High-Speed Rail in India

India’s economic development lags China’s by about 15 years, so it shouldn’t be surprising that it’s beginning to construct a high-speed rail network. The first line, connecting Mumbai and Ahmedabad via Surat, began construction at the end of last year, with completion targeted within four years; the two states served, Maharashtra and Gujarat, are more or less India’s two richest large states, and are also both deeply right-wing, with nearly every constituency backing Modi. There are some severe problems with the system, stemming from its use of turnkey Japanese technology. But more broadly, India’s geography is just difficult for high-speed rail, especially by comparison with other high-population density countries at similar level of development, like Pakistan and Indonesia.

Japanese technology

The Mumbai-Ahmedabad corridor is to use imported Shinkansen technology, with Japanese financing. India has a vast railway network using broad gauge, with extensive regional rail (the Mumbai Suburban Railway has 2.6 billion riders per year) as well as legacy intercity rail.

However, to maintain Shinkansen compatibility, India has chosen to use standard gauge. This is based on a misunderstanding of why HSR uses standard gauge. Spain uses near-Indian gauge on its legacy network but standard gauge on HSR to maintain compatibility with the French TGV network, and Japan has narrow gauge on the legacy network and standard gauge on Shinkansen because narrow-gauge trains can’t run as fast. Neither of these justifications applies to India, and evidently, in another country where they don’t apply, Russia, HSR is to use broad gauge. With standard gauge, India will not be able to run HSR through to the legacy network, connecting to cities beyond the initial line, such as Delhi, nor will it be able to stage future construction to build lines in phases, the way France did, with through-service to lower-speed territory.

Even worse, alone in the world, India is using the Shinkansen’s loading gauge on HSR: trains are 3.35 meters wide, enough for 5-abreast seating. Indian Railways has a loading gauge allowing 3.66 meter trains, enough for 6-abreast seating with the same compromises on comfort familiar to every airline economy passenger. I don’t know what the standards for track centers are to be on India’s HSR: Indian Railways’ manual says 5.3 meters, which is wide enough for everything, but Shinkansen standards specify 4.3 meters, which is tight enough that a future widening of the track and loading gauges may pose difficulties for passing at high speed (at low speed it’s easy, India’s legacy track centers are 4.265 meters, and standard-gauge America’s are 3.7 meters on the slower parts of the Northeast Corridor).

During construction, the decision to use the wrong-size trains is fixable. Even after service opens, if the track centers are not too narrow, it’s possible to add a third rail to permit a transition to broad gauge. If the track centers are as narrow as the Shinkansen then might still be possible, if the third rails are on the outside (it would widen the track centers by the difference between the gauges, or 23.3 cm), but then the platforms would need to be shaved for wider trains. In the medium and long runs, such gauge widening is critical as India builds out its network.

But today, so complete is India’s reliance on Japanese technology that the training for drivers will be conducted in Japan, in Japanese; train drivers will be required to speak Japanese, as the Shinkansen trainers will not all speak English. It goes without saying that without a large body of Japanese speakers, India will be forced to pay first-world or near-first-world wages, forgoing its advantage in having low labor costs.

Construction costs

The projected construction cost of the 508-kilometer line is 1.1 trillion (“lakh crore”) rupees, which is $15 billion in exchange rate terms and about $55 billion in PPP terms. Per Wikipedia, the route includes only one tunnel, a 21-km approach to Mumbai with suburban and underwater tunneling (even if the gauges were compatible, using existing tracks like TGVs is impossible due to the use of every approach track by overcrowded Suburban Railway trains). The rest of the route is predominantly elevated, but the decision to runs the trains elevated rather than at-grade is only responsible for about 10% of its cost.

Despite the complexity of such a tunnel, there is no excuse for the high construction cost. In exchange rate terms it’s reasonable. Japan’s domestic Shin-Aomori extension of the Shinkansen cost about $55 million per kilometer, including a 26 km tunnel consisting of a third of the route and additional tunnels totaling a majority of the route. More recently, Japan’s new bout of Shinkansen construction costs about $30 billion for 389 km, but tunneling is extensive, with the Hokkaido route planned to be 76% in tunnel.

