Indian Railways’ need for speed

There are multiple agencies working towards building high-speed rail corridors and the Railway Ministry is doing pre-feasibility studies.

That India needs high-speed rail systems — trains running at approximately 250-350 km per hour-speed is known. But, it would augur well for different agencies of the Government to identify one dense stretch, pool in all efforts to implement such a project fast. The lessons from this stretch could be applied to some other stretches.


At present, there are multiple agencies working towards building high-speed rail corridors. The Railway Ministry is doing pre-feasibility studies for six stretches across the country. Then there are some State Governments which are doing parallel exercises for running high-speed trains. The Kerala Government has commissioned a pre-feasibility study for high-speed rail (HSR) along the West coast of Kerala — Thiruvananthapuram-Kasargod. Similarly, the Haryana Government is evaluating running of high-speed trains on the Delhi-Sonepat-Panipat route.


The costs involved are huge. The Thiruvananthapuram-Ernakulam link is expected to cost in the range of Rs 40,000 crore. Similarly, the Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor is expected to cost more than Rs 50,000 crore. How will they be funded?

In this context, it is important to note that for the Railway Ministry proposals, even the cost of the pre-feasibility studies is being shared with the various State Governments, who are likely to benefit.

Given such costs, all implementing agencies have admitted that these projects will have to be taken in public-private partnership (PPP) mode with private participation. The exact model of PPP will have to be evaluated and decided. That process itself could take four years at the minimum — going by the time taken by the Government to decide such issues for railways’ factories and highways in India.

Should the whole project be given out to a consortium on design-build-finance-operate-transfer basis? Or should the project be unbundled — by breaking it up into station management, train operating companies — with the network being owned and managed by another agency?

“Which agency should run the trains? Who should then build and maintain the infrastructure,” asked Mr V. K. Dutt, former additional Member (Electrical), Indian Railways’, while speaking at a seminar on high-speed trains, jointly organised by the Institution of Engineers (India) – Delhi State Centre, IET (UK) – Delhi Local Network and Institution of Railway Electrical Engineers (IREE).


Then there are some technical issues. Should the new lines be made interoperable with the current system? Simply put, should the new rolling stock be such that they can move on the existing railway lines, something that France did? This is desirable because it would allow the new train sets to access much deeper areas on the existing network.

But this requires a lot of extra time and money because the existing railway lines and signalling systems have to be upgraded. It also means that the new network has to be built on a broad gauge — globally, the railway lines and rolling stock are on standard gauge.

Many experts who are outside the Indian Railways’ system per se, favour a non-interoperable standard gauge network.

The views of DMRC, which is doing the study for the Kerala Government, are well known. They are all for standard gauge — Mr E. Sreedharan has publicly stated his disappointment with the Indian Railways for not allowing the initial Delhi Metro network to be built on broad gauge. But Indian Railways has traditionally been quite rigid on this issue, insisting on interoperability.

What should be the proposed revenue box model? What share of the revenue can be taken out by monetising land? Who should be made to pay for the development — there have been examples like Manchester, where all beneficiaries — corporates and users — were made to share the cost.


Pricing of tickets is another issue. The high-speed trains — while requiring Government support — cannot be allowed to become a tool for populist measures.

“Do you want to target the aam admi (common man)? TGV — the high-speed train of French Railways — is approximately 20-30 per cent cheaper than some other European railways running high-speed trains. It enjoys an 80 per cent load factor,” says Mr Michel Testard, Indian Business Development Consultant to the SNCF (French Railways).

Mr Testard suggests: “Target a stretch — which is on an even terrain — that connects two cities separated by a distance of 300 km or so; and each city should have a population of at least 10 million.” The even terrain is important because of the cost implications — the cost of building one km of railway line could double in difficult terrain, such as mountainous region or those with water bodies.

These are just some key questions that have to be addressed before the projects start getting implemented. After all, it took almost 30-35 years for Delhi to get its metro system, after it was first proposed in 1972-75.

