“It’ll cost far less to act now than it would to delay until further damage is done.It’ll be paid for by those of us who use the system. Delay is also dangerous as well as costly.” President Reagan said while introducing his ambitious Highways and Bridge program to the American audience. American economy witnessed spectacular growth for a sustained period in the years following the launch, and this program is credited as one of the major contributors in that growth story. Is it possible to do the same with Indian Railways to maintain our highest GDP growth rate.
Yesterday I was travelling by an express train having around 240 passengers in each coach, it took three and a half hours for the train to cover 115km, fortunately the train was only 20 minutes late, but with 70% passengers struggling to properly stand in the coach due to huge number of travellers. So the real question is for how long this capacity constraint & slow speed will continue. Should we wait till 2030 when we will have three times bigger economy, 30Cr more people in middle class, before planning HSR in India, considering the time taken for planning to be 2 years and construction to be around 6-8 years, we will have HSR of few hundred km only in 2040. Which will choke our GDP growth, based on the fact that our economy is going to grow at 8 to 10% in next few years and this will require a growth in transport sector at 10 to 12%. So the requirement will be to double the transport capacity every 8 to 10 years. The big question remains, is Indian Railways ready for this huge expansion in capacity, accessing the performance over the last 68 years the answer will be negative.
The primary aim for HSR in Japan was to support the capacity in Tokyo-Osaka route, which was impossible to satisfy at conventional speeds. Less travelling time was only the secondary benefit. At present this line carries up to 23000 passengers every hour, with a train leaving every three minutes at peak time. Now compare it with our capacity based on 1200 passengers per train, we will require to depart 20 trains each hour, requiring each train to leave at three minutes, but in present system we are no where near to achieve this with safety and punctuality. Air transport cant support this demand as it will require an Airbus 380 having 800 seats in all economy configuration to take off every two minutes. An average six lane road will require 9.3 ha/km compared to 3.2 ha/km for two line of HSR, also consider the compromise on speed, safety, fuel and emission in road transport. Only HSR can support the massive capacity that we are going to require in next few decades.
Now coming on economic feasibility, the total cost of HSR on this corridor will be around 98000Cr with completion estimate of 2023, of which 78000Cr will be funded by JICA. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) funded about 60% of Delhi Metro phase-I, 54% of phase-II & 48% of phase-III. The loan was sanctioned at an annual interest rate of 1.20-1.40%, and a repayment period of 30 years, with a moratorium period of 10 years. Compare this with the present deal, where the funding is 80% repayment period is 50 years with an initial moratorium of 15 years and an interest rate of mere 0.1%, we are in a profitable situation. Though there is foreign exchange (FX) risk involved but nowhere India was going to get money at this rate combined with transfer of technology and local manufacturing option. JICA report estimates that 40,000 passengers will use the HSR daily in 2023. With an average revenue per user around the Rs 3,000 mark, total revenue will be Rs 4,000 crore in the first year of operations. Though the project is not viable in medium term and increasing passenger numbers will definitely help the project to breakeven in future. But for instance like the Konkan Railway or the Delhi Metro, there are other indirect economic benefits that comes due to infrastructure projects & quick profit is not the primary aim of public transport projects.
The added benefits, which will come with the HSR project are countless such as huge capacity, speed, energy efficiency, safety, comfort, reduced pollution and noise. The experience gained from HSR, such as high speed switch & crossing, bogie, latest signalling and traction equipment, materials used for construction of track and coaches, can be used in conventional lines to increase speed, efficiency and safety.
Government should not just plan for 2016, but also for 2030. The investments in highways and metro trains 15 years ago are now paying off. Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR will open up the possibility of HSRs on other sectors, similar to what Delhi Metro is currently doing to Metros around the country.
Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. John. F. Kennedy.
Note- Data and images are from JICA report on the given HSR corridor & WB data on Indian economy.
Reagen address- http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1982/112782a.htm accessed on 20th Dec 2015.
Quotes taken from – http://www.brainyquote.com/ accessed on 20th Dec 2015.