With 23 million passengers travelling on its 65,000-km network, the Indian Railways move an entire Australia every day. So, instead of putting more trains on the already crowded tracks, railway minister Suresh Prabhu’s strategy has been to give passengers more bang for the buck by speeding up the existing trains, for which a major exercise is now underway to upgrade no less than nine corridors. This will not be as good as the high-speed Mumbai-Ahmedabad super-fast train but still quite good.
But unfortunately, the gestation period for such complex civil engineering projects is years, not months. Till then the passengers will have to just wait.
This fast-train service is provided to suit all kinds of passengers, with the Rajdhanis whisking away the well-heeled who may be averse to flying. On the other hand, daily wagers, migrant workers, students going home for a break, etc. have the Garib Rath, Sampark Kranti and other such long-distance super-fast trains to travel in comfortably without burning a hole in their pocket. Business people who wish to make a quick day-trip to major metros find the Shatabdi Inter-City Express trains useful.
The following corridors are slated for a rise in the maximum speed to 160-200 km per hour (kmph), for which feasibility studies are underway: New Delhi-Chandigarh, New Delhi-Mumbai, Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysore, Delhi-Kanpur, Nagpur-Bilaspur, Mumbai-Goa, Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Chennai-Hyderabad and Nagpur-Secunderabad.
A Chinese team is looking at the problems of the difficult Chennai-Bengaluru-Mysore section, 500 km, which is full of gradients and sharp curves. The Bengaluru-Mysore stretch was till recently metre gauge, an alignment which has been mostly retained even after its conversion to broad gauge.
The Konkan Railway, which will be upgrading the 700-km Panvel-Madgaon section (Mumbai-Goa corridor), may find the going relatively easy as the track is already laid for 160 kpmh, thanks to the far-sighted policy of E Shreedharan when he headed it as its first managing director.
With the LHB and the WDP4 locomotive diesel fit for 160 kpmh, trial runs had been undertaken as far back as in 2003, and speed up to 130 kpmh could be permitted right away. Increasing it to 160 kpmh would involve certain signalling and other inputs.
Seventy-seven projects for doubling, tripling and quadrupling very high-density corridors are being executed on a war footing. This will help decongest and considerably speed up trains and improve their punctuality.
(RC Acharya is former member, Railway Board. The views expressed are personal)