Bullet trains are for elites, India needs a safe rail system, says E Sreedharan
Having revolutionised the way urban people commute, Elattuvalappil Sreedharan, 86, a retired civil engineer, has taken up the challenge of laying down standards for the metro rail system. In an interview with Ramesh Babu, the ‘Metro Man’ said what the country needs right now is modern, safe and fast rail system, and not bullet trains which will cater only to the elites. Edited excerpts:
You have been given a new assignment to standardise the metro service in the country. Recently, you said among the metros, Delhi Metro is very close to your heart. Why?
I have been pushing for standardisation and indigenisation of metro service for long. It is a welcome move. With standardisation, efficiency will go up and reduce cost considerably. We can manufacture coaches and other parts indigenously. I feel we can convert metro into a ‘Make in India project’.
Delhi Metro has set a standard and triggered a metro revolution in the country. Results are there to see. Today there are 13 metros under construction. Within 20 years, Delhi Metro has reached a size of 260km and is the fastest growing metro in the world. I also feel really proud of the work culture of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC).
Indian Railways also made rapid progress with bio-toilets, speed, cleanliness. How can it improve further?
I do not agree that the Indian Railways has made rapid progress. Apart from bio-toilets, there is no technical upgradation. Speed has not increased. In fact, the average speed of most prestigious trains has come down. Punctuality is worst – officially 70%, actually less than 50%. Accident record has not improved. Many also die on tracks, at level-crossings, in suburban sections. Almost 20,000 lives are lost on tracks yearly. I feel Indian Railways is 20 years behind those of advanced nations.
Bullet train is the new craze. Will it improve travel woes?
Bullet trains will cater only to the elite community. It is highly expensive and beyond the reach of ordinary people. What India needs is a modern, clean, safe and fast rail system.
One of the architects of modern India, what future do you foresee for the country?
I am really impatient at the pace with which the country is progressing. Even after 70 years of independence, one third of our population lives below the poverty line. Apart from material progress, what I am disappointed is the steep decline in ethics, values and principles in the country. Political ambitions lead our leaders today and not values and righteousness. A thorough course correction is necessary for the nation.