A Snapshot on India’s envisaged journey towards High Speed Rail System

NEW DELHI: On the eve of launching of the High Speed Rail Corporation of India Ltd. (HSRC), as a subsidiary under Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd (RVNL) by Railway Minister Mr.Mallikarjun Kharge, this is an attempt to give a brief journey of India marching towards High Speed Rail Systems.

India has one of the largest rail networks in the world but does not have any high-speed rail lines capable of supporting speeds of 200 km/h (124 mph) or more. High-speed corridors have been proposed but not implemented.

Currently, the fastest train in India is the Bhopal Shatabdi, which has a top speed of 150 km/h (93 mph).  However Indian Railways aims to increase the speed of passenger trains to 160–180 km/h on dedicated conventional tracks.

The railway minister said in 2012 that a combination of prudent investment decisions in the areas of track and bridges, signalling, doubling and train-sets is proposed to be adopted to enable train running at speed of 160 kmph and above. The proposal would significantly reduce travel time for passenger trains by 20-25%. Such infrastructure would also enable Railways to run Shatabdi trains on long distance trunk routes and between metros, he said in his speech.

Approach to high-speed

Indian Railways’ approach to high-speed is incremental improvement on existing conventional lines for up to 160 km/h, with a forward vision of speed above 200 km/h on new tracks with state-of-the-art technology, such as Shinkasen/TGV etcWhile they do not define high-speed, Indian Railways’ approach matches the high-speed definitions of the Trans-European High Speed Rail Network, for upgraded lines and new lines built for high-speed.
India_HSR_potential_route_1112Dedicate tracks to passenger trains

Dedicate tracks on existing trunk lines to passenger trains, by building separate corridors for freight trains, and build separate tracks for busy suburban traffic in Mumbai and other cities where traffic is equally busy. Without slower freight and suburban traffic, fast-express trains can run at the speed limit of rolling stock, the railway track or railroad switch, whichever is lowest among those that apply.

Upgrade tracks for 250–300 km/h

Upgrade the dedicated passenger tracks with heavier rails, and build the tracks to a close tolerance geometry fit for 250–300 km/h. This implied that the high speed gauge is 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) Indian Gauge (Broad Gauge).  High-speed tracks to be maintained and inspected using automation to ensure required track geometry.  Perform more frequent inspection to ensure high confidence of safety at high-speed.

Design, manufacture and deploy railroad switches, with thick web construction and movable crossings that permit 50 km/h to alleviate this bottleneck to speed.

Upgrade locomotives and coaches

Improve coaches, which can support 160 km/h, with stainless steel bodies and crash-worthy designs, incorporating passenger and crew protection, and fire-retardant materials. Equip coaches with electro-pneumatic brake systems to enhance safe operations at 160–180 km/h.

Develop locomotives with output of 9000 to 12000 hp for hauling of 24-26 coach long passenger trains to 160–200 km/h.

Indian railways has asked IIT Kharagpur to conduct research to obtain the technological knowhow to increase the maximum attainable speed to 200 km/h. The project, which will be conducted in the Railway Research Centre of IIT Kharagpur, has four main goals; improving speed, improving carrying capacity (heavy haul), use of advanced material, advanced signalling and maintenance for better safety. The research is expected to be completed by the end of 2015.

Proposal to introduce 300-350 km/h trains


One of the first proposals to introduce high-speed trains in India was mooted in the mid-1980s by then Railway Minister Madhavrao Scindia. A high-speed rail line between Delhi and Kanpur via Agra was proposed. An internal study found the proposal not to be viable at that time due to the high cost of construction and inability of travelling passengers to bear much higher fares than those for normal trains. The railways instead introduced Shatabdi trains which ran at 130 km/h.

The Indian Ministry of Railways’ white-paper “Vision 2020”, submitted to Indian Parliament on December 18, 2009, envisages the implementation of regional high-speed rail projects to provide services at 250–350 km/h, and planning for corridors connecting commercial, tourist and pilgrimage hubs. Six corridors have already been identified for technical studies on setting-up of high-speed rail corridors: Delhi–Chandigarh–Amritsar, Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad, Hyderabad-Kazipet-Dornakal-Vijayawada-Chennai, Howrah–Haldia, Chennai-Bangalore-Coimbatore-Ernakulam-Thiruvananthapuram, Delhi-Agra-Lucknow-Varanasi-Patna. These high-speed rail corridors will be built as elevated corridors in keeping with the pattern of habitation and the constraint of land.

