Modern transport relies on high-speed, luxury amenities, quality service, and reliability. Hence, modern train services are increasingly becoming high-speed in many developed countries. Looking at them, some developing countries, including India, aspire to have a high-speed train service similar to Shinkansen, Eurostar, or Shanghai Maglev.
Vande Bharat Express, or Train-18 as it was previously known, is an indigenously designed and manufactured semi high-speed train set, which is believed to revolutionise Indian Railways. Vande Bharat express is an EMU like a train set, with faster acceleration and braking. Vande Bharat express can achieve speeds up to 180 kmph during trials but is restricted to 160 kmph for passenger operation, and 130 kmph for the current routes as the existing infrastructure cannot provide support to trains running at more than 130 kmph. The fastest train in India is currently the Gatimaan express, which runs at 160 kmph only for a short stretch between Delhi and Agra, where the tracks are capable of supporting high-speed rail.
Currently, a very small percentage of length of tracks are capable of supporting semi high-speed trains. Even that length do not have OHE modification, fencing, track isolation from roads and paths. Also, more lines are needed to accommodate slow passenger and goods trains running on these tracks. Developing works are underway in Delhi-Kolkata and Delhi-Mumbai lines, and these lines are expected to carry trains at 160 kmph from 2024. Goods trains are also being shifted to dedicated freight corridors in these sections. Also partially laid 3rd and 4th Iines in these routes are expected to be complete very soon. Most bullet trains across the world run over upgraded existing tracks instead of over greenfield elevated corridors. Even major rail networks around the world conducted surveys and proclaimed that India has an excellent broad gauge railway network which is most profitable for running bullet-like trains at semi-high speed.
If Vande Bharat trains become a common feature in Indian tracks, there is hardly the need for under-construction elevated Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Delhi-Meerut, Delhi-Alwar, Delhi-Panipat, Kerala Silver Line railway corridors. High-cost elevated corridors in standard gauge, in parallel to existing tracks, with no connection between them may render the corridors economically unfeasible. Jaipur metro and Noida metro are examples of a failed rapid transport system where the existing highway and roadway systems proved better working than the metro. While elevated corridors are a good option for 3rd and 4th lines, they should integrate with the existing railway system in India to enhance the Indian Railways, and not become solitary lines on their own. Indian Railways has much to develop, and it is on the right track of development. Let us hope that vote bank politics and public outcry for swanky metros do not cost Indian Railways its indigenous projects.
Written by – Himadri Paul