India has envisioned a high speed rail (HSR) network for a number of years. However, progress on this has been abysmally slow. In recent years, however, especially after the current government came to power, the segment has once again been the focus of attention. A major breakthrough came in the form of eased foreign direct investment norms for the HSR segment. This provided the much-needed push to HSR development. Players from countries such as Japan and France have evinced interest in the development of HSR projects in India.
HSR lines: Seven HSR lines stretching for over 4,200 km were announced in the first leg of HSR development in the country. Pre-feasibility studies have been completed for most of these projects. The first stretch to be developed is the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor. In March 2016, Indian Railways (IR) formed a special purpose vehicle (SPV), National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL), to implement the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Bullet Train project.
Diamond Quadrilateral: The Diamond Quadrilateral project envisages connecting major metropolitan cities with high speed trains to reduce the travelling time between these cities. Under this, six corridors have been identified – Delhi-Mumbai, Mumbai-Chennai, Chennai-Kolkata, Kolkata-Delhi, Delhi-Chennai, and Mumbai-Kolkata. The overall length of these corridors will be over 10,000 km.
In April 2016, IR selected companies from China, France and Spain to carry out feasibility studies of three routes connecting Delhi with Mumbai and Kolkata as well as the route between Mumbai and Chennai.
International collaborations: Over the past year, the Indian government has collaborated with a number of its global counterparts to facilitate cooperation in the development of an HSR network. MoUs for technical cooperation have been signed between the Indian government and the governments of countries such as Japan, Spain, France, Germany, China and the Republic of Korea. In December 2015, Japan extended a credit line of over Rs 790 billion for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad project.
Trial run of semi-high-speed trains: In June 2015, a trial run of the country’s first semi-high-speed train was conducted on the 200 km stretch between Delhi and Agra. The Gatimaan Express, as it is called, reported a total travel time of 110 minutes, with a top speed of 160 kmph. This is 30 minutes less than the current travel time. The train was flagged off on April 5, 2016. Meanwhile, a trial run of a semi-high-speed train was carried out to inspect the newly-laid double track on the Dappar-Ambala section.
First indigenous semi-high speed coaches rolled out: The Rail Coach Factory at Kapurthala rolled out 17 coaches of the Gatimaan Express. These coaches have several features such as automatic sliding doors with finger touch operations, sense-closing/opening, etc. The coaches are capable of running at a top speed of 160 kmph. Besides, works on high-speed coaches capable of running at a speed of 200 kmph are under way. The key features of these coaches include automatic outer doors, advanced braking systems, noise reduction with better sound insulation, the provision of a television set on the back of every seat in the executive chair cars, a Wi-Fi system as well as improved vestibules.
Going forward, environmental degradation along the HSR routes, displacement of people, noise pollution and regionally imbalanced development are perceived to be the potential pitfalls of HSR development in the country and call for targeted corrective policies.