Gaining Traction: First high speed rail project breaks ground

First high speed rail project breaks ground

The development of high speed railway infrastructure has been on the Indian Railways’ (IR) agenda for several years now. To facilitate the running of trains at speeds of 350 km per hour, IR is developing high speed rail (HSR) corridors along the Diamond Quadrilateral.

The proposed HSR lines span over 8,000 km and are at various stages of conceptualisation. While the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor is under implementation, pre-feasibility studies are being conducted for the Delhi-Amritsar, Delhi-Chennai and Chennai-Mysore corridors. Besides, the Chennai-Mysore, Chennai-Kolkata and Mumbai-Kolkata corridors are currently at the planning stage.

Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR

The Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor is the only HSR project in the country which has broken ground, albeit after a long delay. The corridor is  508 km in length and will extend from the Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) in Mumbai to Sabarmati in Ahmedabad. Of the total length, 21 km will be underground, extending from BKC to Kalyan Shilphata. Of the underground stretch, 7 km will be developed deep sea in the Thane creek. A total of 12 stations will be developed – at Mumbai, Thane, Virar, Boisar, Vapi, Bilimora, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, Ahmedabad and Sabarmati. Of these stations, only the Mumbai station will be underground, while the alignment of all the other stations has been proposed on an elevated viaduct with perfect grade separation.

The project, estimated to cost Rs 1.1 trillion, is being executed by National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited. In September 2017, the foundation stone was laid and in December 2017, geotechnical surveys were completed. Currently, feasibility studies are being conducted and are expected to be completed by May 2018. Thereafter, civil works are expected to commence in June 2018. The project has a completion deadline of August 15, 2019.

Risks and challenges

There are several challenges which delay the execution of HSR projects. For instance, land acquisition is a massive challenge since the acquisition of private land and diversion of forest land often gets delayed. Besides, there are issues related to geographical complexities, difficulty in getting right of way and cash flow, which leads to delays in the commencement of work. Tying up funds for these projects is also a tough task, as the financial viability of the projects cannot be determined accurately.

Opportunities abound

The upcoming HSR corridors together provide a massive business opportunity for engineering, procurement and construction players, for rolling stock providers, signalling and telecom and electrification equipment manufacturers. These projects also entail an investment opportunity of over Rs 13 trillion in the next decade and a half. Station development is another important business segment as several new stations are planned for development.

Going forward, IR is also considering the possibility of constructing HSR train corridors for shorter routes, where trains are preferrd to flights on account of their lower fare. A total of six such smaller routes have been identified connecting two or more cities, namely, Mumbai-Pune, Delhi-Patna, Howrah-Kolkata, Hyderabad-Chennai, Chennai-Bengaluru-Thiruvananthapuram and Delhi-Jaipur-Jodhpur. These corridors will generate additional business opportunities in the near future.