introduction of a tax on companies to fund public transport. Tramways were reintroduced, and a recent survey showed modern trams capable of carrying over 3,000 passengers per hour per direction, cater to between 33 and 75 per cent of passenger journeys on public transport (bus, Metro and high-service bus representing the rest) outside the Paris region.

An even cheaper alternative, in service in France’s second city Lyon, is the trolley bus that uses overhead traction on the road and is similar to the conventional articulated bus. On a per kilometre basis, a tram costs a fifth of a Metro, while a trolleybus with dedicated corridor costs a fourth of a tram system, based on French costs.

(This writer was part of a group of Indian journalists invited by the Government of France.)

Published in: on June 3, 2013 at 4:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train may hit tracks soon

Notwithstanding the recent turmoil in the railway ministry following the cash-for- job scam, the government’s ambitious plan to run a high speed rail corridor between Mumbai and Ahmedabad is slowly inching closer to becoming a reality.

Philippe Lorand, vice president, business development, SNCF, the French National Railways which is assisting the Indian Railways to develop the techno-feasibility road map of the over 534-km corridor – one of the six proposed high speed railway lines – told HT that the exercise is in the final stages of completion.

Considered one of the oldest operators of high speed trains, SNCF has 850 bullet trains – called TGV – that run at an average speed of 320 km per hour.

“We are in the final stages of completing our study and hope to submit our report by October. The railways will take a final call on the specifications recommended by us before inviting bids. We expect that this process would start early next year,” he said.

Building the high speed corridor is expected to cost R60,000crore at present day prices. And once work starts it will take 10 years to complete it.

Why are we on slow track?

Another railway budget has been introduced and there has been a flurry of reactions on what the Minister should or should not have done and about another missed opportunity for making the Indian Railways a world-class service.

Few, however, lamented the ministry’s failure to plan, leave alone launch, high-speed trains that would make it so much easier to travel in this vast subcontinent. China has done it. Why not us? Perhaps, the very thought is daunting because in a country where the so-called “super fast trains” are but an apology, to expect anything better would amount to day-dreaming.

I must recount the sheer joy, comfort and convenience of China’s high-speed trains. My wife and I travelled from Beijing to Shanghai by a high-speed train days after it was introduced two years ago. A week later, on our return journey from a holiday in the ‘Land of Dragons and Emperors,’ we took the Ernakulam-Coimbatore Inter-City Express. Both journeys were completed under five hours. The distance between Beijing and Shanghai is 1,318 km and between Ernakulam and Coimbatore: 178 km.

The coaches of the sleek-nosed, gleaming, white Chinese train could match the cabin of a commercial airplane, constantly cleaned by women attendants on the lookout for any litter.

“Mom, the train is dirty,” said a little girl with a distinct American twang, holding her nose tight as we boarded the Indian train. Her NRI mother and grandfather shushed the little one, lest some patriotic Indians consider her criticism blasphemous.

“She is only telling the truth,” said my outspoken wife as the girl looked at the elders triumphantly. A ticket examiner said apologetically, “We can’t do anything as cleaning has been handed over to a private party.”

The truism of the statement was amply evident during the few trips we made by the Duronto Express from Coimbatore to Chennai and back. We had the constant company of cockroaches, including in food trays, and the utter unhygienic conditions of the coaches.

The two trains are symbolic of the wide gap in the developmental graphs of the world’s two fastest growing economies and the way they are going about tackling various problems.

As the high-speed train, which was introduced on June 30, 2011 on the eve of the 90th birthday of the Communist Party of China, hurtles from the clean Beijing south railway station to the snazzy Shanghai, the country’s financial hub, at over 300 kmph, China seems to be dizzyingly zooming towards its single-hearted pursuit of first-world status.

“Why is that we are unable to do what the Chinese are doing?” my wife kept repeating as we took in the capital city with its impressive six-lane highways and eye-pleasing landscaping, the Forbidden City and other tourist spots, kept spectacularly clean, despite thousands of people visiting the sites every day.

I said China had a policy that controlled the migration of rural people to urban centres.

“What’s the population of Beijing?” she asked.

About 20 million, I said.

