Bullet trains: Back in reckoning

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Bengaluru:  The Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has announced his plans to introduce a bullet train between Bengaluru and Mysore. The announcement was made soon after the CM's return from the World Economic Forum in China. However, if past experience is anything to go by, this may amount to little more than a political gimmick.
Taken at face value, bullet train is an undoubtedly exciting idea, but does Bengaluru have what it takes to pull it off? How feasible is it, really? The doubling of tracks between the two cities was started over a decade ago and the project is still awaiting completion. On the other hand, Namma Metro has turned out to be a big drain on the exchequer, hindered by a stream of delays.
The rail line to Mysore has had several hurdles, starting with the issue of track converstion. Railway lines to Mysore were laid out in 1882 but converting them from metre guage to broad guage took about 14 years to accomplish! The guage conversion was first budgeted in 1978 and completed only in 1992.
In his announcement, the Chief Minister, who seemed excited by the fact that the 140-km ride between Bengaluru and Mysore would take a mere 30 minutes, has asked the Japan's Minister for  Higher Education, Science and Technology, Hakubun Shimomura, to dispatch a technical team to undertake a feasibility study on introducing a bullet train between the two cities.
The cost of the bullet train project is exorbitant, far higher than any other transport project undertaken so far. Earlier estimates say the cost of laying a 1-km stretch for the bullet train will cost about Rs 50 crore. This feasibility study, which was conducted for the Pune-Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train route in 2009, placed the estimate of rolling stock at over Rs 6000 crore.
Had the government provided adequate support for doubling the 140-km line between Mysore and Bengaluru, much could have been done. Further, experts point out that if the government would put trains like the Shatabadi Express on the route, travel time could very well be brought down by atleast 45 minutes.
 Doubling work on the Mysore corridor, which began in 2007, is still stuck. The issue of shifting Tipu's armoury held up the project for over a decade. The Bengaluru-Mysore track doubling work is in limbo again over a land acquisition issue. It has been learned that railways are now fighting a case over acquiring a 40-acre plot of land, which has brought work to a standstill once more. Further, the doubling work that was estimated to cost about Rs250 crore will now cost over Rs 800 crore, thanks to all the delays.An idea that was shot down several times beforeSeveral governments both at the Centre and State have been thrilled by the idea of bringing the bullet train to India, but all with little progress.
When in 2009, the then Railways Minister, Lalu Prasad Yadav announced the proposal for a Bullet Train, former CM B.S. Yeddy­urappa requested Yadav to extend the proposed high-speed rail link between Chennai and Bangalore to Mumbai via Hubli, in what was perceived as a veiled threat.
In his letter, Yeddyurappa had categorically stated that Karnataka would assist the project, only if Bengaluru was also made part of the plan. Later, when K.H.Muniyappa took over as the Minister of State for Railways, he also allegedly tried to profit from the Bullet Train plan. However, he later accepted that the plan was shelved due the high project cost.
Even the S.M. Krishna government which ruled the state from 1999 to 2004 mooted the idea of a bullet train. The project didn’t even make it to the feasibility study stage.
Are bullet trains really necessary?

Are bullet trains really necessary?M.N. SreehariThe first question that comes to my mind is ‘what exactly are we trying do here?’Are we trying to build a self-sufficient state on things that we need or are we on a binge? The CM is overawed by the fact that a bullet train moves at a speed of over 200 km per hour. But does he know the kind of infrastructure and investment needed to bring such a project to the state?
Of course, we are relying on an International Cooperation Agency loan or aid from the World Bank for the project, which means we are only pushing ourselves further into debts for something that is impractical anyway.
The bullet train corridor has to be completely separate from the conventional rail lines Further, The bullet train lines will have to be built without road crossings at grade, while the tracks will have to be strictly off-limits. But getting such an infrastructure ready in Indian conditions is a very difficult.
But instead of focusing on a Bullet train, why can't we focus on improving the speed of our rail lines by upgrading the technology. Instead of spending crores on bringing in a new infrastructure, we can improve what we have to make and run 'our own' fast trains.(The writer is Advisor to Chief Minister on Infrastructure and an Urban expert)

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