Bullet trains might be a reality soon

Trains running at a speed of more than 350 kmph might might become a reality in days to come. Railways have identified seven corridors for conducting pre-feasibility studies for running high speed trains or ” bullet trains”.

These corridors will be set up through Public Private Partnership (PPP) route. A study is also being done on Delhi-Mumbai route with Japanese help to raise the speed of passenger trains from 160 kmph to 200 kmph being referred to as Semi-High Speed.

At the same time, railways is working on the concept of acquiring Electrical Multiple Units (EMU) Train sets for intercity journeys for operating speed ranging from 130-160 km/hour.

Besides, railways also proposes to introduce in near future such modern EMU train sets designed for operations at maximum speed of 130 kmph/150 kmph for running premium Shatabdi/Rajdhani trains, without any additional expenditure on existing track and signalling infrastructure.

Existing Railway track on Rajdhani route is fit for running trains up to a speed of 150 kmph, but average speeds of Rajdhani/Shatabdi trains is less than 90 kmph due to large number of speed restrictions and poor acceleration and deceleration characteristics of existing loco hauled trains.

The proposed modern distributed powered EMU train sets will be free from these bottlenecks and provide faster and safer movement and will substantially reduce run time.

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.

Dedicated Freight Corridor to prosperity

The ministry of railways has embarked on an ambitious project of connecting the four metro cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai through the Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC). The existing capacity on the trunk routes between these cities is over-saturated, and needs to be freed up for transporting higher volumes of freight traffic. The first phase of the project will consist of two routes: the Eastern Corridor from Ludhiana to Dankuni and the Western Corridor from Jawaharlal Nehru Port, Mumbai to Dadri near Delhi. These will comprise mostly of double track railway lines capable of handling 32.5 ton axle load, longer trains and also double stack containers. When completed, they will provide a faster, and safer transport system that will run at reduced unit cost, enhancing not only railway’s share of the freight transport business but also releasing capacity for the large passenger market in the densely populated regions. It will also reduce the level of emission of greenhouse gases by encouraging a modal shift from road to rail.

With the surge of containerised maritime freight, and development of more efficient freight distribution systems, freight corridors are receiving a growing level of attention. The idea behind a rail corridor is rather simple: just like trucks, the trains must have the opportunity to run in one move from the originating point to the destination. Several countries are now veering round to the view that greater freight volumes can be carried by creating dedicated railway lines to goods traffic and eliminating bottlenecks and interference with passenger trains. At the same time, the cost of rail transport must be reduced in order to make it competitive with road transport. By linking major hubs to which freight flows converge, these transport corridors help in serving the markets better. They lead to better integration between production and distribution centres and also a greater reliability of distribution. By bringing about greater efficiencies in production systems and supply chains they accelerate the pace of economic development. There is also the objective of optimising railway’s role in the multi-modal transport chain and services and developing valuable synergies with shipping companies, ports, inter-modal operators, freight customers and all stakeholders in the global logistics system.

In some regions, which have a grouping of many smaller countries, speedier freight transport can lead to closer economic integration. In the European Union, for instance, construction of dedicated freight corridors is high on the agenda. The Community of European Railways (CER) has promoted special studies on six major European corridors dedicated to freight on which the project European Railway Infrastructure Master Plan (ERTMS) is proposed to be implemented. In signing the Rotterdam Declaration (2010) ten European transport ministers have reinforced and confirmed their intent to cooperate in the development of European rail freight corridors and allow them to grow together into networks.

In US, because of a huge surge in demand for freight haulage in the country, which is predicted to increase by 92 per cent between 2002 and 2035, billions of dollars are being invested to build new corridors for handling cargo that is increasing as a result of a rising population and the accumulating supply of commodities. It is also felt that there will be huge fuel savings by switching freight from highways to rail. US economists estimate that a 10 per cent shift from road to rail can cause national fuel savings of more than a billion gallons a year, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 12 million tons.

