India needs modern, clean, safe and fast rail system for the masses; and not bullet train for the elites: Metro Man

Retired Indian Engineering Service (IES) officer, E Sreedharan , who is popularly known as ‘Metro Man’s for the leadership that he provided to the construction of Delhi Metro has bluntly castigated Modi government’s obsession with the bullet trains. Sreedharan was the managing director of Delhi Metro from 1995 to 2012 and it was under his leadership that basic structure of the Delhi Metro was put in place. He also played an instrumental role in the building of Konkan Railways, amidst very difficult geographical terrain.

“Bullet trains will cater only to the elite community. It is highly expensive and beyond the reach of ordinary people. What India needs is a modern, clean, safe and fast rail system,” Sreedharan said while speaking to a English daily.

While the number of rail accidents in the country has decreased marginally in the last 2 decades, it still remains substantially large. Various committees set up to study the reasons for this such as the High Level Safety Review Committee in 2012 (chaired by Anil Kakodkar) and the Standing Committee on Railways have emphasized the lack of infrastructure development being the prime reason behind this. The Standing Committee on Railways noted that the slow expansion of rail networks has put undue burden on the existing infrastructure, leading to severe congestion and safety compromises. Since independence, while the railways’ route kilometres have increased by 23%, passenger and freight traffic over the railways network has increased by 1,344% and 1,642% respectively. This suggests that the railway lines are severely congested and the prime reason is under investment by successive governments. Further, under-investment in the railways has resulted in congested routes, inability to add new trains, reduction of train speeds and more rail accidents. Therefore, avoiding such accidents in the future would also require significant investments towards capital and maintenance of railways infrastructure.

Instead of addressing this aspect, Modi government is mindlessly pushing the bullet train project- which needs much higher capital investment and even in the situation when the project gets operationalized the services will be so costly that only a miniscule section of India population can avail it.

The high speed rail project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad which claims to be able to cover 508 kilometres in three hours between the two cities, is scheduled for completion in 2022. The expense of the project comes to Rs 1, 10, 000 crore. That is, it is equivalent to the total budget allotted to the Railway for the year 2017! Japanese government has given a loan of 80,000 crores for the project and most of the skill power will come from Japan. This means that the project won’t lead to any self reliant technological development.
Large areas of agricultural land of tribal farmers in Dahanu of Maharashtra and rich fruit forests in Gujarat are in the process of being acquired for the project. Farmers in both the states are protesting against this acquisition which on one hand snatches their livelihood without giving adequate compensation and on the other hand the whole exercise is for a service which won’t have any meaning for them.

Further, the project is so impractical that even the miniscule section which can avail it’s services aren’t really likely to do so. Now, consider this: while it is true that the seven-hour train journey could be completed in three hours. The ticket fare will be Rs 2, 700-3, 500. At the same time, one could travel from Ahmedabad to Mumbai by air in just one hour while the ticket fare depends upon the rates of different airline companies and seasonal charges ranging from Rs 1, 051 to Rs 2, 398. There is no reason why anyone would avail these services which will take greater time and will be costlier.

The facts outlined above demonstrate clearly that the entire Bullet Train is nothing but a mega PR exercise with wastage of public money at a monumental scale.

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