Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Home News Reports Know Your Railways - High Speed Rail and why India needs it to progress

Know Your Railways – High Speed Rail and why India needs it to progress

“You cannot resist an idea whose time has come” said a great man once. After discussing Indian Railway at length about their coaches, configuration and operation, it’s time we discuss about the future i.e. High Speed Rail or “Bullet Trains” as the popular nomenclature goes.

What exactly is a “Bullet Train” and how is it different from our conventional trains? Well, it looks sleek, shiny and futuristic and runs at a speed which is double or more the speed of our conventional trains. But how? Is that all it is? To begin with, “Bullet Train” is the official name given to the 0 series Shinkansen, the first ever High Speed Rail (HSR) built by Japan on the Tokaido Shinkansen line that runs from Tokyo to Osaka, now discontinued. World over, it is called with different names, for example ICE (Intercity Express) in Germany, TGV in France, CRH (China Railway High speed) in China and Shinkansen in Japan.

The magnificent China CRHs

So how does HSR runs at 300+ KMPH speeds? How exactly is it different from our conventional trains?

- Advertisement -

To begin with, most HSRs are EMU Trainsets (Most because, few like the Eurostar still is hauled by a loco, even though it has powered coaches). EMU stands for “Electrical Multiple Units”. So there are multiple power cars that draw power from OHE (Over Head Equipment) catenary and multiple motor cars that do the driving. This is unlike our conventional trains which have a Loco attached to the front which does all the pulling and coaches are powerless.

Some HSRs even have 100% axles powered i.e. all axles are connected to traction motors. So the driver cabin in these trains only house the control equipment for the train while the entire rake drives itself. Also, these are manufactured as “Trainsets” i.e. the coaches are semi-permanently coupled to each other forming a set of train. Imagine a Delhi metro rake. Can a gang man just get down on the track with a hammer and couple of spanners and detach a coach? No, because the coaches are not easy to separate. Delhi Metro trains are EMU trainsets, HSRs are just a more sophisticated version of this.

A Delhi Metro 6 car rake with 2 pantographs drawing power

There are other details like, some of them have articulated bogie a.k.a Jacobs Bogie like the Eurostar trains manufactured by Alstom, where 2 coaches share the same bogie, 2 wheels per coach, while the Kawasaki manufactured Shinkansen doesn’t share bogie just like our conventional trains. All, HSRs must be air conditioned and sealed, some even have pressurised cabin because you can’t have trains running at 300 KMPH with air flowing in and out of cabs. The underslung of all these trains have to be covered. There are no protruding doors on windows and these fit into the coach body (Imagine Delhi Metro rake). All these are done to achieve better aerodynamics.

Articulated bogie on an Eurostar, manufactured by Alstom, France

Apart from the rolling stock, HSR also needs a whole new ecosystem to run. In-cab signalling, Automated Train Protection Systems ensure complete computer controlled run like auto pilots in flights. High speed trains can’t run on conventional tracks like ours where there is a join every 14 meter using a fishplate.

They use something called Continuous Welded Rails (CWR) joined through thermal welding, which allows expansion during heat generated when trains run on them, besides the rails are longer. The ballasts and slippers are the same, just that slipper are placed more closely than conventional rail track.

An welded rail joint

Technicalities apart, the question however is, do we need a HSR?

Let’s first settle the debate on do we need high speed transportation? I don’t think this needs to be elaborated. High speed transportation like CRH, Shinkansen or the Interstate network in USA has changed the entire economics of these countries and propelled them into an era of super-development.

It opens up the country to a vast set of possibilities. It revolutionises manufacturing by decentralising it. It also has cultural significance as diversified people come together thus breaking the geographical barrier. It virtually breaks the “tyranny of distance” as some may put it. In essence, it turbo charges the economy. Most developed countries worked on high speed transportation after world war II and that’s the sole reason, they are where they are.

