Thursday, November 15, 2012

Railway Board plans to buy high-speed trains atRs.550 crore a piece

The Indian railways needs at least Rs.10 lakh crore to enhance its safety measures and another Rs.1.25 lakh crore to complete 129 key projects.

These financial hiccups, however, have not stalled the flight of ambition of the railway board, which has prepared a proposal to buy highspeed trains, which can travel up to 200 km per hour, at the cost of 
Rs.550 crore per train.

The "speed-up high quality coach trains" are proposed to run on the Delhi-Mumbai route. The ambitious plan, involving an expenditure ofRs.10,587 crore for 20 speed-up trains, has triggered a debate in the railway department with several members finding the project unfeasible given the current condition of the railways.

The feasibility study, presented in the railway board meeting on November 1, also took into account the additional cost of three to four thousand crore rupees that would be incurred in setting up the infrastructure to run the high-speed trains.

The feasibility proposal (a copy of which is with Mail Today) has evoked sharp criticism from former board members and railway brass, with some sniffing a "scam" and "favouritism" to a particular company.

"It is learnt that companies like Altstom, Bombardier and Siemens are in the race to grab the contract. Japanese giants in the field - Hitachi, Kawasaki and Mitsubishi - are also not far behind. Incidentally, the feasibility study for these trains was sponsored by Japan's ministry of economy, trade and industry (METI),'' a board member said.

Many questioned the proposal's viability at a time when the railways is struggling to complete several pending projects. A senior board member pleading anonymity said: "There are several pending issues which need urgent attention and are affecting the daily operations of the railways. If we can run a highquality train at the cost of 
Rs.60-70 crore, including the locomotive cost, why are we going for the high-speed trains which are 10 times more expensive? The proposal is impractical given we don't have proper tracks to run even 100 km/hr speed trains."

The total cost earned from passenger fare per train will not even be enough to pay the interest of the loan required to buy these trains. "Had it been an investment it would have been a feasible approach. But that is not the case," the board member said. "Besides the 
Rs.11,000 crore cost of the train, also consider the expenditure on the tracks.

The cost of one km track for such high-speed train will be equivalent to the cost of 20 km of normal coach tracks in use in the country. I don't approve of the proposal, so do many other members in the board," the board member added.

Former general manager in the railways, R.C. Sethi, said: "You (the railway board) are dreaming a technological leap when you don't have the strength to even walk properly on the ground."

Former railway board member (mechanical) R.C. Acharya questioned the "extravagance" saying: "It seems to me to be an attempt by vested interests to push the railways into a horrendously expensive initiative."

"Rather than taking up such projects, the railways should push pending projects, enhance line capacity and consolidate its bread winner - the freight operations," Acharya added.


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