Runaway Train

High-speed trains could be the Indian Railwaysí answer to low-cost airlines

Published: Nov 5, 2009

It’s 7 a.m. on a Monday morning and you are in Amritsar. You’ve to get to Delhi for an important business meeting at 10 a.m. But, there are no flight tickets available and the drive will take you at least eight hours. What do you do? You walk into the Amritsar railway station and buy an early morning high-speed train ticket to Delhi. You board the train at 7:30 a.m., read your financial daily, eat breakfast and viola! You are in Delhi at 9 a.m.

A pipedream? Not if the Indian Railways has its way. The railways have commissioned feasibility studies for running high-speed trains between Delhi-Chandigarh-Amritsar and Mumbai-Pune-Ahmedabad. The railway ministry has already received an interim report from the appointed survey agency for the Mumbai line, while the contract for the Delhi train is expected to be handed out soon. The carrying capacity of each high-speed train is expected to be around 600 with at least five trips per day on both lines.

The high-speed trains will move at 350 kmph, the same speed at which China Railway’s trains hurtle between the cities of Beijing and Tianjin. This could change the way people live and businesses function. Mumbai-Pune will be done in a little over half an hour, compared to over three hours now. People living in Delhi and Amritsar will be covered in one and a half hours. The IT sector in Mohali, Gurgaon and Noida will get a boost.

However, this connectivity will come at a price. Preliminary estimates suggest that the cost of constructing a high-speed railway line and acquiring trains to run on them would be in the range of Rs. 70 crore to Rs. 100 crore per km, translating to at least Rs. 37,000 crore for a Mumbai-Ahmedabad line. To recover the high cost, tickets would have to be priced at roughly Rs. 5 per km — so, a Delhi-Amritsar one-way trip would cost about Rs. 2,000.

The Railways are targeting budget and aspiring airline travellers, high value rail passengers and car owners. A preliminary study commissioned by the Railway Board on the market for premium class rail travel showed that the Delhi-Sonepat route, which is on the way to Chandigarh, accounts for close to 20,000 air-conditioned cars everyday. “Many of these car owners would prefer to travel by rail if it can take them to their destination within a third of the journey time,” says a railways official.

The most promising segment comprises passengers who travel in the air-conditioned coaches of the Indian Railways. There are 77 million such passengers and while they make up only 1 percent of the total passenger traffic, they generate over Rs. 5,000 crore a year.

Some part of this 77 million will eventually graduate to becoming airline travellers. By bringing in high-speed trains, this transition can be arrested. Even US President Barack Obama thinks so. “Imagine boarding a train in the centre of a city — no racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes,” Obama said, describing his vision for high-speed rail travel in April. It is hard to disagree with his vision.

(This story appears in the 06 November, 2009 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Shirish Ratnaparkhi

    All said and done, Indian Railway is battling the ways out in the given situation is commendable. But..... The speed is phenomenally LOW. Take the cases of the over-bridges; over the rail or over the road - it takes hell lot of time compared to the other part of the Project. Everything else gets over and then they look at IR to complete there parts! With this, how IR is expected to keep up the rate of infrastructure development and then talk about high-speed trains?

    on Nov 1, 2011
  • Ram Narain

    No, we cannot believe on railway, it is totally doubtful that the railway can execute any high speed train project in India as the indian railway is declared that this running on "ram Bharoshey". for feasibility of the high speed trains in India the Government of India should setup a separate authority for construction and functuning of the high speed trains at Delhi-Mumbai-Chenai-Kolkatta. Railway should upgrade the existing infrastructure therefore, all the passangers of the railway can travel with better facilities. can we hope that Indian Railway can execute the high speed train project in india who is still studying the routes. i strongly recommend that a separate Authority (like NHAI is the best example who has improved the road infrastructure in india) must the constituted who shall be responsible for feasiblity, study, Detailed project reports, execution and functioning/operation of the trains. All the metro and important cities of India should also be linked with High speed trains as if a person travels by Indian Railway who is wasting a lot of time if we want to progress we have to save the valuable time otherwise it is truth that we are progressing by 2 steps but coming behind 4 steps.

    on Jul 13, 2011
    • Manuj Darshan

      Still, we need sturdier technology and thorough monitoring and planning process to plan the new networks.

      on Jul 13, 2011
      • Ram Narain

        Sir, your line should be adopted on all project, it has been observed in India that we plan according to the present requirement when we execute the planing fail, therefore, we should plan for next 50 years at least.

        on Jul 15, 2011
  • alok sharma

    Before such trains one should complete many small routes; Guna Etawah route started 20 years back and is still incomplete. Merta-Ajmer via pushkar 80 km new line will serve 50 lac passengers. There may be 100 such small routes which can do wonders. All single lines should be first converted in double line before extravagant routes. All routes should be electrified before railway expressways. Gauge conversion of Jabalpur-Gondia narrow gauge and Indore-Akola meter gauge can considerably reduce north south distance, first complete project unigauge. After all this triple the rolling stock and then take any impractical project. Many lines are ending in the mid part of country should be connected to another near by end point or railway line. To part finance these small but common people-friendly project issue bonds usable as future railway service. Issue bonds of 2 lac crore.

    on Nov 23, 2009
  • anil

    Yes. railways must have a permanent program for weekend specials holiday specials,in festivals along with new timetable. TheSe specials should be fixed for the year.

    on Nov 6, 2009
  • anil

    Mumbai pune hyderabad seems to best corridor. Every corridor will require acquisition of land. Mumbai -pune the corridor can start from ballard-pier across the sea link get to pune and from there to hyderabad. it can be constructed fastest. moreover like NewYork in USA Mumbai is the main city of india and all amenitites should start first at mumbai and then to Delhi.

    on Nov 6, 2009
  • Manuj Darshan

    I used to dream this since I was a child. Hope that this becomes a reality.

    on Nov 5, 2009
    • Ram Nrain

      Dream will remain dream, I think u r young now for high speed train project our goverments are so lazy that is why the dream will remain dream. If we go for all high speed projects elevated then less area of land is to be acquired. Delhi being a national capital of India therefore, all the metro as well as important cities should be linked by High Speed trains

      on Jul 13, 2011
  • av

    An interesting read. But, what if you don't get tickets for the high speed trains? The conditions in Indian Railways is such that all trains are sold out three months before the date of departure, especially on festival season. Railways should also think of expanding carrying capacity in existing routes. Till railways addresses this issue, they will never be able to lure away passengers from airlines.

    on Nov 5, 2009
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