With India’s complete reliance on Japanese technology, paying the same as Japan in exchange rate terms is not surprising. It’s a disaster for India, which has to pay in depreciated rupees instead of leveraging its low-cost labor, but as far as Japan is concerned, it’s a perfect copy of the domestic Shinkansen system. Similar high costs can be observed for some Asian metro projects using Japanese financing, namely Dhaka (the world’s highest-cost elevated metro, even worse than in the US) and Jakarta.

In contrast, where India improves its rail network by tapping into Indian Railways’ own expertise, costs are low. Nearly half of India’s rail network is electrified, and to save money on expensive fuel, the country is rapidly electrifying the system, targeting 100% electrification. A plan to electrify 13,675 route-km in the next four years is to cost 12,134 crore rupees, about $123,000/km in exchange rate terms or $450,000/km in PPP terms. In the developed world, $1-1.5 million/km for electrification is reasonable, and the unreasonably expensive UK, US, and Canada go up to $5-10 million/km. Left to its own devices, Indian Railways can build things cheaply.

Network structure

India’s geography for high-speed rail is not easy. Mumbai, Surat, and Ahmedabad are the only three cities in the top 20 that lie on a straight line at easy HSR range. Delhi-Mumbai, Delhi-Kolkata, and Mumbai-Chennai are all just outside the best range for HSR (and Kolkata-Chennai is well outside it), having to rely on intermediate cities like Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, and Kanpur for ridership. Within Uttar Pradesh, Kanpur and Lucknow are both large cities, but the line connecting them is almost perpendicular to that connecting Delhi and Kolkata, so that only one can be served on the main line. In the South, there is a similar situation with Mumbai-Chennai, via either Bangalore or Hyderabad (and there, both routes should be built as Bangalore and Hyderabad are both near-megacities). Mumbai itself requires extensive tunneling in all directions: north toward Gujarat and Delhi, south toward Pune, and possibly also northeast toward the interior cities of Maharashtra.

I drew a possible map for a nationwide network. The total length is 17,700 double-track-km. It’s about the same length as most American proposals, and less than half as much as what China aims to build by 2025, but India has four times the population of the US and far higher population density, and its density is also several times that of China. For a better comparison, consider Pakistan: it is slightly less dense than India and has about 15% India’s population, and yet two spines totaling about 1,800 km, Karachi-Lahore and Lahore-Islamabad-Peshawar, would connect nearly every major city. Lying on the Indus, much of Pakistan has a linear population distribution, facilitating rail connections.

With a difficult urban geography for HSR, India has to take especial care to reduce construction costs. This means, in turn, that it needs to rely on indigenous expertise and standards whenever possible. When imported technology is unavoidable, it needs to provide its own financing (with an annual budget of 29 trillion rupees, it can afford to do so) and force Japanese, Korean, and European vendors to compete. A Chinese-style tech transfer (read: theft) is not possible – the vendors got burned once and won’t agree to the same again – but domestic driver training, with the foreign role restricted to the rolling stock (built to Indian standards) and engineering, is essential and unlikely to bother the global industry.

50 comments

  1. smooth indian

    Thank You Alon Levy! I am of the strong opinion that the Mumbai-Ahmedabad HSR line and other upcoming HSR lines in India should have Indian broad gauge tracks. The interoperability of trains across the HSR lines and the conventional lines is necessary for better reach and viability of high speed trains.
    Point to be noted is that India’s loading gauge of 3.66 meters only applies to suburban trains (lines in Mumbai,Delhi,Kolkata,Chennai,Pune, Hyderabad). Non-suburban trains including the intercity express trains and semi-urban/regional main line electric multiple unit trains (MEMUs) are restricted to a maximum width of 3.25 meters (approx). 3×3 seating is found in the basic second class of daytime express trains (Mumbai-Ahmedabad; Mumbai-Pune) while the upper classes in the same trains offer 3×2 seating. So for HSR tracks it may be possible to maintain a narrower loading gauge (even if Indian Broad gauge tracks are used) to maintain compatibility with the conventional network.

