Lack of funding may push Govt to involve private sector
The Union Government will have to significantly loosen its purse strings, if India has to join the club of countries, including Japan, China, France and Germany, that boasts of high-speed trains.
The proposed 534-km Mumbai-Ahmedabad rail-corridor stretch is expected to cost Rs 63,000 crore at today’s estimates, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said at a seminar on high-speed trains here on Friday. This is more than the Rs 51,000 crore annual plan spending of the entire Indian Railways network of over 60,000 km.
Admitting that raising funds for such a project was a difficult task, Bansal was unwilling to commit a timeline by which Government could award such a project. He, however, stated that the project must be designed in a manner to ensure that the common man could also travel in high-speed trains.
“While it is aimed at the premium class, the fare should also be affordable to the common man,” Bansal said.
The Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed rail project will be taken as a pilot project, said Kul Bhushan, Member-Electrical, Railway Board.
And while the Government is considering options to make it public-private project, most of the high-speed railways functioning internationally have significant funding from the State.
Most countries have gone for high-speed rail with public money, some have experimented with private funding but have not been successful given the high capital cost and long gestation periods, pointed out Railway Board Chairman Vinay Mittal.
In the medium term, however, the Indian Railways should be able to run trains at speeds up to 200 km an hour on the Delhi-Mumbai route, after the dedicated freight corridor is constructed and freight trains get diverted. Given the multiple regulatory issues that involve land acquisition, environment clearance, it would take about 10 years to get a project up and running from the basic preparatory stage in India, said a railway official. The Railways has constituted a National High Speed Rail Authority, though the entire project-related preparatory works are yet to be transferred to the organisation.
Indian Railways has undertaken feasibility studies for six high-speed corridors — Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Delhi-Agra-Lucknow-Varanasi-Patna, Howrah-Haldia, Hyderabad-Dornakal-
Vijayawada-Chennai, Chennai-Bengaluru-Coimbatore-Ernakulam and Delhi-Chandigarh-Amritsar.
However, the Railways also stated that the Government cannot ignore this mode of transport as the country rapidly urbanises, given that it is more energy-efficient and environment-friendly than eight-lane highways and air travel.