By Dr. Gyan Pathak
India is now the most populated country in the world with a very high rate of urbanization that is expected to reach 41 per cent by 2030 according to the latest estimate of the World Bank in 2022. In 2021, the urbanization rate was 35 per cent as against 26 per cent in 1991. Rapid urbanization has thus been coupled with rising population necessitating such a model of economic growth that creates a surge in transportation demand. High-speed rail (HSR) is naturally seen as a valuable tool to address this demand.
In response to this development, as the backbone of its growing economy, the country’s infrastructure development, particularly transportation development, has been heavily emphasized, and the railway sector is set to see and investment of $715.41 billion by 2030. An opportunity to expand the HSR has been presented in the country along with a series of government policies, and from the government viewpoint it is an effective tool to address the surge in travel demand because of its mass transportation, high speed, and high energy efficiency, as is seen in the exceptional performance in countries like Japan and Spain.
The issue has been discussed on July 29 2022 in ADBI hosted World Conference on Transport Research Society Knowledge Sharing Sessions on Policies and Programmes for Implementation of High-Speed Rain Network in Asia. Using that discussion as a start, ADBI has now released a policy brief titled “Planning and Capacity Building for High-Speed Rail Development in India: Five Key Lessons”. It has highlighted five key lessons and opportunities – three for planning and two for capacity building –in the Indian context.
The first lesson has highlighted the importance of inclusive infrastructure development and has emphasized the need to connect HSR with the existing air, rail, and road transport network while keeping in mind the extension of HSR in the future. The second and the third lessons focus on the financial aspects of HSR development, and says that sustainable financing can be achieved through public-private partnerships and non-fare models. These three lessons are related to rectifications of the defects in planning of HSR development in the country.
The next two lessons are related to capacity building in HSR development, which ponder the nuances of technology transfer in megaproject scenarios emphasizing the importance of research and development innovation and Indianization of technology, which is by and large lacking in India. Since there is no evidence of concerted efforts to a level that must be put to maximizing the efficiency of HSR in the long run, these two lessons recommends for concerted efforts.
Since 2007-2008, Union Budget announcements have introduced high-speed services on identified corridors at a goal speed of 300 to 350 km per hour. India finally has its first HSR project – the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail (MAHSR) project, which is part of the Diamond Quadrilateral Project, confirmed, announced, and under construction. It runs alongside the western dedicated freight corridor and the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor. Indian Railways is operating and managing this flagship project.
This train will be running at 320 km per hour. However, compared to other Asian cities, HSR development in India is still slow. The Republic of Korea reached 295 km per hour long back in 2004, and China 350 km per hour in 2008. Let it be so. India has identified six HSR corridors – Delhi-Chandigarh-Amritsar, Chennai-Bangalore-Mysore, Delhi-Mumbai, Delhi-Kolkata, Mumbai-Nagpur, and Mumbai-Chennai. The total length of all HSR would be 6,387 km.
The Lesson 1calls for incorporating some key elements from an urban planning perspective, a holistic and forward-looking planning approach that takes into consideration different routes, nearby infrastructure, and future extensions, that is essential in achieving cost-effective, efficient, and sustainable HSR development in India.
It advises the distance between the two stations to be 500 to 800 km. While it is preferable to have the stations placed at existing intercity rail locations for better accessibility benefits and reduced infrastructure costs, this may fail to satisfy the spacing requirements and ridership demand. Hence, an optimal trade-off should be made between constructing additional intermediate stations to boost overall ridership and limiting the number of stations to their minimum for faster ride.
The concept of interoperability among different routes has been incorporated into the technical specifications in European HSR lines especially in InterCity Express in Germany and the SNCF in France. In order to achieve the same, India should reference these standards to govern the interoperability of different HSR routes with the assistance of technology.
While discussing compatibility of routes with nearby infrastructure, the brief points out the lack of vision in the transportation network development of India, as is reflected in failure of the country to handle the pressing travel demand by taking more than 20 years to build the new Navi Mumbai Airport after the Mumbai Airport had reached its total capacity. It calls for better coordination among the five modes of travel – HSR, conventional rail, air, car, and bus –which is fundamental. Many would see competition among them but they could be made complementary, it says.
Compatibility of routes with future extensions should be considered even in the preliminary planning stage. It points out that the Mumbai-Pune Expressway that has been in use since 2002 is not connected to other cities further south or east, and this has greatly limited the expressway’s utilization efficiency. It must not be repeated in HSR development.
Lesson 2 calls of PPP as a funding model, and as announced in 2020, all the new HSR projects will be open to PPP models. We have experience of running this model in bad weather in the past, and therefore the brief suggests that the government should actively reform its institutional and regulatory frameworks.
Lesson 3 calls for tapping the potential of the non-fare model including the freight receipts for additional revenue streams, such as leasing out of lands surrounding the railway stations, attracting new commercial and residential construction, and stimulating construction prices etc. New Innovative Non-Fare Revenue Ideas scheme has already been in force since 2018, which is being hampered by bureaucracy and embedded ambiguity, it says.
Lesson 4 calls for strengthening innovative capacity. High-Speed Rail Innovation Centre trust was registered on January 22, 2019, but it needs to enhance its performance. Lesson 5 calls for transferring technologies from other countries and Indianising them faster than it has been done until now. (IPA Service)