India is getting ready to ride the bullet train and consequently, to travel at the speed of a bullet. India only has to wait a while, albeit a long while. The year will be 2022, the month will be August, and then you can cover the entire 509-km-long distance from Mumbai to Ahmedabad in merely two hours. This sounds so incredible, doesn't it? Seems as if the country really is progressing, developing, moving ahead.
So then, what is the problem?
The problem is that the bullet train seems slow on the track of development. The first bullet train in the world was started in Japan in 1964. In China, too, the bullet train has been running for the past 10 years. In France, Italy, Germany and South Korea, as well. Then why does India, after so many years, want to splurge several crores to procure this technology? A major chunk of the money being used to buy the technology will be loaned from Japan itself.
But the bigger question is, in 2022, when the world would have touched even higher planes of development, will India still be excited about running a bullet train at the speed of 320 km/hr? Even today, when the world is clearly moving beyond 5G, we’re still trying to get our 4G networks to work.
Let's take a look at where bullet trains in the world are at this point, as well as where they are going to be in a few years from now.
Japan had tested magnetic levitation in April 2015. This seven bogeyed train of theirs had then gone on to make a world record. Their speed – 603 km/hr! And this was two years ago. What is the great achievement, then, if we travel at a speed of 320 km/hr in 2022?
Bullet trains have been running in Japan for the past 50 years. They have a 2,700 km network, and the Japanese bullet train – known as Shinkansen – has not seen a single major accident in its entire history of 50 years.
Let's assume that Japan is so ahead of us because they are tech giants. But what about places closer home? China started running high speed trains only a few years ago.
Their process of getting these trains on track started in the ‘90s, but it caught actual speed only in 2007. However, in only 10 years, China has shown extraordinary growth – both in terms of speed, as well as network.
The bullet train’s top speed in China is 430 km/ph and their high speed rail network is of 22,000 km. It also makes up 60 percent of the whole world’s high speed train network. More importantly, China did not take help from any other country in order to get their bullet trains on track.
India, on the other hand, has to spend Rs 1 lakh crore just to spread a 509 km track. At this rate, can you even imagine spreading a 5,000 km track, let alone one that is 22,000 km in length?
France and Italy
France achieved a top speed of 574 km/ph 10 years ago. Even though this was only a test, it is safe to assume that France is going to run its bullet trains at this speed in a few years from now. The bullet train in Italy too, currently runs at a speed of 360 km/ph. Compared to these statistics, our 320 km/ph in 2022 seems rather paltry indeed.
Looking at the development other Asian and European nations have made, it does seem like we have been "running" late. While you can say one is better late than never, it brings little relief when you are surveying the Indian context.
The present Indian Railways network in itself is barely in an ideal state. Are the Shatabdi, Rajdhani or Gatiman running at the speeds they are supposed to be running at?
The fact that we have seen four railway accidents in a month shows that while the “bullet train” could be a dream, other issues in the country may be bearing the brunt of the expenditure required to realise this dream.
Is India turning into a recycle bin for technology from all over the world? While other countries are utilising their own technology and making money, our organisations, barring ISRO, seem to be ‘running’ behind.
(This story was originally published in Quint Hindi. Translation by Mekhala Saran.)
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