    • Alon Levy

      Do you know if the loading gauge is 3.25 meters too, so that there’s not enough clearance for 3.66? What I saw in the Indian Railways standards is that everything’s supposed to be built to handle 3.66 (and probably even more given how generous the track centers are).

      • smooth indian

        All tracks can accomodate 3.66 wide suburban trains.These trains are routinely transported behind locomotives from their manufacturers to the cities. However, the wide suburban trains are not permitted to operate commercially in non-suburban sections. When non-suburban sections are converted for suburban operation the tracks are slightly realigned to allow for safe enough gap between two passing trains. The non-suburban rolling stock doesn’t exceed 3.25 meters in width.

        • Alon Levy

          They probably need to widen the track centers for higher-speed operation anyway. In Germany the standard for track center spacing is if I remember correctly 4 meters up to 160 km/h and 4.5 meters above 160.

  2. smooth indian

    Sir! I feel your map of possible HSR routes probably included routes which may not be necessary as 300 kmph+ HSR lines. Connections like Hyderabad-Raipur-Gaya, Nasik-Dhule-Indore-Gwalior, Ahmedabad-Indore-Jabalpur-Dhanbad, Mangluru-Mysuru-Bengaluru, Belgaum-Goa-Mangluru-Ernakulam, Raipur-Cuttack, Chennai-Madurai-Thiruvanthapuram don’t need end-to new high speed tracks. These routes can be cobbled up by upgrading and optimizing conventional railway lines (may be 200-250 mph) and constructing a few new sections to bypass Mountain passes (Ghats as they are called in India) and filling in any missing links. The remaining lines pretty much makes up the diamond quadrilateral as proposed by Indian govt.

    • smooth indian

      Kindly read 200-250 mph as 200-250 km/h in the second post. Auto correct is to be blamed for that.

      • Michael James

        Kindly read 200-250 mph as 200-250 km/h in the second post. Auto correct is to be blamed for that.

        This reinforces my belief that any and every blog or news site that purports to be part of any kind of technical discussion (ie. anything in the known universe) should have a metric-only policy, and if necessary have an auto-conversion for their sites. I’m looking at you Benjamin Turon–your long post is a horror of mixed imperial units that are meaningless, or at the least headache-inducing, to 99.99% of anyone with any kind of technical training, including those in the US–it may be the sole remaining hold-out on imperial measures but in reality all of its technicians do their day-to-day work in metric. Yesterday while channel surfing I chanced upon Star Trek TNG (already >30 years old?) and even it was using metric for everything so one can assume it is a given that even the most backward of advanced countries converts eventually; but Alon let’s not wait for the 26th century! Don’t you think being in the 21st century is enough? Be part of the solution, not part of the problem, please.

        • Untangled

          When was in India, I was quite surprised at the semi-frequent use of British imperial units here and there. Homes there are sold by sq ft for example. I would have thought they would have smashed those units, like Oz, NZ and CA (maybe?), but that was not the case. Still wondering why this is, especially for a country that likes to be seen as “independent”.

          • adirondacker12800

            They are independent. They aren’t submitting to the tyranny of the SI system for everything. How many lakh are there in a crore?

          • smooth indian

            To be honest, apartment measuring to 500 sq.ft,1000 sq.ft, 1200 sq.ft translates to 46, 92 and 111 sq meters. So the public uses the unit with round figures. For decades after the Indian rupee was made metric (1 rupee = 100 paise), the public was still counting in ‘annas’ from the older system (1 rupee = 16 annas = 96 paise); 25 paise was called 4 annas (actually 24 paise) and 50 paise was called 8 annas (48 paise).

          • Michael James

            Isn’t that proof that continued use of Imperial measure is itself a measure of reactionary forces/mindset and perhaps a vastly misplaced fawning over the British ruling class? (A version of cultural cringe?) Much like in the UK itself which “went metric” by law about 40 years ago yet (IIRC it was 1977), yet has never managed to implement it in all that time. Thanks of course to Maggie T.
            Contrary to adirondacker, I think 99% of the world knows who is being tyranicized by what. OK, ‘dacker I want to terrorize you: how many crore nanometres are in one inch?

