Divide and build

Written by Rajat Arora | Updated: Jun 11 2014, 06:29am hrs
The Presidents opening address to Parliament on Monday gives enough indication that the Diamond Quadrilateral Railway Corridor, or the high speed railway network, is high on the priority list of the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government, which wants to flaunt it as a show-piece project.

And the likely visit of the Prime Minister to Japan next month could take the dream of high-speed railways very close to reality, with Japan being more than willing to help India set up a high-speed rail network. Japan is already doing a feasibility study on one of the proposed high speed railway routes.

China and France have also shown a keen interest in Indias high-speed railway network plan. Bullet trains were discussed during the recent visits of railway board chairman Arunendra Kumar to these countries.

The railway board, however, is not much enthusiastic about the project, since its priority now is for implementing the safety and modernisation reports of the Kakodkar and Pitroda panels. However, given the new governments thrust on the project, the dutiful rail board is pulling out different feasibility reports on high-speed railways conducted by different countries in the last half a decade. And a newly formed High Speed Railway Authority is studying all those reports.

Funding

Setting up a 6,000-km high-speed rail network connecting the four metros and other major cities would cost India no less than R12 lakh crore, making it the countrys most ambitious infrastructure project. If the funding is worked out, the railway board says the project could be made operational in five-to-six years.

China has made around 10,000 km of high-speed tracks operational in seven years. We can obviously do 6,000 km in the same time or even less. Different countries are ready to give us technology and assistance. We have to work out how to make this

project viable, a railway board official said.

Some government officials suggest that the entire project could be broken into various slices and then each slice could be financed by a separate multilateral agency such as Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), World Bank, Asian Development Bank and many more. Some slices could also be taken up on the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) mode. The government could also look at tapping sovereign wealth funds. A project framework similar to the existing National Highways Development Project could be considered.

We wont be having a problem with the footfalls as India is a high density market. While the enormous sum required to fund a high-speed rail transport system is a deterrent, India can learn from examples abroad. And agencies like JICA, which has almost 25% of its total international exposure in India, can always provide soft loan, a government official said.

Feasibility studies

Over the last decade or so, the railway board has been parcelling out pre-feasibility and other studies to various experts in the field and as a result the Railways has over half a dozen such reports either gathering dust in Rail Bhawan or are under various stages of deliberation.

The Mumbai-Ahmedabad stretch has been studied by Systra (France), Italferr (Italy), and Rites (India). Japan and China are also doing different feasibility studies on the same route. Mott McDonald of the UK has done a feasibility study on the 991-km Delhi-Agra-Lucknow-Varanasi-Patna route. The 850-km stretch, covering Chennai-Thiruvananthapuram, was studied by a consortium led by the Japan Railway Technical Service (JARTS). Mamata Banerjees pet project of a 135-km Howrah-Haldia line has been studied by Spain.

Studies abound, but they all remained mere statements of intention in the absence of funds. Will it turn out to be different this time