Having settled the debate on high speed transportation, we have 3 options for going high speed. Air, road and Trains. Let’s target the easiest first. We can build American Interstates or German Autobahns to solve our high speed transportation problem. But to solve this problem, we have two bigger problems that need to be addressed first.

If you have travelled in a western country, you would have realised that there are vast swathes of empty land through which these super highways travel. Where would we get so much of empty land? And with “Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition”, it becomes more difficult and costly affair.

Also, remember, we are talking about high speed communication here, where we have to build real expressways with defined entry and exit points, known as “Access Controlled Highways” in normal parlance. With a town, village or settlement every few kilometres, this is not even a possibility in India. Wherever we have “Access Controlled Expressway”, we have a parallel highway serving to non-dense populated areas in between, so we need 2 sets of highways!

The second problem is, if we chose road as the default High Speed Transport medium, it comes with a fossil fuel dependency i.e an inflated oil import bill, dependency on OPEC and US dollars.

Interstate I-25 with vast swathes of empty land along side. Imagine how rare is this India.

The second choice before us is air. Here, the problem is similar. Currently, most of our airports are operating near about full capacity. If we have to expand, we need Greenfield airports that not only requires huge tracts of free land but it also puts certain restrictions in adjacent areas. Just follow the Navi Mumbai airport to see the number of problems it has got into, because of land usage. Also, air transport doesn’t help the hydrocarbon dependency or OPEC and US dollar hegemony.

Both of these mediums also suffer from another chronic issue i.e. carbon footprint. Considering the number of people it carries, if we calculate the carbon footprint per person per KM in these mediums. The below illustration substantiates it.

Transport mean Passengers
average
Emissions
(g CO2/km*pax)
Bus 12.7 68
Car 4 55
Plane 88 285
Train 156 14

(Note: The illustration is taken from European Environment Agency where most of the electricity used to run these trains come from Nuclear reactors unlike coal powered boilers in our country)

To add, HSR solves the oil import bill. One more advantage of trains are, they reduce the total door-to-door travel time vis-a-vis airports. Where greenfield airports are located around 50-60 KMs from business districts in the city, it takes somewhere around 1-2 hour to reach the airport, additional 1.5-2 hours in check-in and boarding formalities and another 1 hour in the destination city. So somewhere between 4-5 hours is added to your total journey time.

Whitefield to Bangalore airport on a Sunday – Non working day

Consider this, as I write this, a customary search on Google maps from Whitefield (Business district), Bangalore to Kempegowda International airport at Devanahali shows me around ~ 1.5 hours.

Compare this to HSR line that is coming up at Mumbai, where you will get down right at the heart of most bustling business district of Mumbai, the Bandra-Kurla complex. You can compare St. Pancras-vs-Heathrow, Paris Gare du Nord-vs-Charles De Gaulle, Tokaido-vs-Haneda airport to get a comparative figure of airport commute vs train station commute. It’s the same world over. That’s because unlike airports, HSR stations do *NOT* need huge tract of free land. In fact, most of these are constructed underground so they require land, lesser than even a shopping mall.

St. Pancras at Central London spread over ~500 square meter. Heathrow airport takes ~12 Sq KM area

Additionally, apart from the station, the train tracks require 25% of land required to build a 6 lane highway. In India, it’s even lesser than that because almost the entire HSR line from Mumbai to Ahmedabad will be elevated with only piers taking as much land, leaving most of the land to public use. Not to add, the economic corridor it will bring along the route.

Hyderabad metro, overground. Only the piers occupy space on road leaving much land to public usage

I hope, you are now convinced that we need high speed transport to jump to the next level of development era and train is the way to go considering demography, geography and other unique needs of India. Now let’s come to the central opposition to HSR in India, the famous socialistic debate “Why do we need HSR when our existing railways have so much lacuna”.

The stem of this debate lies in our mindset that all development must be linear. First we must achieve “this” before we start investing in “that” while missing the point that development can and should always be parallel.