          • adirondacker12800

            2.54 with a really big number after it, has been for a really long time too. 1860s in the U.S.? I’m not gonna look it up. I suspect the concept of nanometer comes somewhat after the inch was defined as 2.54 centimeters. I don’t have to measure things that small.

          • Michael James

            adirondacker12800, 2018/09/19 – 14:16

            2.54 with a really big number after it

            Hmm, so close but no cigar. The answer to the question is “2.54 crore” (of nanometres). Crore is the “really big number”, in fact 10 million. The calculation is easy: one inch is 2.54 cm as you knew, which is 25.4 mm. One converts to mm because in the metric system it makes thinking/calculating so easy: a mm is one thousandth of a metre or one thousand times a micrometre, and a million times a nanometre.
            So you were closish but a miss by a nanometre is as good as a crore of nanometres …

          • adirondacker12800

            It’s 2.54 followed by a really big number. I don’t have the instruments or the skills to use devices capable of measuring things small. Those concepts are somewhat disconnected from an inch being commonly defined as 2.54 centimeters. I didn’t check with the Bureau of Standards, it’s probably legally defined as 0.0254 meters. I get the concept that alls ya gotta do is shift the decimal. I’m an old fart and learned how to use log tables and slide rule. Still can too.
            I can do tricks with hexadecimal that get kiddies who have had a calculator clutched in their hand all their lives wondering what kind of voodoo I have. It’s 16 inch centers. The conversations about bit masks can be in hex or octal depending on the context. Yard and third by two and two thirds sheets of building materials comes in handy once in a while too. So does the stuff that is a meter and third or a meter and half or three meters wide. I can think in thirds and not .33333333333333 going on forever. Quarters are half a half not 0.25. Circumference of a circle being close to 22/7th is handy now and then too. Half of a gross too.

          • Michael James

            adirondacker12800, 2018/09/20 – 13:54

            A bear can be taught, or tortured, to ride a unicycle … but it doesn’t serve any function, especially for the bear.
            There are times to let old things go to the grave where they belong. You speak as if metric is some new fangled thing, instead of the two centuries old rationalisation in which measurements are precisely defined in relation to fundamentals of the physical universe (the two countries that still hang on to imperial units can’t even agree on what they ‘mean’). I wonder if you would have fought against the introduction to mathematics of the notion of zero?

            I too learnt the slide rule (and like most such people I still have my original one–it is a wonderful artefact to gaze at now and then) but moved on–for about 45 years now I have preferred my Reverse-Polish-Notation HP calculator; I bought my HP-35, the first truly revolutionary handheld digital device, in maybe 1972. As a mere biochemist (still undergrad then) I didn’t really need such a thing but, like that first ’84 Mac, once you read about it and saw it , you had to have it even as it cost >$400. As it happened I got mine for free because first, I organised a group purchase on campus for which HP gave a big discount and second, long after delivery and distribution and my collection of their purchase cost, HP (or their agent) took sooo long to bill me that I had the collective dosh in an interest bearing account for maybe 6 months! (I often think it was a sign that I should have pursued that impulse and become a mini-Michael Dell instead of impoverished scientist!)

            By the way, the “calculation” of how many crores of nanometres in an inch was entirely in the head, neither HP-35 or slide-rule or pen & paper required, just an understanding of those terms. One of metric’s huge benefits is clearing space in the old brain for more important things than working in fractions. If you want to keep your brain nimble there are lots of more useful and rewarding things to exercise it with, like music or chess or Go or learning Mandarin (or even Klingon).

            Seriously.

          • adirondacker12800

            I don’t struggle with fractions, I understand how they work.

