Mumbai-Ahmedabad distance of 534 km ideal for High Speed Rail: IIM-Ahmedabad

Could give ‘significant edge’ over other modes like air, road and conventional rail

Based on international experience of other countries like Japan, France and China, a study by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A) has found that the 534 km distance between Mumbai and Ahmedabad could give the high speed rail (HSR) significant edge over air, road and conventional rail transport modes.

As per the study, international experience shows that the sweet spot for high speed rail is often viewed in the 300 to 600 km distance, where there would be a significant edge over air, road, with the possibility of same-day return, thus scoring over conventional rail too.

Titled ‘Dedicated High Speed Rail Network in India: Issues in Development’ and co-authored by G Raghuram and Prashanth D Udayakumar of IIM-A, the paper analyses the issues and challenges facing HSR in India even as it accepts the premise that the dedicated HSR is the way to go in the country.

India and Japan have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to set up a high speed rail (HSR) network costing Rs 97,636 crore, between Mumbai and Ahmedabad, wherein Japan would fund $12 billion (about Rs 78,100 crore, providing for about 80% of the project cost) offering a concessional loan to India with a repayment period of 50 years including a moratorium of 15 years, at an interest rate of 0.1%. This segment for HSR implementation would be based on the Japanese Shinkansen technology.

The central government has formed High Speed Rail Corporation of India Limited (HSRC) as a special purpose vehicle (SPV) and a subsidiary of Rail Vikas Nigam Limited (RVNL), for the development and implementation of HSR projects.

Apart from the distance falling in the 300-600 km ideal category for HSR, the paper finds a second sweet spot in form of leveraging the preference for night travel in future for a 1,500-plus km distance of high speed night travel.

“Having night travel would conflict with the traditional concept of doing maintenance by night in the HSR. However, it may be possible to explore mid-day maintenance schedules, when there would be a slack in demand,” it suggests.

Analysing various options that lies ahead for the Indian Railways for HSR stations, the paper identifies three possibilities including existing railway stations at city centres, existing railway stations at the periphery of cities, or newly built railway stations at the periphery of cities.

While the option of existing railway stations at city centres is found to be an ideal choice form the point of view of the catchment, it argues that peripheral locations would cost lesser and pose fewer problems in terms of land acquisition. However, seamless intermodal connectivity to the city centre has been advised for good patronage of high speed rail. On the other hand, the option of existing railway stations at the periphery of cities would be preferred over newly built railway stations at the periphery, since local train services could be developed from the railway station in the periphery.

However, the paper also considers potential expansion of city and decongestion of central business district (CBD) as a long advantage for newly built railway stations located at the periphery of the cities.

In terms of tracks, the papers analyses that while having a HSR tracks at grade level would mean lower cost, the same would also entail major problems to be overcome such as land acquisitions and providing crossovers for roads and adequate protective fencing. The grade level tracks would also divide geographies, putting a cost on those who need access from one side of the alignment to the other.

On the hand, the paper finds that elevated tracks could greatly minimise the issues of land acquisition, road crossovers and fencing, though the same could be expensive compared to at-grade-level track option.

Highlighting the challenge of choosing the right gauge for the high speed rail project between Mumbai and Ahmedabad. the paper states that most countries with HSR use the standard gauge of 1435 mm, including countries like Japan and Spain where it is not the conventional gauge.  In India, the broad gauge of 1676 mm width has been the conventional gauge so far.

“Adopting broad gauge for HSR would ensure interoperability of the HSR rolling stock on conventional rail, potentially increasing the catchment for the HSR trains. This would of course raise the issue of whether conventional rolling stock should be permitted on the HSR route, especially if there is scope for increasing capacity utilisation. Adopting standard gauge would provide more scope for sourcing of rolling stock, through easy acquisition from other countries. Separation of service types by providing dedicated rights of way can improve reliability and capacity,” the paper observes.

It needs to be mentioned here that the pre-feasibility report for the Ahmedabad-Mumbai-Pune route had recommended an Indian broad gauge of 1676 mm ballastless track system, apart from a rolling stock with a 3300 mm wide car body, and a 350 kmph operation speed.

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