Can we build a bullet train at bullet’s pace?

Only Chinese make bullet trains at bullet speeds: The high-speed railway line from Beijing to Guangzhou was completed in seven years

Mumbai

It will take the bullet train just two hours to reach Ahmedabad from Mumbai, but ten years to get off the drawing board. The Rs 60,000-cr project is expected to take at least another decade to become a reality with the feasibility study itself taking another year.

But then this is not the first time that a railways minister has spoken about the bullet train. The idea is perhaps older than the Shatabdi trains, which were like a quantum leap in the late 80s when the then union railways minister Madhavrao Scindia first introduced this fast pair of inter-city trains between New Delhi and Bhopal.

The bullet train — referred to as such because of its bullet like shape — has moved several steps beyond the dream stage. A Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train came into the zone of consideration after the initial feasibility studies rejected the idea of a Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad project due to the difficult geographical conditions in parts of the Pune-Mumbai section.

The Japanese, who are the pioneers in this business, have evinced a keen interest in this project, and are also sharing the expenses with India of a feasibility study that would be completed in June 2015. They have perfected the art of commercial viability of the railways operations, and their bullet trains move millions of passengers every day, with a punctuality of 36-18 seconds.

But it is the Chinese who make bullet trains at bullet speeds. The high-speed railway line from Beijing to Guangzhou, the world’s longest at 2,298 km, was completed in seven years and made operational in December 2012.

Gowda has proposed several bullet trains -– the others being on the Delhi-Agra, Delhi-Chandigarh, Mysore-Bangalore-Chennai, Mumbai-Goa and Hyderabad-Secunderabad routes.

The catch is that Gowda has made a humble initial budgetary provision of just Rs 100 crores for the infrastructure revamp needed for the bullet trains, which are supposed to each cost a daunting Rs 60,000 crore. This money, it is hoped, will come in the form of FDI through the PPP (people-private participation) mode. The Japanese funding is an attractive option.

But cynics point out that the railway ministry, which is struggling to meet its investment targets, could last year only raise Rs. 2000 crore through the PPP mode, a third of what it set out to achieve.

The proposed Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train would cover the 534 km distance within two hours and would travel via Thane, Surat and Vadodara before reaching its destination. A section of the journey could be on underground railway. This would put the average speech at 286 kmph, and this is much lower than the speeds that are notched by the Japanese trains which run with 16 state of the art coaches. The speed, punctuality and the safety records of this service have placed them above all the other competitors who were also vying for a pie of the Indian high speed business.

Due to unavailability of land in the Island City, the original plan of bringing the Bullet Train to South Mumbai has been cancelled. The train will start from Bandra where it is expected to have an elevated station close to the Western Express Highway.

There has been a demand to take the train right up to Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, but Sabarmati, which is half way to Gandhinagar, seems more likely.

At present, 24 trains run daily from Mumbai to Ahmedabad, the fastest train being the Duranto which takes seven hours. The bullet train will cater to nearly 12,000 to 15,000 commuters who travel between the two metros on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, semi-fast trains running at 200 kmph, instead of the 120 kmph at present, have been proposed for Mumbai-Ahmedabad and Mumbai-Goa. These will require a change in overhead wires, so that they can run on enhanced speed.

Gowda also referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s concept of a “Diamond Quadrilateral” which aims to connect the four metros of the countries with high speed trains. The trains on these routes will have a speed of about 160km-200km per hour.

Iram Siddique/ Anil Sharma

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