China too is moving in a big way in expanding capacity for rail freight by creating 12,000 kms of high-speed dedicated passenger lines between major provincial centres. The existing tracks will then be used to accommodate growing demand for freight that will more than double the rail transport capacity in such corridors. It is the other way about in India where a freight-only corridor has been preferred over the dedicated passenger corridor, as it is estimated that the investment required for the latter will be much greater, and with relatively lower returns. Additionally, heavy investments will be required for augmenting capacity on existing networks to handle the growing freight business.

The World Bank and Japanese financial agencies have extended loans to the Indian Railways to finance identified segments of the project. However, there is no clarity as yet on the source and availability of the balance funds. Delays in execution of the project also have to be factored in as these can escalate the costs further. The cost for the two corridors has escalated to nearly `77, 000 crore from the originally estimated `28, 000 crore. With the marked slowdown in the economy the forecasts of traffic growth and revenue may also require to be reworked to more realistic figures.

As the cost and time overruns of the project were rising beyond acceptable levels, the Prime Minister’s Office stepped in and conducted a detailed review of the project last February. Thereafter, it took the decision to monitor its progress directly, clearly conveying its annoyance to the railways for the latter’s lackadaisical approach in handling this project. While this should stir the railways to action, it is equally important that the public is at all times kept informed of what is being done to expedite completion of the work. This will serve as an image building exercise for the railways, because all said and done, DFC happens to be one of the biggest infrastructure projects that is being undertaken in the country.

Freight corridors with the potential of carrying high volumes for longer distances, that can help reduce costs sufficiently to compete with road, form a very small minority of route kilometres on most national railway networks, and in some countries do not exist at all. If, therefore, the DFC is able to achieve its performance targets, it will on the one side accelerate India’s GDP growth, and on the other, establish benchmarks that other countries, still in the process of planning similar corridors, can aim at. The government must, therefore, ensure that the project continues to move in top gear.

S N Mathur is former MD, Indian Railways Finance Corporation.


Info on International Union of Railways Conference (UIC)

A two day UIC (International Union of Railways) Conference on Security Challenges and High Speed Development was inaugurated on Wednesday, 20/10/2010 by Shri Vivek Sahai, Chairman, Railway Board, Ministry of Railways in Mumbai. About 150 delegates from all over the world including countries like Japan, France, Germany, Spain, United States and China, etc., are participating in this conference.

In his keynote address, Shri Vivek Sahai said that the High Speed should be tailor made for India. He emphasized that High Speed trains should cater to the needs of the Indian cities. He said that it can be very useful for our country if it is customized to Indian environment. Mr. Sahai further suggested out that the metro transport can be classified into three groups, i.e. upto 500kms, 500-1500kms and above 1500kms. Emphasizing on the large volume of passengers served by the Indian Railways, Mr. Sahai urged the experts and representatives that High Speed developments should take care of lower Income group passengers. Envisaging the future growth, Shri Sahai said that urbanization of India will be over 40% by 2020 resulting in expansion of large number of cities. Therefore, there will be greater need of High Speed Metro transport. He said that such projects should be funded jointly by the private partners, State and Central Governments.

Talking about security challenges, Shri Sahai said that security arrangements should be non-intrusive, especially at stations where the volume of passengers is very large. He also mentioned the Raman effect, invented by famous Indian Noble Laureate, Dr. C. V. Raman for using molecular signature for explosives/ contraband.

Earlier, welcoming the guests, Shri R. N. Verma, General Manager, Western Railway emphasized the need of connecting satellite cities so that the land rent and population pressure in Metros like Mumbai can be distributed evenly. He also emphasized the need to have High Speed and secure travel for the historic and vibrant city of Mumbai. He said that High Speed trains will be preferable/ viable compared to the other modes of transport like Highways or air travel if we incorporate social, economic and environmental benefits. He stated that High Speed Models should be economical for the benefit of all categories of passengers. Shri Verma emphasized on having fullproof and guaranteed security solutions as Metros like Mumbai are vulnerable to terror attacks.

Mr. Jean Pierre Loubinox, Director General of UIC also addressed the inaugural session while Mr. Jacques Colliard, Head of Security Division of UIC and Mr. Inaki Barron, Director of Passengers and High Speed Departments of UIC brought out the seminar outline.

