Railway Reforms

Fast-tracking Vande Bharat Express

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Vande Bharat Express

Mains level : Highs speed railways in India

Presenting the Union Budget for 2022-23, Finance Minister said 400 new energy-efficient Vande Bharat trains will be introduced in three years.

What is Vande Bharat Express?

  • The Vande Bharat Express is a semi-high speed train designed, developed, and built by the Integral Coach Factory (ICF).
  • Presently there are only two Vande Bharat trains that are running — Delhi to Varanasi and Delhi to Katra.

Key Features 

  • The current Vande Bharat trains have seating only in two classes — chair car and executive chair car. But Railways is planning to upgrade it.
  • The trains have fully sealed gangways for a dust-free environment, modular bio-vacuum toilets, rotating seats in Executive Class, personalized reading lights, automatic entry/exit doors with sliding footsteps, diffused LED lighting, mini pantry, and sensor-based interconnecting doors in each coach.
  • They are self-propelled trains that do not require an engine. This feature is called a distributed traction power system, which is increasingly becoming the norm the world over for passenger operations(Distributed power gives the train higher acceleration and deceleration compared to loco-hauled trains, which take a much longer time to reach top speed or to gradually come to a halt).
  • 400 trains announced by the Finance Minister carry a potential investment of Rs 50,000 crore over the next three years, because of different specifications and also, inflation.
  • The current Vande Bharat’s are being made at Rs 106 crore per trainset of 16 cars, at 2018 pricing.

Benefits of Vande Bharat Trains

1) Cuts Travel Time Drastically

2) Energy Efficient

3) Reduce Turnaround Time

4) Faster Acceleration and Deceleration among others.

Why High-speed rail projects are important for India?

  • Improve India’s GDP: According to a study conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Hamburg in 2008, cities that are connected to HSR systems tend to witness a rise in their gross domestic product (GDP) by at least 2.7 percentage points compared to their neighbors that do not have an HSR station. The reason for the differential was improved market access.
  • Role of the trains in India’s development: Being the third-largest network in the world under single management and
    with over 68,102 route km IR strives to provide a safe, efficient, competitive, and world-class transport system.
  • During FY21, IR carried 1.23 billion tonnes of
    freight and 1.25 billion passengers. In addition, despite COVID -19 pandemic revenue earning freight loading (excluding loading by Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd. (KRCL) was 1230.9 million tonnes in 2020-21 as compared to 1208.4 million tonnes during2019-20. Passengers originating were 1250 million in 2020-21 as compared to 8086 million in 2019-20- Economic Survey 2021-22. 
  • Spin-off effect: It is about Rs 40,000 crore business opportunity that would also create 15,000 jobs and several spin-off benefits and act as a stimulus for the development of satellite towns.
  • Boost to ‘Make in India’– it involves only about 15 percent import content which will further go down if production volumes increase.
  • Environmental Benefits: More rail traffic translates to less automobile traffic, and by extension, less highway and city street traffic congestion, reduced air pollution. In addition, less congestion means less wear and tear on the roadways, which means that they require fewer repairs.  According to the International Association of Railways (UIC), high-speed rail is eight times more energy-efficient than airplanes and four times more efficient than automobile use.
  • Social Benefits: High-speed rail can promote a sense of social cohesion among residents, by bringing distant populated areas closer together.
  • Global Experience: The High-Speed Railway has an economic multiplier effect. Since the introduction of the first Shinkansen (literally meaning ‘new main line’) in Japan in 1964, high-speed trains have proven to be an undeniable technological, commercial and popular success. Many countries like the UK, France, Germany, Spain, China, and most recently, the US have adopted the technology.

Challenges faced by the High-Speed Rail Projects

  • Infrastructure Bottlenecks: India’s railway system is saddled with a two-pronged infrastructure deficit – aging infrastructure and the pace of new project execution struck by unforeseen circumstances related to socio-economic issues on land acquisition for new projects and escalating projects costs.
  • New Technologies: For instance, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies which proposes to make travel as fast as 760 miles per hour, investing a humongous capital on bullet trains seems like an outdated investment.
  • Political Will: The politics of Rail Bhavan and an unwillingness to accept the need for change have derailed the project execution.
  • Short of Investments: For instance, the estimated cost of Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR is ₹1.1 lakh crore (US$17 billion) which is massively expensive. Though India receives funding from Japan (81%), the power demand and up-gradation of existing infrastructure will be more costly.
  • Social Conflict: Development along the corridor will lead to an increase in urbanization, the fight for resources, and social conflicts due to the labor influx of the workforce.
  • Legal Trouble: While farmers in Maharashtra are protesting on the ground, the farmers in Gujarat led by Gujarat Khedut Samaj (GKS)-  fighting a case in the Gujarat High Court against the land acquisition for the bullet train project.

Way ahead

  • Stakeholders approach: Politics and Policy have to be in sync for the railway modernization. In order to achieve the target, Railways will have to pool in all resources and multiple stakeholders, including private players to deliver the propulsion system and also carry out the assembling. The Policymakers and administration should give priority to systematic sustainable development work- the convergence of jal, jungle, jameen(water-forest-land is an asset for the Adivasi community)
  • Regular Monitoring: To ensure the induction of these trains in the shortest time possible, as envisaged by Indian Railways.
  • Technology Transfer: The government has to push for the technology transfer of HSR. This is because there is no mention of the transfer of technology anywhere in the agreement.

Conclusion

India aspires to become the third-largest economy in the next 25 years. It has already proven its prowess in the field of space and now is the time for furthering its international stature by joining the exclusive club of nations having a high-speed rail network, however, we should be careful not to confuse leapfrogging technology development with elitism, whether it is mobile phones, satellite launches, regional air connectivity, or high-speed rail. This high-speed rail project will therefore help the Indian Railways to become a global leader in scale, technology, and skill.

 

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