Bullet Train (High Speed Railways) was used recently by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his travel to Japan. The same High Speed Railways (bullet train) is being built on Ahmedabad-Mumbai route. There has been a lot of debate about the relevance of bullet train in today’s situation in India. Many myopic commentators have criticised the government’s initiative to introduce the bullet train comparing the same with utmost poverty in India. Let us see what are the possible benefits and pitfalls of introducing bullet train in India.
Bullet Train | Benefits
- The benefits include reduced journey times that impact individuals and business, connectivity benefits to populations and markets, increased passenger comfort, mode shifts from more polluting air and road transport and consequently, lower road congestion.
- High speed rail can create agglomeration benefits i.e., benefits that accrue from the clustering together of firms and labour markets, and regeneration benefits for an area. The actual construction also provides an opportunity for employment and the potential for technology transfer.
- The HSR solution is also cleaner; CO2 emissions in 2050 are also lower by 0.2 MT and further emission drops are possible with decarbonisation of electricity, according to the UNEP. In general, per passenger km, high speed rail has lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than road or air transport. It also supports lower emissions over the longer term as road and air passengers shift to trains. However, as the UNEP-DTU study says, there is currently debate on the impact on short term emissions, which may be high owing to embedded emissions (in the construction and manufacturing process).
Bullet Train | Pitfalls
- Environmental degradation along the route, dislocation of people, noise pollution, as well as regionally imbalanced development are potential pitfalls. How the high speed line interacts with existing transport choices is also crucial for the strength of the overall case.
- Higher speeds imply higher costs which may then necessitate higher ticket prices so that the service is commercially viable. This, ironically, could mean a loss of ridership to air travel, making the train less profitable.
- EXAMPLE – If the 500 km journey between Ahmedabad and Mumbai is about Rs 2,800, then the Delhi-Chennai journey is likely to cost Rs 11,200. A one-way flight for this journey booked ten days in advance costs in the ballpark of Rs 4,000, suggesting challenges for the Delhi-Chennai high speed model.
High speed lines for Bullet Train require huge investments and cause long term demographic and economic impacts. Their success depends on getting a comprehensive, context-specific optimal solution; at the very least this means getting speed, pricing, and distance right.