“That’s more than Delhi’s population. Still look at the difference,” my wife said pointedly.

If Beijing was a revelation, Shanghai was a confirmation that we have decades to catch up with our neighbour.

No one was seen urinating or defecating on the roadside or along the railway track, an ubiquitous part of the Indian scenery. The reason was not difficult to find out. Not that the Chinese have stronger bladders but they have built lavatories across these cities, helping the people maintain their personal dignity. And these public conveniences are kept spotlessly clean.

The Chinese trains, however, are not without their share of glitches. Hours after we arrived in Shanghai, heavy rains and lightning brought the entire bullet train system on the sector to a halt. Local news reports said the passengers were stuck in the fully-sealed trains for over two hours and there was panic on board.

A collision between two high-speed trains a month later left over 35 people dead, underlining the need for improving safety measures. The speed of the Beijing-Shanghai train, which was initially planned to run at 350 kmph, was reduced to 300 due to these concerns.

“We have accidents almost daily even when our trains run at bullock-cart speed,” my wife underlined the irony.

You just can’t win some arguments!

(The writer is a senior journalist and Head of the Department of Amrita School of Communication, Coimbatore. E-mail:

Published in: on March 12, 2013 at 4:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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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.

Indian Railways finally moving on its dream project — high-speed trains

After policy flip-flops over decades, here is a concrete sign of India getting its first bullet train. The Indian Railways quietly formed a company called HSRC Ltd in July last to run its dream project, high-speed rail.

And if the buzz in Rail Bhawan is anything to go by, minister Pawan Kumar Bansal has more to announce on the subject when he reads his first Rail Budget next month. Even before Indian policymakers made any formal announcement on this big-ticket project, Japan’s ambassador to India Takeshi Yagi recently said in Gujarat that India’s first high-speed rail would run between Ahmedabad and Mumbai.

This means a lot for business travellers shuttling between two financial hubs in western India, as rail travel would then be reduced to two hours from the existing eight. For India Inc, there is something more to cheer about. With Rail Bhawan desperately seeking Rs 20,000-crore support from potential private investors, it could well be a public private partnership project.

But that’s where the challenges begin. Finding resources from private parties amid the current market mood is an uphill task. And in the run-up to the general elections, the government of the day can’t be seen to have snatched social sector funds to achieve financial closure of a mammoth project that could cost over Rs 50,000 crore.

ET Magazine tracks the Indian rail’s policy uncertainties, and how late-entrant China is emerging the new poster boy of global high-speed rail.

On a slow policy track

On March 10, 2006, Lalu Prasad’s deputy and MoS for Railways R Velu informed Rajya Sabha that there was “no plan” for running high-speed trains in India. He proudly announced that Indian Railways had already “introduced a passenger train running at a speed of 150 km per hour” on the Delhi-Agra section.


The government quickly changed its mind. Lalu Prasad’s budget speech in 2007-08 surprised many when he announced that the Ministry of Railways would conduct pre-feasibility studies for high-speed trains that would run at 300-350 km per hour. Railways approached 12 state governments asking them to participate in pre-feasibility studies. Nine gave “in-principle” nod. These were: Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.


Railways’ Vision 2020 document, presented to Parliament in 2009 gave a thumbs-up to high-speed dream machines but widened the speed range to 250-350 km per hour. In other words, Indian high-speed trains would be relatively slow at 250 km per hour.

Shinkansen Vs Rajdhani
How Indian Railways had a good start but preferred to remained slow over years:

1964 – Japan hogged the limelight by introducing the first bullet train in the world. The speed at 240 km per hour is not extra-ordinary by today’s standard.

1969 – India too caught up with the trend and introduced fast rail travel experience by deploying the nation’s first Rajdhani Express. The speed at 130 km per hour was commendable in those days.


The world moved on, and Indian Railways remained a slow moving transport system. Only in 2005-06, Shatabdi Express, the fastest of Indian trains experienced a maximum speed of 150 km per hour in Delhi-Agra segment. But, the speed was later reduced to about 130 km per hour because of what railways called “technical reasons”.

