SNCF’s Mumbai-Ahmedabad rail link plan may be completed by December

Study being conducted in three phases and was commissioned after the Indian Railways requested for the €33.8 billion SNCF’s support.

Lyon/Paris: In what may help India achieve its ambitious plan of setting up high-speed railway, French state-owned railway company SNCF plans to complete a study for the 450 km Mumbai-Ahmedabad link in December.
The study, which started in January, is being conducted in three phases on this stretch and was commissioned after the Indian Railways requested for the €33.8 billion SNCF’s support. While the Indian Railways has made its experts available for the joint study along with Systra, an SNCF subsidiary, the French government is financing the study with a grant of €600,000. The other partner in the consortium doing the study includes Arep, another SNCF subsidiary.
To be sure, after the completion of the study, it will be upon Indian Railways to go ahead with the project and bid it out. The country has already established the High Speed Rail Authority of India (HSRA) for operationalising the project.
“This line is to compete with the airlines. The questions that the study aims to answer are of speed, customer base and stops. We are looking at revenue considerations and a business case for the project. We expect the study to be completed by the end of this year or by the beginning of next year,” said Philippe Lorand, senior vice-president, business development, major international projects, at SNCF.
A pre-feasibility study has been conducted. Vinay Mittal, chairman of Railway Board recently visited France for discussions on the project.
“SNCF is working on operating a high speed network in India,” said Jojo Alexander, vice president, strategy for transport, Alstom Group.
A panel led by Sam Pitroda, chairman of the National Knowledge Commission on Railway modernization, has said that the Indian Railways needs to look at 15 focus areas that include partnership with private firms, state of tracks and bridges, signaling, rolling stock, stations and terminals, dedicated freight corridors, high-speed trains, land use, safety, and information and communication technology.
“The Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor was chosen for the study as it had the maximum data available. It is the most advanced corridor in India,” said Lorand, while declining to put a value to the cost of the project citing a confidentiality clause.
Apart from operating France’s rail transportation, SNCF runs TGV, the high-speed trains that run at a speed of 320 km per hour.
“We would be keen to bid for this project. We are also open to partnering with another firm for this project,” added Lorand.
Explaining the rationale for SNCF looking at India for business, Lorand said, “The growth in Europe is slower than it usd to be. All companies are looking out. Asia makes sense at a global level.”
For a project of this scale, it would take around 10 years for commissioning. The business case for high-speed trains have been established for a distance ranging between 500km to 1000km. Some of the countries were high-speed trains operate are Japan, South Korea, China and Spain. In comparison, the fastest Indian train is the Bhopal Shatabdi link with a top speed of 150 km per hour.
In response to a question about the allegations of graft in the Indian Railways in the wake of the resignation of former railway minister P.K. Bansal and its impact on such projects, Lorand said “I am not worried. It is for the good of a country that things are cleared up.”
India is also building freight corridors to improve efficiency in moving goods across the country and help businesses expand their markets by creating better infrastructure and plans to construct 725 km new lines with an expenditure of Rs6,872 crore in the current fiscal year.
The writer is in France as a guest of the French government.