        • Thomas Graves

          The metric system’s real but sole advantage is that it is divisible by 10. Apart from that, it is as arbitrary as the imperial system in its crude attempts to link measurement standards to physical objects. Amusing that you take such progressive pride in its righteousness and ‘modernity’. An antique point of view, to say the least…

          • Michael James

            Thomas Graves, 2018/09/21 – 08:53

            sole advantage is that it is divisible by 10.

            If that were its sole advantage, wouldn’t that be more than enough? But further … (Wiki):

            The metric system was designed to have properties that make it easy to use and widely applicable, including units based on the natural world, decimal ratios, prefixes for multiples and sub-multiples, and a structure of base and derived units. It is also a coherent system, which means that its units do not introduce conversion factors not already present in equations relating quantities. It has a property called rationalisation that eliminates certain constants of proportionality in equations of physics.

            The units of the metric system, originally taken from observable features of nature, are now realised by synthetic phenomena such as the microwave frequency of a caesium atomic clock which accurately measures seconds. One unit, the kilogram, remains defined in terms of a man-made artefact.

            Though other currently or formerly widespread systems of weights and measures continue to exist, such as the British imperial system and the US customary system of weights and measures, in those systems some or all of the units are now defined in terms of the metric system, such as the US foot which is now a defined decimal fraction of a metre.

            Antique, huh?
            Somehow I can’t help but think the same underlying denialism leads to both Brexit and Trump.

          • Matt Hutton

            It’s not that it’s divsible by 10 it’s that the divisions are consistent.

    • Comradefrana

      “Nasik-Dhule-Indore-Gwalior”

      I don’t know, Nashik-Indore is pretty circuitous. Even if you could raise the speed of the old line enough to achieve a reasonable the Mumbai-Indore trip time it would seriously reduce its capacity. At which point you would need to build more tracks. And when you’re doing that, why not build a new line that’s much faster and easily 100 km shorter? For a corridor such as Mumbai-Indore that shouldn’t be hard to justify, especially not in 10-20 years time.

      • smooth indian

        The line between Nasik and Gwalior runs via Bhusaval and Bhopal and is part of the Mumbai-Delhi trunk line. There is a new railway line planned between Manmad (north of Nasik) and MHOW (south of Indore).

        • Comradefrana

          “There is a new railway line planned between Manmad (north of Nasik) and MHOW (south of Indore).”

          Well, that’s basically what I had in mind.

  3. Benjamin Turon

    If the Japanese can export high-speed trains to the UK it seems they could build trains based on existing designs to run on India’s Broad Gauge network, including new HSR lines. My understanding is that a Spanish TALGO train is now operating in revenue service in India as a demonstration. And Siemens ICE train-sets where built to run in Russia with its wider gauge. I don’t see what the problem is with adopting existing Shinkansen technology and rollingstock to the Broad Gauge.

    This reminds me a bit of the problems in Malaysia with the two now in “limbo” Chinese backed Standard Gauge railway projects.

    Lost in the debate over the build or not o build a new HSR line seems to be the fact that Malaysia has done a very good job virtually rebuilding their West Coast Main Line from a British Colonial Era single track line to a modern double-track, electrified, grade-separated railway. With intercity train travel times and frequencies equivalent to Japan’s narrow gauge “limited-express” services like JR Kyushu’s ‘Sonic’ and ‘Kamome’ — or NYC-Albany on Amtrak’s ‘Empire Service’.

    They are now finishing the last segment between Gemas and Johor Bahru from what I have read from online sources. Travel time Kuala Lumpur- Johor Bahru is estimated to be 4 hours compared to the current 6-7 hours today with diesel trains on a single-track line.

    The Kuala Lumpur-Singapore High Speed Rail Project would have delivered a 90-minute travel time Singapore-Kuala Lumpur, but at the cost of over $20 billion USD. In contrast the Gemas-Johor Bahru EDTP will cost just over $2 billion and is already underway. It builds on and completes the successful effort of modernizing the West Coast Line. And being of the same gauge as the rest of the network intercity trains from Singapore/Johor Bahru will be able to travel beyond Kuala Lumpur on the fully upgraded network to other destinations, including several major tourist destinations.

