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Lalu’s bullet train hurtling in the dark

Will Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s bullet train project remain a pipe dream? In 2001, a Spanish expert team predicted that the project would involve a huge investment with a negligible return on investment. Railway Ministry officials also say, “if not impossible, it’s a Herculean task.”, reports Vijay Swaroop.
Hindustan Times | By Vijay Swaroop, Patna
UPDATED ON FEB 22, 2009 12:20 AM IST

Will Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Bullet Train project, tom-tommed in his budget for 2008-09 remain a pipe dream? In 2001, a Spanish expert team said bullet Trains would remain just on paper if India did not chalk out a huge investment plan.

Experts from Finn Railways of Spain categorically said after conducting a feasibility study on introducing Bullet Trains on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad and Delhi-Ahmedabad routes that the project was likely to give just 19 per cent return on investment to the Indian Railways.

Former railway minister Digvijay Singh, during whose tenure the study was conducted, said, “The study cost Rs 100 crore and specifically mentioned about the need for elevated tracks. It said it was viable only on short routes, with a large flow of foreign tourists.”

Railway ministry officials also assert that such trains, running at 250-300 km an hour, require a “protected zone”. An official, who refused to be named, said, “With so many unmanned railway crossings, the task of introducing bullet trains, if not impossible, is a Herculean one.”

He said, “A train travelling at a speed of 300 km an hour and hitting an animal will be a certain disaster.”

The maximum speed limit of trains at present, given the traffic and track conditions, is 160 km an hour between New Delhi and Gwalior. The average speed of the fastest Rajdhani express hovers around 100 and 110 km an hour.

The official said, “For laying an one-km-long track for Bullet Trains, the infrastructure development cost will be about Rs 5 to 6 crore and a distance of 1,000 km from Patna to New Delhi will involve a total cost of nearly Rs 10,000 crore.”

So, he said the fare structure would have to be much higher than the existing airfares.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, who was Yadav’s predecessor in the railway ministry, thinks Bullet Trains in India are an idea before its time. He said what was needed, instead, is strengthening of the existing infrastructure.

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