Did we ask, why are we developing Taj expressway when most UP roads are filled with potholes? Did we ask why bring Scanias/Volvos when we don’t even have proper highways? Did we ask, why BSNL is investing in 3G/4G when it can’t even get the landline right? We didn’t, because landline is obsolete, stone age. It’s the age of mobile. If we don’t invest, we will perish.

Apply similar logic here. High Speed Train is the future. Conventional loco hauled trains will be history in sometime. If we don’t invest in it now, we will be missing the development bus, YET AGAIN. And get this, if you want to solve all your current problem before moving to the next one, you will be stuck forever, because you CANNOT ever solve all your problems.

That said, there is no denying that we need to improve our current rail infrastructure. Make no mistake, without a robust conventional railway, a HSR will never ever be a success. Conventional railway works as a feeder to limited HSR network, be it Germany, France or Japan. And in a huge country like India, it’s more than essential that we develop a HSR and an equally robust feeder system in the form of current Indian Railway. Imagine major economic and cultural corridors connected by HSR network being fed by IR network which connects it to smaller towns and villages in the interiors. It can bring a revolution in the way Indians travel.

Shinkansen E5. India will be getting these. A 10 car configuration sits around 700 people

Don’t consider HSR as an upgrade to our existing trains. It’s a whole new paradigm shift in the way people travel. HSR is an idea whose time has come and we will have to do it. Why Mumbai-Ahmedabad, you can argue. Well, that’s because Japan is paying and it’s upto them where they want to invest as they see a financial sustainability.

It’s not about the corridor. It’s the tech. We are missing this tech for long and it’s due India get the HSR tech to its door. We can then come up with more corridors in the diamond quadrilateral connecting other metropolis like Bengaluru-Chennai, Delhi-Jaipur, Lucknow-Kolkata, Hyderabad-Vizag to name a few.

Possibilities are endless but we have to make a beginning. Ahmedabad-Mumbai Shinkansen is that beginning and we must support this endeavour. If channelled right, this alone can put us on the growth trajectory that none other reforms have achieved so far.

Also read the other two articles in the “Know Your Railways” series:

Part 1: Know your Railways – Rolling Stock and Coaches

Part 2: Know your Railways: Why our trains are perennially late

  Support Us  

Whether NDTV or 'The Wire', they never have to worry about funds. In name of saving democracy, they get money from various sources. We need your support to fight them. Please contribute whatever you can afford

Related Articles

Trending now

Casting director of Rhea Chakraborty’s debut film ‘Jalebi’ among 10 Bollywood personalities to have died in the past few months. Read the details here

A post containing the list of recent deaths of Bollywood celebs and the alleged reasons behind their deaths is being widely shared.

‘Are your breasts real? Can I touch?’ Actress Sherlyn Chopra accuses KWAN talent agency co-founder of sexual misconduct

Bollywood actress Sherlyn Chopra on Tuesday took to Twitter to call out sexual misconduct of KWAN talent agency co-founder Anirban Blah.

Nikhil Dwivedi, filmmaker and director of talent agency owned by Salman Khan, claims latter did not buy stakes in KWAN. Read details

Uniworld Big Talent (UBT) owned by Salman Khan, holds major stakes in Big Bang Media Venture, the holding company which owns KWAN.

Delhi riots: Tahir Hussain and Ishrat Jahan among five others accused of receiving Rs 1.61 crores to instigate riots, ‘manage’ anti-CAA protests

The police have stated that Ishrat Jahan had used a part of the cash she received to purchase weapons for the riots.

Mumbai Police made actress Payal Ghosh wait till 2 AM, did not file sexual assault complaint against Anurag Kashyap: Reports

The BMC declared her society a containment zone to prevent the actress from filing a complaint.

ANI Editor rubbishes viral claim of the same person acting as a customer during demonetisation and farmer supporting agriculture Bills

Congress social media co-ordinator Vinay Kumar Dokania in a tweet alleged that a farmer interviewed by ANI over farm bills was the same man who praised demonetisation and Digital India in 2016

Recently Popular

Fact Check: Is India going under lockdown once again from September 25?