    As best as I can work out there is roughly about 240 miles of track between Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru, so a travel time of 4 hours works out to about an average speed of 60-mph. That’s better than Amtrak today NYC-Albany (56-mph average) and Albany-Buffalo (54-mph) and almost as good as the Acela NYC-Boston (66-mph). And this would be an improvement from the 40-mph of today’s service Singapore-Kuala Lumpur, although that’s about what Amtrak does now on many lines in the USA!

    This project completes the “Electrified Double Track Project (EDTP)” along the county’s West Coast Line that the national railway KTM has undertaken over the last two decades, building on the electrified commuter service it started in 1995 in Kuala Lumpur. To date this has resulted in 477 miles being electrified and double-tracked of KTM’s 1,139-mile national rail network. Extensive grade separation has also been done. Viewed on Google Street View the modernized section of the West Coast Line look likes the Shinkansen!

    A new fleet of “high speed” EMU train-sets has been procured, with commercial speeds of 87 (top design speed is 100-110 mph) making them some of the fastest narrow-gauge trains in the world. While ridership and revenue have fallen for the traditional rail passenger services, the new KTM ETS (Electric Train Service) is the bright spot with rising ridership and revenue. The trains have been nicknamed “pocket bullet” trains by the public.

    ETS ridership increased by nearly tenfold, from 215,000 in 2010 to 2.06 million passengers in 2015 and then to 3.57 million passengers in 2016 as services were expanded to Butterworth (Padang Besar) in the north and to Gemas in the south.

    Given this history it seems that upgrading Malaysia’s existing Meter Gauge network is “good enough” compare to spending many tens of billions on new Standard Gauge railways. If new a new Standard Gauge high-speed line is to be built I would agree with one of the ministers of the new government in Malaysia who said it should be built to carry both freight and passengers, like the first new HSR lines in Germany.

    Singapore is reportedly very unhappy with the decision to “delay” the HSR Project because a big HSR Station was to be the anchor of a new business district that the city-state had is working on. My solution is simple: Build the new station to accommodate mixed-gauge trains so it can serve the new Meter Gauge KTM ETS intercity trains today and at some future Standard Gauge high-speed trains.
    Back to India — would they not be better off build new lines that could handle both passenger and freight trains? Perhaps even just intermodal. It might require a lower top speed, but like the lines in Germany, UK, or the NEC — 240 to 260 kph is plenty fast!

    KTM West Coast railway line
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KTM_West_Coast_railway_line#Double-tracking_and_electrification

    KTM ETS
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KTM_ETS

    • adirondacker12800

      The NEC carries small amounts of local freight. The frequent freight has moved over to the competing lines that have little or no passenger traffic that were gonna out compete the Pennsylvania railroad or the the NY Central.

    • smooth indian

      “Back to India — would they not be better off build new lines that could handle both passenger and freight trains?”
      India is already building 2 long dedicated freight corridors linking northern India to the east and west coast ports. Further freight corridors in the southern part of the country have also been proposed.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dedicated_Freight_Corridor_Corporation_of_India

      I feel for faster passenger trains along the delhi-mumbai-chennai-kolkata quad and some other sections the need is for separate right-of way which is segregated from the conventional lines but is aligned close to them and connects to the legacy railway lines at regular intervals. The ROW can be tailored in different areas to accomodate different speed limits and types of trains as per the requirements.

    • Alon Levy

      Germany’s mixed lines are a maintenance nightmare. They run HSR in the daytime and freight at night, so there are no regular maintenance windows.

      Nor is 250 km/h sufficient for India. Delhi-Mumbai and Mumbai-Kolkata are about 1,300 km each; every km/h of top speed matters, and German average speed (which is at most 193 km/h, on Berlin-Hamburg) just wouldn’t cut it.

  4. adirondacker12800

    Looks vaguely like the transit foamers wet dreams of sending half the New York City subway lines to the swamp in Secaucus and getting rid of those confusing local and express trains. Or a bus grid map instead those pesky things that aim at local destinations. Things that are along a line tend to lineal maps and things that are spread out equidistantly on a grid have a grid like map. It’s a pity everything in the world isn’t the Tokaido but that pesky geography goes and rears it’s ugly head.

