Monday, February 13, 2012

Potential for high speed rail corridors in India

FT charts the high-speed rail (HSR) networks across the world. China is the runaway leader with 37% of the total global operational HSR track. However, if its pipeline of projects under construction are added, it will have more HSR track length than all other countries combined! Among HSR under construction, EMs count for over 60% of the total track being built.

India does not have any HSR track under construction, nor anything in reasonably advanced stages of planning. Rail transit policy making in India, it appears, is taken up with metro rail systems, with even small cities preparing grandiose projects for metro-rail systems.

In this context, HSR offers exciting possibilities for promoting economic growth and laying the foundations for the creation of large growth corridors. Despite the significant successes achieved by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) with the construction of the Golden Quadrilateral road network in the past decade, roads cannot form the basis for integrating regional growth clusters.

Ahmedabad-Mumbai-Pune, Delhi-Lucknow-Patna, Delhi-Chandigarh-Amritsar, and Chennai-Bangalore-Hyderabad are four promising HSR corridors. HSR services in these routes, which connect important industrial and commercial centers, have the potential to underpin economic growth by harnessing the increasing returns from geographic integration. The HSR will provide greater integration among the large population clusters in these corridors. It will integrate labour markets and strengthen the existing manufacturing and services base in these corridors.

In this context, the Kerala's government's proposed 580 km, Rs 1.18 lakh Cr HSR corridor between Thiruvananthapuram and Mangalore, which would reduce travel time more than four-fold to around three hours, is an excellent proposal. Instead of wasting its scarce resources pursuing a metro-rail link for Kochi, the Kerala government would do well to vigorously pursue this by upgrading the existing rail network into HSR in a phased manner. Given its narrow-strip geography and urban demographics, Kerala would stand to benefit immensely from such rail links.

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