India has one of the world’s longest railway systems with nearly 70,000 KM of track, of which almost 45,000 km is electrified. The Indian rail boasts a transportation ridership of 10 billion passengers a year.
But, India is aggressively expanding in the High Speed Rail category with multiple projects in the pipeline. That’s right, although K-Rail (only a semi high speed rail) is being politically polarized in the debate, the rest of India is moving fast ahead with state-of-the-art high-speed rail planned. And it is important for Kerala to not fall far behind. Here’s why…
Among the upcoming projects, the closest in terms of completion date is the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail which is conceived with 12 stations for over 500KM. The critical aspect of this project is that both cities have planned/existing major metro systems thus making it an integrated network. The entire High-Speed Rail project is supposed to be on elevated guideways above ground (except a portion under the sea). And yes, the project is going to be built on Standard Gauge like the Shinkansen line in Japan, powered by 25 KV AC power, with European signaling systems.
The cutting-edge system will operate at in service speeds of 320 KM/hr which is even better than European cities. Much like the proposed K-Rail project, Japan is financing the $15 billion project entirely. It is encouraging to see that some rolling stock will also be manufactured in India.
There are other High-speed rail lines planned in the country like the Delhi-Ahmedabad HSR (10-15 stations at 320KM/hr top speed). Again, both cities have major metro systems at terminals. The service is to start as early as 2030s.
Other planned High-Speed Rail lines include Delhi-Varanasi, Varanasi-Kolkata, Mumbai-Nagpur, Mumbai-Pune-Hyderabad, Delhi-Amritsar and Chennai-Mysore. Delhi even has the RRTS coming up which is a regional high-speed rail system in construction to connect the capital with several outlying cities. The system is designed similar to the high-speed metros in China or the Seoul GTX. It is again designed at Standard Gauge over elevated guideways.
India’s network of planned High-speed rails on completion will revolutionize domestic travel, giving domestic flights a run for their money, much like the phenomenon in Korea and Germany. The country will no longer be divided by states, but you could easily see daily travel across states with increased inter-state trade and economic activity.
The K-rail project is under heavy criticism at the moment, and a good proportion of people are even asking if we need it in the first place? They are of the opinion that the upgradation of the existing road expressways would suffice. But this is simply not true nor sustainable in the long run. The rest of India has already realized it.
Like E. Sreedharan stated in his press conference, YES, Kerala does need a High-Speed Rail system. But perhaps one with a clearer technical blueprint.
Dr Sreyus Palliyani is a Transportation policy expert, who specializes in public transport benchmarking and best practices for policy and governance.