Uzbek High Speed Rail has lessons for India

NEW DELHI: High Speed Rail (HSR) in landlocked Uzbekistan that connects key cities along the historic Silk Road is among the lesser known facts of the modern-day connectivity initiatives in Asia. Uzbekistan, besides Russia, is the only country in the Eurasian region to have HSR and as a developing country, Uzbek HSR has lessons for India that wants to develop a network of bullet trains beginning with the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route.

Japan is providing technology as well as finance for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route and the foundation stone for the project was laid when PM Shinzo Abe visited Gujarat for the Indo-Japan annual summit last month. HSR has been able to revolutionise travel in the Central Asian state — connecting Uzbek capital Tashkent with historic cities of Samarkand and Bukhara — a model that India may replicate for its key tourism circuits. Importantly, the first Uzbek HSR route, opened in 2011, runs to the minute without delay.

And interestingly, these trains are run on upgraded conventional railway track. The Tashkent-Samarkand route (344 km) is covered in two hours and the Tashkent-Bukhara route (600 km) is covered in an impressive three hours and 20 minutes. Earlier, passengers spent 7-8 hours to travel from capital to Bukhara and vice-versa.

Renowned Spanish rail firm Talgo, which was also exploring the Indian market, had specially designed HSR in Uzbekistan that suited the extreme climatic conditions, a senior Uzbek official told. Temperatures in Uzbekistan can fall below –20 degrees Celsius during winters.

Samarkand and Bukhara house treasure of history on the ancient Silk Road and draw visitors from across the globe, an Uzbek official said. “The introduction of HSR in Uzbekistan that became independent in 1991 is a remarkable feat. Coupled with this transport initiative that has attracted additional tourists, recent measures to modernise the economy and financial structures will help keep local economy stable and make it grow,” the official added.

The resource and heritage-rich Central Asian state has witnessed a spur in tourism since tourist visas were abolished last December for 27 countries.