PIB has debunked rumours on social media about the reimposition of lockdown from September 25 in the wake of Coronavirus surge.

‘Whoever doesn’t want to watch the show, can go and read a novel, or turn off the TV’: Justice Chandrachud on Sudarshan News ‘UPSC...

"Read a novel, or turn off the TV", justice Chandrachud stated that if anyone doesn't like the content of the Sudarshan News show, they can choose not to watch it.

NCB summons KWAN Agency CEO. Did you know Anurag Kashyap aide and film producer Madhu Mantena co-founded KWAN as well as Phantom films

Interestingly, until now, all the big Bollywood names which have emerged in the NCB's probe have links with KWAN Agency

Nikhil Dwivedi, filmmaker and director of talent agency owned by Salman Khan, claims latter did not buy stakes in KWAN. Read details

Uniworld Big Talent (UBT) owned by Salman Khan, holds major stakes in Big Bang Media Venture, the holding company which owns KWAN.

‘Are your breasts real? Can I touch?’ Actress Sherlyn Chopra accuses KWAN talent agency co-founder of sexual misconduct

Bollywood actress Sherlyn Chopra on Tuesday took to Twitter to call out sexual misconduct of KWAN talent agency co-founder Anirban Blah.

‘Maal you have?’ Deepika Padukone’s name emerges in the Bollywood drug abuse probe as NCB investigation intensifies

In a sensational revelation, Bollywood's top actress Deepika Padukone's name has emerged in the latest drug abuse probe carried out by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB)

India and China issue joint statement following 6th round of Senior Commanders’ meeting, agree to stop sending more troops to frontline

India and China have issued a joint statement in the aftermath of the 6th rounds of Senior Commanders' meeting between the two countries.

Casting director of Rhea Chakraborty’s debut film ‘Jalebi’ among 10 Bollywood personalities to have died in the past few months. Read the details here

A post containing the list of recent deaths of Bollywood celebs and the alleged reasons behind their deaths is being widely shared.

‘Are your breasts real? Can I touch?’ Actress Sherlyn Chopra accuses KWAN talent agency co-founder of sexual misconduct

Bollywood actress Sherlyn Chopra on Tuesday took to Twitter to call out sexual misconduct of KWAN talent agency co-founder Anirban Blah.

Dia Mirza denies allegations of drug abuse, seeks legal action

Diz Mirza "strongly refuted" and "categorically" denied the "false" and "baseless" allegations levelled with mala fide intentions.

Nikhil Dwivedi, filmmaker and director of talent agency owned by Salman Khan, claims latter did not buy stakes in KWAN. Read details

Uniworld Big Talent (UBT) owned by Salman Khan, holds major stakes in Big Bang Media Venture, the holding company which owns KWAN.

NDTV journalist of ‘chhota mota bomb blast’ fame is incensed at speech he finds uncomfortable: Read how

During one of his shows on NDTV, Sreenivasan Jain had claimed that terrorist Ishrat Jahan wanted to do a 'chota-mota' bomb blast.

Suspended AAP Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh admits on TV that he broke Deputy Chairman’s mic

AAP leader Sanjay Singh, along with other opposition MPs, had created a ruckus in the Rajya Sabha after the passage of the Farm Bills.

Delhi riots: Tahir Hussain and Ishrat Jahan among five others accused of receiving Rs 1.61 crores to instigate riots, ‘manage’ anti-CAA protests

The police have stated that Ishrat Jahan had used a part of the cash she received to purchase weapons for the riots.

Uttar Pradesh: Man rips open pregnant wife’s stomach with a sickle to check the gender of foetus

Man in UP arrested after he cut open his wife's stomach, allegedly suspecting that she is going to give birth to another girl.

Mumbai Police made actress Payal Ghosh wait till 2 AM, did not file sexual assault complaint against Anurag Kashyap: Reports

The BMC declared her society a containment zone to prevent the actress from filing a complaint.

Connect with us

244,181FansLike
454,739FollowersFollow
16,500SubscribersSubscribe