Trains and the national railway network are meant not only for the physical movement of people and goods but also to enhance the overall quality of life of an average Indian, through innovation and corresponding investments in futuristic technology.
Under the dynamic and visionary leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the world's fastest growing major economy, India has embarked upon a massive exercise of infrastructure creation. In his recent address at Vigyan Bhavan, Prime Minister Modi said, 'New India is where the power of hope prevails over mindless hate, where 125 crore Indians write their own destiny'. This aspiration of the Prime Minister to create a New India has inspired several leading national and international companies to work on a long-term investment strategy for the country.
The Central Government has opened a new realm for India's economy with empowerment of various sections. Therefore, in the same breath, the Centre has not only emphasised on the development and empowerment of the weaker and backward sections but has also provided an environment for Ease of Doing Business for the small-scale industries and entrepreneurs.
The New India stands on the pillars of economic opportunity for all, knowledge, economy, holistic development and futuristic, resilient, and digital infrastructure. With infrastructure being one of the key pillars in the rise of a New India, development of a vibrant urban transport system will be its logical corollary.
India is experiencing rapid urbanisation and with this, the provision of urban transport requires some careful planning and direction by which Indian residents get access to satisfactory levels of mobility. However, urban transport has a lot of challenges, which are complex, varied and depend on the layout of a city. Often, the larger the city, the greater its complexity. The distribution of urban population by city size varies widely and is skewed towards larger cities. Although Indian cities have lower vehicle ownership rate than their counterparts in the developed Western economies, they suffer from worse congestion, pollution and fatalities than the cities in the developed countries.
The productivity of an urban location is also highly dependent on the efficiency of its transport systems and its ability to move work-force, consumers and goods between various points of origin and destination. To uplift and upgrade the urban transport system in India, the Indian Railways play a critical role such as in the metro cities of Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad. The rail transport system serves as the most economical mode of transport among the prevailing travel modes in India. The Central Government approved the new Metro Rail Policy in August 2017. Among other things, the policy seeks to empower states by making them responsible for ensuring the economic viability of such projects as well as ensuring increased private participation.
The Indian Railways play a significant role in the movement of goods across the length and breadth of our vast nation, serving like the arteries and veins that vitalise the different segments of our continually developing national economy. Trains and the national railway network are meant not only for the physical movement of people and goods but also to enhance the overall quality of life of an average Indian, through innovation and corresponding investments in futuristic technology. Herein, a robust network of trains is very crucial. The robustness also denotes the ability to absorb or withstand unexpected events such as delays. Robust planning is the key to maintaining a safe and timely railway operation.
Fortifying the railway network and improving railways' carrying capacity have been a noteworthy focus point of the government. Augmentation of ticket issuing capacity through operation of Automated Ticket Vending Machines (ATVM), ticket booking through offices or kiosks, online and smartphones, using the administrations of ticketing operators like Yatri Ticket Suvidha Kendra (YTSK) and so forth.
Another challenge faced by the Indian Railways is the severe capacity constraints. All the country's high-density rail corridors face severe capacity constraints. Additionally, freight transportation costs by rail are significantly higher than in many countries as freight tariffs in India have been kept high to subsidise passenger traffic. Other issues plaguing the rail transport are the differential speeds of trains, inadequate connectivity to ports and mines, payload to powering ratio, not so modern rolling stock and signalling assets, thus the inability to carry longer and heavier trains leading to lower throughput and longer pivot period.
With rapid urbanisation, technological progression and advancement are likewise expanding at a quick pace. Railways of the future will depend on multiple skills and delivery experience to meet user and operator demands. Railways are now an integrated system. This is even more genuine as users need real-time information, operators need interactive systems to maximise yield and investors need higher predictability. Regardless of whether it is the urban transport where real-time information and control are critical to succeed or the high-speed train systems where sensitive controls and equipment monitoring is a fundamental need, the railway system must integrate many diverse linkages for successful delivery. Such needs, in a way, have been demonstrated in urban frameworks like the Delhi Metro. A high-speed network with multiple hubs, spanning across the country, will become noticeable in the coming years as an economy multiplier.
A beginning was made some year ago when the first feasibility studies were conducted by the Indian Railways and six corridors were identified for connecting the biggest metros together with high-speed railway. However, building a high-speed track requires time, planning and substantial financial support. It is a welcome development that the government has moved ahead with its plan for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project.
However, the creation of just one corridor might not be adequate as it will not be able to deliver the same benefits of high-speed rail that we see in Japan, Europe or China. Multiple high-speed corridors that are well-integrated with the airports, urban rail network, roads and maritime transport systems of a city are required. All stations along a high-speed track can be developed into self-sustaining smart cities. They can become epicentres of commercial, educational or recreational activities, as it has happened in other parts of the world. That will also help in a fast-paced creation of urban centres. In Japan, the Tokyo megacity is a cluster of several cities. Therefore, every station in Tokyo is a smart city in itself. Places where high-speed trains halt, have developed into townships that are well-connected to other modes of transport. Another specialty of the system is that the same ticket can be used on different modes of public transport.
To enhance the travel experience of a traveller, introduction of Integrated Transport E-Ticketing Smart Cards will be advantageous. The smart card is the most common form of transport e-ticketing, which is being utilised around the world. The Indian Railways should look at implementing multi-modal transportation ticketing system or Integrated Transport E-Ticketing System, combining all modes on a single ticket using smart card or other technologies. This e-ticketing can be utilised as a tool to further facilitate the combination of modes and to enable commuters to carry one card for use on all the transit modes which will allow faster boarding.
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Authored by Mangal Dev, Head, Hitachi Rail Systems-India and South Asia Region.