    • Michael James

      Japanese cheap financing. It’s a direct flow-on of the $1 trillion QE of Abenomics, to create local (Japanese) jobs by exporting tech. China does the same but in this case India historically is not BFF of China …

      • Untangled

        And they won’t have to start the loan repayments until 2032. Cheap financing they don’t have to service until 10 years after it opens, that’s a great deal. And by the time they have to start making repayments in 2032, the country will probably be a lot more developed. Also, I don’t think China’s deals are that generous financially but they seem to have fewer strings attached.

  5. Eric

    Is it possible that the Indian government decided that a domestic HSR project would get mired in corruption and never get finished (at least not at the sticker price), while that was not a danger with a fully Japanese-run project?

    • Alon Levy

      I doubt it? The articles I’ve read about the electrification project do not mention cost overruns, even one piece quoting the government hitting the previous administration for only electrifying 4,000 km rather than 13,000. If there were big cost overruns under Congress, I would have expected the Modi administration to mention them in the media instead of just the quantity of electrification.

      • smooth indian

        More than corruption is the fear of the project stalling due to inexperience of Indian Railways and the accompanying negativity which could derail everything, Even with Japanese controlling many aspects of the projects, there is tremendous naysaying about this project. Some of it has come from the BJP’s own regional allies who tried to instigate landowners on the planned route. A project of this cost has not been attempted in India. The criticisms have come with the usual references to India’s poverty which serves as an excuse against even considering something as profligate as ‘bullet trains’ or ‘the space program’. One has to understand that in India planning anything with ambitious goals comes with a lot of negativity, vested interests, opposition for opposing sake. India also has a history of voting out goverments with good economic performance.

        • Olivier

          If the “good economic performance” of Inida is of the same vein as in much of the West, i.e., benefiting only the 10%, no wonder the government gets voted out.

          And one may indeed ask whether pharaonic HSR projects are a good use of public monies. In the West we have a situation, largely because of HSR, whereby now expensive long-distance rail has become the province of business travelers while the hoi polloi fly budget. The world upside down, in other words: flying was supposed to be the expensive option. But Modi is just the sort of politician who would have the eyes of Chimène for the moneyed city elites and offer them HSR.

          • Eric

            “benefiting only the 10%”

            That’s a Western only phenomenon. Read up on the elephant curve.

            “And one may indeed ask whether pharaonic HSR projects are a good use of public monies.”

            In not too long India, like China, will not have the airspace to accommodate the demand for long distance travel, and HSR will be a necessity.

          • adirondacker12800

            We don’t on the East Coast of the U.S. either. There’s been capacity increases that make the projections of 1965 obsolete but people have been saying “Yer gonna run out of airport” since late 50s.

          • Alon Levy

            In France the hoi polloi travel by TGV between Paris and the rest of the country, same as the rich. People fly budget to Nice regardless of social class, but on Paris-Lyon, Paris-Marseille, etc., the TGV mode share is way too high for it to be just the rich.

  6. Eric

    I am not so bothered by the incompatibility with legacy rail. India’s cities are populated enough that the line will eventually be 100% full and they will need to build another HSR line. The second line can run through to broad gauge lines.

  7. Reedman Bassoon

    I think Chennai (7 million) to Bangalore (10 million) (350 km/220 mi) would be a winner. [One argument in favor of HSR in India (in general, and in spite of the costs) is that India has significant pollution problems, and more electric rail transport is needed for that reason alone (in 2016, the US EPA called New Delhi the most polluted city on earth).]

  8. Lake401

    How is a Chinese-style tech transfer theft? It’s just taking advantage of your power as a nation to make your own rules to take advantage of foreign companies and decrease your reliance on them. Taking technology (copying) is only consodered theft by those who make the technology, not those who use it.

  9. Nathanael

    In the ultra long run, assuming civilization survives that long, India is gonna want to convert their entire network to standard gauge, for compatibility with Iran and China. And they can because Indian broad gauge is big enough to do three-rail with standard gauge tracks. So I’m not bothered by using standard gauge tracks.

