Context: At present, Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Corridor is the only sanctioned High-Speed Rail Project, which is under execution with technical and financial assistance from Govt. of Japan. Further, Ministry of Railways has decided to undertake Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the following six High-Speed Rail (HSR) corridors:
- Delhi -Varanasi
- Delhi – Ahmedabad
- Mumbai– Nagpur
- Mumbai – Hyderabad
- Chennai – Mysore
- Delhi –Amritsar.
What is the Ahmedabad-Mumbai High-Speed Rail (HSR) Corridor?
It is a 534-km high-speed rail project, costing Rs 1 trillion, that will operate trains with average speeds of 200-250kmph. There will be 12 stations in the corridor; four in Maharashtra (Mumbai BKC, Thane, Virar and Boisar) against the corridor length of 156 km in the State, and eight in Gujarat (Vapi, Bilmora, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, Ahmedabad and Sabarmati), against the corridor length of 348 km. Purpose of the project is not limited to provide faster connectivity between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. National High-Speed Rail Corporation Ltd is the implementing agency for the project.
What are the possible benefits of the project?
The Mumbai-Ahmedabad High-Speed Rail Corridor offers many avenues for Economic and Civic Development in both the states:
- It will be a game-changer in terms of inter-urban connectivity and establish India as a market for such technologies.
- Expanded opportunities for residential and commercial space in Suburban areas of Mumbai (any other metro city like Mumbai will have similar benefits), Spurring Economic activity In Mumbai Industrial area.
- Traffic studies indicated that less than 50 per cent of the traffic will comprise direct travel between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, and the rest will be between the other stations.
- Hence, this provides an opportunity for both residential places and commercial establishments to proliferate along the corridors and the surrounding areas, rather than just concentrate on major cities.
- Mumbai is already saturated on all dimensions due to factors such as uncompetitive prices for real estate for official, industrial and residential purposes.
- Suburban-train passengers’ long daily travel-time already affects their work-life balance and leaves no more physical space for additional growth.
- The HSR stretch of 156 km in Maharashtra towards the Northern Mumbai would reduce travel time in that direction to one-fourth of what it is with the suburban and conventional rails today.
- It would also provide access to more physical space and thereby making the prices of real estate for official, industrial and residential purposes very competitive across the North of Mumbai.
- Given the unimaginable cost of real estate in Mumbai, relocating office buildings and residential places 100-150 km away from city, even after accounting for the high cost of HSR travel, would still be economical. This is what is required for Mumbai, and Maharashtra, to sustain growth and remain in a developed state.
C. Next phase of HSR
When the HSR projects in the next phase between Mumbai and Pune, and Mumbai and Nagpur are planned and executed, a ‘Maharashtra Capital Region’ would emerge.
D. Comparison to expressway
The Right of Way (RoW) required for the HSR is only 3.2 hectares per km against a 9.3 hectares per km for a six-lane expressway. Right of way is "the legal right, established by usage or grant, to pass along a specific route through grounds or property belonging to another", or "a path or thoroughfare subject to such a right.
E. Financial aspects
Out of the total estimated cost of ₹1,10,000 crore, Japan provides financial support to the tune of ₹88,000 crore, and the rest is shared between the Union Government and the Two-State Governments equally. The Maharashtra government may have to shell out about ₹5,500 over a construction period of five years for the HSR project.
F. There are many other development activities that get linked to a big infrastructure project like high-speed rail corridor or the bullet train.
- Big infrastructure projects like high-speed rail corridors, bullet trains and their cascading effect to spur demand in Cement Industry and Construction Activities.
- This would lead to a lot of other activities like Industrial development, Trading and Job creation.
- Housing and Urban Infrastructure Development in Sub Urban areas along HSR project.
What are the challenges in the implementation of the project?
- The Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR costs around ₹1 lakh crore. Estimates in the project report by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad show that at least 1 lakh passengers at fares of ₹4,000-₹5,000 would be required daily for the project to break even. The tariff is too high — airfares between the two cities are around ₹2,500. Subsidies appear inevitable.
- Maharashtra to consider shelving the Bullet Train Project in view of a staggering Rs 6.71 lakh crore debt burden on the state.
- It faces stiff resistance from farmers and tribals in the Palghar region, Land Acquisition remains an issue.
- Only a handful of high-income countries with specific demographics have High-Speed Rail (HSR), the main problem is viability, given the huge costs involved.
- Failed Examples: South Korea’s Seoul-Busan HSR caters to almost 70% of the population, yet struggles with viability. France’s fabled Paris-Lyon HSR service has had to periodically receive substantial subsidies. Taiwan’s $14 billion HSR service between Taipei and Tainan virtually became bankrupt after losses of over $1 billion.
- Critics consider that the bullet train is a wasteful project which only serves to deliver an illusory feel-good perception among the wealthy.
What are the alternatives?
- Argentina gave up on HSR ambitions on cost grounds, deciding instead to upgrade its entire railway system to medium-speed infrastructure, an option India should seriously consider.
- Super-fast transportation system, Hyperloop, floated by Tesla which claims to be cheaper than Bullet train projects.