[Burning Issue] High-speed Rail debate

Why in News?

The government of India recently decided to build a high-speed rail (HSR) corridor between Mumbai and Ahmadabad at a cost of Rs 97,636 crore with Japanese financial and technical assistance.

What do we understand by High-Speed Rail?

  1. High-speed rail is a type of rail transport that operates significantly faster than traditional rail traffic, using an integrated system of specialized rolling stock and dedicated tracks.
  2. High-speed rail is a type of rail transport that operates significantly faster than traditional rail traffic, using an integrated system of specialized rolling stock and dedicated tracks.
  3. While there is no single standard that applies worldwide, new lines in excess of 250 kilometres per hour (160 mph) and existing lines in excess of 200 kilometres per hour (120 mph) are widely considered to be high-speed, with some extending the definition to include lower speeds in areas for which these speeds still represent significant improvements.
  4. The first such system began operations in Japan in 1964 and was widely known as the bullet train. High-speed trains normally operate on standard gauge tracks of continuously welded rail on the grade-separated right-of-way that incorporates a large turning radius in its design.

Global Practice of High-Speed Rail

  1. Shinkansen has emerged as an invaluable part of Japan’s mobility and economy.
  2. With already a 22,000-km sprawling high-speed PDL (passenger dedicated lines) network, longest for any country.
  3. China is set to extend it to 30,000 km by 2020 when its total rail routes aggregate to 200,000 km.
  4. Less than a decade ago, China had no HSR; now its high-speed trains move twice as many passengers as its airlines, and the demand keeps growing.

High-Speed Rail in India

  1. India has one of the Largest rail Networks in the world, but as of now it does not consist of any line classed as (HSR), which allows an operational speed of 200 km/h or more.
  2. The current Fastest Train in India is the Gatimaan Express that runs with a top speed of 160 km/h, with an average speed of above 100 km/hr between Delhi and Agra.
  3. The first Proposed High-speed Train in India would run some 500 kilometres (310 miles) between India’s financial capital Mumbai and the western city of Ahmadabad, at a top speed of 320 km/h.
  4. Under the Japanese proposal, construction is expected to begin in 2017 and be completed in 2023. It would cost about 980 billion (US$15 billion) and be financed by a Low-interest loan from Japan.
  5. Recently Government has introduced Tejas Express which is India’s first semi-high speed full AC train fleet introduced by Indian Railways, featuring newer modern onboard facilities.

Why there is a need of High-Speed Rail in India

  1. As a McKinsey report suggests, by 2025, the number of households earning Rs.2,00,000-Rs10,00,000 annually will have risen to 583 million from the current 50 million. More intensive urbanization, as well as rising incomes, would lead to higher travel propensity.
  2. It is inconceivable that the Railways would continue to deny itself a peep into the rapid technological and commercial transformation railway systems world over experience.
  3. Concerns over depleting fossil fuel reserves, climate change, overcrowded airports, delayed flights and congested roads have conspired against the HSR technology alternative.
  4. Energy-efficient and environmentally benign, a high-speed electric train emits an eight and a fifth of carbon dioxide as against automobiles and aeroplanes per passenger km, respectively. A double-track rail line has more than thrice the passenger carrying capacity of a six-lane highway while requiring less than half the land.

The advantage of High-Speed Rail

  1. It will bring down the transportation time and cost to lowest in the world. It will bring-in massive efficiency in Indian economy.
  2. It will build a local base for the next generation of the railway locomotives for export.
  3. Indian logistics cost will significantly come down, as of now it is thrice of China
  4. It will make Indian exports and manufacturing cost competitive. Indian Human Resource coupled with Japanese skill and technology will make India a manufacturing hub of the world.
  5. It will accelerate scientific research within the country in high-end material science and magnetic science.
  6. The bullet train will not only bring about economic transformation but will also lead to the social transformation of the country.
  7. India will have strong integration across regions, bringing down the regional differences and increasing people-to-people contact.

Other advantages

  • Cheap:

The negotiated terms — the rate of interest of 0.1 per cent per annum and tenure of 50 years with 15 years grace — is the best till now for any project financed through a bilateral/ multilateral agency in India.

  • Speed
  1. High speed is one of the biggest reasons for the proposal of this idea when it was first initiated in India. Major cities connecting with towns of economic growth face the problem of fast transportation.
  2. This would save time and boost businesses amongst the connected cities. Reduction in commuting time is greatly required in Mumbai and other metro cities where a lot of time is consumed in the process.
  • Promotes Make in India:

The assistance programme involves a transfer of technology and a Make in India component, which will have long-term benefits for Indian manufacturing.

  • HSR’s unblemished safety record is an important benefit:

With a 2,500-km network, providing high frequency, up to 14 trains per hour, the Shinkansen ever since its inception in 1964 has maintained a unique record of no fatal accident. The TGV has been running without any accidents for the last 30 years, and more.

Challenges /Criticisms

  1. A project report by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad estimates that at least 1 lakh passengers at fares approximately Rs. 1,500 per 300 km would be required daily for the project to break even. The cost of airfare between the two cities is around Rs. 2,500. With comparable fare to airways, the project doesn’t seem to serve the purpose.
  2. The complexity of the project also arises due to a variety of socio-economic implications like land acquisition, rehabilitation, and environmental concerns.
  3. Bullet train project in India would be a massively expensive involving enormous public expenditure that India cannot afford as a huge public investment is needed in social infrastructure and poverty eradication.
  4. With a majority of Indian population travelling in sleeper class or lower class for thousands of kilometres the project will be benefiting only international corporates, local contractors and a small number of aspirational elites indulging in luxury travel.
  5. With the advent of new technologies like Hyperloop Transportation Technologies which propose to make travel as fast as 760 miles per hour, investing a humongous capital on bullet train seems a cursory and outdated.
  6. Bullet trains require seamless straight tracks on a flat terrain. Though France managed it in the existing tracks itself, if new lands need to be acquired, it can come only at an expensive compensation in the Mumbai-Ahmedabad industrial cluster. It will also demand huge political will.
  7. Considering the existing scenario of the quality of O&M in Indian railways, the maintenance of this new elephant will pose many challenges even if it is privatized. Fencing all along the track and over bridges at all the line crossings will cost too dearer.
  8. The power demand will be more too. It will require the infrastructure of existing railway stations from where bullet train will pass to be upgraded as per the specifications which again will cost enormously.


  1. The issues in developing an HSR network in India are complex. Given that India is a developing country, the primary concern is whether the funds for such a project could be better utilized in other domains, including in upgrading conventional rail.
  2. However, the Japanese funding to the tune of 80% of the project cost may not be available for other uses.
  3. The complexity of the project also arises due to a variety of socio-economic implications like land acquisition, rehabilitation, and environmental concerns.

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