Reality check on bullet train ambition

France's national railway company SNCF, studying the feasibility of upgrading the New Delhi-Chandigarh line, is keen to partner Indian Railways to turn the line into a semi-high-speed corridor with trains running at an average speed of 200 km per hour (kmph).

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 6.06.16
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New Delhi, June 5: France's national railway company SNCF, studying the feasibility of upgrading the New Delhi-Chandigarh line, is keen to partner Indian Railways to turn the line into a semi-high-speed corridor with trains running at an average speed of 200 km per hour (kmph).

"When we did the study for the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed corridor (bullet train), we also asked our Indian counterparts to look at semi-high-speed corridors, which can be done at a quarter of the cost of a high- speed one. The Delhi-Chandigarh corridor will be a technology demonstration one when done," said Philippe Lorand, senior vice-president of SNCF

Indian Railways is believed to be more interested in semi-high-speed corridors as they do not require land acquisition and are cheaper. While the Mumbai high-speed corridor is expected to cost Rs 80,000 crore and take about a dozen years to complete, a semi-high-speed corridor of a similar length will cost Rs 20,000 crore and can be completed in 3-4 years.

Lorand had come as part of a delegation of top French railwaymen led by a former transport minister of the country to hold talks with Indian counterparts on current and future collaborations. For the Delhi-Chandigarh pilot project, SNCF is developing three alternatives and will choose one for implementation. This is likely to be followed by the upgradation of a total of 6,400km of rail network to offer semi-high speed services.

"The whole idea of high-speed and semi-high-speed trains is to shorten the time of trips. The difference between a 300kmph train and a 200kmph train will be mere minutes when you are travelling a distance of 200km. The semi-high-speed networks and trains will be cheaper to build and maintain, besides requiring less time to put in place," Lorand said.

Around 30 Indian and French experts are working on the project, supported by three banks and 15 French suppliers, including Alstom, Thales, Vinci, ETF, Vossloh Cogifer, Actia, Elno, Lumiplan, Railtech and Keolis.

Lorand said the French team would also work to upgrade two stations en route - Ambala and Ludhiana - by rebuilding them into cultural and commercial hubs with meeting space for people, commercial realty and hotels along the lines of Paris's Saint Lazare and Gare du Norde station. This will serve as a pilot project for the Indian Railway's ambitious plan to have 400 modernised "world class" stations.

"We want to increase the speed of trains to 180-220 kmph in select sectors to significantly reduce travel time between major cities. The French pilot project is important for us," an Indian Railway official said. He said high-speed trains would be considered for Delhi-Chandigarh, Delhi-Kanpur, Nagpur-Bilaspur, Mysore-Bangalore-Chennai, Mumbai-Goa, Mumbai-Ahmedabad and Chennai-Hyderabad.