The first bullet train in India is likely to come up between these two stations. Though pre-feasibility studies were done on the entire 650-km long Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad section, the government may place Mumbai-Ahmedabad stretch on a priority. It will reduce travel time between the two commercial cities from current 8 hours to just 2 hours.

Cost to Nation:

Rs 2 lakh crore – The cost for 2,000 km of high-speed rail corridors.

Rs 49,076 crore – Construction cost for Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor.

Rs 6,783 crore – Cost of rolling stock for Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad (2009 price level, pre-feasibility study report)

Executing Vehicle

A company named High Speed Rail Corporation of India Ltd (HSRC) was incorporated on July 25, 2012. It is a subsidiary of Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd (RVNL) which has a mandate to raise extra budgetary resources for implementation of rail projects.

Coming Next

The Rail Bhawan is currently examining reports of pre-feasibility studies of two more high speed corridors:

a) Delhi-Agra-Lucknow-Varanasi-Patna (991 km) b) Howrah-Haldia (135 km)

Lesson: The argument that India is too poor to dream for bullet trains is now old-fashioned.

Threat: A couple of more accidents like the one in Wenzhou in July 2011 may slow down the momentum.

Published in: on January 27, 2013 at 10:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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Ballastless tracks to facilitate operation of high-speed trains

The Indian Railways will switch to ballastless tracks on seven routes, including the Chennai-Bangalore sector, identified for operating high-speed trains, said A.P. Mishra, Member, Engineering, Railway Board, on Friday.

“Ballastless tracks that allow operation of high-speed trains and have the benefits of lower maintenance requirements and increased service life are the choice by default for these high-speed rail corridors, tunnelling projects and tracks near platforms,” Mr. Mishra said.

He was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a two-day technical symposium on improving rail and rail welds and evolving appropriate design for ballastless tracks hosted by the Institution of Permanent Way Engineers (IPWE).

Feasibility studies are at various stages of completion on the high-speed routes, including Chennai-Bangalore, Delhi-Mumbai and Delhi-Chandigarh sectors.

According to Mr. Mishra, new tracks would have to be laid for the Chennai-Bangalore route where the plan is to operate trains at speeds in excess of 250 km per hour. The average speed on the Delhi-Mumbai route, where existing tracks are being used for trials of high-speed trains is about 200 kmph.

Published in: on January 19, 2013 at 7:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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High-speed trains soon to reduce long distances in India

It may sound bizarre that journey between Agra and Delhi will be completed within a time span of just 45 minutes and the same between Delhi and Patna would take not more than two and a half hours. But it is going to happen. After the launch of Delhi-Patna high speed corridor project, all this will be possible. This project has passed their first barrier.

According to a senior officer of North Central Railway, Rail Ministry has accepted a survey report in this regard and started its further action.

Distance between Delhi to Mumbai, via Mathura and Bharatpur, is 1233 km. At present, it takes nearly 20 hours as train’s speed could not exceed from 110 km/hr and average speed falls between 65 to 80 km/hr.

Tracks are being developed for the high speed trains to reduce time span for Delhi-Mumbai journey by increasing trains’ speed. It is believed that Trains’ speed would exceed up to 210 km/hr and average speed would be in between 160 to 180 km/hr. Then it would take only 7hr 15 mins to travel between Delhi and Mumbai.

For the same purpose two teams of rail experts from India and Japan have conducted survey this year.
Delhi-Patna corridor to make trains journey easier

Delhi-Agra-Lucknow-Varanasi-Patna high speed corridor is being constructed. This corridor is about 991 kilometer long and train would run at 300 km/hr speed. Survey report on corridor has been completed by the Mott MacDonald, a UK firm. For the construction of the corridor, National High Speed Corporation has been constituted.

India looks to China to put high-speed trains on track

Aiming to correct trade imbalances with China, India has identified railways as a major thrust area to engage the world’s second largest economy at the bilateral Strategic Economic Dialogue starting on Monday.

The Railways of the two countries are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) which will concentrate on three specific areas — high-speed trains, station development and heavy haulage. This will be the second round of talks after the inaugural session in Beijing this year.

For China, a deal with India’s Railways could not have been better timed. Indian Railways has already approved six high-speed rail corridors for various parts of the country. With the feasibility study for the first one, between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, already in, India has been on the lookout for global technology leaders in high-speed railways for cooperation.

