Amidst the hullabaloo over the feasibility of the high speed rail (HSR) system in India, the advent of the much-fancied ´bullet train´ finally seems to be on track. However, the path is fraught with deterrents galore and the flag-off is still a distant dream.
Taking precedence from Japan which heralded the ´bullet train´ legacy in 1964, the world began to partake of this ´race against time´. High-speed rail (HSR), which uses an integrated system of specialised rolling stock and dedicated tracks, can significantly enhance the connectivity and trade between major cities in a country. In addition to the shorter transit times, high speed rail systems based on magnetic levitation (Maglev), TGV, Shinkansen, and other advanced technologies have the least level of emission in comparison to most other forms of land transport.
Though India can boast of one of the largest rail networks of the world, the Indian Railways has been a victim of years of chronic underinvestment.
The Indian government has taken stock of this lag and as one of its strategic measures, the HSR phenomenon has crept into the Indian horizon.
After coming to power, the NDA government announced the launch of the mega diamond quadrilateral project of high-speed train network, connecting major metros and growth centres and nine corridors identified for running semi-high-speed trains at a speed of 160-200 kmph.
The Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu has ramped up efforts to usher in the HSR technology. The implementation of these projects have been handed over to Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL) and its subsidiary, High Speed Rail Corporation (HSRC). The government needs Rs 9 lakh crore for funding the diamond quadrilateral.
India is expecting to leverage the investment and technologies from countries like Japan, China, and France, who are keen to fund these projects. However, while the BJP government is eager to pursue PM Narendra Modi´s ambitious high-speed train plan, a top government source has said China and Japan have been told that India may not accept funding which is linked to sourcing of goods and technology from the donor country.
Biswanath Bhattacharya, Partner, KPMG in India, states, ´HSR infrastructure comprises complex and modern elements. Its requirements include special catenary and power systems, on-boarding signalling system, large radius curves with limited gradients, tracks with exact tolerance geometric parameters, high traction and self-propelled rolling stock, etc´. The design, inspection, and maintenance of the HSR infrastructure in great conditions is pivotal to a safe and reliable operational system.
´The tracks, power lines and systems, signalling and controlling lines, and systems related to high speed rails are all of a specialised nature and for establishing them, highly advanced equipment and machinery are reported to be used, right from the stage of ground levelling to track laying and welding to installation and monitoring of power and controlling systems,´ remarks Srinath Manda, Program Manager, Transportation & Logistics Practice, Frost & Sullivan.
In the last decade the rail industry has made improvements -from IR´s emphasis on gauge conversion to improved safety performance. Over the past few decades since independence, most of India´s rail network had been converted from narrow and standard gauge to broad gauge. ´Feasibility studies on possibility of upgrading the existing tracks to suit the need of high speed rail are reported to have found that it is not suitable or recommended. Since standard gauge is reported to be the preferred network for HSR, as also recommended by JICA´s feasibility study, it would mean special new tracks have to be laid out if India needs to go ahead with the technology,´ asserts Manda.
Speaking on the HSR wave in India, Harsh Dhingra, Chief Country Representative, India, Bombardier Transportation, reveals, ´Bombardier is keenly following several areas for investment in 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.´
High cost of establishment (estimated at INR 150 crore per km as per revised estimates) is the primary challenge in adopting this technology in India. ´As per International Union of Railways, the average cost of construction of a kilometre long HSR line is about EUR12-30 million (about INR90-225 crore) and a train costs about EUR 20-25 million (INR150-190 crore), with the maintenance of infrastructure costing about EUR 1.1 million per year (INR 8-9 crore),´ remarks Bhattacharya.
The Union Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu said in the Lok Sabha that the cost of laying one km of high speed track was 10 to 14 times higher than the construction of a normal railway track. ´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,´ says Dhingra. The Minister said a provision of Rs 33 crore was made in the last Railway Budget for a feasibility study of the Diamond Quadrilateral and other high speed rail corridors and Rs 40 crore has been proposed in the current budget 2015-16 for it.
Bringing in a ray of optimism, Manda states, ´It is being reported that the fare for this travel would be pegged at 1.5 times AC-Tier-1 of other trains, estimated to be about INR 2,800, based on which it is considered to be the cheapest bullet train travel in the world. JICA in its feasibility report has revealed that similar distance travel in Japan costs approximately INR 8,000 and in China costs approximately INR 5,000.´
An Indo-Japan joint feasibility study for Mumbai-Ahmedabad high speed corridor, which started in December 2013, was targeted for completion in June 2015. ´A joint study by Japan and India was initiated in December, 2013. The final report has been submitted in July 2015. Since this is a highly capital intensive project (508 km costing about Rs 70,915 crore at 2014 prices), funding and execution plan need to be tied up,´ asserts Anil Kumar Saxena, Additional DG (PR)(Railways), M/o Railways. The pre-feasibility study for the Ahmedabad-Mumbai-Pune corridor was completed by a consortium of RITES, Italferr, and Systra. The possibility of MumbaiûAhmedabad high-speed rail project being materialised in the near future seems unlikely, considering the concerns raised around its viability. ´From the time of announcing the project in July 2014 (originally announced in 2013), and a feasibility study conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in July 2015, the estimated cost of the project has escalated by more than 50 per cent from INR 65,000 crore to INR 100,000 crore,´ avers Manda. With such high budget and volatility in cost, the project is not considered to be justified. Even if the project is initiated with such investment scale, the work is expected to start only by 2017 and be completed by 2024-25. JICA officials however were not available for a comment.
