Does India need a bullet train?

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Background:

  1. India is having the third largest railway network in the world, in terms of kilometres of track and the number of passengers who travel, still it does not have a single high-speed corridor. There are 15 countries worldwide in the exclusive high-speed rail fraternity.
  2. Mankind’s fascination with speed is legendary. The growth of civilisation is linked intimately with growth in speed or mobility. The invention of the wheel, domestication of the horse, and harnessing of steam power for locomotion are all intricate links of the same chain. Railways emerged as the mainstay of the Industrial Revolution witnessed in the Western world in the 18th and 19th centuries. Hence, bullet train is a further step in this direction.
  3. The high-speed rail (HSR) is a solution to the competition railways faced from fast-moving automobiles and airplanes.
  4. Owning a HSR network has become a status symbol for nations.

Pros of having Bullet Train:

  1. India will have the technology and the finances at one go by adopting the Shinkansen technology owned by Japan and wrangling a sizeable loan through the Japan International Cooperation Agency, India has tried to kill two birds with one stone.
  2. Helps India to display to the world its technological prowess in the field of bullet trains in the manner that it did in the space and satellites programme.
  3. HSR is a growth multiplier as it leads to greater mobility.
  4. Unlike air travel, which is expensive and less energy-efficient, bullet trains will make the stations en route hubs for economic and industrial growth.
  5. HSR also means de-congestion of metropolitan cities as traffic will be diverted from road to rail.
  6. It is safer, faster, and economically viable with a 11.8% rate of return.
  7. It will increase investment in infrastructure, ignite the economy, and create jobs.

Cons of Bullet Train:

  • By looking at position India among the ranks of developed countries, it is a huge overreach. Only a handful of high-income countries with specific demographics have high-speed rail (HSR), while many have failed in their efforts, others have abandoned it after studying it. 
  • The main problem is economic viability, given the huge costs involved. India should take into account the experience of other countries regarding the project viability.

Cause of concern:

  • Enhance subsidy burden, Neglect masses and Expensive borrowing
  • The present system of running trains on a congested network at the cost of maintenance and safety has to give way to safety consciousness in operations. ‘Safety first’ should be the mantra of the Indian Railways if accidents like Utkal Express and the Elphinstone Road station stampede are to be averted.

Way Forward:

  1. The people of India need a high-speed rail network to give wings to trade and commerce can’t be contested. But what is germane to the whole subject is that it should be ultimately financially viable to run and could be upgraded by in-house expertise.
  2. Bullet train is also criticised in the backdrop of recent train accident.
  3. There is no denying that present infrastructure of the railway need investment to avert accidents.
  4. But the fact that HSR is a new dimension to transportation and it is a different and distinct business independent of conventional railways like the Metro Rail. Finances and management of HSR will have nothing to do with the conventional Indian Railways.

Source:TH