Indian Railway set up a corporation called High Speed Rail Corporation of India Ltd (HSRC) on 25 July 2012, that will exclusively deal with the proposed high-speed rail corridor projects. The corporation is a subsidiary of Rail Vikas Nigam Ltd. (RVNL).  It will handle tendering, pre-feasibility studies, awarding contracts and execution of the projects. The corporation will comprise four members, all of whom will be railway officials.  All high-speed rail lines will be implemented through PPP mode on a Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Transfer (DBFOT) basis.


In a feasibility study published in 1987, RDSO and JICA estimated the construction cost to be Rs 49 million per km, for a line dedicated to 250–300 km/h trains. In 2010, that 1987-estimated cost, inflated at 10% a year, would be Rs 439 million per km (US$ 9.5 million/km).  RITES is currently performing a feasibility study.  It is being estimated that dedicated high speed corridor will cost about INR100 crore per km.

According to news media, the costs for constructing such rail lines in India are estimated to be Rs 700-1000 million per km (US$ 15-22 million/km). Therefore the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route of 500 km, will cost Rs 370 billion (US$ 8.04 billion) to build and to make a profit, passengers will have to be charged Rs 5 per km (US$ 0.11/km). Delhi to Amritsar one-way, a distance of 450 km, will cost about Rs 2000 (US$ 43.48).  At US$ 15-22 million per km, cost estimates are in line with US$ 18 million per km of the recently completed Wu-Guang HSR line in China.


In India, trains in the future with top speeds of 300–350 km/h, are envisaged to run on elevated corridors, to prevent trespassing by animals and people. This is an excellent way to isolate high-speed train tracks. The TGV tracks are completely fenced in and has no road crossing them at the same level. Wu-Guang’s 2-tracks line is laid, 468 km on bridges, 177 km in tunnels, and 323 km on embankments. The 336 km THSR tracks are 91% on bridges, flyover, or tunnels.

The current conventional lines between Amritsar-New Delhi, and Ahmedabad-Mumbai runs through suburban and rural areas, which are flat, therefore have no tunnel. Ahmedabad-Mumbai line runs near the coast therefore have more bridges, and parts of it are in backwaters or forest. The 1987 RDSO/JICA feasibility study found the Mumbai-Ahmedabad line as most promising.  Maharashtra state government has proposed a link between Mumbai and Nagpur which will be good for development of the state railway. This project’s cost is estimated INR 60,000 crore.

Potential Ridership

As of July 2010, there are currently 49 train services with fares from US$ 70-115 (Rs 3220-5290), or US$ 0.07-0.12 per km (Rs 3.33-5.46/km). Amritsar-New Delhi line has 22 daily services, with fares range from Rs 552-1434 (US$ 12-31). Ahmedabad-Mumbai has 32 daily services with fares from Rs 514-1475 (US$ 11-32). On the 2 Indian lines travelling cost Rs 1.14-3.19 per km (US$ 0.025-0.069/km).

Project Execution

A separate entity, High Speed Rail Authority of India (HSRA), has been set up to operationalise bullet trains in the country as part of 12th Five Year Plan (2012–17).

To put the construction in perspective, in the period 2005-09 Indian Railways took on construction of 42 completely new conventional lines, a total of 4060 km at a cost of Rs 167 billion (US$ 3.63 billion), or Rs 41 million per km (US$ 0.89 million/km). A public-private-partnership mode of investment and execution is envisaged for such expensive 250–350 km/h high-speed rail project.

