By Sujith Mohandas (LMB)
The key to stay ahead and relevant in today’s ever-changing world is to adapt to new technologies and continuously innovate and improve the existing facilities. India being one of the fastest economically growing country has always strived towards this idea and now has added a new technology into its dream basket. A dream of travelling in one of the fastest trains in the world known as the Bullet train (called so because of its shape resembling a bullet) or as Shinkansen train as it is known in Japan. A dream of safe and high-speed long-distance travel through railways.
High-Speed Railway as such doesn’t have a standard definition, but a railway system designed for speeds above 250 kmph is generally included in the category of High-Speed Railway Sections. Only 16 nations have high-speed railways -China boasts of the world’s longest network with 27,000 km of such tracks. Japan, Spain, France and Germany are others where tracks dedicated for high-speed trains stretch over 1,000 km. The total length of high-speed rail lines across the world is about 43,000 km. China accounts for 65% of this network, and for over 60% of global high-speed passenger traffic.
First Bullet Train being inaugurated in Japan in the year 1964
History of High-Speed Railway dates back to 1964, when world’s first high-speed rail system – Shinkansen or bullet train started operation at a speed of 210 kmph. In 1973, West Germany’s TR04 Maglev (Trains working on the principle of Magnetic levitation) touched 250 kmph. Two years later, West Germany’s Komet Maglev touched 401 kmph accelerated by steam rockets. In 1979, Japan’s ML-500R Maglev succeeded in crossing 500 kmph mark for the first time in the world when it touched a speed of 504 kmph. In 2015, Japanese LO Maglev hit a record 603 kmph.
The reason behind India’s decision of choosing Japan as their technology partner for high-speed railways is the fact that Japanese Shinkansen train has an unmatchable safety record (zero fatalities and train accidents) with a great ergonomic design. India and Japan have the strongest relationship among all the Asian countries and being two of the largest and oldest democracies in Asia and having a high degree of congruence of political, economic and strategic interests, view each other as partners that have responsibility for and are capable of responding to global and regional challenges.
Foundation Stone Laid by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe laid the foundation stone for India’s first bullet train between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, on September 14, 2017. The proposed Maharashtra-Ahmedabad route HSR (High-Speed Railway) project in India will be having a total length of approximately 508 Kms, double line through two states Gujarat and Maharashtra and the UT of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The longest tunnel will be of 21 Kms stretch with 7 Kms under the sea. Journey time between the two cities, spanning over 700 Kms, with limited stops would be 2.07 hours. Covering a total of 12 stations in its journey, the maximum speed of the rail would be around 350 kmph. As per agreements between the two governments, the project includes both Make in India and Transfer of Technology objectives. The Make in India objective is to ensure that most of the amount invested in the undertaking is spent and utilized fully in India.
Bullet Train Manufacturing and Assembly
With this collaboration, India is getting cutting-edge technology in totality. The Shinkansen meaning new trunk line technology, is known for it proven reliability and safety for more than 50 years and ensures that the train delay is less than a minute with zero fatality. The Shinkansen uses 1,435 mm (4 ft. 8 1⁄2 in) standard gauge in contrast to the 1,067 mm (3 ft. 6 in) narrow gauge of older lines.
The Shinkansen employs an ATC (Automatic Train Control) system, eliminating the need for trackside signals. It uses a comprehensive system of Automatic Train Protection. Centralized traffic control manages all train operations, and all tasks relating to train movement, track, station and schedule are networked and computerized. Shinkansen trains are electric multiple units, offering fast acceleration, deceleration and reduced damage to the track because of lighter vehicles compared to locomotives or power cars. The coaches are air-sealed to ensure stable air pressure when entering tunnels at high speed.
Shinkansen train running in Japan. Similar train is expected for India
However, this HSR proposal as any new technology adoption has been criticized by science, technology and management communities. E Sreedharan, also known as the “Metro Man” for developing the vibrant Delhi Metro has said the railways should concentrate on the betterment of the existing facilities at the outset and think of bullet train later. He further added that if we don’t complete the project within the time frame, the cost will escalate Rs 50 lakhs per day. When the detailed project report of Delhi Metro was drafted, the completion target was given 10 years but was finished in seven years and three months, which was a record, thereby saving a huge revenue.
A study conducted by IIM Ahmedabad claims that the proposed bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmedabad will have to ferry 88,000-118,000 passengers per day or undertake 100 trips daily, for the Railways to keep it financially viable. The average price of the ticket is expected to be Rs. 3, 000 per trip from Mumbai to Ahmedabad and vice versa which can reduce the number of passengers for the bullet train.
Whether bullet train will be a success for India, depends upon the project implementation, management and execution techniques adopted by India. When Metro project was started for Indian cities, people were uncertain about its future and how it would impact our lives and, now it has become a lifeline for major cities like Delhi which provides safe and cheap travel, and all this is due to the timely completion of metro projects. This can be a major milestone for India in showing its development capabilities to the world, but what the future holds for this project remains to be seen. As Mark Zuckerberg righty quoted “The biggest risk is not taking any risk… In a world that changes really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks”.