Monday, March 02, 2015

On high speed trains

Was reading this piece in Swarajya Mag on high speed trains by Bibek Debroy and it is a indeed a fascinating piece. On the feasibility of high speed trains of India. Bibek says,

However, 175 km/hour cannot be high speed.  In response to my question, most people mention a speed of 300-350 km/hour.  That’s what they have seen in France, Japan, China and other places.  That’s an aspirational objective, at least from segments of the population.  Why can’t India have trains like that? [Swarajya]

My question though is a little more fundamental - though Bibek cautions a few reasons as to why a 300kmph plus train may be a long way away. And maybe nomenclature wise, 175 mph is not high speed.

But look at India today - the average speed of any train - for example the Udyan Express - covers the BLR-MUM distance of 1200 kms in 24 hours. Take any train - with the express nomenclature and its average speed is 50kmph. Superfast is probably in the 60kmph average range. Rajdhanis touch perhaps 100 plus on average.

At 50kmph - the speed is the same as what it was 50 years ago when steam engines ruled the roost. Today, with the condition of roads being what it is (really good, but not great) a BLR-MUM bus takes an extremely comfortable 18 odd hours depending on which part of Mumbai you get off at. This with varying traffic conditions, driving through cities in between and even with built in rest stops. That is an average speed of some 66kmph. And it keeps getting better.

Why can't a train - that is not dependent on traffic, blocks get to 100kmph?

And that is all India needs - today. At a 100kmph, most intercity distances can be covered overnight. Anything unto 1200 kms is within an overnight intercity reach. At 120kmph, 1500 kms is an overnight journey.

Longer distances can be covered by airplanes, but upto this distance, the railways may even make good money and offer good competition to airplanes with some good railway stations, faster checkin than airplanes and so on.

People can drive for shorter distances and there there are buses as well.

But if we can cover 1200 to 1500 kms in a night train across the country - including NE, we have got it.

And that is achievable - that is the speed of our Rajdhanis.

Why not look at creating Intercity expresses on the lines of Rajdhani - and have a network of Rajdhanis and mini-Rajdhanis that cover the cities? And this may not be so difficult...especially since the current trains run on the existing network, cover most parts through the night and so on...Why not go for this incremental approach?

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