The much-anticipated dream of a bullet train running in India is finally taking its shape. The work on the project is on in full swing with the construction of bridges and tunnels underway.
The foundation of this project was laid in September last year, when Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited India.
Japan is said to be funding most of the project, giving India a loan of Rs 80,000 crore.
India’s first bullet train will run between Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Once completed, it will reduce the travel time between the two cities from seven hours to three hours.
It all looks good until we bring some numbers up and give things a perspective.
According to ABP news, a nine-coach bullet train will cost Rs 60,000 crores, while a single high-speed Rajdhani Express costs Rs 75 crores.
I’ll do the maths for you. What this means is that at the cost of one bullet train, we can have as many as 800 Rajdhani trains. Yes, you read that right. 800.
The Rajdhani Express, an express passenger train, is one of the fastest trains in India, connecting the national capital New Delhi with the capitals or largest cities of various states.
So the question arises:
DO WE REALLY NEED BULLET TRAINS IN INDIA?
Let’s take a look:
The State Of The Indian Railways
The Indian Railways, with 14 lakh employees, is the largest employer in India and eighth largest in the world. It operates the fourth-largest railway network in the world, running 19,000 trains every day. It transports 23 million passengers and carries 2.65 million tonnes of freight every day.
Agreed that managing a network of this magnitude is not easy, but the Indian Railways has been a mess for a while now.
The root cause of this problem is that it doesn’t earn enough money to invest in itself. It has recurring losses every year and recovering from such a state would require wholesome changes.
Thus, keeping in mind the current state of the Indian Railways, it will be a cruel joke on the poor to invest heaps of money in the ‘bullet’ dream when it cannot even maintain the normal passenger trains that have been running on its network for years.
Constructing a network for bullet trains to run is a huge challenge in itself. The project is a complex task, with various socio-economic implications such as land acquisition, rehabilitation, and environmental concerns.
The first route between Ahmedabad and Mumbai covers a distance of 500 kilometers. Almost 108 villages of Maharashtra fall in this route. Acquiring the land of these villages has been a complicated exercise.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) President Raj Thackeray has even asked farmers not to give away their land for the bullet train project.
Besides the land acquisition problem, there is also a challenge of constructing numerous bridges and tunnels, which requires heavy investment while damaging the ecosystem.
The highly ambitious dream will be made a reality at a heavy cost. The first corridor, between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, is said to cost around Rs 1 lakh crore.
At a time when huge investment is needed in social infrastructure and poverty eradication, India cannot afford to invest such a massive sum in this project.
The project is often said to be ‘for the rich’ and it wouldn’t be wrong to think so.
Estimates show that for the project to break even, almost 1 lakh passengers at fares of Rs 4000-5000 would be required daily. The airfares between the two cities are around Rs 2500.
Also keeping in mind that the majority of the country travels in sleeper class or lower class, the project would benefit only the elites indulging in luxury travel.
While there is no doubt that once completed, the project will create thousands of job opportunities and give India a ‘feel-good’ factor, there seems to be little sense in investing such a massive amount of resources in this rather wasteful project.
Modernizing and upgrading the current system should be the number one priority for the Indian railways.
Image Credits: Google Images
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