Politics seems to be heating up in Maharashtra over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s pet project the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Bullet train, which will cost the country close to one lakh crore.
Japan’s high speed Bullet trains, also known as Shinkansen trains, offer the travellers an experience like no other with speeds reaching up to 320 km per hour and have been running for many years now. The main Shinkansen lines with Bullet trains include Tokaido, Sanyo, Tohoku, Joetsu, Nagano and Kyushu. But routes with heavy traffic include Tokyo to Osaka and Tokyo to Nagano with frequent and punctual departures.
It’s a victory for Japan to win such a contract in India, Japan which is locked in a strategic rivalry with China for commercial contracts abroad, the Indian project marks a hard-fought victory as companies including Siemens AG, Bombardier Inc., Alstom and, lately, CRRC compete in a global market projected by BCC Research to be worth about $133 billion by 2019.
In a geographically small country like Japan the Bullet train offers a perfect connectivity network because the routes cover almost all the important cities with a high speed train network so that people do not have to use highways and private vehicles. But the debate now is whether in a country like India which is spread far and wide across thousands of kilometres with dozens of very large cities, will just connecting two out of these 30/40 large cities with high speed network will serve any purpose beyond just serving tokenism to show that we too have a Bullet train. Most transport experts feel that it will not serve any big purpose of providing an alternative to road/ highway transport or owning private vehicles in 90% of the country.
The other point is that in an era where Modi government is rightly expanding the civil aviation network of the country to smaller towns and building airports in smaller cities of India, does it not make more sense to provide rapid air-connectivity between suburbs of cities like Ahmedabad and Mumbai? In an era where people now prefer to take a flight between Mumbai and Delhi instead of the high speed Rajdhani Express because tickets costs are almost the same, what sense does it make to build new high speed rail corridor?
The third point is about rail vs highways! It’s an established fact now that a wide eight or 10 lane highway or Expressway helps the economy in the long run instead of a high speed rail network. The rail network like a Bullet train’s new track would serve only end to end benefit as in it would serve only Mumbai and Ahmedabad, while a new eight lane highway which would cost one tenth of the Bullet train project could serve countless towns and villages along the highway. A wide highway such as the Mumbai-Pune Expressway serves the entire corridor and all the small towns along (because exits and entries are created linking them) the way. This cannot happen with the Bullet train.