How High Speed ​​Rail Can Accelerate India’s Development

With dedicated tracks and high-speed trains, Tier 2 cities will see a major boost in industrial growth. One of the essential ingredients is faster access to the industrial cluster without displacement of the population. This translates into stupendous growth for cities like Anand, Bilimora, Bharuch, Virar, Boisar and Vapi on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor where the high-speed rail will have stops.

Railways in India have always been a harbinger of good times – economically. For those who enjoy digging into history to understand the drivers of economic growth, laying a rail line was the best, cheapest, and shortest route to prosperity for the region. It’s no wonder that today we still see the clamor for new lines and new trains from elected officials. And they are not wrong. But today, a new dimension is emerging in the dynamics of train and rail for economic growth. It’s a strategy that propels a faster growth rate because all that matters is the speed of growth. The era of bullet trains, commonly known as bullet trains or Shinkansen, has arrived to fuel this speed of progress.

High-speed rail is a super-heavy investment, but it commands a new world of rail technology. The rail systems we have are suitable up to 200 km/h. As we seek to go beyond 300 km/h, rail technology puts us on another pedestal. Dedicated and elevated tracks, in-cab signalling, smart remote controls, noise reduction systems, wind effect awareness, infotainment, station architecture, passenger car design and train operations, all woven together provide a safe travel experience, punctual and relaxed. Existing skills will not work. It must be a fresh start.

As the country prepares to seize these new frontiers of high-speed rail technology, the first effect is felt on economic growth. The Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail link was sanctioned for an initial investment of over Rs1.1 lakh crore; approximately 82 percent financed by very low interest rate loans. This money will be pumped in a stretch of 500 km. What we are seeing as construction ramps up is a sea change in attitude in the way we do our work. New contractual standards are being adopted, reducing investment to maturity as well as security for stakeholders. A new rail laying technology is used to speed up track laying. All of these things invite investment. As all these skills are tightened and the performance parameters are demanding, the investments are substantial and this involves serious players. The boost is the railways, but the shadow effect on the industry is enormous. To name just one, the fare collection system and the entry of passengers into the platforms involve a complex IT architecture. It regulates the entry of passengers; provides a way to observe travel trends and is instant in reporting. Now this mode can easily be transplanted to any other area where similar situations exist, for example bus stations, designated exhibition grounds, sports stadiums and the list can go on. And not to mention the existing railway stations scattered throughout the country. These models are scalable at any level, both micro and macro.

If we evaluate the design of the stations, we observe that the movement of the trains is only one element. The station is today a business center, a conglomeration of shopping centers, a convention center and above all an entertainment destination. The high-speed train has redefined the concept of a station. Turn that into economic growth. Moreover, over time, the growth will continue to climb. To give it an understandable perspective, consider the growth of New Delhi, Chennai or Jaipur railway station. Without the railways, the makeover would not have been possible. With the advent of broadband, we are knocking on the door of sustained double-digit growth.

Broadband connectivity also has other dimensions. With dedicated tracks and high-speed trains, Tier 2 cities will see a major boost in industrial growth. One of the essential ingredients is faster access to the industrial cluster without displacement of the population. This translates into stupendous growth for cities like Anand, Bilimora, Bharuch, Virar, Boisar and Vapi on the Mumbai Ahmedabad corridor where the high speed train will have stops. The new connectivity will provide a comfortable “morning to evening return” scenario, even for air travelers landing in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Vadodara or Surat. With all the other ingredients for economic boom already present, quick and comfortable access to world-class standards will be the eternal freeze.

The experience of spectacular growth has been proven by similar high-speed trains in Japan, China and France. Today, Tokyo to Osaka Shinkansen sees more footsteps than airlines because the travel time between work centers is much less and also has a much lower cost. The adoption of high-speed travel has brought efficiency to their lives. This gives more time for work and networking. Similarly, national airlines in France are no longer the choice of travelers. Up to around 800 km, high-speed travel is now a new norm. Even without the first high-speed line waiting to take shape, Indian state governments are working on strategies to adopt the same in their area.

The “Make in India” policy has transformed the Indian economic landscape. When the high-speed project started, a large number of contracts were awarded to Japanese companies. In a few years, the roles have been reversed and the majority of civil contracts are now concluded with Indian infrastructure companies. And they all qualify under strict Japanese standards. More is likely to be heard in the area of ​​signaling and rolling stock where the technology has been tightly held by Japanese companies. Modi government policy has made India manufacturing policies not only bring manufacturing to India but also accelerate the same. This is amply evident in the Indian Shinkansen. Being a new technology, there are greater opportunities.

As we recall, advances in space technology spilled over into defense and then into normal life, pumping the economy with applications of new technologies. Something similar is likely to happen in the high-speed rail sector. The way India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi started, it will come as no surprise if there is an Indian version of high-speed rail in its entirety and the economy is revived enough to reach the goal of $5 trillion or even more.

(The author is the former chairman of the Railway Board, India)

Jose P. Rogers