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Here is why India is investing in Bullet Trains

ABP News recently circulated an article headlined “In the cost of one bullet train, India can afford to have 800 Rajdhani trains” This makes for a catchy headline but the basic premise is so amateur that no mainstream media of repute should have even approved it for publishing.

It is already known from the project’s repayment plan agreed with Japan that the “cost of the bullet train” is spread over next 50 years. Hence this comparison has no practical value because India would certainly not continue rolling out 70 km/hr Rajdhani Trains for next 50 years while already trains in Europe, Japan and China today are clocking 300+ km/hr.

Visionary leaders in policymaking roles plan for the next two or three decades in advance. As per this McKinsey report, India is undergoing rapid urbanization with rising income levels:

  • In next 10+ years (by 2030), 600 million people would be living in cities
  • In next 30+ years (by 2050), 900 million people would be living in cities

Data Source: Here

A much larger number of people would require better connectivity between cities. India needs to address its future travel demands by creating high passenger carrying capacity between its cities. The following are globally recommended optimal options for intercity travel:

  • Short distances of up to 200km: By road/car
  • Medium distances of 200km to 800km: High-speed trains
  • Long distances of more than 800km: Flight

Benefits of investing in High-Speed Rail (HSR) over Air Travel:

  • Aircraft run on expensive air-grade fuel which needs to be imported. HSRs run on electrical energy which is produced locally. Thus, resulting in huge savings of foreign exchange in future
  • HSRs generate much higher passenger carrying capacity as one train can carry 800 to 1200 passengers compared to only 200 passengers per aircraft
  • HSRs also generate massive job creation opportunities because tracks, stations, electronic equipment for guidance and monitoring have to be manufactured locally
  • One train provides connectivity between 7 to 10 cities along the route, compared to only point-to-point connectivity by one flight
  • They also provide stimulus for the development of satellite towns along the entire HSR route thus enabling further economic growth
  • For mid-range travel distance, total travel time for passengers in Air-travel is much higher due to associated activities like check-in, security check and baggage claim

Benefits of investing in High-Speed Rail (HSR) over conventional trains:

  • For most businessmen and MNC executives travelling between business-critical cities like Mumbai and Ahmedabad, time is equivalent to money
  • Travel time is the unproductive part of any business trip. Sitting in train for 7 hours for a 500 km journey is a wasteful investment when one can finish it in 2 hours, use time for productive business interactions and return the same day
  • Faster travel means more productive work, faster trade, more business activity within any given time and faster economic growth

Mumbai-Ahmedabad is just the first route. India is also planning to build 10,000+ km of HSR tracks connecting many major cities across the map. After a few projects, India could also potentially build high-speed trains for other countries in future, like we now do for launching satellites through ISRO.

It makes economic and strategic sense to build bullet trains for medium range distances and invest in aviation capability for long distance travel. As per this business report, China with similar challenges as India (large area, large population) had no HSR till just a decade ago. Today, its high-speed trains that move twice as many passengers as its airlines and the demand continues growing.

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Shashank Goyal
IIM-A alumnus, Software Sales Professional, Writes about business, economy and politics; Passionate about numbers, facts and analysis Tweets @shashankgoyal01

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