Picking up Speed?: Snapshot of the HSR segment

Snapshot of the HSR segment

In the past few years, the development of high speed rail (HSR) projects has been a key focus area of Indian Railways (IR). Several HSR corridors – the Diamond Quadrilateral network; Mumbai-Ahmedabad; Delhi-Amritsar and Chennai-Mysore – have been planned for development. HSR trains deployed on the network will be capable of handling speeds of 350 kmph.

The Ministry of Railways (MoR) has constituted a special purpose vehicle (SPV), High Speed Rail Corporation of India Limited (HSRC), as a subsidiary of Rail Vikas Nigam Limited, for developing HSR corridors in the country. Currently, land acquisition is in progress for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor and feasibility studies are under way for select packages under the Diamond Quadrilateral HSR corridors.

Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor

The 508.09 km Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor is the country’s first HSR corridor to be taken up for implementation. It is being implemented by National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL), which has been incorporated with 50 per cent equity from the MoR and 25 per cent equity each from the Gujarat and Maharashtra state governments. The foundation stone for the project was laid in September 2017 and the groundwork began in December the same year. While the design speed is 350 kmph, the operational speed will be around 320 kmph. Under the project, 12 stations – Sabarmati, Ahmedabad, Anand, Vadodara, Bharuch, Surat, Bilimora, Vapi, Boisar, Virar, Thane and Mumbai – have been planned. Of these, eight are in Gujarat and four in Maharashtra. All the stations will be elevated except for Mumbai, which will be an underground station.

The network will adopt the Japanese Shinkansen technology, which has had a 54-year record for zero fatalities. It is highly reliable with an average delay of under one minute including delays due to natural calamities. This fail-safe technology eliminates human error, and detects natural calamities and obstacles left by maintenance work. Furthermore, it eliminates the need for grade crossings in the entire system. Apart from these advantages, it also offers high speed and high frequency of trains, at around 15 trains per hour.

The travel time between Mumbai and Ahmedabad will be reduced from roughly 8 hours to 2.07 hours with limited stops and 2.58 hours with all the stops.

The total project cost accounting for all escalations, interest during construction, taxes and duties is Rs 1.08 trillion. The Japanese government has agreed to provide a soft loan equivalent to 81 per cent of the total project cost at 0.1 per cent rate of interest per annum. The time period for repayment of the loan is 50 years with a 15-year grace period. With a construction period of about seven years, the corridor is targeted to be completed by 2023.

An MoU was signed in 2013 between the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the MoR to conduct a feasibility study for the project. The study was completed in July 2015. JICA nominated Japan International Consultants for Transportation, Oriental Consultants Global Company Limited and Nippon KOEI to take up the work from their side.

Initially, rolling stock for the project will be procured from Japan. However, technology transfer will be implemented in a phased manner. Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited (BHEL) and Japan-owned Kawasaki Heavy Industries have formed a joint venture to manufacture rolling stock for the project. The maintenance depot and workshop for rolling stock will be located at Thane and Sabarmati. Moreover, six of the 24 trains will be manufactured in India with defined content.

In June 2018, NHSRCL invited the first tender to build a bridge in Navsari district of Gujarat. Thereafter, in August 2018, bids were invited for the design and development of the HSR station at Sabarmati. In March 2019, NHSRCL floated a tender for the development of  a 237 km stretch of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR. The tender involves an estimated cost of Rs 200 billion and has a completion period of 44 months. Further, in March 2019, two 50 metre training track slabs were prepared for the project at the High Speed Rail Training Institute. These tracks have been made using high strength concrete based on the Shinkansen technology and include a track slab for a straight line and for a curved line. These track slabs are being set up by NHSRCL.

Land survey for the project has been completed using the latest aerial LiDAR technique. Geotechnical investigations have also been completed. Currently, land acquisition for the project is in progress. The targeted date for completion of land acquisition was set for December 2018. However, that deadline has been missed. Around one-third of the total land required has been acquired as of early April 2019. The biggest issue delaying the land acquisition process is local protests.

On April 5, 2019, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change granted coastal regulation zone (CRZ) clearance for the project areas (Mumbai, Mumbai Suburban, Thane and Palghar districts) falling in CRZ areas of Maharashtra. The clearance for the CRZ areas falling in the Gujarat section was obtained in February 2019.

Diamond Quadrilateral HSR corridors

Six corridors on the Diamond Quadrilateral connecting the metropolitan cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata have been identified for conducting feasibility studies for developing HSR projects. These are the Delhi-Mumbai, Mumbai-Chennai, Chennai-Kolkata, Kolkata-Delhi, and the two diagonals Delhi-Chennai and Mumbai-Kolkata corridors. As of January 2019, feasibility studies for Delhi-Mumbai, Mumbai-Chennai, Delhi-Kolkata,  Mumbai-Nagpur (Phase I of Mumbai-Kolkata) and Delhi-Nagpur (Phase I of Delhi-Chennai) are under way.

Delhi-Amritsar HSR corridor

The feasibility study for the Delhi-Amritsar corridor was conducted by a joint collaboration of SYSTRA (France) and RITES. The finalised route for the corridor spans over 458.49 km. Stations will be constructed at New Delhi, Panipat, Ambala, Chandigarh, Ludhiana and Amritsar. Of the total route, 58.3 km will be elevated, 2.42 km underground and rest at grade. As per the study, the pre-construction period has been envisaged as two years and the construction period as six years. The total project cost has been estimated to be Rs 1.11 trillion including the cost of acquiring rolling stock (for meeting requirements up to 2050), land premium, cost escalation and interest during construction. To begin with, the fare has been estimated at Rs 4.48 per km. As of October 2018, various innovative options for financing the project are being studied and explored. Construction work is scheduled to commence once the financing sources are finalised. The design speed for the corridor is 350 kmph while the operational speed will be 300 kmph.

Chennai-Mysore HSR corridor

In November 2018, the feasibility study for the Chennai-Mysore corridor was submitted by the German government to the MoR. The report was completed in 18 months and was fully funded by the German government.  As per the report, the project is feasible. The estimated cost of the project excluding rolling stock costs is Rs 1 trillion. Rolling stock is estimated to require an additional investment of Rs 1.5 billion. Of the total length of 435 km, about 84 per cent of the track will be elevated, while 11 per cent will be underground. As per the feasibility study, the pre-construction period will be three years and the construction period nine years. The corridor has been designed to attain a maximum speed of 350 kmph, but the operational speed will be 300 kmph.

The project is expected to be completed by 2030. Once operational, it will reduce the total travel time between Chennai and Bengaluru by 100 minutes and between Bengaluru and Mysore by 40 minutes.

Future outlook

For timely implementation of HSR projects, measures have to be taken to address major challenges affecting their execution. One of the most critical issues is the acquisition of land for stringent alignment requirements. Further, the availability of skilled manpower and efficient construction contracting agencies and consultancies will be a major determinant. While various HSR technology options are available, the choice of the most suitable technology will be crucial and will depend on factors such as safety, reliability and frequency.

Further, as HSR projects are highly capital intensive, loans from multilateral and bilateral agencies are required to finance the project. Also, there is a need to encourage private participation in HSR development. Other key issues affecting timely implementation of HSR projects include long gestation period, selection of appropriate track laying technology, shifting of underground utilities, obtaining statutory approvals, coordination between key stakeholders and timely availability of funds. Thus, appropriate steps have to be taken by the MoR to address these issues and ensure the timely and successful implementation of HSR projects.