The bullet train project is not a strain on the railway resources

The Indian government’s high-speed rail project will mark a paradigm shift in the way people travel in the country. Yet a few articles critical of the project have surfaced in the media. It is essential that matters relating to the issue are put in the right perspective so that the general public gets the real picture. This is all the more important keeping in view the fact that the major strides that the nation takes in its march towards development and growth often get clouded by a dialogue that is political in nature. Like planes. which are so popular, the bullet train will also be a means of mass travel between Ahmedabad and Mumbai.

September 14, 2017, will go down in the annals of history as a giant leap for the Indian Railways (IR). On this day, the nation took a major step forward: it displayed its intent of moving away from the era of slow-speed trains to high-speed ones. As a citizen, and also as a railwayman, it was indeed one of the proudest moments for me. The very thought that the journey from the land of the Mahatma to the commercial capital of the nation would get covered in a timeframe much shorter than what air travel entails, and that this is just the beginning, is indeed exciting.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe laid the foundation stone of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad High Speed Rail (MAHSR) project, popularly known as the Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train in Ahmedabad. And the next few years till 2023 shall witness frenetic activity in Maharashtra and Gujarat to complete this project and position India and also its railway system in the illustrious list of nations that run high-speed trains.

This first route marks the beginning of a new journey for the railways as well as for the nation.

This project — apart from triggering a paradigm shift in how people travel within India and, therefore, facilitate travel and tourism — will also have a significant impact on the nation’s economy as it scores high on the ‘Make in India’ front. Called ‘Shinkansen’ in Japan , which means ‘new trunk line’, the bullet train is almost a wonder that will script the most memorable milestone in our journey towards a New India.

Consolidation and growth both should go hand in hand and, therefore, while IR has an unwavering commitment towards improving its existing infrastructure, which has witnessed decades of neglect, IR also has the responsibility and the intent to position itself in the comity of world railways as a railway system that is both modern and technology intensive.

Therefore, the first bullet train project shall also have a major demonstrative effect in showcasing the true advantages that extend far beyond even national pride that this project is bound to instil. The ability to travel from one city centre to another in almost half the time that commuting by air would entail is indeed a major step forward in this march of the nation towards progress and prosperity.

While we are improving the existing railway network by focusing on safety and building infrastructure in the form of doubling (third and fourth lines), traffic and terminal facilities, bio-toilets on trains, modern coaches, WiFi and CCTV monitoring at stations and trains etc, we are also moving ahead with vigour in bringing modern technological advancements such as the bullet train, an advancement that by no stretch of imagination is at the cost of the other much-needed basic improvements.

It is also often said by some of the ‘experts’ that the funds that would go into the high-speed project could have been better utilised for improving the existing network. It is, therefore, necessary to point out that the funds for the high-speed project have been provided by the Government of Japan and are tied to the project and, therefore, could not have been made available or utilised for other projects. It also needs appreciation that at a rock-bottom interest rate of 0.1% and a moratorium period of 15 years, the funds are almost as good as free for IR.

At this crucial juncture, when the nation has already gone ahead with the high-speed train project, the following reality needs to be reinforced: one, this is a project of national pride, besides being a harbinger of a paradigm shift in train travel experience in the country; two, IR is laying tremendous emphasis on infrastructure building and other improvements and this project is not by any stretch of imagination at the cost of basic consolidation of the network, and third, the cost of funding is low and definitely not a strain on the railway resources.

The concerns often expressed about the project are generally a reflection of an old school of thought and, therefore, deserve to be considered in that perspective.

Ashwani Lohani is chairman, Railway Board

The views expressed are personal

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