High speed rail (HSR) projects for India were conceived in 2007-08, when the railway budget for the year outlined plans for a HSR project connecting the northern, western, southern and eastern regions of the country, with trains running at speeds of 300-350 kmph. While that budget proposal remained largely on paper, HSR projects have gained traction in recent years.
Opening up the HSR segment for 100 per cent foreign direct investment through the automatic route in August 2014 provided a further impetus, with several countries showing interest in forming collaborations. In addition, Indian Railways’ (IR) initiatives such as Mission Raftaar also led to enhancement of train speeds.
Progress so far
Seven HSR corridors spanning over 4,200 km have been announced in the first phase of HSR development in the country. Among these, only the Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR project has been sanctioned till now, which is being provided financial and technical assistance by the Japanese government. The project is being implemented by National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited, a joint venture formed between the Ministry of Railways (MoR) and the Maharashtra and Gujarat governments. The remaining six HSR projects are in the pre-feasibility assessment stage.
Besides the seven HSR corridors, nine additional corridors have been identified for the development of a semi-HSR network. These are termed semi-HSR corridors since the focus is on increasing the speed of passenger trains – to 160 kmph in the first phase and subsequently to 200 kmph – and will be developed to span 4,153 km. In April 2016, the first semi-high speed train, Gatimaan Express, was launched by the MoR on the Delhi-Agra corridor.
Meanwhile, the MoR is also planning to introduce a regional rapid transit system to provide HSR connectivity in the National Capital Region. Eight corridors have been identified under this project, of which three, namely, the Delhi-Sonepat-Panipat, Delhi-Gurgaon-Rewari-Alwar and Delhi-Ghaziabad-Meerut corridors, have been prioritised by the MoR and will entail a total investment of Rs 721.7 billion.
Over the past year, the government has collaborated with a number of its global counterparts to facilitate cooperation in the development of an HSR network in India. MoUs for technical cooperation have been signed between the Indian government and the governments of Japan, Spain, France, Germany, China and the Republic of Korea. The MoR has also signed an MoU with Russian Railways for technical cooperation.
Meanwhile, the ministry has announced the introduction of faster train services such as Tejas, which requires minimal technological inputs and aims to attain speeds above 130 kmph. Under the MoR’s Mission Raftaar, there is a bid to increase the average speed of all non-suburban passenger trains by 25 kmph in the next five years.
The way forward
Albeit slow, some progress has been made in recent years in the HSR segment. However, several challenges continue to impede growth. The high capital cost of construction of an HSR corridor, at Rs 1 billion per km, poses huge capital constraints on such projects. This also leads to concerns over the economic feasibility of the pricing of HSR fares. Coupled with land acquisition concerns, India still has a long way to go to ease the process of HSR development.