The opening Session was followed by four sessions in which eminent experts from USA, India, China, France, Spain, Korea, etc., made presentations. Among them Shri S. K. Jain, Chief Administration Officer (Construction), Western Railway made presentation on Upgradation of Speeds in Indian Railways. Shri K. K. Atal, Chief Mechanical Engineer, Western Railway made presentation on Rolling stock issues for High Speed Railways. Shri Anoop Shrivastava, Inspector General, Railway Police Force and Shri B. Mohan, Chief Security Commissioner, Indian Railways also made presentation on Security Principles and various related issues.

High-speed trains between Delhi and Meerut soon

To accommodate the rush of passengers commuting between Delhi and Meerut, an ultra-modern high-speed train service connecting the two cities is going to start soon, official sources said here on Tuesday.

The high-speed trains will run at 100 km per hour between Anand Vihar railway station in Delhi and Begum Pul via Pallavpuram in Meerut, they said.

“The proposed route will enable the commuters to cover the distance between Delhi and Meerut in one hour,” said N. K. Chaudhary, Vice-Chairman, Ghaziabad Development Authority.

Teams from the Delhi Integrated Multi Modal Transit System Ltd (DIMTS), Ghaziabad Development Authority (GDA) and National Capital Region (NCR) gave the green signal for the underground route from Anand Vihar to Meerut at a meeting here on Monday, after the proposed route was surveyed.

Under the project, new railway stations will be built at Begum Pul and Pallavpuram.

Apart from an underground corridor, there will also be elevated tracks at some stretches.

For the huge workforce commuting between Delhi and Meerut, the new train service will come as a relief, connecting areas like Vaishali, Dabar Chowk, Mohan Nagar and Modinagar.


IIT-KGP to put railways on fast track

KOLKATA: Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur will carry out extensive research on developing cutting edge technologies, including high-speed trains and better security mechanisms, for Indian Railways.

At least 12 areas have been identified by the institute and the railway ministry in which research will be initiated. A Centre for Railway Research (CRR) has been set up by the ministry at the institute, which comprises faculty of at least 10 departments to initiate research in the chosen areas. The railway ministry will pump in an initial amount of Rs 120 crore to get the centre working.

According to the MoU that was recently signed between the ministry and IIT-Kgp, the research would focus on areas such as heavy haul technology, vehicle dynamics, high-speed technologies, energy-efficient traction power supply systems, track research, use of artificial intelligence for predictive maintenance and management, material sciences for railway-related composites, including rubber, polymer and insulation materials, development of integrated/embedded processors for railway applications, applications for access control, security and safety, including biometrics, non-conventional drives and technology, including Maglev, LIM and remote sensing, and measurement of overhead equipment, tracks and signals.

The maximum on-track speed in India has been 130 kmph. Now, the ministry wants Indian trains to enter the high-speed’ zone by achieving the global standard of 260 kmph. “We are indeed looking at high-speed trains. This doesn’t mean designing only the train and the engine, but also tracks that will support the such trains. So, while a lot of stress would be laid on vehicle dynamics (designing trains that are stable and do not vibrate despite the high speed), a significant portion of the research would focus on developing fracture-proof tracks and sensing equipment that would diagnose failures on time. Withstanding the load of high-speed trains is not easy and would mean extensive relaying of tracks,” said Siddhartha Mukherjee, a faculty member of the electrical engineering department who is also a spokesperson for CRR. Magnetic levitation and linear electric motion will also constitute an important part of the research.

Blasts triggered by insurgents by planting explosives on tracks or inside compartments is another cause for concern. The institute has been asked to develop remote-sensing equipment that would preempt such occurrences. “We have been asked to include biometrics while developing the security aspects, making impersonation impossible. Again, remote sensing of track and signal conditions would help provide information on impending dangers and preventing accidents,” explained Mukherjee.

CRR will offer PhD programmes in research areas related to the railways. It will also involve IIT BTech and MTech students in research projects and offer course electives related to railway technology. Railway officers will be sent on deputation to CRR to participate in R&D projects and training programmes.