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High-speed dream

High-speed dream
Highlights

Advancements in technology augur well for any society. That\'s what the bullet train did to Japan. Shinkansen, as the bullet train is known in Japanese, played key role in the growth of Japanese economy as it reduced travel time between key cities and towns drastically, putting industries, suppliers, workers and consumers on a jet-speed transportation lane.

Advancements in technology augur well for any society. That's what the bullet train did to Japan. Shinkansen, as the bullet train is known in Japanese, played key role in the growth of Japanese economy as it reduced travel time between key cities and towns drastically, putting industries, suppliers, workers and consumers on a jet-speed transportation lane.

Statistics reveal that per capita income of Japan was just $835 when the first bullet train was launched in 1964. As its bullet train network spread, so was its economy and per capita income which reached $36,000 now. China also saw its per capita income jumping from $3,500 to $8,000 post the introduction of bullet trains.

These salivating statistics might have prompted Prime Minister Narendra Modi towards taking India into the elite club of countries that could boast of bullet trains. In a way, Modi is right. World-class transportation system is essential for any country to accelerate growth. For India which has over a billion people to feed, a faster economic growth is the prerequisite for its prosperity.

Frankly, our transport infrastructure that includes roads and railways is abysmal. With Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe laying foundation for the Rs 1.08-lakh crore Ahmedabad-Mumbai bullet train on Thursday, transport infrastructure is likely to get a big boost in the country.

The bullet train, which will run at a mind-boggling speed of 350 km/h and is scheduled to be operational by 2022, will cut the travel time between Mumbai and Gujarat’s capital city to under three hours from seven now. That’s huge leap forward. Moreover, Japanese bullet trains are known for their punctuality and safety.

But the key question is whether India can afford to spend such a stratospheric budget on bullet trains when the existing railway network is crumbling as exposed by recent spate of accidents which have not only claimed several precious lives, but also forced PM Modi to shunt his Cabinet colleague Suresh Prabhu from the Ministry of Railways. It’s high time Indian Railways funnels its precious resources into improving safety across its track network of 1.15 lakh km.

But this is not to say that our country doesn’t need bullet train. However, such a high-speed network should be restricted to high-density routes. Moreover, travel on bullet trains should be affordable too. According to information available, travel on bullet trains in Japan cost as much as $118 per trip. That’s equal to over Rs 7,500 in India. Such a high tariff will make bullet trains unviable in the country, turning them white elephants instead.

There is also a view that with low-cost airlines gaining popularity and aviation network spreading to smaller cities, it may not be prudent for the central government to go for bullet train network on a larger scale. Of course, there is a unique advantage with railway network as trains stop at a number of towns and cities along the track route, which is not possible for airlines. All in all, a viable and dexterous approach is essential for India while going for the bullet train network.

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