By P. Sreekumaran
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: One swallow does not make a summer. So goers the saying. Likewise, one Vande Bharat train for Kerala won’t solve the State’s long-standing railway travel woes.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders and activists in the State, who are over the moon, however, beg to differ. They would have the people believe that the train, a “Vishu gift” from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is the key to solve Kerala’s rail-related problems.
Nothing is farther from the ground reality. What Kerala needs is not more trains, however modern they may be. The introduction of even 20 Vande Bharat trains won’t meet the State’s needs. The need of the hour is an advanced signalling system and the tracks that can accommodate high-speed trains. It is true that Vande Bharat trains can operate at a maximum speed of 160 km per hour. But where are the tracks? The present tracks in the States simply cannot take that much speed. The maximum average speed the train, which will run on the Thiruvananthapuram-Kannur route, can take at present is 80 kmph. That too, if it has limited number of stops. The train, which will be flagged off by the Prime Minister on April 25, is expected to cover the distance in approximately seven hours.
The train can attain the maximum speed only if the curves – there are as many as 626 curves in the state as of now – are straightened. It will take at least 10 years for that job to be done. This being the ground reality, the overenthusiasm of the BJP is misplaced. That is the contention of Left Democratic Front(LDF) and United Democratic Front (UDF) leaders.
Most important, even metro man E Sreedharan, who unsuccessfully contested the Kerala Assembly election as a BJP candidate, says Vande Bharat trains are not useful for a state like Kerala in the absence of track renewal. The BJP leaders have remained tight-lipped over Sreedharan’s contention. Sreedharan is not the only person to contend that Vande Bharat trains won’t serve Kerala’s purpose. Other experts are also of the same view.
Although the BJP leaders deny politics, it is clear that the whole exercise is nothing but an attempt to score brownie points and to use it for furthering the BJP agenda – of winning a number of seats in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. But there is no shutting your eyes to the negative points. First and foremost, the train fare from Thiruvananthapuram to Kannur will be Rs 2150. Compared to this the Jana Shatabdi train charges only Rs 775. It is difficult to believe that people will prefer Vande Bharat to save one and a half hours. Unless the train fare is revised, Vande Bharat train will remain beyond the reach of the common man and the middle class. Will the Railway Ministry do that? Highly unlikely.
BJP leaders also argue that the introduction of Vande Bharat trains will sound the death knell of the SilverLine semi high-speed train project which the Kerala Government has been pressing for. LDF leaders say nothing of the kind is going to happen. SilverLine is very much relevant and will remain the train for the future as far as Kerala is concerned.
Meanwhile, the first trial run of the Vande Bharat Express was successfully completed on Monday with the train covering the distance between Thiruvananthapuram and Kannur in seven hours and 10 minutes. Vande Bharat has 16 coaches and will have eight stops, including Thiruvananthapuram. The other stops are Kollam, Kottayam, Ernakulam, Thrissur, Tirur, Kozhikode and Kannur.
On their part, LDF leaders, while welcoming the Vande Bharat Express for Kerala, say that it is not a gift from the Union Government. Kerala is not the only state to get Vande Bharat trains. Other states also have it. It is the State’s right to have Vande Bharat trains. In fact, Kerala MPs have demanded in Parliament that out of the proposed 400 odd Vande Bharat trains, Kerala should get at least 10.
The real problem as far as Kerala is concerned, is the lack of an advanced signalling system and renewal of tracks so that the speed of the trains can be increased. The Union Government has so far made no commitment in this regard. Sooner than later, it will have to address this problem. (IPA Service)