Monday, May 27, 2013

Tracking High Speed Rail in India

For nearly thirty years, India has been toying with the idea of implementing High Speed Rail along major corridors to maintain global relevance and to increase connectivity to boost business and tourism. It looks like India is, finally, on track to get its very first high-speed rail line, albeit at least ten years from now. The HSR made headlines last week when the French National Railways, SNFC, announced that the technical feasibility studies for the Mumbai – Ahmedabad line (and 5 other lines), it is helping the Indian Government conduct, is nearing completion. The construction for this line is expected to begin after ironing out financial details like pricing, etc. and is expected to take 10 years to complete. Each line is expected to cost $600 Billion to construct.

High Speed Rail for India?

Railways, specifically HSR, have been a contentious topic in India and mired in constant controversy. In the eighties, the very first proposal to introduce a high-speed rail link between Delhi and Kanpur was shot down due to the high cost of construction and the inability of passengers to pay higher fares. Instead it introduced the Shatabdi Express, which to this day is the fastest train in India, plying at 90 mph.

Shatabdi Express - The fastest train in India 

Since then, several proposals have been shelved for various reasons, until the 2009 white paper by the Ministry of Indian Railways, Vision 2020. This paper outlined the latest proposal for HSR connecting India’s major commercial, religious and tourist hubs. The trains would be built on elevated corridors due to land constraints and to prevent trespassing by people and animals, as is common with the current system. This proposal seeks to increase the train speeds in India from 70-90 mph to about 150 mph. The 2012 Railway Budget referred to this plan when adding HSR feasibility studies in the line items. The budget also directed the creation of the High Speed Rail Corporation of India (HSRC). Technical feasibility studies commenced in 2012 for six corridors under the direction of HSRC and the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor will be the first to be completed.

Proposed HSR Corridors in India

It is high time for India to get serious about HSR implementation. The current railway network, although extensive, is heavily burdened and consistently underperforming. Poor maintenance and unhygienic conditions are a constant source of dissatisfaction among travelers. Moreover, the quality of service is highly elastic to changes in the political structure at the Central (Federal) Government. HSR may solve many of the current issues, especially under a private-public partnership.

With India’s growing role in the world economy, infrastructure development in the country has become a crucial issue, especially as comparisons to China’s massive infrastructure investments shed a poor light on India’s current state of affairs. Currently, India lacks a surface transportation system that can effectively move people from one end of the country to the other. Implementing HSR will foster and accelerate economic growth with efficient connections for business and tourism. However, bureaucratic challenges and the recent chain of political scams rocking the country pose a major threat to HSR in India. Yet, the Indian government seems motivated enough to see this through. Will India eventually get HSR? Only time will tell.

Thank you, Arthur, for editing this post!



  1. Sravya-

    Very interesting piece.

    I feel like you have brought to our attention a nation that is at the cross-roads of a huge cultural decision via its transportation investments: 600 billion to rail or untold billions to infrastructure for probable road improvements due to the projected 7-8% annual vehicle growth (Two Billion Cars) by its population.
    Will the world's largest democracy, economically emerging and with a increasing middle class eager to have its luxuries, try to socially engineer public transit? Or open the flood gates and let them buy cars?
    From your piece I get the feeling that they know they are at a pivotal point - it will be interesting to see which direction they go.

  2. For some ideas on HSR in the US, Prof. David Levinson's blog is a good source, e.g.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.