    It’s always better to use wide loading gauges, however.

    And having the workers learn Japanese falls under the truly bizarre category. The “pay nothing for over a decade” aspect of the deal was obviously the key.

    On another topic, when will the US catch up with India, let alone China?

    • adirondacker12800

      Using the same gauge mattered in 1888, a lot less today when the crane can lift the container and put it on a different flatbed or well car in a few moments.

        • Michael James

          Yes, I’ve done it on the Siberian Express. Took maybe 2 hours. Interestingly they lock all the pax in the trains while they do it. And they elevate the entire train in one go–into the air (by chain hoists from above in a very long shed) while the bogies are swapped out underneath the train.
          But for freight I’d guess they would do as adirondacker says: move the containers to a new train. In fact that is probably what happens:

          https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/14/china-silk-road-trade-train-rolls-london
          Silk Road route back in business as China train rolls into London
          After 16 days and 7,456 miles, the locomotive’s arrival heralds the dawn of a new commercial era
          Tracy McVeigh, 15 January 2017

          When the East Wind locomotive rumbles into east London this week, it will be at the head of 34 carriages full of socks, bags and wallets for London’s tourist souvenir shops, as well as the dust and grime accumulated through eight countries and 7,456 miles.
          The train will be the first to make the 16-day journey from Yiwu in west China to Britain, reviving the ancient trading Silk Road route and shunting in a new era of UK-China relations.
          Due to arrive on Wednesday, the train will have passed through China, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Belgium and France before crossing under the Channel and arriving in the east end of London at Barking rail freight terminal.
          Faster than a ship, cheaper than a plane, the East Wind won’t be quite the same train that left Yiwu on 2 January. Differing rail gauges in countries along the route mean a single locomotive cannot travel the whole route. But the journey still marks a new departure in the 21st-century global economy. The new train, which will start to run weekly while demand is tested, is part of China’s One Belt, One Road policy – designed to open up the old Silk Road routes and bring new trade opportunities, said Prof Magnus Marsden, an anthropologist at Sussex University’s School of Global Studies, who has been studying the trading patterns in Yiwu. China Railway has already begun rail services to 14 European cities, including Madrid and Hamburg. As a result, Yiwu’s markets are now loaded with hams, cheese and wine from Spain and German beer is available on every corner.

        • adirondacker12800

          Except for the once a week land cruise it’s gonna be freight. Containers can be craned off one car and put on another in moments. Happens all over the world with some yards specializing in making up the double stacks from the line that doesn’t have clearance for double stacks and vice versa.

    • Alon Levy

      Wait, why would India want to convert away from Indian gauge? Iran is a tail wagging the Indian dog (and in between there’s Pakistan, which is going to stop being a failed state any decade now), and China’s border with South Asia is the Himalayas. If there’s a conventional rail tunnel across the Himalayas, then just figure out a gauge change train. It’s not thaaaaat hard; Spanish gauge change trains go at 10 km/h along the boundary, which is 2.4 minutes for a 400-meter train and 6 minutes for a kilometer-long freight train.

      As for the US catching up with India, on some topics (i.e. transgender rights) it’s moving further away…

      • Michael James

        As it happens I watched the movie Lion last night. [warning spoilers] A true story, about a very young kid in rural India who falls asleep in an empty train (waiting for his brother to return for him) and gets locked into the decommissioned train that travels about 1500 km to Calcutta where he eventually gets adopted by an Australian couple in Tasmania where he grows up but increasingly obsessed with his origins. He was too young to remember much detail of his home but with GoogleEarth and Indian Train websites he trawls and trawls until finally finds it, travels back as a adult and ….

        Anyway, the final shot is of him and his (mother?) walking along the original train line in his rural home. Except that some trainspotter on IMDB pointed out a disparity: they were walking on a 3ft gauge track instead of the broad gauge featured in the rest of the movie; presumably a tea-train relic (that are still run in the hill towns/tea plantations as tourist rides).

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