I read a recent article in Economic Times about the thought process that is running through the minds of the top officials in India’s largest PSU – Indian Railways. It is nothing but, the High Speed Rails.
This is a really welcome thought. With commercial rails touching the speeds of about 250 kmph around the world, super fast trains in India (exclude Rajdhani and Shatabdi) barely touch a high of 70 kmph on average, in a one-way trip. High Speed Rails should be the high priority on Railway’s agenda, if it has to complete with the low cost airlines.
For a person to travel from Chennai to Delhi on an AC(2-Tier) coach-Super fast train, it costs somewhere around 2500 Rupees. Couple it with the time it takes for this journey, which is well over 30 hours(1.25 days). Compare it with an air fare between the same destinations which comes around 3500 Rupees and a travel time of 2.5 hours. Thus, on a comparative basis, Air travel appears to be efficient for the middle class population.
So the only way by which the railways can lure customers from this segment, is by reducing the travel time. A high level plan must be drawn to connect all major Indian cities by high speed rails and reduce the travel time between any two destinations, by at least half the current time. Why would you not consider traveling from Chennai to Coimbatore in about 3.5 hours, at half the cost of a full service airline?
As a first step, the Indian Railways must perform a feasibility analysis on selected routes and prepare the estimates. India should take the help from Asian majors like Japan, Korea and China, who have pioneered the cause. With high speed rails, upgrading and reconstructing the ailing railway bridges becomes a mandate. Otherwise, we might invite disasters.
Some ideas for fund-raising to help this initiative:
- Support from State and Central Government (State Governments must help in the funding process based on the proportion of High Speed Rails scheme falling within their territory)
- Increase the travel cost but still keep them competitive when compared to the low cost airlines
- Provide in-house entertainment facilities in these trains using LCD monitors and gain on advertising cost
- Provide on-the-move internet connectivity and earn a considerable share
We have the largest rail network in the whole of this world. But when it comes to travel speed, we have a lot of distance to cover. It is high time, that the Indian Railways realize this fact and take steps to introduce the High Speed rails. This will not only improve the market share of Railways in the domestic travel segment but also strengthen the Indian Railway’s image worldwide.