Negative public perception is big risk to high speed rail: ASSOCHAM

मुंबई New Delhi: Notwithstanding the government’s priority to introduce high speed railway, the biggest hurdle to the ambitious project is the negative public perception about HSR (High-Speed Rail) which can be overcome by achieving a few success stories through implementing smaller projects, an ASSOCHAM Paper has said. ”The biggest hurdle high speed rail faces in the eyes of the public is its cost and its time frame.

To ally negative public perception, HSR needs to be packaged as a series of discrete high speed rail lines, each taking a finite number of years to complete, each involving a standard construction schedule,” the ASSOCHAM Paper on ‘Development of High Speed Rail in India: Issues and International Lessons’ noted.

It would mean dividing the development of the system into smaller achievable projects in terms of both time and cost. It also means that within these projects, planning and construction timelines need to be clear and realistic.

“Finally, as has happened in several other countries, once an initial section is operational and successful; its popularity will be catalyst for subsequent stages to be built. However, the success of the first stage is crucial for this to happen,” the paper pointed out.

The public has to be convinced about the cost – benefit analysis since the HSR projects involve high costs. The total cost of constructing 500 km (say, Mumbai-Ahmedabad) of HSR would involve about Rs 63,000 crore which works out to Rs 118 crore per km.

“While the entire money does not have to come from the public exchequer, the investment is required anyway. The public-private-partnership (PPP) in such a case would require several risk variables which would again have to be borne by the public funding,” ASSOCHAM Secretary General Mr D S Rawat said.

A sustainable funding strategy, including reliable central government commitments, is needed to put the HSR on a firm footing and inspire confidence. “When approaching the PPP, a proper allocation of risk among the parties is critical to successful project”, the paper said.

The problem is that the HSR is expensive both to build and to operate, requiring high ticket prices to break even. However, the benefits go beyond travel and eco-friendliness. China today has the world’s largest HSR network in operation which is close to 11,000 km and has emerged as a global high speed rail leader.

In India, the project should be approached keeping in view the international experience. “Once an initial section is operational and successful; its popularity will be the catalyst for subsequent stages to be built. However, the success of the first stage is crucial for this to happen,”

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