Feasibility Studies

The consultants for pre-feasibility study for four corridors are:

  • Systra, Italferr and RITES Limited for Pune – Mumbai – Ahmedabad,
  • British firm Mott MacDonald for Delhi-Agra-Lucknow-Varanasi-Patna
  • INECO, PROINTEC, Ayesa for Howrah-Haldia
  • Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO) and Oriental Consultancy along with Parsons Brinckerhoff India for Hyderabad-Dornakal-Vijaywada-Chennai

The state governments are ready to meet 50% cost of the consultancy. While Japan has shown interest in India’s high speed train, it is funding 80% of the cost of construction of the 1,499 km-long Western Dedicated Freight Corridor.

On 21 March 2011, the British firm Mott MacDonald was asked to conduct a pre-feasibility study on the 993 km long Delhi-Agra-Lucknow-Varanasi-Patna route. It cost the Railways INR8.8 crore for the report.

The Indian Railways gave the go ahead for conducting a feasibility study on the Chennai-Bangalore-Coimbatore-Ernakulam-Thiruvananthapuram route. There was a plan to either include Mysore in the main route or to create a branch line to that city. With the Railways’ move, the Karnataka State government decided not to commission a separate feasibility study on implementing a high-speed train between Bangalore and Mysore.  The pre-feasibility study will be tabled in Parliament and the final feasibility study will begin in April 2012.

During the 2012 Rail Budget speech, Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi announced that pre-feasibility studies on the Ahmedabad-Mumbai-Pune, Delhi-Agra-Lucknow-Varanasi-Patna, Howrah-Haldia, Hyderabad-Dornakal-Vijaywada-Chennai and the Chennai-Bangalore-Coimbatore-Ernakulam-Thiruvananthapuram high-speed corridors have already been completed and study on Delhi-Jaipur-Ajmer-Jodhpur route will be taken up in 2012-13. In February 2013, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi demanded railway ministry for speedy implementation of pending Highspeed Rail projects in the country.

In September 2013, an agreement was signed in New Delhi to complete a feasibility study of High Speed Rail between Ahmedabad and Mumbai, within 18 monthsThe study will cost ¥500 million and the cost will be shared 50:50 by Japan and India.

Non-Standardisation of High-speed rail Infrastructure

India has not standardized the infrastructure for High-speed rail projects to be executed across India. This has resulted in different projects using different gauges for their lines. Delay in standardisation may result in using inefficient use of High-Speed route for freight transport, as the both standard railway and high-speed railway using different kind of gauges. Delay in creating a standardisation for High-Speed railway in India may result in a project like Project Unigauge, which may be necessary as control of PPP projects are given back to the Indian Railway by concessioner after the concession period.

Standardisation will make Indian Railways more efficient, avoid the current break of gauges, increase the freight-carrying capacity and shorten the routes with many re-gauged links. It will also standardise the manufacturing of Railway components across India, thus bringing cost of manufacturing of the indigenous railway related components.

Using a Broad Gauge is expected to bring down the cost of transporting freight from one place to another and necessary to keep trains stable in the face of strong monsoon winds.

Broad Gauge offers an advantage to freight movement, as trains in India can carry standard shipping containers double-stacked on standard flatcars, which is more economical than single containers. In contrast, standard-gauge railways in North American and elsewhere must use special double-stack cars to lower the center of gravity and reduce the loading gauge requirements.

Metro projects in India, like Delhi Metro (some lines), Bangalore Metro, Kochi Metro used the Standard Gauge. But, recent studies by international consultants have shown using Broad gauge is better suited for Indian high population density. Broad gauge provides more seating space and a better option for long term feasibility of railway projects.

Fragmentation of the High-Speed Rail Network

Unlike NHDP, where the National Highways will come under the direct ownership of the Central agency National Highway Authority of India, after the end of concession period, High-Speed Rail development is still driven by multiple independent companies. This means high-speed railway infrastructure will remain fragmented across India, without any company controlling end to end Railway line from East to West or North to South, for unforeseeable future. For example, alongside Arabian Sea coast, Kerala High Speed Rail Corporation Ltd. (KHSRC) is driving a Standard Gauge high-speed rail, where as Indian Railway is working on Broad Gauge, for Ahmedabad-Mumbai corridor.  In general in India, northern companies are in favor of Broad Gauge as Indian Railway, while southern companies are in favor of Standard Gauge.