Unlike others like Japan and France, China is a relatively new entrant in the world of bullet trains, starting its operations only in 2007. But within a few years, it has developed the world’s largest bullet train network. India needs the technical know-how on laying dedicated tracks and shopping for rakes.

India is also exploring Chinese technology on heavy haulage in dedicated freight corridors.

With active cooperation in railways, India wants to try out a new model of bilateral trade engagement with China with the aim to make the trade size swell to around $100 bn in the next few years.

While there is heavy Chinese presence in the power sector as well, Chinese cooperation in railways is being thought as “safer” as the sector is completely controlled by the government.

The two neighbours are expected to sign four MOUs in all — on IT, railways, energy efficiency standards and planning. The Planning Commissions of the two sides will also sign an MOU for joint studies.

Published in: on November 28, 2012 at 4:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Railway Board plans to buy high-speed trains at Rs.550 crore a piece

The Indian railways needs at least Rs.10 lakh crore to enhance its safety measures and another Rs.1.25 lakh crore to complete 129 key projects.

These financial hiccups, however, have not stalled the flight of ambition of the railway board, which has prepared a proposal to buy highspeed trains, which can travel up to 200 km per hour, at the cost of Rs.550 crore per train.

The “speed-up high quality coach trains” are proposed to run on the Delhi-Mumbai route. The ambitious plan, involving an expenditure of Rs.10,587 crore for 20 speed-up trains, has triggered a debate in the railway department with several members finding the project unfeasible given the current condition of the railways.

The feasibility study, presented in the railway board meeting on November 1, also took into account the additional cost of three to four thousand crore rupees that would be incurred in setting up the infrastructure to run the high-speed trains.

The feasibility proposal (a copy of which is with Mail Today) has evoked sharp criticism from former board members and railway brass, with some sniffing a “scam” and “favouritism” to a particular company.

“It is learnt that companies like Altstom, Bombardier and Siemens are in the race to grab the contract. Japanese giants in the field – Hitachi, Kawasaki and Mitsubishi – are also not far behind. Incidentally, the feasibility study for these trains was sponsored by Japan’s ministry of economy, trade and industry (METI),” a board member said.

Many questioned the proposal’s viability at a time when the railways is struggling to complete several pending projects. A senior board member pleading anonymity said: “There are several pending issues which need urgent attention and are affecting the daily operations of the railways. If we can run a highquality train at the cost of Rs.60-70 crore, including the locomotive cost, why are we going for the high-speed trains which are 10 times more expensive? The proposal is impractical given we don’t have proper tracks to run even 100 km/hr speed trains.”

The total cost earned from passenger fare per train will not even be enough to pay the interest of the loan required to buy these trains. “Had it been an investment it would have been a feasible approach. But that is not the case,” the board member said. “Besides the Rs.11,000 crore cost of the train, also consider the expenditure on the tracks.

The cost of one km track for such high-speed train will be equivalent to the cost of 20 km of normal coach tracks in use in the country. I don’t approve of the proposal, so do many other members in the board,” the board member added.

Former general manager in the railways, R.C. Sethi, said: “You (the railway board) are dreaming a technological leap when you don’t have the strength to even walk properly on the ground.”

Former railway board member (mechanical) R.C. Acharya questioned the “extravagance” saying: “It seems to me to be an attempt by vested interests to push the railways into a horrendously expensive initiative.”

“Rather than taking up such projects, the railways should push pending projects, enhance line capacity and consolidate its bread winner – the freight operations,” Acharya added.

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Published in: on November 17, 2012 at 11:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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Railways signs pact with Spain on high speed trains

The railways on Friday signed an agreement with Spain to promote cooperation and information exchange in the areas of bullet trains, enhancing speed of passenger trains on existing lines and improving safety of train operations.

The MoU was signed by railway minister C P Joshi and Spanish minister of public works and transport Ana Pastor Julian for technical cooperation in the rail sector that includes modernization of rolling stock among others.

Railways has announced seven high-speed corridors and has prepared a Cabinet note to set up a high-speed rail authority to run trains at 300 km/hour.