Japanese PM was visiting India to lay the foundation stone for India’s first High Speed Rail (HSR) or Bullet train project. Does a country that can’t even maintain its 150 year old railway infrastructure, need an ultra-luxury, super-fast train?
I was struggling to find a justification for this project and then I read about a comment made by Chairman of Railway board in 1969 – “India does not need a Rajdhani Express. In a poor country such air conditioned trains are luxuries, best avoided”. Have Time brought us back to the same crossroads where a nation has to decide on a path breaking project to lead the way for the following decades? Thankfully the Chairman was overruled, and today we have Rajdhanis, Shatabdis, Durontos, Gatimaans and many other AC express trains.
That was not an isolated incident, Delhi Metro project was criticised for being very expensive and elitist. But today ridership of Delhi Metro is at a record level and it is world’s fourth largest network. It will jump to second, after completion of Phase IV. Advent of Metro has expanded the reach of Delhi by creating jobs and development of the whole NCR (National Capital Region). Even the Maruti Suzuki project and the Bombay-Pune Express highway was seen as an elitist project during the inception. But today both those projects are seen as a turning point in their respective sectors.
Expectation from Bullet Train project is to see an entire ecosystem come up around manufacturing of bullet trains, creation of value-chain, with thousands of suppliers. Most significantly we will be able to climb the value chain for infrastructure projects and in future might export the same knowledge to other developing countries.
Just as an Aam Admi is riding on a Delhi Metro for a daily commute and travels cross country on one of the AC trains, in a few decades, we hope they will be riding one of many high speed trains crisscrossing the nation.