There has been a lot of talk of recently of high speed rail networks being developed for passengers traffic. A National High Speed Railway Authority (NHSRA) is being setup by the government to study and setup the railway lines.
India has the world’s 4th largest network of railways. India has the largest growth in air travel. And this is set to grow, given that the economy is growing at ~7%. High speed trains make sense for travel distances upto about 600kms which can be done in about 2.5-3hrs in a high speed train. For these distances, many of the customers who would otherwise have gone by air would convert to the high speed train, because the door-to-door time in trains would be less than by air ( as the airport would be situated outside the city and check-in would have to be done 60 minutes prior to take-off). Some of the passengers who today travel by overnight train on these sectors would also convert to the high speed trains.
High speed trains are already operational in Europe – TGV, Thallys , ICE– Japan – Shinkansen – China. In fact countries like Turkey and Morocco have introduced high speed trains. So, it seems logical that India should not be left behind.
All this looks good and ambitious. But how can we make this a reality? And is it feasible?
What are the challaenges?
Land issues: Land acquisition in India is a major bottleneck to any infrastructure project. The Dedicated Freight Corridor also faced issues in land acquisition and hence the project has been delayed.
Indian Railways: The Indian Railways record in creating new railway lines is poor. The Delhi Metro and Konkan Railway projects would never have been executed had it been entrusted to the Indian Railways. And it is for no fault of the Indian Railways; they are meant to run and operate trains that keep this great country moving. And they do a very good job of it. The Indian Railways organization and structure is not geared to infrastructure development.
PPP: The PPP model would be the key factor in the success of this project. There are several good PPP models – Ports, Highways, Airports. These models should be used to create a framework which allows these projects to fructify.
The high speed railway projects are very capital intensive. Any PPP partner will venture into it, only if he is absolutely certain that the government will play the game according to the rules and that the government will not change the rules of the game midway through the concession period.
I was doing some calculations on the costing and pricing of the seats on the high speed trains. It is not cheap.
Infrastructure Capital Cost : Cost of laying a high speed railway line is Rs 100 Cr per kilometre. This includes tracks, overhead traction, signalling and even stations.
Train-set Cost: Cost of a train set is roughly Rs 200 Cr (€ 30 million) for a 600 seat train car.
Rolling Stock maintenance cost would be about Rs 10 Cr per train set per year.
Track maintenance cost would be about Rs 25 lacs per track kilometre.
Electricity costs for traction would be Rs 200 per kilometre [ I have not assumed any regeneration and return to grid due to regenerative braking]
The table below shows the rough calculation of the cost per passenger for two sectors that I took as a sample – Mumbai-Ahmedabad and Chennai-Bangalore. The passenger data is approximate based on the number of flights and Shatabdi trains that run between these cities.
The cost per passenger on the high speed train is higher than flight costs. [ the cost of a one-way Mumbai-Ahmedabad air ticket on a weekday was about Rs 3700 and for Chennai-Bangalore it was about Rs 3500].
How do these costs compare to high speed trains elsewhere in the world. Here is a table on the cost of travel on high speed trains across the world.
The costs that I have calculated seem on the higher side. Some of the costs are approximate costs and that could account for the higher price. Also, the cost is very sensitive to occupancy rate. Any increase in occupancy rate can bring the costs down. I guess that is where the business wizkids will apply their minds and find the optimum price.
The advantages of a high passenger train service are;
Green option: Rail is a much greener option than road or air. Travelling by train versus travelling by air reduces carbon emission by between 85% and 90%!
Instead of spending time and money in bailing out airlines, the Indian government should consider giving that subsidy to a greener and more environmentally friendly option – high speed railways. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/article2624710.ece
Let’s hope the National High Speed Railway Authority (NHSRA) does a good job and India get’s its TGV , Thallys, Shinkansen, ICE!