17 December 2015
India’s upcoming decision to adopt Japanese high-speed rail (HSR) system could be a threshold for railway diplomacy in South Asia.
New Delhi’s first HSR project of 505 km between Mumbai and Ahmedabad would operate with a Japanese HSR system at a top speed of 320 km/h. Such characteristics would likely be passenger-only services, because mixing freight trains with passenger lines would lower the operating speed due to greater friction on the tracks, potentially affecting the stability of the HSR train. The length of this line is in the optimal range, between 200 to 1000 km, in terms of competition with aviation and automobiles. About half of the expenditure will be met with the help of a Japanese loan.
Compared to Thailand’s two to four or perhaps more HSR lines in the following decade, and China’s massive HSR projects, India’s modest plans likely reflect financial, technological and political concerns. Most HSR lines run at a lost, and a major investment in several HSR projects carries considerable financial risk. Although the Indian middle class is expanding, the price of an HSR ticket may not be affordable or attractive for many passengers. Moreover, airlines – particularly budget carriers – can still compete in the 200-1000 km range. A HSR line between two commercial centers with strong business passenger volume is a relatively safe choice to deliver the financial results that will encourage subsequent projects.
… Wu Shang-su is a research fellow in the Military Studies Programme, a constitute unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
IDSS / Online
Last updated on 18/12/2015