For a number of years now, India has envisioned a high speed rail (HSR) network. While, initially, the progress was abysmally slow, the government has more recently made rapid strides towards achieving this vision. To expedite the process, High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (HSRC) was established under Rail Vikas Nigam Limited in 2013 for monitoring the execution of various HSR projects. Financial and technical assistance from countries such as Japan, France and Spain has provided the much-needed push to HSR development in the country. More specifically, Japan has committed loans worth Rs 800 billion for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor, the first HSR project being developed. Nonetheless, issues such as land acquisition, local opposition, resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R) of project-affected people, etc. continue to adversely impact project implementation.
Key HSR projects
Indian Railways (IR) plans to develop a diamond quadrilateral, which aims to connect the cities of Mumbai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Delhi, Goa, Chennai, among others, through an efficient HSR system. In this regard, HSRC has awarded the work of conducting feasibility studies for HSR on several corridors to joint collaborations of international and domestic consultants. The consultants are now preparing a feasibility report for the HSR projects. Till date, the feasibility reports for the Delhi-Chandigarh-Amritsar and the Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR projects have been completed. The studies for the remaining corridors are expected to be completed by end 2018. The different corridors are:
- Mumbai-Ahmedabad: This is the first stretch to be taken up for development by IR. Its feasibility study was conducted jointly by the Ministry of Railways and companies nominated by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). The finalised route length is 506 km passing through the cities of Mumbai, Thane, Virar, Boisar, Surat, Bharuch, Vadodara, Anand, Ahmedabad and Sabarmati. The average distance between stations is about 46 km. The proposed fare will be 1.5 times of 1A class fare of IR. The project is being implemented by National High Speed Rail Corridor Limited (NHSRCL) and is expected to cost Rs 1.1 trillion. The construction period is around six years, from 2017 to 2022. The foundation stone for the project was laid in September 2017. While land acquisition is under progress, the on-ground work is expected to begin in January 2019. Overall, JICA has committed an official developmental assistance of Rs 800 billion for the project. In September 2018, the agency signed an agreement with the central government to provide Rs 55 billion as the first tranche for this corridor. The project is expected to commence commercial operations by 2023.
- Delhi-Chandigarh-Amritsar: The feasibility study has been prepared jointly by France-based SYSTRA and RITES Limited. The finalised route after the study is 458.49 km with stations at six locations. The project is estimated to entail a cost Rs 460.45 billion, excluding the rolling stock component.
- Delhi-Mumbai: The feasibility study is being conducted jointly by China-based TSDI and
- The finalised route after the study is 1,318 km with stations at nine locations. The project is estimated to entail a cost Rs 2.28 trillion, excluding the rolling stock component.
- Mumbai-Chennai: The feasibility of the corridor is being studied jointly by France-based SYSTRA, RITES Limited and EY. The finalised route length is 1,368 km. The project is estimated to entail a cost of Rs 1.28 trillion, excluding the rolling stock component.
- Delhi-Kolkata: The feasibility is being studied by Spain-based INECO, TYPSA (Spain) and ICT of India. The finalised route length is 1,474 km. The project is estimated to entail a cost of Rs 1.01 trillion, excluding the rolling stock component.
- Mumbai-Nagpur: The feasibility study is being conducted by Spain-based companies ADIF and INECO. The finalised route length is 798.5 km. The project is estimated to entail a cost of Rs 1.18 trillion, excluding the rolling stock component. This corridor will utilise Spain’s unique technology of tilting trains along with gauge changers.
The way forward
While work on the project is advancing at a rapid pace, several issues and challenges continue to impede project implementation. These include the unwillingness to adopt modern technologies, huge costs of construction, local opposition leading to issues of land acquisition, among others. Moreover, environmental degradation along the HSR routes, R&R of project-affected people and regionally imbalanced development are perceived to be other potential pitfalls of HSR development in the country. Going forward, targeted corrective policy action should be taken in a time-bound manner to deal with these issues and ensure timely and effective implementation of the project.
Based on a presentation by M.P. Singh, Chief Executive Officer, HSRC, at a recent India Infrastructure conference