Their names were Sahib, Sindh and Sultan - three steam locomotives that in 1853 would earn their place in India´s rail history by hauling the nation´s first passenger train.
As 400 guests travelled that 21-mile (34km) inaugural journey from Bombay to Thane, it heralded the start of a supersized rail system that would help to integrate India economically, socially and industrially - making it the global powerhouse it is today. Customers across the Indian market have come of age as their choices have matured and preferences are changing rapidly, fuelled by a concurrent increase in product choices.
In terms of transport too, there is a definite change evolving. As fuel prices fluctuate, the preference for air and road transportation is also gradually changing. The climatic implications and dangers of our existing transport model based on an economy driven primarily by automobiles and air-crafts is leading to a wider spread of transport options, largely including rail transportation. The rapid urbanization across the country has also led to an explosion in inter-city travel and therefore a growing demand for intercity transport between not only metropolitan cities, but Tier II and Tier III cities as well.
In terms of the environment too, it is imperative that the key issues of transport are addressed in a way that continually strives to improve ecological standards and also protects the environment at large. The transport industry in India is now coming under a huge amount of scrutiny wherein issues concerning environmental standards and sustainability are concerned. The use and application of rail transportation solutions are an answer to this particular problem as rail transportation accounts for only 1 per cent of the world´s CO2 emissions.
Although the Indian rail network is one of the largest on the planet, it has suffered years of chronic underinvestment. This has coincided with rapid growth and urbanisation in India´s metropolitan cities, an explosion in inter-city travel contributing to densely packed suburban trains and huge increases in road traffic. In the last decade the rail industry has made improvements - from IR´s emphasis on gauge conversion to improved safety performance. However, there´s plenty of work to do to ensure rail delivers improved mobility and the reliable, safe, convenient, modern and efficient transport system the country needs. While the concern with rail transport in India has always been the inordinately long hours that it takes to cover distances, the proposed solution to introduce high-speed trains could have distinct long term benefits; for travellers in terms of time saved, and for the railways in terms of improved product offerings, fuel efficiency and more importantly, increased revenues. High-speed rail travel has become the epitome of efficient land transportation worldwide, beginning to rival even air transportation as an efficient means of covering long distances within a short span of time.
The Indian Railways are already making strides in the direction to introduce these trains in India, and proposals have been drawn up for high-speed train corridors for Ahmedabad and Pune to Mumbai amongst several others. But while the advantages of these proposals address the issues of travel time saved, environmental concerns, cost-effectiveness and overall product quality - there are still some important concerns that need to be dealt with in order to make the high-speed train dream turn into reality.
The most pertinent among these is the issue of safety and security. High-speed trains require the tracks to be fenced and clear of any obstruction, a definite challenge in the Indian scenario. While the accident rate of train collisions has reduced over time, stronger efforts will have to be made to curb them completely in order to avoid major mishaps with high-speed trains that travel up to speeds more than 300 km/h. The areas near the tracks would need to be cleared of any housing settlements and the signalling systems too would have to be aligned to be compatible with the cutting edge technology used aboard the high-speed trains.
If the Indian Railway authorities could tackle these issues in a serious and dedicated manner, the possibilities within the high-speed train realm are endless.
Recognising this need, the government has announced its intention to make Indian Railways - the ´lifeline of the nation´ - the prime mover of the economy once again.
The 2015 Rail Budget sets out its vision for rail as a key provider of connectivity and enabler of economic development, with a proposed $125 billion (Ç110 billion) to spend on IR over the next five years.
With its vast experience in high speed rail worldwide, Bombardier is ideally placed to support traffic generating projects that will ease congestion. Over two decades of experience in high speed and very high speed rolling stock has helped Bombardier deliver our flagship rail product platform, the ZEFIRO. Bombardier has delivered or in progress more than 900 high speed and very high speed trains to suppliers across the world.
Bombardier is keenly following several areas for investment for Indian Railways. They include rolling stock such as locomotives, EMUs, inter-city or commuter trains, plus semi high speed and high-speed rail including their maintenance and advanced signalling systems.
An example is potential works on 7,000km of lines and the commissioning of 1,200km in 2015-16. This will increase the speed on nine railway corridors from 110 and 130kmph to 160 and subsequently to 200kmph. It will mean inter-city metro journeys like Delhi-Kolkata and Delhi-Mumbai can be completed overnight.
Another area that links with Bombardier´s expertise is accelerated electrification of various lines. Ambitious electrification of over 10,000 kms over the next five years, will create additional demand for electric locomotives and propulsion equipment. As for safety improvement, the action plan included train protection warning and train collision avoidance systems to be installed on selected routes urgently.
For VHS trains, the most important requirements for health and safety are contained in the High Speed Technical Specification for Interoperability (HS-TSI) with requirements encompassing:
Overall, high-speed trains are a safe travel option, providing passengers with a better ambience, world class comfort and a stress free journey. The comparatively shorter transit times are combined with an unmatched punctuality and the reduced energy consumption translates into fewer harmful air pollutants. Importantly, high-speed rail services require less land acquisition than most other modes of travel; according to the Worldwatch Institute, two railroad tracks can carry as many people per hour as sixteen lanes of highway.
Soon Indian passengers could expect to travel at the speed of 300-350 km/h and equipped with state-of-the-art signalling and train control systems, these trains will be able to cover distances of up to 600 kms in just two-to-three hours. This mode of transport would lead to faster inter-regional connectivity in India linking industrial clusters, urban conglomerations and growth centers providing an integral infrastructural support to these regions, thereby easing the pressure on civic services in metros by aiding growth of satellite towns.
While high-speed rail travel is the norm of rail transport worldwide, it heralds the future in India. And if the railway authorities are able to overcome the security, financial and operational challenges, it presents a whole new era for rail transport in India; one in which the passengers and authorities would together augment the development of a more efficient, economical and environmentally friendly mode of transportation.
Bombardier´s large manufacturing presence in India combined with local experience, international expertise, proven technologies like ZEFIRO for high speed and very speed trains and eco-friendly technologies means it is ideally positioned to elevate India to the world stage in rail transportation and realise the government´s aim of a railway network fit for the 21st century.
The article has been authored by Harsh Dhingra, Chief Country Representative, India, Bombardier Transportation.