OTHER PROPOSED CORRIDORS
The High Speed Rail Corridor Corporation (HSRC) of India; formed for the purpose of managing the planning, design, and development of high speed rail networks in the country; is evaluating three more corridors, apart from the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor. Manda states, ´The other proposed corridors are Delhi-Chennai, Chennai-Mysore, and Delhi-Amritsar. While the former two are in feasibility study stage conducted respectively by China Railway SIYUAN Survey and Design Group Co. Ltd and China Railway Eryuan Engineering Group, the last corridor is still in pre-feasibility analysis stage.´
Before the ´bullet train´ dream can be realised, there are roadblocks aplenty to overcome. ´Considering the several commitments for pending projects (including those of the Railways) that the government has to fulfill, it may not be feasible to realise or mobilise such large scale of investment for these networks for a few more years to come,´ claims Manda.
From the technical standpoint as well, the hauling of the first Indian HSR would require some serious deliberation and concrete steps. Dhingra opines ´High-speed rail requires the tracks to be fenced and clear of any obstruction, a definite challenge in the Indian scenario.´ While the 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. ´The areas near the tracks 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,´ he adds.
Apart from the financial and technical constraints, availability of land is apparently a potential constraint for these networks. ´In fact, availability of land is a major constraint and cause of delay for most infrastructure projects in India, including the ongoing Dedicated Freight Corridor (DFC) project of Indian Railways,´ points out Manda. Dhingra however differs and presents a contrary opinion, stating, ´High-speed rail services require less land acquisition than most other modes of travel. According to the Worldwatch Institute, two rail-road tracks can carry as many people per hour as sixteen lanes of highway.´
SEMI HSR NETWORKS
With HSR still awaiting the green signal, semi high speed rail seems to be the order of the day. The Indian Railways has conducted the trial run of the country`s fastest train, Gatimaan, which will cover the distance between Delhi and Agra in just 90 minutes at a speed of 160 kilometres per hour. This apart, there is a host of semi high speed rail projects in the pipeline.
´As regards semi high speed trains, works of increasing speed to 160 kmph on the Delhi-Agra corridor have been completed and necessary approvals have been processed. Chennai-Benguluru-Mysore- feasibility study is in progress and targeted for completion in September 2015. For New Delhi-chandigarh, Delhi-Kanpur, Nagpur-Bilaspur, Mumbai-Goa, Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Chennai-Hyderabad & Nagpur-Secunderabad Corridors required inputs for raising speed have been identified,´ reveals Saxena.
While high-speed rail travel is the norm of rail transport worldwide, it is still in a budding stage in India. Nonetheless, 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 environmental friendly mode of transportation. This mode of transport would lead to faster inter-regional connectivity in India by linking industrial clusters, urban conglomerations, and growth centres, providing an integral infrastructural support to these regions.
Courtesy: Bombardier Transportation India
Tracks for High-Speed Trains
High-speed trains can travel on conventional railroad tracks, as long as they don´t go at high speeds. For high-speed travel, tracks must be able to handle the higher loads while providing an extremely smooth ride. For example, high-speed tracks use continuously welded rails. This eliminates vibrations as well as the familiar clickity-clack sound that accompanies most train rides.
Another limitation is that HS trains cannot negotiate tight turns and keep passengers comfortable. So, trains running at 125 mph and faster usually travel on tracks with curve radii of 2.8 miles or greater. HS trains topping out at 217 mph run on tracks with curve radii of 4.3 miles or greater. On HS turns, the outer rail is often 150 mm higher than the inner rail to create a 1:10 banking angle, according to Bombardier. Proper banking makes for a more-comfortable ride.
HS trains are also limited in terms of the grades they can easily handle. In general, grades must be 3.5 per cent or less. Any higher and the train slows down and becomes inefficient.
The cost of building a two-track high-speed rail line, one that will let trains travel at top speed in both directions simultaneously, has been estimated by the US Government. Another cost variable is whether the designers use ballasted track, which are traditional tracks with cross ties kept in place by gravel (ballast) or slab tracks. Slab tracks mount the rails on concrete track rather than using ballast. Slab track costs more to build, but is less expensive to maintain.
Estimates for annual maintenance costs on HS rails are not clear. A European study pegs maintenance costs at $140,000/yr/mile, while a British study of HS rail puts the annual cost at $493,000/mile. Maintenance is so high because as speeds increase, tracks need to be inspected more often and to tighter alignment tolerances.
Courtesy: Article by Stephen J. Mraz, Machine Design
“Possibilities in the high-speed realm are endless”
Harsh Dhingra, Chief Country Representative, India, Bombardier Transportation The rapid urbanisation across the country has led to an explosion in inter-city travel, and thereby a growing demand for intercity transport between not only metropolitan cities, but also Tier II and Tier III cities. 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. 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.
The Indian Railways is already making strides in the direction to introduce these trains in India, and proposals have been drawn up for high-speed 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 being the issue of safety and security. If the Indian Railway authorities could tackle these issues in a serious and dedicated manner, the possibilities in the high-speed realm are endless.
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 its flagship rail product platform, the ZEFIRO.
A potential area for Bombardier would be works on 7,000 km of lines and the commissioning of 1,200 km in 2015-16, which will increase the speed on nine railway corridors from 110 and 130 kmph to 160 and subsequently to 200 kmph. 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 includes train protection warning and train collision avoidance systems to be installed on selected routes urgently.
Bombardier´s large manufacturing presence in India, combined with local experience, international expertise, proven technologies like ZEFIRO for high speed and very high 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.
To be competitive high-speed rail needs routes which are high volume and short distance
* High speed rail has a strong market share on very hogh density routes where rail
journey time is generally less than 4 hours
* In a number of cases, the passenger capacity covered by regional aircraft is
substantially lower than the capacity offered by a high speed train
Both modes can be complimentary
Rail travel has a smaller footprint than air
Rail is price competitive but is being
challenged by low cost carriers which have crowded out rail on some routes