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Don't bite the bullet

High-speed trains in India will be an utter waste of public money. Srinand Jha writes.

india Updated: Aug 14, 2012 22:21 IST
Srinand Jha
Srinand Jha
Hindustan Times

Within a few years, India should have high-speed trains zipping about its countryside at speeds ranging from 300-350 km per hour. Such is the optimism being expressed in political circles. A National High Speed Rail Corp (NHSR) has now been set up and will deal exclusively with the proposed ambitious high-speed rail corridor projects.

If you are not tremendously enthusiastic about bullet trains for India, chances are that you will be described as a living relic of a long extinct species of socialists. Or as being out of sync with emerging realities -blind to the vision of the grand and mighty India that is in the making.

With rapid-fire precision are such weighty arguments being fired: China, Japan, France and Germany have had these speed trains for years. It's high time for India to claim its spot in the Ivy League of top nations!

Affordability or willingness to pay higher passenger fares is a non-issue in an increasingly affluent and urbanised India with a 300 million-strong middle class, they say.

I will say this upfront: The intention is not in the least to spoil the party by punching holes in the great Indian dream of having bullet trains zip across Indian cities.

If trains that fly on the tracks are not built or run from the money that you or I pay as taxes, I support the concept whole-heartedly, completely, and absolutely.

But if this is not the case, there is a problem.

The first of these is about costs.

Against the average construction cost of Rs. 3 crore per km to build tracks to run trains at a speed of 160 km per hour, the expense of building tracks to run a bullet train estimated at Rs. 25 crore per km.

The coaches of a typical bullet train rake (complete train) will cost a colossal Rs. 1,352 crore. For that money, India can buy 676 German-made LHB air-conditioned coaches for the Rajdhani and Shatabdi trains or over 5,000 wagons.

The cost of running bullet trains on the 633-km stretch from Trivandrum to Mangalore has been estimated at Rs. 160,000 crore - 13 times Kerala's plan size for 2011-12.

According to 2009 estimates, it will cost a whopping Rs. 60,000 crore to lay 1,000 km of tracks to run bullet trains - marginally short of the amount sought as central assistance by the Railways to implement safety schemes.

Sixty-five years after Independence, people are continuing to be packed in train compartments like cattle. Thousands die in accidents or get killed on the tracks.

Without sounding negative, anti-national or plain stupid - can one actually argue that public funds could be better spent on creating better facilities for the aam aadmi?

As for wanting to travel at the speed of light, there is the aerial route.

First Published: Aug 14, 2012 22:18 IST

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