Nothing perhaps transformed the world like the railways did. Had it not been for the train, Phileas Fogg and Passepartout could not have travelled around the world in 80 days. Jules Verne’s adventure novel aside, the railways truly accelerated the global economy’s metamorphosis. Be it in Europe or the US, the railways played a pivotal role in shrinking distances and aiding industrial development in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
But it was in India that the transformative effect of the railway was perhaps most apparent. Railway lines brought together a diverse population and aided rapid economic growth post the country’s independence.
Engine of modernity
The manufacturing sector in India has been aided greatly by the train. Be it bringing ore from mines to countless factories or enabling the green revolution by taking grain from fields in the north to far-off markets, trains helped create food security and economic parity. In less than 40 years from independence, India had already built its modern rapid transit system in Kolkata Metro, and indigenously too.
The last two decades have been nothing short of extraordinary. The country now has 15 rapid transit systems in operation, and nearly 20 more in various stages of development. The recently commissioned Namo Bharat trains in the National Capital Region have elevated mass urban transit to a completely new level. Not only are these among the fastest trains in India, but also among the most technologically advanced, featuring new-gen signalling technology that will make their world debut in India.
On the mainline railways, the electrification of the network, development of dedicated freight corridors and modern Vande Bharat trains are making transport — of goods and people – faster, efficient, and much more sustainable.
Today India has one of the most comprehensive railway manufacturing ecosystems in the world. We produce a vast array of infrastructure and equipment for use at home and for exports. Trains made in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Tamil Nadu or Gujarat now operate across the country and even in Metro systems in Canada and Australia. It is estimated that in FY 2021-22, India exported more than $400-million worth of railway equipment, and this is set to increase over the years.
Advanced technology solutions like collaborative robots, also known as co-bots, now operate alongside humans in a shared workspace. They improve working conditions by reducing the strain in operations and ensuring high levels of safety, while enabling humans to gain new skills in robot programming and operation. India’s rich talent pool is already helping solve some of the most complex problems of modern railway networks across the globe. It has made India a global manufacturing and engineering powerhouse.
India’s visionary government recognises the true potential of the railways. To herald a new era of rail efficiency and connectivity, the country is looking to spend $325 billion in upgrading its railway infrastructure.
We have shown the world that public-private partnerships can succeed, and the railways have been a shining example of PPP’s advantages.
The key is to continue building on this momentum and let the shiny steel rails take India places.
(The writer is Managing Director of Alstom India)